Omololu Ogunmade, Udora Orizu in Abuja and Omon-Julius Onabu in Asaba
President Muhammadu Buhari Thursday moved to end the recriminations over alleged corruption in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and vowed to get to the root of the matter.
The president ordered an effective and coordinated probe by security and investigating agencies along with the National Assembly on allegations and counter allegations of corruption rocking the NDDC.
The House of Representatives Committee on NDDC also yesterday resolved to issue a warrant for the arrest of the acting Managing Director of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the commission, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, after he and his team walked out on the lawmakers.
In a related development, the South-south Governors’ Forum yesterday backed forensic audit of the commission and also decried the ongoing crisis in the agency.
The president said in Abuja that the coordinated probe had become imperative in view of the federal government’s efforts to bring sanity, transparency and accountability to the management of huge resources being allocated to develop the Niger Delta.
The Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, and former acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Ms. Joy Nunieh, have traded accusations over the sleaze in the commission in the last week.
Presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, said in a statement in a reaction to the unfolding drama said Buhari was aware of the attacks and counter-attacks between and around persons, institutions, and the NDDC.
Buhari expressed his determination to get to the root of the problem undermining the development of the Niger Delta and its peoples despite the enormous national resources allocated to the agency yearly.
The president directed auditing firms and investigative agencies working in collaboration with the National Assembly committees to resolve the challenges in NDDC.
He ordered them to undertake time-bound actions on the investigation and consequently report to the presidency steps being taken to unravel the mystery behind the mystique.
The statement added: “The president also directed timely sharing of information and knowledge in a way to speedily assist the administration to diagnose what had gone wrong in the past and what needs to be done to make corrections in order to return the NDDC to its original mandate of making life better for people in Niger Delta.
“President Buhari said the administration wants to bring about rapid, even and sustainable development to the region.
“The president gave a firm assurance that his administration would put in place a transparent and accountable governance framework, not only in the NDDC but in all other institutions of government.”
House Committee Orders Arrest of MD as Pondei Walks out on Lawmakers
The House of Representatives’ Committee on NDDC yesterday issued a warrant for the arrest of the acting Managing Director of the IMC of the commission, Pondei, after he and his team walked out on the lawmakers.
The committee and the Senate are currently probing the NDDC for alleged mismanagement and illegal spending of funds.
The drama took place at the resumed investigative hearing organised by the committee on alleged financial malfeasance and other activities in the commission.
It started when Pondei, during the hearing, objected to the Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, presiding over the investigative hearing, saying he cannot preside over a matter in which he is an accused.
Pondei, when told to respond to queries, instead, asked Tunji-Ojo to step aside.
He stated that the NDDC had also accused some National Assembly members of culpability in the allegations trailing the commission.
”We are not comfortable with the chairman of this committee presiding over a matter in which he’s an accused party. The NDDC has overtime accused Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo of different crimes against the NDDC. He’s an interested party and we do not believe that the NDDC can have justice because he cannot sit in his own case. We have no issue appearing, we have appeared before the Senate Ad hoc Committee. As long as he’s the chairman of this committee, the NDDC will not make any presentation here. There’s no point of order here, we are just stating our stand,” he added.
One of the lawmakers, Hon. Shehu Koko, raised a point of order to say that the MD should not personalise the issues and cannot decide how the House should conduct its affairs.
Koko said: ”If you have anything against the chairman, you can go to EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission), ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission) or any of the security outfits to lay your complaints but as far as the rules of this House is concerned, you cannot come here and decide how we should conduct our affairs.
“The rules of the parliament stands, nobody can dictate to us here because this is not the matter in question.”
Spokesperson of the House, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, said there was no petition before the House against the chairman, adding that the managing director has a right to a fair hearing and that is why he was invited to the hearing.
While members were still making a contribution on the issue, Pondei sought permission to leave and walked out before the committee could grant or reject his request.
The lawmakers accused the IMC of trying to frustrate legislative functions and ordered a warrant of arrest to be issued against Pondei, following the unanimous adoption of a motion moved by the House spokesperson.
Kalu, moving the motion, commended the committee members for the maturity exhibited following the provocations by the NDDC boss.
Speaking to journalists after walking out on the committee, Pondei said: “We have absolute respect for the National Assembly and that was why we appeared before the Senate ad hoc committee to investigate the same issues. We made our presentation over two days and we will wait for the outcome of that investigation.
“However, the committee that was set up in the House of Representatives is being chaired by the chairman of the NDDC Committee who the NDDC severally accused of different things. He cannot be a judge in his own case because we are very sure we will not have a fair hearing.
“When we saw that the committee was insistent the chairman will continue, we had no option than to take a leave. We did not disrespect the National Assembly; we asked for permission to leave and we left.”
South-south Govs Deplore Commission’s Crisis, Back Audit
The South-south Governors’ Forum yesterday supported forensic auditing of the commission and decried the crisis in the agency.
In a statement issued by the Chairman of the forum and Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, the governors also backed the ongoing investigation of the commission by the Senate.
The forum said: “We believe the Senate is operating within its oversight functions through the ad hoc committee set up for that purpose.
“It behooves us to respect the Senate oversight function and allow it to discharge this responsibility in a fair, transparent and equitable manner.
“The South-south governors are desirous to see an NDDC that is fully alive and responsive to its mandate of accelerating infrastructural development of the Niger Delta region and enhancing the general living conditions of our people. Hence, we will not hesitate to give our unqualified support to any policy initiative that will make this a reality.
“The forum wishes to advise the combatants in the current crisis in the NDDC to refrain from utterances and actions that will breach the peace and security of the region.”
It condemned the attempted abduction of the immediate past Acting Managing Director of the commission, Ms. Joi Nunieh, saying it was unwarranted, unnecessary and uncalled for.
The forum called on security agencies to investigate the incident.
“Let it be on the record that we are neither in support of nor against Ms. Nunieh in the current cloud of controversy surrounding the NDDC.
“However, as responsible public servants and leaders in the Niger Delta, we are mindful of the implications her attempted abduction could have on the peace and security of the region, which the current administration has laboured to sustain in the last five years.
“We do not want that to be truncated as it can have adverse consequences on the national economy.
“We urge the feuding parties in the NDDC to conduct themselves in a civil, orderly and lawful manner for the good of the region and the progress of the country.
“Democracy is about the rule of law; we have the courts and the various democratic institutions to deal with any grievances people may have without resorting to underhanded tactics and methods to intimidate and hound others.
“Finally, we wish to reiterate our stand that both the forensic audit and the Senate investigation should continue and be concluded with dispatch so that the NDDC can quickly return to its role of advancing and protecting the developmental aspirations our people,” it stated.