* NDDC says opponents of forensic audit are at work
– NDRA wants EFFC to probe contract
By Codratus Godson
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is at loggerheads with a pressure group called Niger Delta Rights Advocates (NDRA) over alleged N5.4Bn contract to intervene in corona virus.
The scandal has gone to national television audience and even to the financial crimes commission. It seems its going to be a fight to finish scenario.
The fight against the COVID-19 may be suspended in the oil region to face a scandal over alleged award of N5.4Bn to fight the virus and other recent diseases in the oil states.
This aligns with the pattern in the oil region where every single activity or contract leads to scandals.
A group which calls itself the Niger Delta Rights Advocates (NDRA) has issued a statement inviting the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to probe the contract.
The public relations officer of NDRA, Darlington Nwauju, said in the statement that demanded for investigations into what it called the award and non execution of the over N5Bn contract by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) headed by the professor of virology, Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei, who came into office by February 2020.
The NDRA showed doubts on the fight against corruption by the Minister of Niger Delta and the entire forensic audit. It however called on the EFCC to swiftly move in to investigate the latest allegation over the N5.4Bn worth of what it called unexecuted corona virus personal protection equipment (PPE)/community sensitization contracts and expose the propriety of such an award, the capacity and competence of the contractor as well as the actual value of such equipment. “And determine if this particular contract passed through standard procurement benchmark”.
The NDRA added: “We wish to query the intentions of those running the NDDC over their preference to purchase PPEs for health workers in the region whereas we lack testing centres or labs that can actually help in the fight against this deadly virus. We ask again: How many health facilities in the region are handling corona virus cases? Who then will be beneficiaries of this latest contract award if Niger Deltans who should be the primary beneficiaries cannot even be treated here in the region? To the best of our knowledge, there is only but one centre in the region which is located in Edo state. Why can’t the NDDC boost its capacity? Why divert our attention and deceive the gullible public by looking for channels to steal public funds?”
The group claimed that the contract award did not emanate from the appropriate department in the Commission. The group in separate interviews, the group said there was no scientific process to determine what was needed, and that asked the NDDC to show how it has intervened in the health of the region before the sudden contract.
Reacting, the NDDC said it was setting up enquiry into how the entire contract scam emanated, saying it had only spent N775m to assist the nine states in the fight and another N270m as palliatives to the youths, women and the physically challenged in the region.
Saying the contract agreement of N5.5Bn being circulated was false and not signed by the appropriate persons in the Commission, the statement said it was going to trace internally how such a paper came into being. “It is inconceivable that a contract of such magnitude could be awarded otherwise. The Commission has launched an internal investigation into how such a letter came to be issued and on what authority.”
Giving a breakdown of spending on diseases in the last one year that amounted to over N5Bn, the statement said, “In early 2019, there was an outbreak of Lassa Fever in Ondo and Edo states, which overwhelmed the capacity of the state governments to cope. The governor of Ondo State made a request to the Commission for intervention. As a result, the then management, headed by Nelson Braimbaifa on 20th February 2019 awarded a contract for the procurement of 21,000 Lassa Fever prevention kits for the region in the sum of N903 million. The items were supplied and distributed. The contractor was duly paid. As the scourge persisted, there was need for further intervention. Another 1,000 protective kits were ordered for N1,092,283,500. This contract was awarded on March 11, 2019. The last contract for Lassa Fever was awarded on April 16, 2019 in the sum of N2,425,242,248. All the kits were supplied and distributed to the nine states. As at date, the Commission is yet to pay for this last contract. Payments had been suspended on ministerial order due to the need for verification of past contracts. At no time did the IMC pay out more than N4 billion for Lassa Fever contracts as alleged.”
The NDDC said many groups were fighting the forensic audit process so that the truth will not come to limelight. “We have noticed an upsurge in attacks on the Commission, the Interim Management Committee and the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs since the launch of a forensic audit into the affairs of the commission. These attacks are meant to distract the commission from the task of holding those who looted our commonwealth to account.
“The Honourable Minister and the Interim Management Committee are determined to see through this audit. On Wednesday, April 22 when the relevant documents were handed over to the lead consultant for the forensic audit, the Ag Managing Director, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei warned that this exercise cannot be truncated.
To quote him: ‘Those who took part in the grand conspiracy to loot the commonwealth are jittery that their misdeeds will come to light. We wish we could sympathise with them. But it could have occurred to them that a day of reckoning will come. The fear of the impunity of their past misdeeds being brought to light is causing panic. In fact, the vultures are shivering. Let us place on record that no amount of intimidation, campaign of falsehood and ‘break-dancing’ will abort this exercise.’
The public should be prepared for more of these attacks against the Commission. It is important to point out that most of the attacks use online publications, with no known addresses or physical assets, which can be sued for defamation of character by the officials they are clearly libeling. The mainstream media with standards have not joined this jaundiced plot.
The Commission also wishes to warn those agents of darkness from the Niger Delta who are hell bent on destroying every good thing in the region to change course. The essence of the present IMC and the forensic audit ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari is to reposition the Commission to make it fit for purpose. Anyone with any evidence of wrong doing should reach out to the IMC or the auditors. The forensic auditors should be allowed to complete their assignment so those who failed the region can be held to account.
It is also clear that people who have political agenda against the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs are also seeing the Commission as a fair game. It is imperative to say that the Commission is an agency for the good of the Niger Delta region. The greatest disservice that can be done is for political gladiators of today to make the Commission a collateral damage in their contest for power and influence. Tomorrow will come. Besides, the Minister’s uncommon passion for a new Niger Delta should be applauded and not attacked.