By Gift Chapi Odekina
The leadership of House of Representatives on Tuesday vowed not to be deterred from carrying out the proposed investigation into the allegations leveled against the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by series of blackmail and life threatening messages being issued by sponsored militant groups against the chairman and members of the NDDC Committee.
Chairman, NDDC Committee, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo gave the assurance during a press briefing held at the National Assembly complex, Abuja, in response to various allegations leveled against the National Assembly and himself by Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, IMC Executive Director Projects on a television station on Monday.
Hon. Tunji-Ojo who dismissed the allegations, said: “ I became the chairman of this Committee as I was inaugurated as chairman in September last year and between September and now I can say categorically that not a kobo of contract has been awarded for emergency so I don’t know how that figure comes in and how that assertion came into being.
“It’s laughable because IMC themselves came into being in October last year, a month after I became the chairman of this Committee. The same Dr. Karo’s said on Arise TV that they have not awarded a single contract since they came on board so how did One Trillion, Two Trillion or whatever trillion how was that awarded? This is just sheer blackmail I expected it from the onset when the investigation process started and the bottom line is that we are not going to be dead. I have to say this, this is coming after threat and after threat to life by militants, by different text messages, calls and etc; the threats have failed.
“So the next agenda to stop the legislative work is blackmail. And I can say it categorically, we are more determined to work for the people of Niger Delta more than ever before. I can say it there is no One Trillion, Two Trillion, 10 Trillion or anything it does not exist. May be it only exist in the figment of their own imagination,” Hon. Tunji-Ojo noted.
While stressing that the National Assembly “does not award contracts”, the NDDC Chairman observed that Dr. Ojougboh who accused him of getting multi-billion naira contracts in one breath barely a month after being inaugurated as NDDC chairman, in another breath denied that the IMC did not award any contract since it was inaugurated in October, 2019.
“I’m surprised that anybody will award a job that is not in the budget and I’m surprised about that and I’ve gone through the 2020 budget as approved and I can tell you point blank that in the 2020 budget there’s no provision, there is nothing like emergency training in the 2020 budget, nothing like that, I don’t know what he’s talking about. And I’ve said it before and let me repeat for the umpteenth time I do not have a single contract in NDDC. They started with a 17 km road contract which they couldn’t substantiate and they’ve come up with another thing. We only expecting what next, and only God know what else they will come up with again. I don’t have any contract in NDDC, I have never been a contractor to NDDC, I’ve never worked for NDDC and I’ve never been paid by NDDC for anything.
While reacting to allegations bothering on budget padding, Hon. Tunji-Ojo argued that the House and indeed the National Assembly reduced the proposed NDDC budget from N409.883 billion to N346,388,900,000 in line with its revenue projection submitted to the Parliament, adding that the proposed budget was inflated by N63 billion which was unjustifiable.
“I listened to the interview yesterday they said we inflated the budget. Number one I have to say this thing, budget was not inflated. I will show you some documents. This was the summary of the revenue profile that NDDC brought. A budget of N409.883 billion was brought by NDDC. As a responsible parliament saddled with the responsibility of appropriation as guaranteed under section 81 of the constitution we sat down to look at how realistic this revenue profile is. You cannot spend money that you don’t have.
“So we needed to be sure of the revenue profile for us to be able to adequately and appropriately appropriate in tune with global best practice. This is what we ended up with: and I will tell you how we can about it. For example, the Federal Government contribution to the NDDC budget which is statutory transfer is not a secret is always itemized in the Appropriation Act of the Federal Government for that particular fiscal year. For the 2019 fiscal year, the amount that was appropriated by the federal government signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in the budget was N100,188,900,000 as against a proposal by them of N128,688,000,000. Where are you going to raise the extra 28 billion from?
“Are you going to manufacture money? You cannot manufacture money and it is budgetary in discipline for you to overstate your revenue profile. Once your revenue profile is defective, appropriation becomes faulty and once appropriation becomes faulty, implementation becomes impossible. So as a responsible parliament we needed to bring down 128 billion down to the approved 100 billion in the 2019 Appropriation Act of government. Number 2, they said Federal Government’s contribution unpaid arrears they stated it as 35 billion and take a look the budget of Nigeria is an open document. Take a look at it, you can go to www.budgetoffice.or.ng it’s online and look at the budgetary provision. It was a zero for unpaid arrears. Yet you stated 35 billion.
