The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, has denied collecting N500 million for projects in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
He said this on the second day of a hearing probing how the commission squandered N40 billion within a few months.
The Senate had on May 5 set up a seven-member committee to investigate the “financial recklessness” of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the commission.
The lawmakers said within the last three months, the commission has spent over N40 billion of the commission’s fund without recourse to established processes of funds disbursement.
Mr Akpabio and other delegates from the NDDC appeared before the committee on Friday. His statement is in reaction to allegations made against him by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Peter Nwabaoshi.
Mr Nwabaoshi had in June accused the minister of collecting contracts worth N500 million from the NDDC in 2017 alone without execution.
The projects include fencing the Federal Polytechnic Ukana, Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District at the cost of N200 million, fencing of Federal Government College, Ikot Ekpene (Old site) Akwa North-West Senatorial District for N100 million and entrepreneurship training on the use of modern farming implement (Youth) in Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District at the cost of N75 million.
Others are entrepreneurship training on the use of modern farming implements (Women) in Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District at the cost of N75 million and renovation of one hostel facility at the University of Nsukka, Nsukka Campus at the cost of N50 million.
Although Mr Nwabaoshi said he granted Akpabio’s request as Chairman of the Senate Committee during the 8th Senate when he (Akpabio) made the request, the minister said otherwise.
Addressing journalists after the hearing, Mr Akpabio said he “must have made a recommendation when he was still a senator in 2017 that they should consider these (projects) but they were not considered.”
“Those jobs were not paid, not one naira was paid and when you make a recommendation, it is not that you are being given a contractor; it is that if there is a job in your constituency when they are going through ‘due process’ they will advertise that job and that will awarded to the one that wins the bid.
“It is not that when a senator makes a suggestion to an agency – whether it is NEMA, NDDC – that the senator will automatically become the contractor. For the fact that the paper was written on the minority leader’s letter-headed paper shows that it was not an award of contract.
“Award of contract would have been on a NDDC paper so when I saw it, I didn’t think it was worth responding to and as minister of the federal republic of Nigeria, I owe the national but good service.”
The allegation, he said, was not worth responding to as it “was total falsehood.”
“I have been a contractor at NDDC. Even if the suggested projects were N300 million or N500 million were accepted, there is no guarantee that I or my nominee would have been a contractor,” he added.
With regards to the N40 billion which the committee is investigating, the minister said no money is missing. This is because the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) hosts the accounts of the NDDC and so N40 billion cannot be taken without it being known.
“The contractors that were paid, according to the management, were contractors owed debts going back to nine years, some 11 years. When you inherit a commission, you inherit the liabilities and the assets.
“They had no option because of garnishee orders, people have gone to court, some have even died. It couldn’t have come to the minister because the threshold of the management is below N250 million. My job was to come here and also listen because it will help me to know what they are spending.”
Earlier, Mr Akpabio told the panel that he has approved only one project since he became a minister and that is the COVID-19 intervention.
He said he had no knowledge about any expenditure or gave any approval during the tenure of the last Interim Management Committee.
The solution to the problem of NDDC, he said, is the forensic audit as ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Friday’s hearing is the last of the two-day event. So far, revelations have emerged ranging from how lawmakers hijacked the NDDC’s budget over the years to how the commission used N1.5 billion to care for its staff.
The panel is expected to submit its final report to the Senate on another legislative day. Premium times