The crisis rocking the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) hits harder as the Chairman of the Palliative Distribution Committee of the commission, Chief Sobomabo Jackrich, last Monday, alleged embezzlement of N6.2billion by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) led by Prof. Daniel Pondei under the guise of palliatives distribution.
Jackrich, in a 12-paragraph petition dated August 3, 2020, and separately addressed to the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, stated that the N6.2billion palliatives scam was different from the N1.5billion relief funds shared to over 4,000 staffers of the commission and some members of the high command of the Nigeria Police Force by the IMC in April.
According to him, the N6.2billion was specifically approved by President Muhammadu Buhari in April this year for procurement and distribution of palliatives to residents of the nine states covered by the commission.
The commission’s Palliative Committee, chairman in his petition, titled “Demand for Investigation over alleged Misappropriation and Diversion of N6.2billion NDDC Palliatives Money”, further alleged that the Pondei-led IMC, pushed him aside as chairman of the Palliatives Distribution Committee when the money was to be spent.
He added that rather than using the money for the purposes for which it was meant for, the IMC only stage-managed the distribution of items not worth up to N1million.
The petition read in parts, “Today, all of that can be regrettably described as a show of shame and a scam. The N6,250,000,000.00 only that was magnanimously approved by Mr. President to help the poor and indigents of the Niger Delta during this difficult period of the pandemic as palliatives has curiously been allegedly misappropriated and embezzled by the IMC of the NDDC and their co-conspirators.
“As the chairman of the Palliatives Distribution Committee, my findings is not only that the money cannot be accounted for, but there is nothing on ground to show that that N6.2billion of our hard earned tax payers money was invested for its original purpose which the President approved.
”The materials and supplies according to the statement were to be done through Emergency Procurement method as provided in Sections 42(b) (c) and 43 of the Public Procurement Act, 2007″.
He consequently called for dissolution of the Pondei-led IMC to ensure thorough financial sanitation of the commission and allowing the motive behind the ongoing forensic auditing, to see the light of the day.
Expressing fury over the activities of the Pondei-led IMC, he further revealed that, “As the chairman of the Palliatives Distribution Committee, I cannot account for the palliatives as my committee was sidelined just because I as the chairman demanded for accountability and transparency in the processes as well as value for money with respect to the palliatives.
“That I was handed the template for the distribution of the Palliatives wherein it was indicated that nine trucks of food items will be distributed to each of the nine states in the region.
“However, the IMC hijacked the entire process. They called and handed me with few bags of rice and beans just to induce me to play along with them giving the false impression that the process was successful.
“This appears to me as a cover-up plot. Most of the food items that they claimed to have distributed were spoilt and unhealthy for human consumption.
“Thus only the IMC can tell where they got those poisonous and rotten food items from. The next thing we hear surprisingly, is that the palliatives has been distributed. I managed to monitor from a distance the charade and show-off since I and my committee was stripped of our assignments by the IMC in the distribution processes and left us incommunicado.
“As chairman of the Palliatives Distribution Committee, I am aware that what was distributed under the guise of medical equipment were old goods and wares in the commission’s warehouses which was put on Camera just to deceive the unsuspecting public and mislead the President.
“This too was staged. No single kits or Covid-19 Test Centres were set up by the commission in the Nine Niger Delta states till date. It is for the records that I state these facts. The money for Palliatives approved by Mr. President was allegedly corruptly diverted by the IMC in concert with identifiable powerful forces and so cannot be accounted for.
“Surprisingly again, at their corrupt leisure and malevolent unbridled appetite, the managing director openly on camera admitted to some disturbing embzzlement of unbudgetted funds in the commission during this pandemic. Responding to questions at the National Assembly regarding the Covid-19 Relief Fund paid to NDDC staff the MD said “ONLY N1.3 billion was used to take care of staff” despite being paid their salaries.
“There have been several barefaced embezzlement of billions of Naira from the Commission that was originally established to help the people of the region but to no avail”.
