Amid a worrisome massive contract fraud at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a supposed development agency for the environmentally despoiled and impoverished Nigeria’s oil and gas region, and an alleged intense pressure by the Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Godswill Akpabio, on the commission’s management to settle some spurious contract deals, the Senate Committee on the region, has rejected Akpabio’s 2020 capital budget of N23 billion due to uncompleted projects in the oil-polluted region.
The minister who is allegedly being linked with a N108 billion rip-off in Akwa Ibom State when he held sway as governor (2007-2015), is also being linked with a seeming desperate attempt to shield Nsima Ekere and Nelson Brainbamfa who allegedly looted over N450 billion through phony emergency contracts at the NDDC when they held office as the commission’s managing director.
Ekere, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) of President Muhammadu Buhari, a supposed corruption fighter, was Akpabio’s deputy in Akwa Ibom.
Akpabio allegedly started piling pressure on the NDDC Acting Managing Director, Mrs Akwagaga Lelegima Enyia, to pay N30 billion to an unnamed contractor. Insiders say since her appointment, Mrs. Enyia has been struggling to contain pressures being mounted on her by Akpabio to pay contractors.
However, Chairman of the Senate Committee, Peter Nwaoboshi, made the committee’s rejection of the capital budget known when Akpabio, appeared before the panel to defend the ministry’s budget of N25, 910,486,285. The ministry will be reappearing before the panel on October 28.
Senator Nwaboshi said with the oversight function carried out in Akpabio’s ministry, it was realised that the bane of the ministry was abandoned projects littered all over the nine Niger Delta states, pointing out, ‘’there is no state, I dare to say that there is no local government where there is no abandoned projects in the Niger Delta.
‘’We cannot continue like that. With all the abandoned projects in the Niger Delta and we are talking about new projects; these new projects are designed to fail. We need to look at this budget again and we expect you to do your clean-up because the document we needed were not supplied to us.’’
Senator Sandy Ojang (PDP-Cross River) said: ‘’We just looked at the presentation and we are faced again with the vanity of having a budget and almost through the budget year, there are no capital release. It calls for concern and deep worry. A budget situation where the capital outlay is even lower than personnel and other cost is problem. But to speak of a situation where nothing is released for capital is tragedy.’’
While Ojang called for a collective effort by the Legislature and the Executive to ensure putting in place a credible budget document, Akpabio said in 2019, N35.2 billion and N877 million were allocated to his ministry for Capital and Overhead Expenditure, pointing out that out of the capital appropriation of N35.2 billion, no fund had been received for capital projects.
According to him, ‘’a total budget of N25.9 billion was allocated to the ministry, personnel; N1,14 billion overhead; N877 million and capital N23.8 billion. The senators feel that there ought to be completion of major projects that are already in the Niger Delta. I agree with them but unfortunately, we are working under a very tight envelope.
‘’The ministry was allocated the sum of about N23 billion and 60 per cent of it will go to already existing projects in the region and so 40 per cent will go to probably new projects in the region. So if you look at it very well, it is not possible for you to capture all projects with that amount and it is not even going to be possible to complete even 10 kilometers of road in the region.
‘’So I think instead of saying that the budget was rejected, I think that the distinguished senators should collectively make an appeal to the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning to improve upon the envelope to expand it a little.’’
In the mean time, Ekere and Braimbaifa both allegedly looted N240billion and N200billion respectively when they served as MD of the NDDC.
Apparently alarmed by the alleged massive fraud in the commission, President Buhari ordered for a forensic audit of the accounts of the intervention agency. But, it seems Akpabio is not obeying the President’s order in a bid to shield Ekere and Braimbraifa.
Those who know better say NDDC is characterised by an unprecedented pattern of sleaze, fraud, involving the award of phony emergency contracts that never existed or were never done but payments approved. For instance, Ekere who took charge of the commission in 2016, collected a total sum of N500 billion, out of which he allegedly approved for N240 billion for phony emergency contracts.
After three years as NDDC big boss, he allegedly hauled over N240 billion from shady contract deals. Ekere quit the juicy office to run for the governorship of Akwa Ibom. But he lost the elections to the Peoples Democratic Party.
Following his exit, Professor Nelson Braimbaifa was appointed as a replacement in February 2019. As soon as Braimbraifa assumed office, he immediately started awarding emergency contracts. By the time he was fired after six months, Briambraifa and his two sons, Christopher and David, allegedly looted the commission of over N200 billion through spurious contracts.
In a single award letter dated February 25, 2019, with reference number NDDC/BPP16/2019/02/01, for Emergency Repairs of Roads, Brambraifa signed off strings of rollover contracts worth N81.2 billion for repairs in nine states but no specific contractors were listed.
In May 2019, Brambraifa had sought permission from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), to transfer contract award signature from Sam Adjogbe who was acting Executive Director of Projects of the NDDC. Upon approval, Brambraifa allegedly gave himself the powers to sign all contracts. He started signing contracts and backdating them from April 2019 when Adjogbe was still the signatory to contract papers.
Some audit reports tend to show that Braimbraifa backdated and signed over N130 billion contracts before he was kicked out as the boss of NDDC, thus forcing some worried staff to claim that the corruption in NDDC is almost like what is at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation.