By Christiana Ekpa
Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei and his team on Thursday walked out on the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission, saying they were not prepared to make any presentation before the committee.
The Acting Managing Director had objected to the Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo presiding over the investigative hearing, insisting that he cannot preside over a matter in which he is an accused person.
Prof. Pondei however said that they will only answer the summon from the House of Representatives if they decide to set up an adhoc Committee, stressing that if that is not done, they will not honour the invitation from the House.
He said “Let’s just say that we are not comfortable with the Chairman of this committee presiding over a matter which he is an accused party. The NDDC has over time accused Honourable Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo of different crimes against the NDDC and it’s people, and he has responded in the press.
“He is an interested party and we do not believe that the NDDC can have justice because he cannot sit on his own case. We have no issues with appearing before the committee because we appeared before the Senate committee. And as long as he is the Chairman of this committee, the NDDC will not make any presentations here.”
Members of the House including Benjamin Kali, Ben Ibakpa and Shehu Koko told the Acting MD that since there was no document before the committee he is duty bound by the constitution to answer queries from the House.
Rep. Shehu Koko said “all of us know that we have a serious business here and that is why I said whatever testimony that we are going to take, it must be on oath. Before the chairman rules on what the Acting MD NDDC said, I will state categorically that – and this is the stand of the parliament – if you have anything against the Chairman of this committee, there are many ways you can report your matter.
“You can write to the Police, the EFCC, ICPC and you can also write to the House. At the moment, we do not have any written communication from NDDC on the issue they have with the Chairman which is personal.
“But the rule of the parliament is that nobody can come and dictate to us here that the Chairman cannot sit and preside over an issue because this is not the matter in question now”.
On his part, Rep. Benjamin Kalu cited the constitution saying that by the provisions of the constitution, the House has the power to regulate it’s affairs.
He said “I want to refer this committee as well as these invited guests to the provisions of our Constitution in Section 60… It is within the parameters of the law that the House regulates how it conducts its activities. The House has decided that this is a committee affair and not a personalised affair.
“Since it is not about the Chairman of the committee, and there is no petition or official document before the House, and the motion that called for this probe by this committee has not been rescinded by the House, I think it is out of order for an invited guest to instruct us on how to regulate the activity of the House. I’m praying that Chairman sustains this point of order.”
Another member, Rep. Ben Igbakpa, said, “Nigeria is not a Banana Republic, we are guided by the Constitution. Sections 88 and 89 give us express powers to summon and seek for information to avoid waste, corruption and inefficiency. And that is what we are doing. Nobody has come here to discuss your allegation because it is not an allegation before us; there is no document before us. Whatever allegation you have made us in the air and it remains in the air.
“You cannot come here to dictate to us, subject to Section 60. Obey that part of the Constitution and listen to what we have to do. Nobody is indicating you. You have the right to fair hearing and that is why you are here. But if you feel that fair hearing is not good for you, then it is sad as a nation.”
While members were still making contribution to the issue, the Acting MD sought permission to leave and walked out without waiting for the committee could either grant his request or reject it.
Furious members of the Committee accused the Interim Management Committee of trying to frustrate legislative functions of the House and ordered that a warrant of arrest be issued against him.
The motion to issue a warrant of arrest for the IMC was moved by Rep Benjamin Kalu and seconded by Rep Shehu Koko.
The Committee unanimously passed a vote of confidence on the Chairman of them Committee
However several contractors invited made their submission before the Committee admitting to receiving payment for various contract within the period under investigation.
Speaking with newsmen later, Prof. Pondei
said “we were suppose to appear before the committee of the House of Representatives investigating financial recklessness and malfeasance. Basically what the committee is investigating is missing N40 billion nobody is talking about.
“We have absolute respect for the National Assembly and that was why we appeared before the Senate ad hoc committee to investigate the same issues. We made our presentation over two days and we will wait for the outcome of that investigation.
“However, the committee that was set up in the House of Representatives is being chaired by the Chairman of the NDDC committee whose the NDDC severally accused of different things, he cannot be a judge in his own case for different because we are very sure we will not have a fair hearing.
“Yesterday for reason beyond our control, we were not able to appear but the reports that came out had already indicted us. They shaved our heads in our absence. The fact given by the Account General’s office in the Senate explained that between October 2019 and May 31, 2020, N81.5billion had been spent by the NDDC.
“Yesterday, according to what was read out by the Chairman, the amount was spent in four months by the NDDC; this already showed that there is a problem, a preconceived efforts to portray the management of the NDDC in a bad light and we know we won’t get justice in this.
“Any day a greasy ad hoc committee without anybody who is being accused by the NDDC is set up, the NDDC will appear because we respect the Nationality Assembly, we respect the Senate, we respect the Househas Representatives.
“When we saw that the committee was insistent that the chairman will continue, we had no option rather than to take a leave, we did not disrespect the National Assembly, we asked for permission to leave and we left.
“In the informal way, because we have always sort for peace, we voiced our reservation about the leadership of that committee. And somehow, it did not amount to anything, we knew about the chairmanship of that committee and we voiced our reservation to the appropriate quarters but nothing happened; may be we didn’t put it in writing but nothing happened.
He however refused to comment on the decision of the House to issue a warrant of arrest.