Jackruch also alleged that the Pondei-led committee was grossly involved in contracts scams.
According to him, the IMC smartly procured some dubious non-governmental organizations (NGO)’s to defend and cover up their corrupt practices and give them a clean bill through procured reports and presentations during the course of the recent investigations.
Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari has given the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) one week to pay the beneficiaries of the commission’s scholarship scheme.
The NDDC’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Charles Odili, revealed this after delivering the management’s invitation to the president, to inaugurate the 29-kilometre Ogbia-Nembe Road in Bayelsa State.
In a statement, yesterday, Odili said the students would be paid by the end of the week following Buhari’s order.
He explained that the delay was due to the sudden death of former Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Ibanga Etang, in May.
“Under the commission’s finance protocol, only the executive director (finance) and the executive director (projects) can sign for the release of funds from the commission’s domiciliary accounts with the Central Bank of Nigeria,” Odili noted.
“With the death of Chief Etang, the remittance has to await the appointment of a new EDFA.
“Senator Akpabio, the Honourable Minister, said President Buhari who has been briefed on the protest by students at the Nigerian High Commission in London, has ordered that all stops be pulled to pay the students by the end of this week. We expect a new EDFA to be appointed this week. As soon as that is done, they would all be paid.”
The beneficiaries of NDDC’s scholarship in the UK, had, last Monday, protested over the non-payment of their tuition fees and allowances in one year.
The students gathered at the Nigerian High Commission in London, to express their displeasure over “negligence of their welfare”.
However, the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Worldwide has identified the ongoing delay in the payment of students under the scholarship scheme of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as a fresh threat to the fragile peace in the Niger Delta region.
The new President of IYC, Comrade Peter Igbifa, who spoke in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, yesterday, described the conditions of the affected students in abroad as pitiable and unacceptable.
He said the youths were agitated to see their kinsmen carrying placards abroad to protest neglect by the NDDC and the Federal Government while huge resources belonging to their region were being diverted and squandered on frivolous activities.
“I watched the recent protest by the scholars and I was moved into tears. It is embarrassing, shameful and unacceptable to see our ambassadors abandoned and neglected by the NDDC and the Federal Government.
“Since my emergence as the 8th President of the IYC, this is one major issue that has been threatening the fragile peace and causing tension in the region.
“I have had to hold several meetings to calm down frayed nerves, who wanted to start fresh violent agitation over the suffering of our kinsmen sent abroad to study by the NDDC.
“There is a limit to which I can hold them back. If something drastic and urgent is not done to settle the financial obligations of these scholars, I am afraid, the temper will boil over and anything can happen,” Igbifa said.
The IYC boss wondered why sensitive issues affecting the region were not given the required swift attention by responsible authorities despite the huge revenue accruing to the country from the Niger Delta.
Igbifa called on President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the security chiefs to treat the issues of the abandoned Niger Delta students abroad as a matter of national emergency.
He said: “This is not the time to shift blames. The youths in the region are already angry and they don’t want to listen to any blame games.
“They don’t want the Federal Government to blame the NDDC and they don’t want the NDDC to blame the National Assembly or the Coronavirus pandemic. What they are expecting is an end to this shame.
“The NDDC management is appointed by the Presidency and it expected that the commission should be supervised strictly by the Presidency to ensure it lives up to the mandate of the NDDC Act.
“If it fails, it means the Federal Government has also failed in its supervisory role. Therefore, all of them have failed the Niger Delta.
“We hold them responsible for allowing this matter to degenerate to this embarrassing level.
“We want them to know that a new leadership of the IYC is on board and under my watch, the council, which is the umbrella body of all Ijaw youths worldwide will not tolerate this degree of recklessness”.
Igbifa appealed to Buhari to avert emerging crisis in the region by urgently giving directives to responsible authorities including the NDDC to settle the financial obligations of the abandoned students.
