The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has explained to Nigeria’s Senate Ad hoc Committee investigating the Commission on the sum of N1.5 billion allowance for COVID-19 among management and staff of NDDC.
This was as the NDDC Director of Projects, Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh, accused Chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on NDDC of hijacking the 2020 budget of the agency.
During last week investigative public hearing at the National Assembly, the chairman, Senate ad hoc Committee investigating the alleged N40 billion illegally expended by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC, Olubunmi Adetunbi gave breakdown of how the money was shared as follows:
- N10 million was paid to a top management staff believed to be the MD as COVID-19 relief
- N7 million each was given to two senior staff
- Three staff receive N5 million each
- N3 million each to 148 staff
- N1.5 million each to 157 staff
- N1 million each to 497 staff
- N600,000 each to 464 staff, who were said to be the low cadre staff, mostly cleaners and security personnel for NDDC.
Also, it was disclosed that NDDC gave N475 million out of the amount to police for facemasks and hand sanitizers.
Senator Adetunmbi added that out of the N3.14 billion allowance for COVID-19, NDDC spent total of N1.5 billion on its staff as coronavirus relief.
When invited to give explanations on the fund, which was captured on the subtitle “emergency payments” in the document submitted to the Senate committee by the acting Managing Director (MD) of the IMC, Kemebradikumo Pondei, the MD admitted before the ad hoc committee that N3.14 billion was spent by the NDDC to cushion the effects of COVID-19 on staff of the agency.
Explaining the reason for the Commission’s action, the NDDC MD said that in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as an intervention agency, NDDC decided to intervene.
He stated that there were challenges that triggered the intervention of cash of N775 million to the nine states that are under NDDC, which are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers.
Senator Adetunbi, reading the document stated that the NDDC IMC expended on other issues, including COVID-19, to the total of N81.509 billion, from October 2019 to February 2020, and from February to May 30th, 2020.
He gave the breakdown of the N81.509 billion to include Community relations: N1.3 billion; condolences: N1.2 billion; consultancy: N3.8 billion; COVID-19: N3.14 billion; duty tour allowances: N486 million.
Others were imprest from October to May, 2020: N790 million; Lassa fever: N1.956 billion; legal services: N900 million; logistics: N31 million; maintenance: N220 million; medicals: N2.6 billion; overseas travel from February to May, 2020: N85.6 million; projects payment: N38.6 billion; public communication: N1.121 billion; security: N744 million; staffing related payment from October to May, 2020, including payment of salaries and other allowances: N20.9 billion; engagement of stakeholders from February to May, 2020: N248 million; and travels: N56.5 million.
Senator Adetunbi further explained that out of the total N81.509 billion, the first IMC spent N22.5 billion from October 2019 to February 2020 while the second IMC spent N59.1 billion between February and May 2020.
In his defence of the spending of the Commission, the NDDC Director of Projects, Ojuogboh, stated that the NDDC had not misapplied any funds as being alleged by the National Assembly. He disclosed that the IMC inherited a debt of N3 trillion, claiming that the National Assembly hijacked the 2020 budget of the agency.
“We have no problem with the National Assembly, but we have a problem with chairman of the Senate committee on Niger Delta. No one kobo is misapplied since the coming of NDDC IMC,” stressed the director.
“The 2020 budget of NDDC has been hijacked by the two chairmen in the Reps and Senate. We submitted the budget since 2019 and nothing has been done on it,” he said.
On the allegation that the IMC unilaterally and arbitrary sacked some staff of the NDDC, the director said that the Commission sacked no staff and all workers on leave had been paid their full salaries. “…anyone who is claiming to have been sacked should bring the sack letter,” Ojuogboh stated.
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in his remarks said that allegations of financial recklessness and misappropriation of funds levelled against the IMC of NDDC were unacceptable, and that propelled the Senate to investigate the activities of the commission.
According to him, “financial recklessness is not an attribute that anyone can afford, whether rich or poor. It is even worse with the poor, or for the organisation or a country with limited resources,” said Lawan.
In his explanation on the expenditure, the MD had added that there was N270 million that was expended on NDDC stakeholders. He explained that “we have 27 Senatorial districts in NDDC and because of pressure from our stakeholders we budgeted and got approval of N5 million for youth groups and N5 million for women and people living with disabilities for each of the Senatorial Districts of the nine states, which gulped N270 million.
Concerning the NDDC staff, he averred: “NDDC has over 4,000 staff across the nine States, each of these staff are also like representatives of there people. We were under a lot of pressure so we had to pay them (the COVID-19 relief).”
According to the NDDC acting MD, all these were to reduce the effect of the pandemic on its stakeholders. He said that some of the youths were unemployed and to avoid violence, “we had to pay dem the palliative.”
Concerning the N475 million that the Commission gave to Police, Pondei said: “we had request from the high command of Police and our management looked into it and approved it.”
It will be recalled that it was on May 5th 2020 that the Senate set up a seven-man Ad-hoc Committee to investigate the alleged financial recklessness by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of NDDC within the period of October 29th 2019 to May 31st 2020.
During the NDDC investigative public hearing, one member of the Senate Ad hoc Committee, Betty Apiafi averred that NDDC projects were often endless; stating that projects remain in NDDC budget for 20 or 15 years.
The committee chairman, Adetunmbi had stated that the Interim Management Committee (IMC) spent the sum of N81.5billion in eight months according to the document IMC submitted.
FreightWatch will continue to monitor proceedings of the investigative hearing.