Senate directs NDDC IMC to refund N4.9bn

..,.Asks Buhari to reconstitute board

…Mandates Ethics C’ttee to investigate indicted colleagues

By Ignatius Okorocha

The Senate, on Thursday urged President Muhammadu Buhari, to summarily dissolve the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for massive corruption and running foul of the law.

This was as it directed its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, to investigate the allegation by the NDDC, that members of the National Assembly were awarded a large chunk of the NDDC contracts. The Committee is to submit its report within four weeks.

The Upper chamber also asked the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC to refund the sum of N4.923 billion payment made to staff and contractors in breach of procurement process approvals to the NDDC account.

It also recommended that the Commission should revert to the earlier practice, where the agency was reporting directly to the President rather than reporting to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.

The Senate made these recommendations while considering the report of its ad hoc Committee on “Investigation of the alleged Financial Recklessness in the Niger Delta Development Commission”.

Presenting the report, the Chairman of the investigative Panel, Senator Adetunmbi Olubunmi, told the the lawmakers that the Commission was operating without recourse to the law that set it up.

He also hinted the Chamber that the Commission had been carrying out its operations without following and budgetary pattern, saying that it spent any and every cash at its disposal without budgeting for it.

On the the N4.923 billion paid to staff and contractors, Adetunmbi gave the breakdown as follows: oversea travel to the United Kingdom-8.7 million; scholarship grants-105.5 million, union members trip to Italy-164.2 million; Lassa Fever kit-1.96 billion, public communication-1.12 billion; COVID-19 relief-1.49 billion.

The Senate ad hoc committee further observed that the absence of a board of directors at the NDDC created a major lacuna of oversight, asking the President to activate the statutory provisions in the NDDC Act and the board of directors validly nominated for the confirmation of the Senate.

It also recommended that the Monitoring Committee and the Advisory Councils should also be inaugurated along with the board of directors as provided in Sections 20 and 21 of the NDDC Act, to guarantee checks and balances in the internal affairs of the Commission.

The Senate also asked the new board, when set up, to review the existing governance framework, for the improvement of the structures and the processes of the Commission.

Worried that the Commission had been operating without a budget, the Senate recommended that the NDDC Management must henceforth promote the use of its its annual budget as the principal instrument and authorization for all its expenditures.

The Senate also reminded the NDDC of its responsibility and directed that it should submit its quarterly and annual performances reports as and when due as stipulated in Sections 19 and 20 of the NDDC Act, which must be passed to the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Chamber further said that, in order to ensure that the forensic audit being done on the NDDC achieved its purpose, and inspire confidence in the operational and financial processes of the NDDC, oversight of the audit should be transferred to the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.

The Senate argued that this would guarantee independence, credibility, transparency and professionalism in the output of the exercise.

The Senate noted that it was difficult to find a correlation between the Niger Delta community development and cash invested in the zone, saying that this gap might be the cause of agitation in the zone.

It further lamented that continued cash injection in the the area had not worked under the various IMCs, calling for a disbandment of the Committee, so that a board could be properly constituted.

In their contributions, Senators expressed serious concerns over the lack of transparency in the running of the NDDC by the IMC, leading to condemnable financial recklessness going on in the establishment.

Senator Akpan Bassey (PDP, Akwa Ibom), however, blamed the National Assembly for the total lack of transparency at the NDDC, saying that the situation was obvious indication that the apex Assembly neglected its oversight functions.

Smart Adeyemi (APC, Kogi West):”We have seen financial recklessness, misappropriation of public funds, deliberate attempt to undermine the purpose of the establishment of the NDDC.

“It is sad those who are saddled with the management of the scarce resources of the Niger Delta people have added to the problem of their people and put them in abject poverty and perjury.

“This is one report that must be sent to the president and he must act as fast as he can because the mantra of President Muhammadu Buhari is to fight corruption,” he noted.

Continuing e lawmaker further add,”People are jailed in this country because of N20,000. In Niger Delta people are dying because of N30,000, N50,000 and the man is mismanaging billions of Naira. He money they will use to maintained their dogs, yet human beings are finding it difficult to feed.

“You See,We must change the law.if we don’t want to encourage corruption, we must put up a law to place life jail on corruption.

“There is a deliberate attempt to put Niger Dltans into perpetual slavery and we must resist it by amending the law on Niger Delta Development Commission.”

Remark by President of the Senate, while thanking he committee for a job well done lamented that the people of Niger Delta have never benefited from the huge sacrifice the nation is making to better the lots of the area since the establishment of the commission.

“I want to commend the chairman and members of this adhoc committee that did this investigation and I want to say that this Senate and indeed this National Assembly has always been sensitive and responsive to the yearnings of the people of this country from ant section.

“I recall that in 2000 the NDDC bill then was passed by the National Assembly against a presidential veto. In 2002 the National Assembly passed the Bill to abolish the offshore and onshore dichotomy just to give more resources to the Niger Delta,” he noted.

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