Niger Delta Affairs Minister Godswill Akpabio on Monday said the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) governing the board was yet to be inaugurated because there was an error in its composition.
He said the board composition was being reviewed despite the members being confirmed by the Senate.
The Senate on November 5 confirmed 15 of President Muhammadu Buhari’s nominees and rejected one.
Chief Press Secretary to Akpabio, Aniete Ekong, said that there were issues with the board-designate which needed to be resolved.
According to him, in line with the NDDC Act, it was the turn of Delta State to produce the chairman, rather than Edo State where the chairman-designate hails from.
Also on Monday, the Senator representing Delta North, Peter Onyeluka Nwaoboshi, challenged the NDDC Interim Management Committee (IMC) to substantiate the allegation that N1 billion was paid monthly to a consultant.
Speaking to newsmen through his Special Adviser on Legislative Matters, Luka Igbonoba in Abuja, the Senate Committee on NDDC Chairman urged the IMC to provide the consultant’s details.
Senator Nwaoboshi accused Akpabio of frustrating the inauguration of the NDDC board and asked him to explain how $91 million and N6 billion in the agencies coffers was utilised.
But, Akpabio said those against the IMC were afraid that the forensic audit ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari will expose them.
He explained why the NDDC governing board is yet to be inaugurated.
NDDC Acting Managing Director Dr Gbene Joi Nunieh said the Commission suspended the monthly payment of N1 billion to a consultant that collects money from International Oil Companies (IOCs) on its behalf.
“We have a consulting firm engaged as a collection agent. We have another company that also collects three per cent whenever money is paid by the International Oil Companies, ,” Nunieh told reporters.
However, Igbonoba asked the IMC to publish the facts if there are any such consultancy arrangements as well as the details of the company involved.
“Senator Nwaoboshi is challenging the IMC that if such a thing exists, they should publish it.
“If they have the facts and records to back their claims that Senator Nwaoboshi or a company linked to him is being paid N1 billion consultancy fee every month by the NDDC, let them avail the public with the records.
“What are you hiding? Let’s know who the consultant is or who owns the company. I can tell you that everything they are doing is about the protection of self-interest. Everything Akpabio cannot get he tries to destroy,” Igbonoba said.
He also described claims by members of the IMC that 1000 contracts were awarded to a Senator by the NDDC as pure lies.
“How many contracts do the NDDC award in a year that they will give 1000 contracts to one senator,” Igbonoba queried.
He said the failure of the Senate Committee on NDDC to accede to Akpabio’s overtures not to confirm the NDDC board nominees resulted in the ongoing campaign of calumny against Nwaoboshi by a member of the IMC.
“The IMC wanted to perpetuate themselves in power. They lobbied the committee and its chairman as well as the Senate that the new board members should not be screened. But they refused.
“The truth is that if this country must survive we must adhere to international best practices and the rule of law in the way we do things.
“This is the reason for the campaign of calumny against Senator Nwaoboshi. They are now accusing him wildly of things unfathomable,” he said.
He said that the claim that the agency did not have budgets for 2017 and 2018 were spurious because records exist to show that the Commission had approved budgets for the two years.
He described the transfer of the NDDC from the presidency to be an agency under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs as illegal.
“The annual budget for the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is just about N23 billion but Akpabio is looking for an elephant and he felt that that elephant lives in NDDC,” he said.
He, however, said Senate leadership was interfacing with the executive to resolve the matter.
But, Ekong said pending issues with the board-designate needed to be resolved before the members’ inauguration.
He said: “Senator Akpabio as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs only supervises NDDC. He does not run the Commission nor does he award any contract.
“It is President Buhari who approved the setting up of the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC to supervise the forensic audit so that the incoming board will begin on a clean slate.
“The exposure of phantom contracts and consultancies which have shortchanged the people of the Niger Delta justifies the forensic audit.
“Those who have engaged in the wanton looting of NDDC over the years are the ones sponsoring smear campaigns and wild allegations against Senator Akpabio because of the forensic audit ordered by President Buhari.
“They are scared that the forensic audit will expose those who have collected multiple contracts from NDDC, collect full payment without moving to the site of the job.
“But the forensic audit is not about Senator Akpabio. It is about the resolve of the President to get things right and fast track the development of the Niger Delta region. So it cannot be business as usual.”
On the board, he added: “There are many issues with the composition which are being looked into. For instance, the NDDC Act clearly stipulates that the Office of the Chairman of the Board will rotate among the states in alphabetical order.
“Consequently, after Cross River had produced the last Chairman in the person of Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, Delta State should produce the next Chairman otherwise it will be a breach of the Act.”