Executive Director of Projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Dr Cairo Ojougboh, in this explosive interview with from NEWSEXPRESS,discloses those who perpetuate fraud in the NDDC
The activities of the NDDC, especially the Interim Management Committee which you are a member have come under searchlight. As an insider, can you take us through the nature of the crises?
Dr Cairo Ojougboh: Thank you very much. What is happening in the NDDC is quite unfortunate. I will like to begin from when we came in as the Interim Management Committee. When we got to the NDDC, we met a letter from the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio stopping a consultancy arrangement given to two firms.
One of them was illegally collecting revenue on behalf of the NDDC for statutory payments and they were earning N1 billion every month. When the minister came in, the company invited the Minister to join the fraud. The Minister said “No”, and immediately asked for the stoppage of that consultancy.
Another company went to LNG and claimed they were the ones who initiated statutory payments from LNG. And the company belongs to a serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The letter says they collected $28 million and then exchanged it for N360 to a dollar. As at that time the exchange rate was not N360 to $1. The CBN was exchanging for N225 to $1. And at the end of the day, they asked for 20 percent of the $28 million. They were paid. They wanted to continue. Senator Akpabio said “No”, this is fraud against Nigeria and hell was let loose. They claimed that this is the money used to work in the National Assembly in Abuja. According to the chairman, if there is any contest in the National Assembly this is where they source the money from. The IMC wrote letters to these contractors and because of that they declared war on the IMC. Let me make this clear. The Hon. Speaker and the President of the Senate are not aware of what the Chairmen of the Committees are doing in the National Assembly. And even members of the committees are not also aware. It is just one-man squad.
Between 2016 and 2019 emergency contracts of over N2 trillion were awarded under the supervision of the Chairmen of both committees. And I have the list of how the contracts were distributed. In the list, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta collected 1,000 of those jobs and said he was going to share it among the senators, but the senators denied knowledge of such files. We have the records. These 1,000 contracts were collected by one senator purportedly on behalf of the Senate.
The immediate crises that we are witnessing is as a result of the budget. How did the budget run into problem? The bureaucracy told us when we came in that in 2016 there was no budget, 2017 there was no budget. 2018 there was no budget. The budget for 2019 was passed some few weeks ago. What led to it? When a Chairman of Senate Committee came in in 2015, he called the bureaucracy of NDDC and told them to insert jobs worth N15 billion for him, they went back and complied. But when the budget was sent to him he said he did not mean N15 billion but N150 billion. The bureaucracy went back but couldn’t comply because there was no way they could do that. The Chairman advised them to award the contract as emergency jobs so that they won’t go through the due processes. That was how the emergency procedures were breached and the commission presently has liabilities of over N3 trillion. How can this continue?
And that is what the IMC and the Hon. Minister said we have to write in. It didn’t just stop there. The Chairman of the House Committee on Niger Delta came to us and brought out emergency training programme for N6.4 billion and said that he has met the first milestone and that the commission should pay him N3.7 billion. We said this milestone you are talking about cannot be paid because you have not done it. He said the job belonged to the speaker and we said we cannot pay. We went and met the Speaker and the Speaker said he was not aware of such a thing. This was not in the budget at all. When they passed the 2019 budget, the Chairman, House committee included it and insisted we must pay the money and we said we cannot pay.
They said the IMC has stolen N40 billion, how can that be possible? All the payments we have made on projects were duly verified. I took my time as the Executive Director Projects, to go from State to State to verify the projects and document them. Whenever we are satisfied that you have done jobs that merit payments we will pay you. And we were not paying as they used to pay so the contractors are very angry.
Before now, once you have a contract in NDDC, it was like you have won a lottery. A contract in NDDC that was awarded for N700 million can be executed with N10 million to N20 million. But we brought in changes. When we inspect the project we look at your Bill of Engineering Quantity and rate the job that you have done and issue you the interim payments certificate for that Job. And through this process we have saved the commission over N50 billion already. Can you believe it that since the inception of NDDC the Agency has not done even 10 kilometres of dualised road in Niger Delta. Reputable companies like Julius Berger has never been engaged to execute projects in Niger Delta.
Between 2007 and 2011, the NDDC awarded some contracts in Delta State. N1.37 billion was supposedly spent on water projects. An investigation report was carried out towards the end of last year to look at these water projects. Of these, eleven of the projects listed as completed were abandoned. In view of this what are your expectations from the forensic audit?
These cases that you are talking about have nothing to do with the present Interim Management Committee. We were not there at that time. Since we came on board, the IMC has not awarded any contract. The only contract that we have awarded is the Covid-19 contract approved by the President. So the ones you are talking about like water hyacinth, river desilting, etc, the payments were not made by us. It has not nothing to do with us and that is part of what the forensic audit is unraveling.
