A senate report on the ongoing investigation into the expenditure of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) reveals that some staff of the interventionist agency received N85.6 million to attend a graduation ceremony in the United Kingdom during the COVID-19 lockdown.
According to the report, the fund was approved in April when both local and international flights were suspended and Nigerian airports shut.
The money, the report further stated was shared in April for the June event which none of the beneficiary officials attended because of the lockdown.
The report also indicated that none of them refunded the money as of July when the Senate investigated the matter.
Top among the beneficiaries were the managing director, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei; the acting executive director, projects, Dr Cairo Ojougboh; another director, Luke Ibanga, and a Seledi Wakama who got the lion’s share of the fund.
According to the document, the NDDC account shows a one-off travel expenditure with the description tagged “Delegate to attend graduation ceremony of NDDC scholars in the United Kingdom in June 2020”.
The trip covered 14 staff including Pondei, Ojougboh and lbanga.
According to the report, the 14 beneficiaries were paid different amounts for the trip.
They are: Saledi Wakama, N33.3 million; Messrs Pondei, Ojougboh and Bassey Etang, N4.6 million each; Ibanga, N3.5 million; Nimite Ateki and Allwell Hanachor, N3.2 million each.
Others are, Chinyere Madume, N3 million and Marg Consultant, 2.9 million and Irene Okezie, Clara Braide, Bestman Nnwoka, Omoren Usenobong and Kubiat Bassey, N2.9 million each.
Two other beneficiaries were also listed in the overseas travel expenditure but for different purposes.
They are Ekpebu Lawrence who was paid N4.6 million for participation at International Labour and Employment Relations Association in South Korea 2018 and Abgenglasede Nosa who got N3.6 million for attending “2019 Association of Certified Fraud in Texas 2019.”
The report said the payments demonstrate a form of internal control failure in the NDDC, especially with the management’s choice to subject such transactions as cash payments to Individual staff.
It also stated that the corporate affairs department in collaboration with the human resource department should have been responsible for direct payments for visas to the relevant embassies and airlines as direct cash payment to staff could be abused.
“It is also curious that these payments were made on the 17 April, 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown for a June 2020 trip. Obviously, monies had been paid to the 14 staff involved.
“There was no evidence that these trips took place as Nigeria and the United Kingdom were on lockdown during this period with all international flights and consular services by the UK High Commission suspended.
“The EIMC team explained that the trip was planned to take place In June and September without any consideration for the Covid-19 pandemic, therefore an early disbursement of fund (CovId-19 was already here in April!) was made to enable staff make timely visa arrangements,” the report stated.
It would be recalled that the senate had, on May 5, set up a seven-member ad-hoc committee to probe the “financial recklessness” of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC.
The committee was particularly asked to probe the IMC for allegedly squandering N40 billion in three months.
Similarly, the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta commenced an investigative hearing on the alleged mismanagement of N81.5 billion between January and July by the commission.