CONTRACT splitting is rampant in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), said Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio on Monday.
According to him, the management of the agency indulges in splitting contracts to outwit the minister and evade approval.
Speaking before the Niger Delta Committee of the House of Representatives in Abuja, the minister alleged that the agency spent “over N4.2 billion in tranches of N49 million per day.”
The committee is probing how N40 billion was spent by the Interim Management Committee (IMC).
Akpabio was invited along with Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, the NDDC’s Acting Managing Director.
Pondei fainted during the proceedings and had to be revived and taken to the hospital.
The Minister also told the panel why they sacked Ms. Joi Nunieh as the managing director of the department. After a letter from the late Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, Ms Nunieh, Akpabio said, was sacked because she did not possess the requisite qualification to hold a public office.
On the allegation that the agency had been awarding contracts without going through the procurement process and signing the necessary documents, the minister said that since he took office, only three contracts had been awarded.
The minister pointed out that the technical and financial bidding processes were conducted before they were awarded in all the contracting processes.
Akpabio, however, claimed that NDDC managers have been splitting contracts to evade his signature, saying he has no hands in the contract payments by the agency as government regulation does not allow ministers to pay for parastatals’ contracts.
He said: “It is not my business to approve payment for parastatal. Where they can come to me is when the payment is above N1 billion. Even at that, I must go to FEC to get approval.”
The minister said a minister could remain in the ministry for four years without understanding what was going on within the department because of contract splitting.
“Over N4.2 billion was spent in a day in tranches of N49 million,” the minister told the panel.
The agency ‘s management will grant contracts inferior to N50 million while the board has the N500 million threshold.
On the forensic audit ordered last year by President Muhammadu Buhari, he said the exercise was ongoing contrary, to Ms. Nunieh’s claim that the audit had not kicked off.
He added that nobody would have expected that the account of the agency would not be audited after 19 years of its existence.
Shedding light on what led to the sack of Ms. Nunieh, Akpabio said a memo from the late Kyari stated that “the former NDDC boss does not have an NYSC certificate”, adding that the letter formed one of the basis for her removal from office.
The other reason for her removal from office, he said, was insubordination and her refusal to honour a Federal Executive Council (FEC) invitation to offer explanation on certain actions of the commission.
Akpabio said:”She ignored the letter written to her by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry directing her to attend a meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC). She felt that she is bigger than the minister because she has a bigger budget.”
In a very rowdy session, Akpabio said the Agency’s budget for 2019 contained N2.5 billion for the forensic audit.
Amid the shout of ‘Hon. minister, it’s ok’; ‘Hon. minister, off your mic’, the minister kept talking, even when members urged him to stop his presentation.
Akapabio claimed lawmakers benefit more from contracts with NDDC.
He said: “Who are the greatest beneficiaries? It’s you people now…because if you look at your chairman…
“Are you asking me the benefits to National Assembly? I just told you that we have records to show that most of the contracts of NDDC are given to members of the National Assembly, but you don’t know about it. The two chairmen can explain to you. Let me explain…”
Akpabio however said “no” when asked whether he got a contract while in the Senate.
When asked if he had usurped the powers of past managing directors and to what extent he had influenced or exercised such powers within the agency, Akpabio said: “If I find out that the NDDC MD is not acting in the interest of the people of the Niger Delta, I will intervene. Which I had to do once when I learned about the Lassa fever bill.
I called and found out that they had paid N2.9 billion and they were about to pay another N572 million. I had to intervene to say they should not because there was no budget at that time. The contractor wrote to me to approve N572 million.”
A member, Benjamin Kalu, accused the minister of not answering the committee members’ questions, but Akpabio denied, saying “I am giving you the facts.”
Kalu also accused the minister of usurping the functions of the managing director by writing a letter to the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPP) to secure a letter of no objection.
But, Akpabio said: “It is the NDDC that eventually became the procuring agency. What happened was that we thought the government was going to pay for the forensic audit.
But when the approval of the President came out, he said the NDDC should pay and so the letter we wrote was withdrawn.
“We had even gone to the federal tenders’ board. But eventually, the NDDC became the procuring agency.”
Akpabio also denied the allegations from Ms. Nunieh that she had obtained his approval to share N10 billion from NDDC coffers to contractors.