•He is confused, says Nwaoboshi
•Tunji-Ojo: Allegation spurious
By Deji Elumoye and Adedayo Akinwale
Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has finally picked up the gauntlet thrown down by the National Assembly to name lawmakers who got contracts from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The minister, in a document attached to his response to the threat by the House of Representatives to sue him over the allegations that federal lawmakers were the major contractors of NDDC, listed four senators as receiving 74 contracts from the commission between 2017 to date.
He also accused the Chairman of the House Committee on NDDC, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, of inserting 19 contracts worth N9 billion into 2019 NDDC budget.
House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, had last week given Akpabio a 48-hour ultimatum to identify lawmakers that are NDDC contractors as he alleged during his testimony before the House Committee on NDDC.
However, a few hours after the expiration of the ultimatum, Gbajabiamila had signified the House’s readiness to head to court to seek the prosecution of the minister for criminal defamation.
He was to later read a letter from Akpabio, in response to the one written to him by the House Clerk, in which the minister reportedly denied making the allegations.
However, it was learnt at the weekend that Akpabio’s annexure to the letter included a list detailing the names and NDDC jobs given to the lawmakers.
According to the list, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on NDDC, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, allegedly executed 53 NDDC projects from 2017 to date.
He also accused three other senators namely: Matthew Urhoghide, James Manager and Sam Anyanwu of executing a total of 21 NDDC contracts during the period under review.
But in a swift reaction, Nwaoboshi described Akpabio as a confused individual.
He told THISDAY yesterday that he is challenging Akpabio to publish the names of the directors and shareholders of the companies that executed the said 53 NDDC contracts.
“He (Akpabio) is confused. I challenge him to publish the directors and shareholders of these companies. I don’t award contract and I don’t pay for contracts. My brother, go to CAC and find out the truth. I pity him,” Nwaoboshi said.
But in the bulky document with a three-page covering letter entitled: “Some Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Contracts Allegedly Given to some Members of the National Assembly – Senate and House of Representatives,” Akpabio also fingered the Chairman of the House Committee on NDDC in 19 contracts worth N9 billion inserted into the 2019 NDDC budget.
The contracts listed against Nwaoboshi’s name included Emergency Repairs of Asue Street, Owa Phase 2; Emergency Repairs of ldumuogbe Road via Ojemaye; Emergency Repairs of Otolokpo College Road, Otolokpo; and Emergency Repairs of Police lshu Ani Ukwu Road, Issele Uku in Delta State.
They also included Emergency Repairs of old Sapele Agbor Road, Obiaruku; Emergency Repairs of Ehwerhe Obada Road Agbarho Road; Emergency Repairs of Hon. Ifeanyi Eboigbe Street, Boji Boji Owa/Goodwill Street, Owa Alero; and Emergency Repairs of Ahiama Okwu to Obuocha Okwu among others, all in Delta State.
Other lawmakers that Akpabio listed projects against are, Senator Mathew Urhoghide (six projects), Senator James Manager (six projects); former Senator, Sam Anyanwu (19 projects), and others simply identified as Ondo and Edo representatives while the project cost was not supplied by the minister.
Akpabio also listed one Mutu’s name against 74 projects which included various emergency road projects in Delta, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, and Rivers States.
In accusing the Chairman of the House of Representatives committee on NDDC, Tunji-Ojo, of padding the 2019 budget of the NDDC with 19 contracts worth N9 billion, the minister revealed that “in the 2019 budget, the Executive Director in charge of projects forwarded to me the attached list of 19 Nos. old contracts amounting to almost N9billion after tax, that the House of Representatives Committee Chairman on NDDC, Honourable Tunji-Ojo, insisted that the IMC of NDDC must pay before 2019 budget details could be released to the commission.”
In the letter addressed to the House speaker routed through the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Akpabio further stated, inter alia: “It has always been known that the two chairmen of the committees on NDDC in both chambers yearly exhibit unusual influence to the exclusion of committee members and even the management of the NDDC in appropriating funds to details embellished in the budget after the passage of line items at the plenaries.