Meanwhile, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), yesterday, said it stood by the list of prominent Niger Delta leaders released by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, as contractors in the commission, saying that what the minister released was only a tip of the iceberg.
The Director, Corporate Affairs, NDDC, Mr. Charles Odili, said the commission has details of the contracts and proxies used to collect them.
Speaking on the release of list of NDDC contracts handled by members of the National Assembly, Odili said: “The one submitted by Senator Akpabio was not compiled by the minister but came from the files in the commission.”
The NDDC spokesperson clarified that the list submitted to the National Assembly was actually compiled by the then management of the commission in 2018.
He observed that there was another set of lists for emergency project contracts awarded in 2017 and 2019, but added that these were not submitted to the National Assembly.
Odili affirmed: “The Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the commission stands by the list, which came from files already in the possession of the forensic auditors. It is not an Akpabio’s list, but the NDDC’s list. The list is part of the volume of 8,000 documents already handed over to the forensic auditors.”
He also said that prominent indigenes of the Niger Delta whose names were on the list should not panic, as the commission knew that people used the names of prominent persons in the region to secure contracts, adding that the ongoing forensic audit would unearth those behind the contracts.
The spokesperson said the intention of the list was to expose committee chairmen in the National Assembly who used fronts to collect contracts from the commission, some of which were never executed.
Odili added that the list did not include the unique case of 250 contracts which were signed for and collected in one day by one person, ostensibly for members of the National Assembly.
On the forensic audit exercise, he said that it was on course, and the commission had positioned 185 media support specialists to identify the sites of every project captured in its books for verification by the forensic auditors.
Odili advised members of the public to discountenance the “avalanche of falsehood being orchestrated by mischief makers,” regretting that “more insinuations and accusations may be thrown into the public space by those opposed to the IMC.”
On the payment of scholars, Odili explained: “The delay in the remittance of the fees was caused by the sudden death of Chief Ibanga Etang, the then Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration (EDFA) of the commission in May.”
“Under the commission’s finance protocol, only the Executive Director (Finance) and the Executive Director (Projects) can sign for the release of funds from the commission’s domiciliary accounts with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“With the death of Chief Etang, the remittance has to await the appointment of a new EDFA.”
Mother And Child Hospital To Be Commissioned Soon, Wike Confirms
The 258-bed capacity Mother and Child Hospital in Rivers State is to be commissioned soon.
The two- storey complex also has 50 delivery rooms and six modular theatres, among other modern facilities.
The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, announced this, yesterday, when he led members of the State Executive Council on an inspection tour of the Hospital and the Rumuogba Flyover Bridge.
Wike said the health facility would provide specialist services for mothers and children.
He stated that government plans to open the facility for public use before the end of 2020 and has ordered the contractors to speed up the installation of equipment and furniture.
“Within the next one month, we hope that all the equipment and furniture will be installed.
“As a government, we are committed to improve our health facilities so as to provide quality health care delivery in the state.
“The facility was conceived to be a partnership between the state government and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
“But the NDDC did not fulfil their own part of the agreement. The state government decided to construct the facility because of its importance to the state.
“This is the first Mother and Child Hospital in the entire South-South. It is a specialist hospital that will take care of the children and our mothers.
“After commissioning the hospital it will be attached to the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital to also train doctors,” he stated.
Wike also said that there was an intensive upgrade of facilities at the various zonal hospitals across the state to make them functional.
He stated that his administration would not solve all the problems in the health sector before 2023 but would strive to improve on what was met on ground.
According to him, when the rehabilitation of all the zonal hospitals across the state was completed, healthcare delivery would receive a major boost.
Commenting on the progress of work at the Rumuogba flyover bridge, the governor said, it was satisfying to see what proper deployment of scarce resources can achieve.
“I am satisfied with the extent of work at the Rumuogba flyover. This work started in October, 2019 alongside the flyovers at Rebisi and Okoro-Nu-Odo.
