We are alarmed at the incident at the Public Hearing of the House of Representatives Committee probing the fraud allegations at the NDDC, which held today, Thursday, July 16, where the Acting Managing Director, Prof Keme Pondei, walked out on members of the committee. This is unprecedented in the history of this country that the Head of an MDA would walk out on a legislative committee carrying out its oversight functions.
The Nation newspaper reported that Pondei objected to the presence of Hon. Tunji-Ojo, the House Committee chairman. According to the newspaper report, “Pondei had objected to Chairman of the Committee, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, presiding over the investigative hearing, insisting he cannot preside over a matter in which he is an accused. Members of the Committee, including Benjamin Kalu, Ben Igbakpa and Shehu Koko, told the Acting MD that he is constitutionally bound to answer their queries.” The newspaper went on to report that Pondei said that, “he and the team were not prepared to make any presentation before the committee.” He now asked for permission to walk out. But before he was given permission, he walked out.
What Pondei and the IMC are trying to do is to sit in judgement over their own case. They are trying to avoid having to account in public for the humongous expenditure they have incurred as outlined by the Office of the Accountant General and the CBN who appeared before the Committee the day before. This cannot be allowed in any sane society, as the Committee rightly stated. This act of brigandage and braggadocio, which Pondei and other members of the IMC have come to display, portends grave danger for the separation of powers among the arms of government and must not be allowed to continue. This irresponsible conduct by the NDDC acting MD and his IMC team is an affront to the President’s Anti-Corruption stance.
By virtue of Section 88 of the Nigerian Constitution, the National Assembly is empowered to oversight ministries departments and agencies (MDAs) such as the NDDC. In particular, Section 88 (1) of the constitution (as amended), confers on the National Assembly the power to “direct or cause to be directed investigation into – (a) any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws, and (b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for – (i) executing or administering laws enacted by National Assembly, and (ii) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.” This is why the National Assembly has a responsibility to investigate the books of NDDC where Akpabio and the IMC have been accused of misappropriating several billions of Naira.
Our position is that Pondei and the IMC have more than enough outlets to report any lawmaker or official who they think has committed a crime to the police and the anti-graft agencies. They have no right to take the laws into their hands and decide not to appear before a duly constituted committee of the National Assembly.
We are not unaware of the fact that the pieces of evidence from the Senate and House of Representatives Committees’ Public Hearing of the last few days have exposed the lies and fraud at the NDDC under the IMC. These include revelations by Pondei himself that the IMC paid themselves N1.5 Billion as Covid-19 pandemic relief and evidence by the immediate past Acting MD Ms Joi Nunieh indicting the Niger Delta Minister Chief Godswill Akpabio. The IMC is, therefore, trying to dodge the call to account for the fraud under its watch by raising flimsy excuses. This must not be permitted.
We, therefore, ask President Muhammadu Buhari to call the members of the Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission to order and direct them to appear before the House and Senate committees and answer the relevant queries.
The National Assembly committees must be allowed the unfettered exercise of their lawful powers to investigate the NDDC and unravel the criminal activities going on at the Commission where billions of naira has been stolen under dubious circumstances.
Sotonye is the national coordinator of Transparency and Advancement Group
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