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CLOSURE OF NDDC Headquaters Won’t STOP SENATE PROBE

There were indications on Saturday that the Senate ad hoc committee currently probing the alleged reckless spending at the Niger Delta Development Commission will go ahead with its assignment despite the temporary closure of the agency’s headquarters in Port-Harcourt,  investigation has revealed.

A member of the Senate panel, who spoke with our correspondent on the condition of anonymity on Saturday, lamented the  death of the acting Executive Director (Finance and Administration) of the NDDC, Ibanga Etang, who died on Thursday.

He, however, maintained that the incident and the closure of the agency’s headquarters for two weeks would not stop the probe.

All members of staff of the NDDC had been  sent home for a two-week self-isolation by the management of the commission, following suspicion that the late director might have died of complications arising from coronavirus infection.

An internal memo signed by Mr Silas Anyanwu, dated May 28, 2020 also ordered all members of staff to vacate the premises immediately.

A member of the ad hoc panel from the South – East geopolitical zone who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity said, “The Senate has given us an assignment and we must deliver on our mandate.

“We have done the necessary things by communicating to them seeking relevant information that we will work on.

“We believe that neither the closing down of the corporate headquarters of the agency nor the death of a director should prevent the various institutions of government and individuals in their official capacity from providing what we demanded.

“The death of an official will not stop us from doing our job because we don’t believe that he was the sole custodian of all the official documents we need.”

But the Chairman of the Senate ad hoc committee. Olubunmi Adetunmbi, told our correspondent on Saturday that  he was not in a position yet to determine whether the closure of the agency’s headquarters or the death of one of its directors would warrant the extension of the duration of the probe.

He said,

“Our ad hoc committee will brief the media on Tuesday. That is when you will know what we have done so far and our next line of action.”

Adetunmbi had last week, through an official communication obtained by our correspondent,  requested the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, and others to immediately explain in writing, their involvement in the alleged misappropriation of N40bn in the 2019 budget of the commission.

He also extended the request to the Ministry of Niger Delta, the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning as well as the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation to submit their memoranda.

Adetunmbi asked the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Bureau of Public Enterprises, all previous boards, the current and previous interim management of the NDDC to also submit their responses in writing.

The communication also listed all the governors of the nine member states of the NDDC, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, traditional rulers as well as contractors of the commission as those who should submit memorandum.

He said their written submissions which will be defended under oath at the investigative public hearing at a later date, should be submitted not later than Monday, June 8, 2020.

The Senate  had on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, asked the ad hoc panel to, within four weeks, conduct a thorough probe into the alleged reckless spending of N40bn in NDDC under the supervision of Akpabio as Minister of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.

Meanwhile, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, which also carries out oversight functions on the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the NDDC and the Presidential Amnesty Office, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, confirmed to our correspondent on Wednesday that the Senate ad hoc panel had commenced its work by sending invitations to necessary stakeholders, demanding written explanations from them.

He said the essence of setting up an ad hoc panel by the Senate would not have been necessary if the IMC had provided his committee with relevant information on their activities, as demanded from them earlier in the month.

He said,

“I am convinced that the decision to set up the ad hoc committee is very correct. The Senate, in its wisdom, set up the panel. The panel is investigating the activities of the IMC in this year, from January to date.

“The panel is conscious of the fact that the forensic audit is going on. The Senate and the House of Representatives panels are only probing the IMC within the last five months. We want to see their records and relevant documents. We want to see the account of their stewardship.

“The Senate  ad hoc panel had already written letters to them to submit documents. At the level of our committee also, we had earlier written them to provide us with their income and expenditure since the inauguration of the IMC. We also asked them to defend their 2020 budget.

“They replied us that they would not be able to provide the information we requested because of COVID-19. They gave the excuse because  they were having issues with some of the things we asked for, which they were supposed to provide.

“We demanded projects and project titles, projects allocation, contract sum, amount appropriated in 2019, amount paid, names and addresses of contractors, dates of award of contracts, and contracts duration.

“We also demanded the percentage stage of projects and programme,  details of projects executed showing bills of quantity, bills of engineering and measurement, payment made for projects awarded, completed projects and programmes.

“They are finding it difficult to supply all the information to us and these are the same information that the ad hoc committee will be asking from them. They know that if we have those information,  our other colleagues would have it so, they said there was COVID-19.

“There is COVID-19,  yet they are distributing palliatives, they are awarding contracts for palliatives, and they are moving from one state to another,  distributing the palliatives.  They are also moving from Abuja to Lagos every day yet, they cannot provide us with relevant information due to COVID-19.”

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