“It is a job we must commend. I decided to take members of the State Executive Council to come and see the project with their eyes.
“Whatsoever money that the council has approved, we have made sure that it is being used properly.
“We did not make a mistake by giving the contract to Julius Berger Nigeria PLC.
“We are confident that the Rebisi flyover will be opened to traffic in December, 2020,” he added.
No Going Back: Labour Insists On Reversal Of Fuel, Electricity Tariff Hike
The organised labour, yesterday, insisted that the Federal Government should revert back to the old prices of petrol and electricity tariff, if not the strike will stand.
This is as the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, and the President of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Quadri Olaleye, had a hot altercation over the letter to President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the prices of petrol and electricity tariff.
Meantime, Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), Boss Mustapha said that deregulation of the petroleum sector was long overdue, but the TUC President maintained its previous position that government should revert to the old prices before any discussion would continue.
The meeting, which took place at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, had in attendance the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva; the Minister of Power, the Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, SAN; and some relevant agencies and parastatals.
Sources at the technical session which was under closed-door said that the labour has not changed from its previous position that the government should go back to the old prices of petrol and electricity tariff.
In his presentation, the TUC President had told Ngige to withdraw the statement that the centre was not right to write to President Muhammadu Buhari, arguing that as the President of the country all the economic decisions end on his table.
Besides, Olaleye during his presentation insisted that the TUC stood on its earlier submission that the government should reverse the increases before they would resolve on anything.
He had said, “The most important thing to us today is that we are here, we are engaging with you. Like I mentioned in the last meeting we had here that if we have been having constructive engagement in the past, maybe we would have been able to solve some of these problems.
“But the government turned a deaf ear to us even before the arrival of the world enemy Covid-19, we have written to the government suggesting an alternative way to run the economy, but nobody ever listened.
“And I can send to you many communications from Labour movement suggesting solutions and now we have found ourselves in this situation but the truth of the matter is that Nigerians are suffering and it is our responsibility as Labour centres to fight for their rights, to protect their interest.
“N30, 000 minimum wage was agreed last year and now there is an increase in PMS price, increase in tariff of electricity, the introduction of stamp duty and some other hardship on the workers and their families. We live in a country where a worker is responsible for more than 12 people.
“At least, eight from his family and the other six from the in-law’s house. I wonder how N30, 000 will be able to cater for all these but instead of the government to look at a better way to increase our lot, we are the sacrificial animal to make the economy better for few people.
“I heard when the minister mentioned that the country belongs to all of us, I as a person except you change my impression, I believe the country belongs to the few politicians that take decisions and make policies that are very hard for us to live in this country.
“If the country belongs to all of us, the question is why are people running out of this country, our youths are running out of this country despite all the dangerous obstacles on the road, many have lost their lives.
“Can somebody run out of his father’s house when nothing is pursuing him? So definitely the answer is now. Let’s make the country to belong to all of us so that we can be a bona fide owner of our country.
“Democracy is all about the people, we voted a few people who represent us at the government level and when decisions and policies are to be formed, we are the first to be considered.
“The politicians have scrapped the middle class that we used to have, they have taken away our hope, it’s either you are rich in this country now or you are poor. No more middle class and these are the things we need people to look into if we actually want peace in the country.
“Nigerian workers are suffering, a lot of people have lost their jobs especially during this COVID-19 and the only solution government could bring to their doorstep is that they should pay more for electricity, they should pay more to buy petrol.
“This hardship is getting too much, so whatever solution we are bringing, must be holistic, something that everybody will feel that the country belongs to all of us sir.
“Be that may, the Honorable Minister I wish to call your attention to your regular statement that TUC that TUC did not address the letter to you. I want to disagree with you due respect to your office, we honour your office and we will not do anything to undermine your office.
“But this issue is the issue that Mr President himself has to handle, we are not talking about the minimum wage, increase or any price with government, we are talking about economic issues and we have elected Mr President to lead and that is why we have addressed that issue to him.
