NDDC Probe Takes Dramatic Turn
• Pondei slumps, stalls hearing for minutes
• He had been ill for two weeks, says NDDC
• Probe NDDC, 20 CSOs tell Buhari
• Akpabio accuses lawmakers of benefitting from NDDC contracts
The sitting, yesterday, in Abuja by the House of Representatives committee probing the alleged misuse of N81bn by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) witnessed dramatic scenes.
The drama unfolded when the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Apkabio and the acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Prof. Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei took turns to testify.
Pondei was the first to testify.He mounted the stage and was grilled over alleged extra-budgetary expenditure by the Commission under his leadership. The exercise turned tragic as Pondei suddenly slumped.
Pondei, who appeared before the Mr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo led committee last week, had walked out on the lawmakers on the excuse that Tunji-Ojo lacked the moral grounds to chair the panel. He was first to arrive at the venue of the hearing about 10.30 a.m.
Other members of the NDDC Interim Management committee, including its Executive Director, Project, Dr Cairo Ojuogbo, arrived about 11.15 a.m. The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, who was also summoned to appear before the committee arrived with aides.
The proceeding commenced at 11.30 a.m. Pondei looked unruffled as he presented his case. He disclosed that contrary to notions that he oversaw the expenditure of the sum of N51.1billion from February to date, he explained that N38.6bn was spent on capital expenditure, while the sum of N20.5bn was expended on recurrent expenditure during the period.
Making reference to newspaper publications which captured how the money was utilised, he cited payments on training of the NDDC personnel, hotel accommodation in both Port Harcourt and Abuja, and arrears of money owed contractors.
He however began to lose his composure when the lawmakers queried him on the expenses he made without the approval of the National Assembly.Further enquiries by Ben Ibakpa (PDP: Delta), Wole Oke, who chairs the House Committee on Public Accounts (PAC) on the discrepancies revolving around payment of students scholarship, the NDDC headquarters building and the COVID-19 palliative expenses further unsettled Pondei.
Pondei, who admitted approving payment for the NDDC headquarters, denied ordering payment for the Lassa fever treatment. He also disclosed that the sum of N38.6bn was paid for various projects before the House resolution to probe into the affairs of the NDDC.
He was further scrutinised by Ben Kalu (Abia APC), as to whether payment of the sum of N1.9bn for COVID-19 palliatives was in tandem with the 2019 budget. Pondei in his response said the money expended was N1.32bn.
When asked to show evidence of the expenditure, Pondei was not forthcoming as he responded repeatedly, “I will provide answers because I don’t want to lie under oath.”
Asked how much he had received since he assumed office at the helm of affairs of the NDDC, he disclosed that he got N72bn, adding the N2.4bn approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the sum of N350m was approved for forensic audit before the 31st of last year.
Asked to explain monies paid to Clairpoint Consulting Media, he explained that it was meant to pay coordinators in the 129 local councils in the nine NDDC member states as part of the audit.
That, he said, was aimed at engaging locals to identify the locations of NDDC projects.
But Pondei suddenly collapsed as he was further asked to explain the payment of the sum of N336m to Save Life Campaign in the Niger Delta. NDDC officials, including Dr Ojuogboh, promptly attended to him; one of them was sighted fanning him with a white handkerchief amidst the confusion that that followed.
Within a minute, Pondei regained ‘consciousness’ and he struggled to put on his shoes, which were removed as part of efforts to revive him.
One of the officials was overheard saying repeatedly: “Let’s take him to the hospital.”
The development forced the lawmakers to adjourn abruptly for 15 minutes to enable them ascertain whether to go ahead with the hearing or not.
THE drama heightened as Akpabio, in his presentation, accused members of the National Assembly of having 50 per cent of contracts awarded by the NDDC.The claim by the Minister angered members of the committee who prevailed on him to name beneficiaries of the projects in the National Assembly.
Boma Goodhead (Rivers PDP), who was livid over the accusation said such claim equally implied that Akpabio who was Senate Minority Leader in the 8th Assembly must have benefited from such projects immensely.
Shehu Koko (Kebbi : APC), who noted that there was such a pending allegation, demanded from Akpabio to clarify if Tunji-Ojo was one of the beneficiaries of the projects.