The reason some people are fighting is that they are scared that the forensic audit is unveiling this already and they are doing everything to stop the forensic audit. They want to smear the IMC enough for people to say that the forensic audit is not necessary. Where were the two Chairmen of the National Assembly Committee before now, why didn’t they institute this ad-hoc probe before now? From 2001 – 2019, why had they not thought it necessary to investigate what was going on in the NDDC, but when we came on board we said it cannot be business as usual. The Minister gave us a marching order to stop corruption in the NDDC. So the N1 billion monthly payment to an individual has been stopped. The water hyacinth scam has stopped. The ghost trainings that they used to do has been stopped. River desilting contracts and other avenues of fleecing the Commission has been stopped. The payments we have made are verified commitments. Every Kobo we have spent, we will account for it.
You have mentioned the names of some persons and the Chairmen of the Committees of Niger Delta in the National Assembly. Do you have any facts to buttress your point?
In 2018 a contract was awarded for N3.7 billion. The contract was for the supply of plastic chairs and desks to schools in the Niger Delta. The contract was awarded to a Senator. The same commission that awarded the contract gave stores receipt to say that the chairs and tables were supplied to Aguede Akwis, Benin Express Way, Okpanam before Wichtech Aluminium Company. Who owns the store where NDDC supposedly supplied the chairs to? Who received them? This matter is already before the anti-graft agencies.
What we plead with Nigerians, the President of the Senate and the Speaker is to allow the forensic audit to take its course. Let them not distract us from what Mr President has ordered. We are open to investigation today or forever. If at the end of any investigation I am indicted let me go in for it. When I speak, I speak the truth and I will leave this office full of confidence that I have had an opportunity to serve the people of Niger Delta. We are liberating the NDDC. What use to happen in the past won’t happen again.
When a committee chairman will have 12 people in NDDC carrying files from table to table. This is when the Minister with the IMC said this must stop. You cannot go to NIMASA, you can go to Central Bank, you cannot go to NNPC and do that. So don’t come and do it here. Enough is Enough, if they like, they can use the social media and the mainstream media to blackmail us. It will not work. Every payment that we have made can be verified and confirmed. The Honourable Minister has said go and work and stop the corruption in that place. The IMC will do just that. The IMC has not paid for water hyacinth.
The problem we have with the two Chairmen of the Committees on Niger Delta is that when we submitted our budget, they vandalised our budget, they raped our budget. For 2019 we have had additions that they made to our budget. We submitted the 2020 budget over two months ago, nothing has been done about it. The two Committee Chairmen sat on it, asking for all manner of things and we said No. NDDC must be allowed to function. The purpose for which it was instituted must be realised. I call on Niger Deltans to be alert to see how this works out. When the forensic audit is concluded, Nigerians will be shocked by the discoveries. The reason I am calling these names is because we have facts and documents.
We had a meeting over the virement of some projects with the Chairman, House Committee of NDDC. It was resolved that I should sit down with the chairman of the House of committee. We told them that this is what you have done to the budget and it is not possible. We have to rework it. And the Chairman agreed and said we should go and bring a letter of virement. The letter of virement is normally routed from the Minister to the President and then to the National Assembly. And they said as you are routing the letter to the President let us have an advanced copy so that we can work on it. The issue of virements are they payments? We will not be distracted.
Who are the forensic auditors? What have they found out? Why has anybody not been arrested? Can you tell us more?
The forensic audit is different from the normal audit and there are laws governing the country . You have to pass through due process. For the forensic audit to become legal you have to have the buy in of the Auditor General of the Federation, which we have already done. You have to get the due process certification which we have already done. You have to also get the approval of the Federal Executive Council which has also been approved and given us the go ahead. These international audit firms have been have been engaged to carry out forensic audit. They don’t go shouting. They are doing it quietly. As we speak, a lot of properties, hotels have been seized. It is ongoing. Contractors who were paid for jobs not done are jittery. When we handed over all the documents of the commission’s projects to the lead forensic auditor, it was shown on national television. Immediately after that hell was let loose and those who have benefitted from the corrupt system started sponsoring smear campaigns against the Minister and the Interim Management Committee because they know that their end had come.
Some people are saying that the interim Management Committee should not be involved in the forensic audit in any way. That the audit should be a completely independent exercise. And we know that the Accountant General of the Federation has had cause to raise a number of questions about the IMC in regards to the headquarters building.
What are the details and do you agree that the IMC should not be involved in the audit?
