By Sanni Onogu, Abuja and Mike Odiegwu, Port Harcourt
The Senate on Thursday began a fresh probe of alleged misappropriation of N6.2 billion by the dissolved Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The money was to provide palliatives to cushion the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
The investigation followed a petition by Chairman of the NDDC Palliatives Distribution Committee, Sobomabo Jackrich.
Jackrich told the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges that the IMC, led by its immediate past Managing Director, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei, squandered the fund.
He added that he has all the evidence to support his allegation.
The latest allegation adds to the list of other alleged misappropriated funds by the IMC which is currently being investigated by the Federal Government and at least two other committees of the Senate.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Petitions, Ayo Akinyelure (Ondo Central) said he was not aware of any distribution of palliatives by NDDC in the region.
The Committee, however, stepped down the hearing after none of the affected NDDC officials showed up.
The committee insisted Pondei and his colleagues must appear to explain how the money set aside to benefit poor indigenes of the Niger Delta was utilised.
They are expected to appear on January 26.
Pondei ‘fainted’ on July 20 during his presentation at the probe of the NDDC by the House of Representatives.
Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio and the MC appeared before the House Committee on Niger Delta over alleged corruption.
The committee was investigating an alleged N82.5 billion irregular expenditure in the NDDC
The House said the documents submitted by both the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Auditor-General of the Federation showed that the total amount spent by the NDDC from January to May 2020 was N81.5 billion.
It said the commission claimed to have spent N1.3billion on community relations, N122.9million on condolences, N83million on consultancy and N3.14billion on COVID-19.
The IMC was also said to have spent N486million on Duty Travel Allowance, N790.9million as imprest, N1.956billion on Lassa Fever, N900m on Legal Service and N220m on maintenance.
Others are N85.6million on foreign travels, N1.121billion on public projects communication, N744million on security, N8.8billion on staffing-related payment and N248million on stakeholders’ engagement from February 18 to May 31, 2020.
President General Muhammadu Buhari last Saturday named NDDC Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Mr Effiong Okon Akwa, as the commission’s interim administrator.
The Presidency attributed the sack of the Pondei-led IMC to the plethora of litigation and a restraining court order.
Also yesterday, the Watchdog for Progressive Ijaw (WPI) appealed to stakeholders in Ijaw ethnic nationality opposed to the appointment of Akwa to sheathe their swords.
Its Coordinator, Lambart Olambo, said Ijaw was not against the appointment of Akwa having understood the reasons behind the decision.
Olambo, in a statement, said President Buhari desired to give the NDDC a new beginning, which would take effect after the ongoing forensic audit of the commission.
He said: “Contrary to claims in some quarters, Akwa was not appointed by the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio. He was directly given the job by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Our inquiries revealed that President Buhari believes in cleaning up the NDDC and giving it a fresh and new beginning. It was for this reason the President initiated the forensic audit of the commission.
“The President initially appointed an IMC, which depended on the Ministry of Niger Delta to access the funds reserved for NDDC. Following allegations of graft and other issues of mismanagement against the IMC, the President dissolved it.
“But since the objectives of appointing the IMC could not be realised, the President opted for the appointment of a sole administrator to conclude the forensic audit.
“After the conclusion of the audit, the President will immediately revert to the traditional method of administering the NDDC by constituting a new board.”