In a strategic move to divert attention from the negative publicity its probe by the National Assembly has generated in recent weeks, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has invited President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate the 29-kilometre Ogbia-Nembe Road in Bayelsa State built in conjunction with the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) at the cost of N24 billion.
The road creates a land link to the ancient city of Nembe for the first time.
The commission has also promised to pay its scholars who are facing hardships abroad because of the non-remittance of their fees and stipends by the end of the week, following the order of the president.
Besides, NDDC upheld the list of contracts allegedly handled by members of the National Assembly, stressing that the list was not compiled by the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, but was taken from files in the commission.
The commission’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Mr. Charles Odili, in a statement in Port Harcourt yesterday said Akpabio had delivered the invitation to inaugurate the project to the president.
He explained that the delay in the remittance of the fees was caused by the sudden death of Chief Ibanga Etang, the then acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration (EDFA) of the commission in May.
Odili stated: “Under the commission’s finance protocol, only the Executive Director (Finance) and the Executive Director (Projects) can sign for the release of funds from the commission’s domiciliary account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“With the death of Chief Etang, the remittance has to await the appointment of a new EDFA.
“Senator Akpabio said President Buhari, who has been briefed on the protest by students at the Nigerian High Commission in London, has ordered that all stops be pulled to pay the students by the end of this week. We expect a new EDFA to be appointed this week. As soon as that is done, they would all be paid.”
On the road project, Odili noted that the road, which cuts through swampy terrain, with spurs to 14 other communities, needed 10 bridges and 99 culverts.
“To conquer the swampy terrain, the construction involved digging out four metres of clay soil and sand filling it to provide a base for the road.
“The road has cut the journey time to Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, from three hours to one and a half hours,” he said.
Odili said the joy of the communities served by the road was unspeakable, noting: “This project is a not only flagship of intervention in the Niger Delta, but it is also a model of the development partnership between the commission and international oil companies in the region.”
On the list of NDDC contracts handled by members of the National Assembly, Odili said the one submitted by Akpabio was not compiled by the minister but came from the files in the commission.
The NDDC spokesperson stated that the list was actually compiled by the management of the commission in 2018.
He added that there was another set of lists for emergency project contracts awarded in 2017 and 2019 but these were not submitted to the National Assembly.
Odili said: “The Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the commission stands by the list, which came from files already in the possession of the forensic auditors. It is not an Akpabio’s list but the NDDC’s list. The list is part of the volume of 8,000 documents already handed over to the forensic auditors.”
The spokesperson said the intention of the list was to expose committee chairmen in the National Assembly who used fronts to collect contracts from the commission, some of which were never executed.
Odili added that the list did not include the unique case of 250 contracts which were signed for and collected in one day by one person ostensibly for members of the National Assembly.
On the forensic audit exercise, he said it was on course and the commission had positioned 185 media support specialists to identify the sites of every project captured in its books for verification by the forensic auditors.