By Christiana Ekpa
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio yesterday told the House of Representatives that the former Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Dr. Joy Nunieh was sacked following a letter from the late Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari that she does not have the requisite qualification to occupy a public office.
Akpabio who was testifying before the House of Representatives Committee investigating the missing N40 billion from the commission said Kyari’s letter stated that the former NDDC boss does not have an NYSC certificate, adding that the letter formed one of the basis for her removal from office.
He also said the other reason for her removal from office bothers on insubordination and her refusal to attend a meeting of the Federal Executive Council to offer explanation on certain actions of the Commission.
He said Dr. Nunieh said “she ignored the letter written to her by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry directing her to attend a meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
“ She felt that she is bigger than the Minister because she has a bigger budget”, he said.
In a rather rowdy session with members of the House Committee, Akpabio denied claims by Dr. Nunieh that the forensic audit of the commission has not commenced, saying the forensic audit has since commenced.
Shout of “Hon. Minister, it’s OK, Hon. Minister off your mic”, occasionally rent the air as Akpabio insisted on speaking even when members were talking and urging him to stop his presentations.
Members had queried the Minister on his alleged usurpation of the powers of the past managing director asking to what extent he had influenced or exercised such powers in the agency.
His reply: “If I find out that the MD of NDDC is not acting in the interest of the Niger Delta people, I will intervene. I had to do that once when I heard about the payment for lassa fever. I called and found out that they had paid N2.9 billion and they were about to pay another N572 million, I had to intervene and say they should not because there was no budget at that time. The contractor wrote to me to approve N572 million.”
A member, Benjamin Kalu accused the Minister of not answering the Committee question, but Akpabio denied the allegations, saying I “I am giving you the facts”
He also accused the Minister of usurping the functions of the Managing Director of NDDC by writing a letter to BPP securing a letter of no objection, but Akpabio said “It is the NDDC that eventually became the procuring agency.
“What happened was that we thought the government was going to pay for the forensic audit. But when the approval of the President came out, he said NDDC should pay and so the letter we wrote was withdrawn.
“We had even gone to the federal tenders board. But eventually, the NDDC became the procuring agency.
Akpabio also refuted allegations by Nuneih that he approved from NDDC coffers a whopping N10bn for her to share to its contractors
He further said that the N2.5 billion for the forensic audit exercise was included in the 2019 budget of the agency
On the allegation that the agency had been awarding contracts to its contractors without going through the procurement process and signing of necessary documents, he said that the agency only awarded three contracts after he assumed office as Minister.
The Minister also hinted that in all the contracting processes, both the technical and financial bidding processes were conducted before the contracts were awarded to contractors.
Akpabio however revealed that in a bid to evade his signing contract payments, the management of the NDDC splits contracts making it difficult for him to know what is going on in the Commission.
According to the Minister he has no hands in the contracts payments in the NDDC as government regulations does not allow ministers to pay for parastatals.
“It is not my business to approve payment for parastatal, where they can come tommenis when the payment is above 1/billion. Even at that, I must go to FEC to get approval, “ he said.
He said because of contract splitting, a minister could stay 4 years in the Ministry without knowing what was going on.
“Over N4.2 billion was spent in a day in tranches of N49 million, he said.
Akpabio also said that the forensic audit of the agency ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 is ongoing as against the wrong information by the past managing director that that the audit is yet to start.
He added that nobody would have expected that the account of the agency would not be audited after nineteen years of its existence.