The query you saw on the internet is a very big lie. It is fake news. There is nothing like that. It is the same people who concocted it. As an investigative journalist go and ask the Accountant General or the Auditor General if anything like that exists. They have never raised such issues because all due processes have been followed. It is non-existent.
About the Headquarters building, when the contract was awarded during this period of OMPADEC. It was awarded for only N400 million then, over 20 years ago. This was far before Senator Akpabio became Minister, during the tenure of Obong Nsima Ekere as MD when Pastor Usani Usani was the Minister. They took a memo to the Federal Executive Council that they needed to review the contract and change the contractor since the contractor that handled it didn’t have the capacity to deliver it. It was awarded to a new contractor. By this time Senator Akpabio was Minority Leader in the Senate.
When Akpabio came in, the NDDC was paying N300 million annually as rent for the present headquarters building. Meanwhile nobody knows where this money goes to because the Rivers State Government said the building was given to the NDDC free of charge. Which means somebody is sitting on N300 million every year. Senator Akpabio said No, that we can’t continue like that. And gave us the marching order to work day and night to complete the headquarters building. As we speak if not for the coronavirus pandemic, the headquarters building would have been commissioned. When the sponsors of falsehood write that it is 50 percent completed, please I challenge you to go to Eastern By-pass in Port Harcourt and see the level of work there. All the equipment are in place. All that is remaining is furnishing because we don’t want to commission an empty building. We have concluded arrangements for the furnishing.
When the headquarters building was awarded for N16 billion, Senator Akpabio was in the opposition indeed the Senate Minority Leader. So how could Akpabio had influenced on the award of the contract. Since Akpabio became the minister the headquarters building contract has not been reviewed. On the forensic audit, how independent can it be when you have the big four international audit firms in the world involved in the process. These are not persons you can bend. The people who have collected money without executing the jobs don’t want these international companies to do it. They wanted to give it to charlatans so that they can compromise them but we said No.
If Senator Akpabio wanted to steal money the N1 billion that was paid out every month would have continued. If Senator Akpabio wanted to steal money the N3.7 billion that the chairman of the committee asked for would have been paid and shared to Akpabio. But we said No. We don’t want all these things. Mr President has confidence in us. We cannot betray it. On a normal day in the past, if you go to NDDC head office you will see very many people trooping in there. If you go to NDDC today, we have cleared the place.
We have paid money that have been owed people especially those under N50 million. We have the list. Some of them borrowed money to execute these contracts and they were not paid. The Minister said help these people, verify their jobs and pay them and clear the place and there is joy in the Niger Delta. The luck we have is that we don’t have a mace in the NDDC. If we had a mace somebody would have come to steal it. There is no mace to be stolen.
There are claims that the NDDC has not been properly funded. In your view how can the NDDC ensure proper autonomy?
First and foremost, if you are given One Naira and you cannot manage it, the tendency is that if you’re given One billion Naira you would also not be able to manage it. The first thing to do is to clean the place up and that is what the forensic audit hopes to achieve. Once we get it right then the money coming into the NDDC will be properly handled. The NDDC does not need a third party to collect statutory payment on our behalf. We will enforce the Act setting up the NDDC and when we enforce it, the Federal Government will pay what they are owing, because the Federal Government is also owing. The oil companies are owing. When we aggregate all of them we can then go for regional projects. If you look at what the two chairmen of the committees in the National Assembly did, all the regional projects of Mr President were removed from the budget. And as we speak go and ask them where the budget of 2020 is. We are still arguing about the 2019 budget in the middle of 2020. When are they going to give us our budget? I don’t mind leaving my present position but while I am there, I have to give a good account of myself.
In the course of this interview you have severally mentioned Senator Akpabio. Some people have said that Senator Akpabio may be out on a witch hunt mission targeting past managing directors of the commission especially Obong Nsima Ekere and Ms Joi Nunieh. What’s your response to these?
That is very laughable. Let me say this, the forensic audit was not initiated by Senator Akpabio. The forensic audit came as a result of the visit of the Governors of the nine states of the Niger Delta to Mr President. The governors told Mr President that the NDDC was a can of worms, and that the corruption there must be unearthed. Did Senator Akpabio send the Governors to go to the President? The President accepted what the Governors said and instituted the forensic audit. How does that target Nsima Ekwere? Don’t forget that Nsima Ekwere and Akpabio worked together during the last election not too long ago.
How can the minister witch-hunt Joi Nunieh? For what reason? The minister has been a Commissioner, a two-term Governor, a Minority Leader in the Senate and now the Minister. So is Akpabio envious of Nsima Ekwere and Joi Nunieh that he would witch-hunt them? What did they do to him? What is the area of conflict? This is just the figment of the imagination of those peddling it. And this is how they start problem. They will go and tell Nsima Ekwere one thing, tell Joi Nunieh another and tell the minister another thing. Their target is to destabilise the IMC, destabilise the minister and the NDDC so that the ongoing forensic audit cannot see the light of the day. It will not happen. We shall not be distracted.
