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Reps allege N100bn fraud in NEDC

The House of Representatives said on Thursday it will investigate alleged misappropriation of N100 billion at the North East Development Commission (NEDC). This followed the…

The House of Representatives said on Thursday it will investigate alleged misappropriation of N100 billion at the North East Development Commission (NEDC).

This followed the adoption of a motion by Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu who alleged that N100bn disbursed to the commission had vanished in less than a year with no appreciable impact on displaced persons or infrastructural development, which the commission executed in the North East.

When contacted to comment on the allegations, the Managing Director of NEDC, Mohammed Goni Alkali, said they did not misappropriate N100 bn and there was no fraud at the commission.

The NEDC was established by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2017, and charged with the responsibility of receiving and managing funds from allocation from the federation account and other sources for the settlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction of roads, houses and business premises destroyed by Boko Haram terrorists who have been waging war for over a decade.

How the allegation came about

Elumelu said it was alleged that the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouk, in conjunction with the managing director of the NEDC withdrew N5 billion to purchase military vehicles without approval by the NEDC board and disregard to the country’s procurement laws.

“There are allegations of how the managing director and his close associates diverted funds meant for the commission to purchase choice properties in highbrow neighbourhoods of Abuja, Kaduna and Maiduguri to the detriment of the suffering refugees and infrastructural development,” Elumelu said.

He noted that there had been massive displacement of Nigerians in the North East as a result of the activities of Boko Haram insurgents where houses, schools, mosques, churches, farmlands and businesses were destroyed rendering people homeless and jobless.

“The Northeast Development Commission Bill was signed into law in October 2017 by President Buhari to replace other initiatives such as the Presidential Initiative on Northeast and the Victims Support Fund and the board of management inaugurated in May 2019.

“The commission was established with a mission of coordinating funds accruing from the federation account and donor agencies for the purposes of rehabilitating and resettling of victims of insurgency, reconstruction of homes, infrastructural development and tackling of illiteracy in the northeastern part of the country,” he said.

He also said that the NEDC which was set up to ameliorate the sufferings of the people was now allegedly enmeshed in serious corrupt practices by the management.

“The corrupt practices include high handedness by the Managing Director, Mohammed Goni Alkali, over inflation of contracts, awards of non-existent contracts, massive contract splitting and flagrant disregard for the procurement laws in the award of contracts.

“These consistent abuse of procurement laws if not put to check may defeat the purpose for the establishment of the commission, hence the need for an urgent investigation,” Elumelu stated.

The House therefore mandates its Committees on Finance, Procurement and NEDC to exhaustively investigate the allegations and report back in eight weeks.

We didn’t get up to N100bn – MD

Responding to the allegations during a telephone interview last night, the NEDC MD Alkali said the commission did not receive up to N100 billion as alleged.

“Nobody gave us up to N100 billion; I really don’t know how they got that figure,” Alkali said.

On the allegation that they spent N5 billion in the procurement of vehicles for the military without approval by the NEDC board, Alkali said the records of what transpired are there.

“We didn’t spend N5 billion on vehicles for the military and most importantly, I want to assure you that we followed due process in the procurement; the Board of NEDC was fully aware. We are mindful of our mandate and we are doing our best to support the people,” he said.

Alkali said he would be willing to present himself at the National Assembly to defend activities of the NEDC whenever he receives invitation from the legislators.

Also speaking, the spokesman for the NEDC, Abba Musa, said the procurement of vehicles for the security operatives was the outcome of a meeting of relevant stakeholders in Maiduguri.

“There was a security summit in Maiduguri last year where part of the recommendations made in the communiqué was that the NEDC should support security operatives with logistics and that was what we did and the money spent was not up to N5 billion.

“The money was not up to N5 billion but it was above the approval limit of the commission. We therefore referred it to the ministerial tender’s board, which in turn sought advice from the Bureau for Public Procurement.

“The bureau responded appropriately and the vehicles were purchased. I want to assure you that NEDC did not receive up to N100 billion. Our take-off grant was N10 billion and N45 billion was budgeted for the commission in 2019 out of which N25 billion was released.