“As a responsible parliament some of us came from a wide consulting background in the private sector and we said you cannot appropriate 35 billion that is not existing. So in tune with this, it means the budget revenue proposal submitted to us by NDDC was inflated unjustifiably to the tune of N63 billion, so for us to be able to appropriate, we called them when they came for budget defence precisely on the 10th of December 2019 this is impossible you can’t spend money that is not yours. Money that you don’t have you don’t spend it, you can’t use what you don’t have.
“This budget will have to be reviewed to a new realistic point that’s why the budget was reviewed downward to N346,388,900,000. This is in line with the reality of the revenue available. So the issue of inflation of budget is not just despicable, it is mostly uncharitable. Nothing like that happened.
“But once you have overstated your revenue, if your revenue changes your expenditure must change, and that was what happened. Also he spoke about bulkanisation of the projects, may I inform you that the percentage of new projects in the NDDC budget, I will give you the documents before you go, is just 9.2% of the entire NDDC budget. And by every standard I don’t see that as bulkanisation, 9.2% of the entire NDDC projects.
“So the issue of the bulkanisation of the budget does not in any way arise. And also I have to put this on record, all these accusations are coming because the National Assembly decided to institute a probe after calls and different petitions and blackmail and threats have been used as a weapon to stop the National Assembly, that has not worked.
“Then the latest one is this issue of sheer blackmail. We have called them if you have any document against me please release such documents or better still rather than unnecessary throwing of tantrums, approach the relevant security and anti-corruption agencies but the National Assembly will not be deterred from doing its work. We owe our loyalty to the Nigerian people and as a Committee we owe our loyalty to the people of the Niger Delta that have been deprived over the years. I will say this time around, we must have a Commission that will work not just for the people, it must work for everybody in the Niger Delta,” he stressed.
While noting that the House had at no time indicted the IMC nor pass a resolution to that effect, Hon. Tunji-Ojo assured that the proposed investigation into various allegations would be free and fair, adding that the IMC members should seize from pursuing shadows as evident in all the antics adopted.
He maintained that the House and indeed the National Assembly is in full support of the forensic audit being carried out in NDDC, as the National Assembly approved total sum of N2.5 billion for the exercise in the 2019 budget out of which the sum of N1.250 billion has been relaseed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to IMC.
He said: “It was stated yesterday that we are doing this probe because we are against the forensic. Let me say this clearly, I, Hon. Olubumi Tunji-Ojo I was on Politics Today on Channels Television, when the President approved the forensic and I openly supported it, until tomorrow I support it, my Committee support it, the House of Reps is in support, the Senate I know they are in support, the National Assembly is in support.
“To indicate our support, when the 2019 budget was brought, this is the 2019 budget, look at this budget proposal, the President approved forensic in October last year, this budget was brought to the National Assembly in November, precisely November 26, a month after the approval of the President for forensic. Yet, they did not put forensic as a budget line in the budget; they have no financial provision for forensic. It took the National Assembly in line with its power of appropriation to be able to provide funds for the forensic.
“This is it in the budget, precisely serial No: 179 under regional for the forensic. The President approved the sum of N2.5 billion for the forensic and we budgeted for the provision of N2.5 billion in line with what the President approved and we made provision for N1.250 billion in 2019 budget of which they have already paid some, because we have records from CBN and others.
“How else as a Legislature, as a responsible and responsive arm of government can we cooperate and show support for the forensic other than making these funds available? If we are not in support, we wouldn’t have made the funds available. Let me say emphatically, we are in support of forensic because the truth must be lay bared and what we are saying in the process of doing forensic if there are allegations, you should be able to defend yourself and not hide under forensic as if forensic has granted you immunity.
“Forensic is not a medium of granting immunity and that’s all we are saying. We have not indicted anybody. All these things are still allegations against the IMC, there is no resolution of the House against them yet, all we are saying is there are allegations, come and defend yourself in line with the principle of fair hearing. We have written to them, we have written to several government agencies CBN, Accountant General, all of them and we are getting documents and we are going to get evidence and we have promised that this investigation is going to be free and fair. And I don’t see why everybody should be scared of their own shadow, there is no need. We are all working for the Niger Delta people, we don’t see them as enemies but allegations have been raised it is only ethical for you to clear yourself of allegations.
“If you have nothing to hide, why throwing tantrums, why blackmail, why manufacturing figures, that doesn’t exist, talk is cheap, why blackmailing people, why blackmailing the Institution? But I want to assure you of one thing, and I will like to assure the people of Niger Delta we will not be intimidated, we will not be blackmailed into submission, we will do a thorough job, not just to our own satisfaction, not just to the satisfaction of the house but to the satisfaction of the people of the Niger Delta in line with the realities on ground. That is a promise we are making to the Niger Delta people,” Hon. Tunji-Ojo said.