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NDDC’s CAN OF WORMS

NDDC

Board, management bicker over N1.4tr unapproved spending

Commission operates 367 bank accounts

MD to appear before Senate today

By HARUNA SALAMI

It was a serious drama between the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the management of the Commission during a probe by Senate Ad-hoc Committee on why the NDDC operated without budget in 2021 and 2022 totalling N1.4 trillion.

Chairman of the 15-member NDDC Board, Laurreta Onochie set the tone for the ‘fight’ when she said “regarding the budget of the NDDC as it concerns 2023, because we came in January 2023, I stand here to say I know nothing about it, I haven’t seen it, it wasn’t shown to me. No report was submitted to me other than the paper I have just received now. Other than that, I don’t know anything about the budget.

She said the board also knew nothing about the 2021 and 2022 budgets of the Commission since the board came in January 2023.

According to her, as soon as they came in, they set up a committee to look into the issue and report back to the board, but the committee was yet to report back.

In a letter Onochie wrote to the Ad-hoc Committee, which was read during the Friday meeting at the Senate, Onochie alleged that the management has spent billions of naira without the approval of the board.

“I write on the board of NDDC to share in the Senate’s concern over huge expenditure of the Commission’s resources without appropriating 2021, 2022. We sincerely hope the committee will be able to establish the value for the funds.

We respectively also wish to draw your attention to the fact that expenditure for 2023 seems to be going that route. The budget for 2023 did not go through the governing board as required by the NDDC Act (2000). The board has been in place since January 2023.

In this regard, it has been alleged that N4 billion was spent on the approval of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs for a retreat for the board and management in January 2023.

It is also alleged that N500 million was spent on public, private partnership (PPP) summit in Lagos where a purported $15 million MOU was signed by the management for a railway project which had neither the consideration of the board nor the Federal Executive Council (FEC), given the level of the expenditure.

“We have no idea from which appropriation year these expenditures came from. It is my respective advice that the 2023 expenditure be reverted to the Commission for the process to be followed in compliance with the NDDC Act.

“The new board is determined to ensure that the Commission is legally compliant in all processes and focus on achieving its mandate”.

After reading Onochie’s letter, chairman of the Ad- hoc Committee, Senator Yusuf Yusuf asked her if she tried to find out the state of affairs and she replied that the management kept saying “we’re going to defend the budget; that is all we keep hearing. Other than that nothing”, adding she wrote the MD on that.

She said the NDDC Act makes the managing director the accounting officer of the Commission, adding that all she has been doing in the past 5 months was to “remind the management on the need to do the right thing”.

According to her, because of the disregard for the board, she decided to keep record of infractions by the management, which culminated in her giving the MD query, but the MD refused to reply at the time of the Senate probe of the Commission.

The Ad-hoc Committee wanted to know whether the board had any engagement with the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, Mrs Onochie said she has tried, but “the Minister was not receptive to me for whatever reason”.

She said NDDC had no board before, the MD has been working with the Minister, adding , “that reporting line has not changed. We had a retreat with the minister who promised to look into the matter, but did nothing.

“They are used to sole administrator reporting directly to the Honourable Minister”.

Onochie alleged that the Commission operates 367 bank accounts.

However, General Charles Airhiavere (rtd), Executive Director, Finance &Admin), who represented the Managing Director at the Senate investigative hearing, an euphemism for a probe, countered Onochie in the allegations against the management.

Mr. Airhiavere said the main problem between the management and the board of NDDC is lack of trust.

The fact that the management and the board resume at the same time was the error that created the problem, adding that the management ought to have resumed first.

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Secondly, he said signature change brought “trust issue”. He said Onochie wanted change signatories to NDDC accounts in the CBN and Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), which did not go down well with the management.

“Everything we’ve spent from January to May 2023 are within the approval limit of the MD”, Airhiavere said, adding “most invitations for board meetings come a day before the meeting, except the last one, which gave 2 weeks’ notice and has been moved to next week”.

Airhiavere who is a member of management and also the board said the Chairman of Board signed CBN cards to change signatories, which has triggered trust deficit.

He said the Commission has only 4 Treasury Single Account (TSA) vis Overhead, Forex, EFCC (remittance) and EFCC (dollar).

He said the signatories to the accounts are Executive Director Finance (himself), Director (Finance), Director (Audit) and the MD (confirming signature).

The Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee, Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf ruled that the MD, Dr. Samuel Ogbuku must appear before the committee on Monday at 2 pm before the committee submits report on Tuesday.

The Committee also directed that allegations must be put in written form with documents to support such and that all relevant documents to the probe must be ready at today’s hearing.

Daily Times recalls that the Senate had on Tuesday, May 9, this year, found the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) wanting of spending N1.4 trillion without appropriation and subsequently constituted a seven-man ad hoc committee to probe the non- budgetary spending.

The total amount is accumulated sum of the 2021 and 2022 budget proposals of the Commission.

The Senate Committee on NDDC had presented a consolidated budget proposal for 2021,2022 and 2023 fiscal years of the Commission.

Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had, earlier this year requested the Senate to approve NDDC’s budgets for 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Proposed budget by Buhari, for NDDC in the three fiscal years are; N485.7 billion for 2021, N928.2bn for 2022, and N876 billion for 2023.

But Buhari’s request came after the Commission had spent the funds for the 2021 and 2022 financial years, totaling N1.4 trillion.

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Ihesiulo Grace

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