“But if you want to insist sir, that because the letter is not referred to you, then TUC can excuse you I know it’s a statement of divide and rule which will not be acceptable to this congress sir.
“But I have to retreat that the submission of TUC as at last week still remains, that you reverse all those increases then you can come up with economic recovery solutions that you have.
“I know many times we have advised you to diversify the economy and we even mentioned the introduction of the issue of modular refineries and we have never had any feedback from the government”.
But reacting to the call for the withdrawal of his statement, Ngige said, “I have been the Minister of Labour and Employment for five years plus. I have attended all International Labour Organisation (ILO) sessions, Governing Board and General Assembly, I have not missed any.
“The competent authority of every country is the Minister of Labour. In many climes, it’s Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Minister of Labour and Public Civil Service Affairs and Minister of Labour and Social Investment.
“The Minister of Labour is the competent authority of any country. In those countries too, labour matters are first addressed to the Minister of Labour.
“We have not tried to enforce this rigidly as it should be but in other climes, all labour and industrial matters and social security are channelled to the government to Head of State through the Minister of Labour.
“I don’t want this to continue. I have raised it with the TUC President before. The TUC President after being elected did not see his Minister of Labour, he did not correspond to Minister of Labour about the election, he went ahead to book an appointment to see Mr President and Mr Vice President.
“I will not sit on this seat and allow this to continue. All correspondence to government, President should come to the Ministry of Labour, that is the channel. If I don’t react, you can report me by doing a reportage to a higher authority but as far as Nigeria is a concern, I’m the competent authority here on labour matters.”
Speaking earlier in his opening remarks, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha said that deregulation of the Petroleum sector was long overdue.
He said that the policy was not to inflict hardship on the masses, adding that at the end of the day the people will be better for it.
He said, “The president has said that no government decision taken is intended cause any pain or harm ”.
President of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba said that Labour was the only organisation that is pan-Nigeria and that the best way to address challenges, whether social economy or labour issues was to try to proactively engage Labour and have its perspective.
He said, “We are here to continue with the dialogue that started last week. As you are aware, after the dialogue, we were able to update all our members.
“We are here to find a lasting solution to the perennial issue of the twin challenges of the increase in pump price in the name of deregulation and also the issue electricity tariff increase, which we have explained the impact on Nigerian workers, but importantly the larger Nigerian society.
“I think the argument has been the same – people want to see a reduction in those prices which will then improve the lives of Nigerians, particularly workers.
“Clearly, part of the challenges is that this new increase has also reduced our purchasing power and eroded the gains that we have been able to make with the minimum wage, whereas we speak, many states are yet to implement.”
RSNC Gets New Helmsman …As Njiowhor Takes Over From Ukwe
The outgoing Acting General Manager of the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation (RSNC), Mr Goodluck Ukwe, has formally handed over to the most Senior Director in the corporation, Mrs. Juliet Njiowhor.
She is also the new Acting Editor (Daily) of The Tide Newspapers.
Ukwe, who took over from Vincent Ake, the former General Manager of the corporation in April, 2020, formally retired from the Public Service of the Rivers State Government on September 15, 2020.
Speaking during the handover ceremony, Ukwe thanked the management and staff of the corporation for the cooperation and support extended to his administration.
He said that since April when he took over, the corporation has remained afloat despite the economic challenges in the country occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ukwe listed some challenges facing the corporation to include lack of fencing of the premises to ensure security of employees, and the moribund rotary machine, obsolete printing machines, amongst others.
Responding, the Acting Editor (Daily), Mrs Juliet Njiowhor, commended Ukwe for his leadership qualities, which ensured that the corporation bounced back after a three-month shutdown, and has remained afloat since then despite the economic challenges in the country.
Njiowhor said that the legacy of the outgone Acting General Manager would be sustained, and called for the support of the management and staff of the corporation to take the state-owned newspaper outfit to the next height.
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