The Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Kemebradikumo Pondei has confessed to the Senate that the sum of N1.5 billion was used as COVID-19 relief fund for staffs of the commission.
Pondei stated on Thursday, July 9, 2020, this when he appeared at the Senate investigative hearing on the alleged misappropriation of N40 billion by the commission’s Interim Management Committee (IMC).
The upper legislative chamber had on May 5 set up a seven-man ad-hoc committee to investigate the allegation against the NDDC management.
The lawmakers alleged that within three months, the IMC spent over N40 billion of the commission’s fund ”without recourse to established processes of funds disbursement.”
They also faulted the IMC “arbitrary use of executive power in an alleged wrongful sacking of management staff without recourse to established civil service rules and practice with the aim of allegedly concealing the funds’ misappropriation.”
While responding to questions from the panel on the COVID-19 Relief Fund paid to NDDC staff, Pondei said the commission’s management used “N1.5 billion to take care of staff” despite paying their salaries.
“We used it (N1.5bn) to take care of ourselves. We are NDDC, we need to take care of ourselves too,” he said.
Part of the audit report read out by the Chairman of the Committee, Olubunmi Adetunmbi, said N3.1bn was spent as COVID-19 funds between October 2019 and May 2020.
In the report, the lawmaker said: “N10m was paid to one person, N7m to two people, N5m to three people, 148 people took N3m each, 157 people got N1.5m each, 497 people got N1m each and 464 people were paid N600,000 each.”
Another N475m was given to the police to purchase face masks and hand sanitisers, he added.
However, Pondei when defending how money was spent, said they had to “take care of the staff, who are also the representatives of the people from the nine states of the Niger Delta region”.
Pondei noted that the money given to the police to buy the items was on request, adding that the police have not “given us the record of how the money was spent”.
“We work very closely with the police. Without them, we can’t work. A request from the Police high command was made to us and the management looked at it and approved,” he said.
Aside from spending the money on staffs of the commission, Pondei revealed that part of the fund was for the youth of Niger Delta. He said:
“The youths were given palliatives to help cushion the effect of the pandemic on the people. The youth were idle and to avoid violence, they were paid.
“N5million was for youths, N5million for women, and N5million for people living with disabilities in each senatorial district. The remaining fund was spent on staff of the commission.”
This is coming barely one month after the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, was accused of squandering the sum of N300 million given to him for fence construction contract by the NDDC.