NDDC’s N6.25b COVID-19 palliatives diverted – top official

THE N6.25bn approved by President Muhammadu Buhari as COVID-19 palliatives for indigent persons in  Niger Delta   was diverted by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chairman of the Palliative Distribution Committee (PDC) , High Chief Sobomabo Jackrich,  has alleged.

Jackrich, in a petition he sent to both  the Senate and the House of Representatives , prayed the two chambers of the National Assemby  to investigate his claim with a view to compelling  the Prof. Keme Pondei-led IMC to account for the money.

Incidentally, Pondei yesterday insisted that the National Assembly ad-hoc committees probing the financial sleaze in the NDDC were  plotting to scuttle the forensic audit of the commission by discrediting it (NDDC) in their reports.

In the petition dated August 3, 2020,Jackrich also  accused  the IMC of deliberately refusing to pay security contracts, thereby compromising the security of the region and  fueling tension among the youth.

Copies of the petition were sent to the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan; the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and all the relevant committees of  the National Assembly.

Jackrich recalled that at the inauguration of the palliative committee, the President made it clear that the  N6.25bn  should be used to uplift the indigent and the poor in the Niger Delta.

He said that the palliative distribution was officially flagged off in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, but lamented that “today, all of that can be regrettably described as a show of shame and a scam.”

The PDC chairman claimed that the IMC staged-managed a camera-party where it distributed some food items  to an “insignificant number of persons in the Niger Delta to falsely give the impression that the palliatives had been distributed.”

A part of the petition obtained by The Nation reads: “The  N6.25 billion that was magnanimously approved by Mr. President to help the poor and indigent of the Niger Delta during this difficult period of the COVID-19 pandemic as palliatives has curiously been allegedly misappropriated and embezzled by the IMC of the NDDC and its  co-conspirators.

“As the chairman of the Palliatives Distribution Committee,  my findings is not only that the money cannot be accounted for, but there is nothing on the  ground to show that N6.25billion of our hard-earned tax payers money was invested for its original purpose which the President approved.

The materials and supplies were to be done through Emergency Procurement method as provided in Sections 42(b) (c) and 43 of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.

“Whereas the palliatives were meant for the indigent and poor, curiously, just a handful of food items though staged-managed, was provided and distributed to an insignificant number of persons in the Niger Delta states under a camera-party just to falsely give the impression that the palliatives have been distributed.

“Some of the food items were politically shared among the IMC choice areas, including a few states of choice which aligned with them politically to undermine the original essence of the Palliatives by President  Buhari which was approved with tax payers monies.

“As the chairman of the PDC, I cannot account for the palliatives as my committee was sidelined just because I, as the chairman, demanded for  accountability and transparency in the processes as well as value for money with respect to the palliatives.”

Jackrich said the template handed over to him indicated that nine trucks of food items would be distributed to each of the nine states in the region but lamented that the IMC hijacked the entire process.

He added: ”They called and handed me with few bags of rice and beans just to induce me to play along with them giving the false impression that the process was successful. This appears to me as a cover-up plot. Most of the foods items that they claimed to have distributed were spoilt and unhealthy for human consumption.

“Thus only the IMC can tell where they got those poisonous and rotten food items from. The next thing we heard surprisingly, was that the palliatives had been distributed.  I managed to monitor from a distance the charade and show-off since I and my committee were stripped of our assignments by the IMC in the distribution processes and left us incommunicado. All needed logistics that my committee was supposed to work with were denied us”

In the petition, Jackrich also said the NDDC  distributed old goods and wares as medical equipment  in its  warehouse to mislead the President.

“No single kit or COVID-19 test centres was set up by the commission in the Nine Niger Delta states till date. It is for the records that I state these facts. The money for palliatives approved by Mr. President was   corruptly diverted by the IMC in concert with identifiable powerful forces and so cannot be accounted for,” he said.

Jackrich appealed to the National Assembly to mandate the IMC to render an account on the procurement of the foodstuffs, medical equipment and their distribution in  the nine Niger Delta states.

He said: “They should show material evidence of compliance with the relevant Sections of the Public Procurement Act, 2007. They should show proof of procurement and utility of the necessary foodstuffs    medical equipment and distribution of same to the Niger Delta states by the PDC headed  by me.

“The IMC and any other public office holder(s) no matter how highly placed as long as this probe is concerned should be made to step aside or be suspended from office… so as not to interfere in the ongoing investigations in the NDDC.”

Efforts to reach the NDDC Director, Corporate Affairs, Charles Odili, to react to the petition proved abortive as his telephone number indicated busy.

He also failed to respond to text and WhatAspp messages sent to him.

Also yesterday Pondei,who fainted while quizzed by the House of Representatives Committee probing the financial recklessness,  said he  was not distracted by spurious allegations   by those bent on scuttling the ongoing forensic audit of the NDDC.

He was reacting to a   report credited to the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee that he and members of the IMC were collecting 30  per cent  of total contract amount from contractors before paying them.

Pondei  denied the allegation, saying: “It  is surprising and disappointing that the Senate committee can be attributed with unproven allegations as their final report.”

He claimed in a statement   by his Special Adviser on Media, Edgar Ebigoni, that  the siege on the NDDC had been broken with the naming of those who are behind the financial malfeasance and contract racketeering in the intervention agency.

A part of the statement reads:  ”The issue of financial recklessness is a matter of subjective judgment. The reports of the hearings have been submitted and it is clear there was no money missing at the commission.

“The response of the commission to the new reports is that there is no fraud at the NDDC. Prof. Pondei has run a very transparent administration and this transparency is now apparent after the searchlight put on his administration in the past one month.

“We suspect that after the scheming of the past four weeks failed to achieve the purpose of sacking the management and scuttling the work on the forensic audit exercise, the schemers are out again to heat up the polity. The point they miss is that the forensic audit exercise is a project of Mr. President. Hounding and haunting an innocent academic who is merely on a national assignment will not scuttle the audit.”

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