“And for the 2020 budget, you all know what is going on…So, I wonder how they came about N100 billion,” Musa said.

When contacted, the Deputy Director Information and spokeswoman of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Mrs Rhoda Ishaku Iliya, said they were not aware of the allegation by the House of Representatives members.

Senate asks NDDC mgt to refund N4.9bn

There is more trouble for members of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as the Senate yesterday asked them to refund N4.9 billion spent outside budgetary provisions.

However, an official of the NDDC said they will not join issues with the Senate.

Stories of alleged monumental corruption and misplacement of priorities at the NDDC dominated the media space last week as blame game continued to trail the proceedings of the investigative panel set up by the National Assembly to unravel activities of the commission.

The NDDC is a federal government agency established by then President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2000 with the sole mandate of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta region and ameliorates the sufferings of the people.

Buhari urged to dissolve NDDC c’ttee

The Senate during plenary yesterday urged President Buhari to dissolve the NDDC interim management committee.

It also advised the president to immediately nominate a fresh board of directors to take over the management of the commission.

Members of the upper chambers of the National Assembly took the position after considering the report of its Ad hoc committee on investigation of the alleged financial recklessness in the commission.

The Chairman of the committee, Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi (Ekiti North), while presenting the report said the absence of the board had created “a major lacuna of oversight of NDDC activities.”

The lawmaker noted that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, which supervises NDDC, was culpable of negligent supervision and could not function as effectively as a board would have done. Therefore, the Senate resolved that the interventionist agency should be reconsidered to report directly to the presidency in view of the huge resources allocated to it.

It was not clear at press time whether Buhari would accept the Senate’s recommendation to transfer the NDDC to the presidency.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, did not reply to a text message sent to him after a phone call.

But a credible source the normal procedure was for the Senate to send the recommendation to the president first.

The presidency on Tuesday promptly responded that only Buhari could decide the fate of his service chiefs in response to a call by the Senate for the top Nigerian military officials to resign following their inability to tame rising insecurity occasioned by killing of hundreds of people by terrorists, bandits and other criminals.

The report by the Senate committee yesterday indicated that for the purpose of consistency and equality of policy, there was the need to review the inconsistencies and differences in the control of the development commission.

“In retrospect, the original arrangement of putting these commissions in the Presidency should be carefully reconsidered to allow for direct Presidential oversight in view of the huge public resources allocated to them,” the report said.

To ensure accountability, it said a 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.

“This is necessary to ensure that there is sufficient check and balances in the internal affairs of the NDDC.”

N1.3 trillion spent in four years

Senator Adetunmbi said the interventionist agency had spent N1.3 trillion between October 2015 and May 2019.

He said that the NDDC embarked on several projects without the statutory referral to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) for approval.

The lawmaker noted that the agency engaged in contract splitting to lower the approval threshold, thereby avoiding control measures that would have queried the transaction.

He said his panel was not surprised that the N81.5 billion the commission spent between October 2019 and May 2020 was not development-oriented.

Adetunmbi said apart from salaries, several allowances were paid to NDDC staff members in a questionable manner.

According to him, N486.5 million was spent by the two interim management committees on overseas travel between January and May 2020.

Adetunmbi said the management also spent N4.9 billion on medical check- up between February and May 2020.

Majority of the expenses were made when the country was on lockdown, he said.

The Senate therefore demanded that the management of the Commission refund the N4.923 billion payment made to staff and contractors and all other expenditures on historical contracts in breach of procurement process and approval to the NDDC account with immediate effect.

We can’t join issues with legislators

An official of the NDDC told the Daily Trust yesterday that it would not be proper to respond to the allegations by the Senate on the pages of newspapers.

The official who spoke in confidence, said: “It won’t be nice to join issues with the National Assembly. They are only making recommendations to President Buhari.

“However, you should remember that the president had said that there should be coordination in the probe; and the National Assembly should be expeditious in its findings. He also said he should be kept informed.

“With due respect, our expectation is that the president will get a copy of the findings and recommendations by the National Assembly and thereafter call the leadership of the NDDC and the minister of Niger Delta Affairs to give their own side of the story so that he would take an informed decision. This is all I can say now,” he said.