From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
The Director, Corporate Affairs of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Charles Obi Odili, has stated that Acting Managing Director of the Commission, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei, had been ill before his invitation for a probe by the National Assembly.
Odili who dismissed claims that Prof Pondei fainted as a result of the heat from questions thrown to him by members of the two arms of NASS over misappropriation of funds in the commission, defended that hours to his appearance before the committee, his doctor warned his to skip the day invitation to take care of his deteriorating health but he insisted that he will respond to the invitation.
In a statement signed on Monday evening, Odili stated “The Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei, collapsed today at the public hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC.
“The Commission wishes to disclose that Prof Pondei has been ill for the past two weeks. This morning, his condition deteriorated, and his doctors advised against attending the hearing. However, he ignored his doctors’ advice because of the realisation that his traducers will use his absence at the hearing to soil his name and reputation. He thought he could make it through the hearing and take care of his health later. As it turned out, his doctors were right. Prof Pondei is in a stable condition at a clinic in Abuja.
“Given this incident the Commission wishes to make the following points: Prof Prondei became Ag Managing Director of NDDC on February 20, 2020. By May 5, the two arms of the National Assembly ordered a probe of his tenure of exactly 74 days at the time, two third of which was spent under Covid-19 lockdown conditions.
“Prof Pondei, as the Managing Director of the Commission, has an official duty to answer for the activities of the Commission like what happened between 2008 – 2012 which is the subject of another hearing based on the auditor general’s report for the period.
“It would, however, be unfair to hold him personally liable for acts which took place when he was not the head of the Commission.
“When the two arms of the National Assembly called for a probe, it was over a missing N40 billion. The Commission took the rare step of publishing all payments made by it under Prof Pondei. No organisation in Nigeria, public or private has ever got to that level of transparency in our national history.
“As this publication undermined the claims of his accusers, the subject of the public hearing changed to ‘financial recklessness’. While this might appear insignificant, it amounted to changing the goal posts to smear a clean man. While misappropriation of N40 billion is a matter demanding objective proof, the question of financial recklessness is one open to subjective judgement.
“The Commission is delighted that Hon Olubunmi Ojo, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC has recused himself from the hearing. At the end of the day, everyone has to answer for his role in the misappropriation of the resources of the Commission.
“It is this search for answers that led President Muhammadu Buhari, on the request of the nine governors of the region, to institute a forensic audit to probe what happened to the resources of the Commission from 2001 to date.
“The Prof Pondei led IMC has committed to the success of that exercise. While we thought there will be a fight back by those who dipped their hands in the cookie’s jar, we never expected this level of boldness and malevolent aggression as witnessed by accusers at hearing and their paid agents through all the media platforms.
“The Commission is participating at the hearing, even though it thinks that seeing to the conclusion of the forensic audit will serve the future of the Commission and the Niger Delta region more than the probe of 74 days of activities”, Odili stressed.