“To show you some typical examples, herewith attached are documents showing nature of contracts amount of such contracts (in some cases), date of awards and beneficiaries. Some were awarded to the two chairmen of both committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively, serving at the period of the awards (Annexure ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’). However, due to the 48 hours’ notice, the forensic auditors could not sift through the thousands of files in their possession to provide more.
He stated: “The investigating Committee on NDDC refused and/or neglected to give me the opportunity to explain that reference to most NDDC contracts yearly being awarded since 2001 from the records allegedly to members of the National Assembly in both Chambers were done without the knowledge of the alleged beneficiaries.
“However, the two Chairmen of the Committees in both Chambers had adequate knowledge;
“I never referred to members of the 9th National Assembly as beneficiaries of NDDC contracts as NDDC is yet to fully implement any NDDC budget since the commencement of the 9th National Assembly. In fact, the 2019 budget passed in February and harmonised between the 4th and 5th of March 2020 was received by the commission in the middle of April 2020, when same was designated to expire on the 31st of May, 2020.
“However, it is pertinent to point out that the Clerk of the National Assembly forwarded a letter Ref. NASS/CNA/115/VOL.38/1175, dated March 20, 2020, without attaching the budget details indicating that the 2020 budget of the NDDC passed into Law was being forwarded (copy of the letter is attached as Annexure ‘A’). This anomaly was brought to the attention of the Senate Ad Hoc Committee investigating a purported financial recklessness by the management of the commission in July 2020, though the first outcry was on allegation of missing N40bn which was totally untrue.”
Rising in his won defence, Tunji-Ojo described the Akpabio’s allegation as spurious and diversionary.
In a telephone interview with THISDAY yesterday, he insisted that the allegation made by NDDC was a ploy to divert the attention of Nigerians from the real issue, which has to do with the mismanagement of NDDC resources by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) from January to date.
The committee chairman denied padding the budget and even challenged the IMC to provide evidence to back the claims.
He said: “He didn’t say I padded the budget; what he wrote in his letter that was read which I heard was that the Executive Director in charge of Projects told him that I said they should pay for 19 old contracts before we could pass their 2019 budget. That is what he said, not that I padded the budget, they are two different things.
“I have never made such request and I have challenged them to bring evidence that I told them to do that. These are just spurious allegations as usual. And again, thankfully, he did not say the contracts are my contracts; he said 19 old contracts; that is, they are already existing contracts, not new contracts.”
The lawmaker said even though there was nothing criminal in asking the NDDC to pay contractors being owed, he insisted that he did not make such a request.
Tunji-Ojo said: “Even though there is nothing criminal to say go and pay your debtors. After all, I’m not asking them to pay me. But I did not even say so and I have challenged them since last week Thursday publicly that they should go and bring evidence.
“There is nothing like that; all these things is just to divert attention from key matter and of course, that’s what they are trying to achieve. There is absolutely nothing like that. They started by saying I have 17 kilometres of road, later on, they came back and said it is six kilometers, later on, they came back and said that I told them to make payment. They have said too many things over too many times. Lies are variables, only the truth is constant.
“They keep changing their stories just to get public sympathy to divert the attention of Nigerians away from the crux of the matter, which has to do with the activities of the IMC from January till date.”
Meanwhile, the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) has asked the House Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, to make public the list of federal lawmakers, who benefitted from the contracts awarded by the NDDC, as contained in a letter sent to him by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio, last week.
President of the group, Mr. Solomon Adodo, who made the call, while addressing the press declared: “Mr. Speaker did not do us justice when he did not disclose to the National Assembly that the list of the beneficiaries he demanded had been disclosed and attached to the letter sent to him.”
According to him, the speaker’s decision to cover up his colleagues is unfair to the fight against corruption, the quest for transparency, and to the commonwealth of the nation.
The group stated: “We, therefore, urge Mr. Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, to rise up and expose the lawmakers, who were awarded contracts but failed to execute them.
“All the National Assembly members who benefitted from the contracts without executing them should be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to those who may want to follow a similar path. It is a clear case of organised crime to have individuals who benefitted from illegality now rising to probe the fact that their illegality is being exposed.
“We call on all the anti-graft agencies and security agencies to, in line with the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari, immediately proceed and go ahead with their investigation of the matter.”