How buoyant is the NDDC? How much is in the account of NDDC? How solvent is the NDDC right now?
The NDDC has a commitment of N3 trillion. And this where your question becomes very relevant. The two Chairmen of the committees of Niger Delta without the knowledge of the other members colluded and committed the NDDC to over N2 trillion. Imagine that we have N2 trillion now, and started paying debts it will not change the landscape of Niger Delta. So the NDDC is not buoyant because the commitment is enormous. But what we have done is to go through those contracts that were awarded without due process with fine com, make sure that we cancel them within the limits of law. Many contractors have gone to court and got judgment against the NDDC.
The ones that are genuine and verified, we pay them. What we do is to go to the field and verify the jobs. What is remaining is for forensic audit to get those who have either been over paid or paid for jobs not done so that we can go and recover our money. You will see the amount of money that will be recovered at the end of the forensic audit exercise. Even now, look at the properties and the hotels that the authorities have confiscated. This is why we are encouraged to keep doing what we are doing. We are not listening to this smear campaign because they are distractions. But it’s getting out of hand. With due respect the National Assembly is an institution I belong to and I will hate to desecrate it. And I will not. I have been there as a member. I have been there as a Presidential Liaison Officer to the President of this country and it is a place I understand the working. The Speaker and the Senate President and the Members don’t know anything that is happening there. It is just the two Chairmen of the Committees. Let me point out something to you. From 1999 till date the Chairmen of the House Committee on Niger Delta have been from Delta State. ..They removed the regional project of Mr President. And then you gather all manner of people in social media to throw stones at us when you know the truth.
If you say the past management are responsible for the corruption we are seeing, why haven’t they been reported to the EFCC?
The case of the supply of chairs and desks that I’ve shown you, has been reported to anti-corruption agencies because you cannot imagine getting a contract from the commission and you supply the same items to yourself. Can you beat that?
I see that you have a file that contains documentary evidence. Those documents may be useful in court to prove cases against the people who have defrauded the NDDC. I raise these concerns because recently Prof Pomdei raised an alarm that there would be arson.
It was the Inspector General of Police who wrote to us and sent the Rivers State Commissioner of Police to alert us that some of these dubious contractors were planning to burn down the headquarters of NDDC. We have sent all the documents to the forensic auditors and they are safe. I had to retrieve those ones because of this interview. The public must know what is going on. There is no single Kobo missing in NDDC. I repeat we have not awarded any contract. We have not paid for river desilting. We have not paid for water hyacinth. The payments we have made are recurrent because people must earn salaries. Before we came in, the service providers were owed three to four years some went to court and we have paid. The jobs we have verified and confirmed we have paid. And that is all we have done.
Mark this date. On the 15th of May 2019 NDDC paid N50 billion in one day to NGOs. If you see what has happened in the NDDC you will weep for this country. That is why they don’t want the forensic audit to see the light of the day. But Mr President is determined. The Minister is determined and we shall provide the enabling environment for the forensic audit to be concluded.
An NGO has described as suspicious the refusal of the minister to allow the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit to participate in the forensic audit. What’s your comment on this?
We are not averse to anybody joining. We started the forensic audit by inviting the anti – graft agencies like the EFFC, DSS, etc, to join us. The NFIU normally does not participate in audits but we don’t mind at all because they are also following. They follow the account of everybody. Have you seen a commission that signs an agreement without a date? All the agreements in NDDC none is date. Can you believe it? All the agreements for contracts, agreements for consultancy, etc, none has a date. That is the NDDC that we took over from.
What is the way forward? Some people have suggested that the way forward. Some say the IMC should be disbanded or the NDDC should be scrapped in the long term. What’s your take?
The first is forensic audit. The second is forensic audit and the third is forensic audit. The reason they say the IMC should be disbanded, they know that if the IMC is disbanded you will disorganise the forensic audit. They don’t want it. Every attempt to induce and compromise us and make us scuttle the forensic audit has failed. The only hope they have to stop the forensic audit is to ask for the scrap of the IMC. Any person asking for the scrapping of the IMC is complicit in this affair.
Even if you want to scrap the NDDC or wind it down, you must audit it. So the forensic audit is central. It must happen. And the reason that you cannot scrap the NDDC is that you cannot throw away the baby with the bath water. We want autonomy for NDDC so that NDDC can prepare a budget and send it to the National Assembly and it will come out not distorted by the committee chairman.
Culled with minor editing