by Linda Ikeji
The last has not been heard regarding the faceoff between the House of Representatives and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio.
In a statement released by its spokesperson, Benjamin Kalu on Tuesday, July 28, the House is insisting that the Minister must publish the names of the lawmakers that have been awarded. The House in the statement said the minister failed to substantiate the allegation that national assembly members get most of the NDDC contracts.
While appearing before a panel probing the alleged mismanagement of N81.5 billion by the interim management committee (IMC) of the NDDC, Akpabio had said federal lawmakers were the biggest beneficiaries of the contracts awarded by the commission.
Subsequently, the speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, gave the minister a 48-hour ultimatum to publish the names of the legislators who got those contracts or face legal action. Akpabio in a response letter, listed some senators and house of reps members as beneficiaries but they all denied getting the contracts. The House on July 23 resolved to issue a criminal complaint of perjury and civil defamation lawsuit against Akpabio after he failed to publish the names of members of the National Assembly that have been awarded contracts by the Niger Delta Development Commission NDDC.
Kalu in the statement released on Tuesday evening, July 28 accused Akpabio of sending a private letter to the speaker instead of publishing the names of those he accused of being beneficiaries of NDDC contracts.
“Instead of publishing the list for the world to see in the interest of transparency, the Minister in his usual diversionary tactics, chose to send an irrelevant 8-paragraph private letter to the Speaker regarding projects of 2018 which pre-date the 9th House of Representatives and had little to do with the bogus claims he made.
The House, therefore, reiterates that the Minister was given an ultimatum to publish names and not to write a personal letter to the Speaker. The Honourable Minister is hereby cautioned to desist from spinning tales and is invited to go public as instructed.” the statement read
Kalu said Akpabio’s letter was irrelevant to the issues raised, adding that the lawmakers were already evaluating the minister’s response and are still considering taking legal action against him if he fails to publish in detail the names of the lawmakers that have been awarded contracts by the Commission.
Read below the statement from Kalu
Following a motion unanimously adopted by the House, an investigation was ordered into the activities and financial malfeasance of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and its Interim Management Committee (IMC) between the periods of January to May 2020.
In a coordinated and calculated attempt to distract Nigerians from the ongoing investigation, the Minister of NDDC and the leadership of the IMC raised spurious allegations against members of the National Assembly.
The Minister claimed under oath that 60% of all the NDDC projects under investigation were awarded to members of the House between the months of January and May 2020.
Following this disturbing allegation, the leadership of the 9th House issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the Minister to publish a list of the legislators allegedly awarded 60% of the entire projects of NDDC between January and May 2020.
Instead of publishing the list for the world to see in the interest of transparency, the Minister in his usual diversionary tactics, chose to send an irrelevant 8-paragraph private letter to the Speaker regarding projects of 2018 which pre-date the 9th House of Representatives and had little to do with the bogus claims he made.
The House, therefore, reiterates that the Minister was given an ultimatum to publish names and not to write a personal letter to the Speaker. The Honourable Minister is hereby cautioned to desist from spinning tales and is invited to go public as instructed.
Nevertheless, it will interest Nigerians to know that paragraph 3 of the Minister’s letter fully exonerated the 9th Assembly. Also, in paragraph 7, the Minister completely withdrew his previous statement about 60% of the NDDC projects being awarded to members of the 9th Assembly.
It is also instructive for Nigerians to note that the total number of projects in the 2019 NDDC budget was 5,959 out of which 5,416 projects were rolled over from 2018, which the 9th Assembly obviously had no influence or control over.
Therefore, unable to prove his claims, the Minister presented an ineffectual spreadsheet of only 266 projects out of which about 20 projects were attracted by past members of the National Assembly as constituency projects, not as contractors, but in furtherance of their representative mandate.
The projects presented in the Minister’s letter are not within the scope of the investigation and do nothing to address the leadership’s ultimatum for him to publish the list of names of the members who he claimed took 60% of NDDC projects from January to May 2020.
Also, contrary to the mischievous narrative being peddled on the internet, the only mention of the Chairman of the NDDC Committee of the 9th House of Representatives, Rep. Tunji Ojo in that letter, was as to his alleged request for the complete payment of 19 contractors who had approached him with complaints over NDDC’s non-payment for their services.
This is, however, an allegation which has been completely refuted by Rep. Ojo and for which there is no evidence linking him.
The one member of the House mentioned in that letter only attracted the project to his federal constituency, in the same manner that the NDDC MD, EDFA, EDP, Chairman etc applied to the Commission for attention to the needs of their people and were obliged.
This attraction of projects does not in any way mean that contracts were personally awarded to them.
Additionally, the letter also listed the names of contract awardees with no evidence linking them to those who attracted the projects to the beneficiary communities. It takes lifting the corporate veil for the directors to be seen and the Corporate Affairs Commission is there to establish who the real owners of the companies are.
Until then, it is wrong to attempt to establish a nexus which currently does not exist. The document remains a mere spreadsheet of people who attracted projects to their communities in furtherance of their representative functions.
Furthermore, the directive to press charges against the Minister has not been lifted by the House as the leadership is busy considering the weight of the Honourable Minister’s letter. If it does not clear the doubt and wrong perception, it will be sent to the court for clearance as the Speaker stated.
Once again, the letter’s annexures showing 2018 projects have no relevance to what was requested from the Minister because it was outside the scope of his claims, it was also not comprehensive but selective by mentioning only one current member for attracting projects to his constituency and not for receiving contracts.
The House is mindful of a letter currently before it where the Minister also applied to attract several projects to his Senatorial Zone during his time at the Senate, does it mean the contracts were awarded to him?
Nigerians are encouraged to ignore the deflections of the Honourable Minister and continue to ask the right questions as to what happened to the money of the region which has led to a gross disservice to Niger-Deltans.
Nigerians should start asking the right questions and demanding the right answers; and the right question remains, “What happened to Nigeria’s ?81.5billion under the charge of NDDC in the space of 6 months?”