Edozie Udeojo, Abuja
The Senate on Tuesday insisted that no amount of distraction will hinder it from probing the N40billion illegally expended by Interim Management Committee ( IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission ( NDDC ).
Sounding it a warning, the Red Chamber said those fighting against the planned probe should refrain from it.
The Senate, issued that it would not be arm twisted by the Interim Management Team (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), as it has vowed to go ahead with its probe of the commission.
On Tuesday, the decision by Senate to must probe NNDC followed a fresh demand for extension of time by the Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee , mandated to carry out the investigation, Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi ( APC Ekiti North ).
Relying on Order 43 of the Senate standing rules, Adetunbi explained that due to COVID-19 pandemic and attendant lockdowns, many of the Stakeholders invited by the committee did not respond on time.
He however said some have indicated interest to honour the Senate invite and to appear before it.
Consequently, the Senate, as was announced by Senate President Ahmad Lawan, granted the Committee four additional weeks to carry out the investigation.
Lawan said: “We wish the Committee a very successful exercise and urged it to remain focus as far as the planned investigation on finances of NDDC under the Interim Management Committee ( IMC), is concerned .
“The move by the Senate in this direction, has generated a lot of controversies driven by vested interests .
“So many side attractions , detractions and disruptions pro or against the planned investigation are being carried out by people or groups of people.
“Part of the distractions are series of write ups in the media by the vested groups almost on daily basis but unfortunately , all these cannot stop the Senate from forging ahead with an assignment backed by resolution and firmly within the ambit of its constitutional responsibilities .
“So, in their own interest, the earlier they stop the distractions the better , because our committee will forge ahead with the assignment,” Lawan stated.
Senate spokesman, Ajibola Basiru, in a statement, said the probe was geared at repositioning the NDDC for better service and would not interfere with ongoing forensic audit of the NDDC ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He also dared those opposed to the Senate audit of the alleged N40 billion spent in about three months by the IMC of the NDDC to challenge the matter in court.
Said Basiru: “The attention of the Senate has been drawn to a statement credited to Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, executive director of projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission under the Interim Management Committee, that senators and members of House of Representative are behind the fraud in NDDC. Ordinarily, while we are still at a loss as to why Ojougboh has repeatedly made such allegations at a time when the NDDC is under scrutiny of forensic audit and investigation by the National Assembly, the Senate is even more surprised considering the fact that the allegations are baseless and unsubstantiated.
“Apparently, Ojougboh, is ignorant of the constitutional mandate of the National Assembly to carry out oversight function over all agencies expending government resources, with a view to exposing and preventing corruption and abuse. It stands logic in the head to claim that, by invoking its constitutional power of oversight to investigate the activities of the IMC, the National Assembly intends to scuttle forensic audit. The outlandish claim is illogical. What is the adverse relationship between oversight function of the National Assembly and a forensic audit?
“While the National Assembly is committed to reposition the NDDC to address the challenges of the Niger Delta through facilitating the rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta, however, it is naturally concerned about the allegations of poor management or outright fraud in the management of the funds and operations of the commission. The setting up of the investigation is predicated on the above concern and not to victimise or witch-hunt anyone. It was also in this regard that the National Assembly has accorded the executives the necessary cooperation that will facilitate the completion of the forensic audit.
“Ojougboh, as a former member of the House of Representatives, should know that the National Assembly is vested with the powers of appropriation for all government ministries, departments and agencies, including the NDDC. It will appraise the budget and operations of the commission, like other agencies, to entrench a culture of transparency and accountability. Therefore, on the allegations in respect of the budget, one wonders whether this it is not a ruse as to why it is being brought up in the wake of exercise of oversight function by the National Assembly. It clearly smacks of cheap blackmail predicated on falsehood.
“Also, one would have expected an organisation of integrity to have formally made complaints to the anti-corruption agencies of the purported allegations against senators and members of House of Representative of the NDDC committees, if there are facts to substantiate same. The Senate, and indeed the National Assembly, is also committed to exercising it constitutional mandate and will not be cowed by spurious allegations of the likes of Ojougboh. This is a very disturbing trend and the Senate will not toe this path. The proper avenue to challenge exercise of power of the National Assembly is the court of law, not spewing falsehood on pages of newspapers and electronic media. The National Assembly will not succumb to cheap blackmail from any quarters and is committed to ensuring probity and accountability of all agencies of government, no matter whose ox is gored.”