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N81.5bn: SERAP writes Buhari, seeks presidential panel to probe ‘corruption in NDDC’

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to “use his leadership position to urgently set up a presidential investigative panel to probe grave corruption allegations in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), including allegations that the agency illegally spent N81.5 billion, on travels, ‘condolences’, consultancy and ‘public communication between January and July 2020.”

The organization also asked him to “immediately suspend Mr Godswill Akpabio, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and all those implicated in the allegations pending the outcome of any such investigation. Witnesses and whistle-blowers must be protected and the findings of the investigation should be made public. Where there is relevant admissible evidence, suspected perpetrators should be handed over to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for prosecution.”

In the letter dated 18 July, 2020 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “These are extremely serious allegations. Nigerians expect that those who run the NDDC should be free of corruption, and should enjoy no impunity. Nigerians who want to see development and prosperity in the Niger Delta will want you to take the lead to get to the bottom of these allegations and take appropriate and decisive action to address them.”

According to SERAP, “A special panel to probe allegations of corruption in the NDDC, and that is able to work closely with anti-corruption agencies would protect the integrity of the forensic audit, remove the possibility of obstruction of justice, and interference in the process by those suspected to be involved in alleged corruption in the NDDC.”

SERAP said: “The investigation by the National Assembly has been controversial, and has reportedly turned into a ‘dirty fight’ between the NDDC and the National Assembly. Similarly, the hearings have reportedly indicted lawmakers of both the Senate and House of Representatives.”

SERAP also said: “Any perception of politicisation and bias in the investigation of the corruption allegations in the NDDC would undermine public trust in the process, and ultimately, the public interest and good government, as well as justice for the victims of corruption in the Niger Delta.”

The letter, read in part: “SERAP is concerned that allegations of systemic and widespread corruption in the NDDC are not only punishable offences but also directly undermine the human rights of Nigerians, especially the people of the Niger Delta.”

“SERAP notes that your government has expressed the commitment to ‘get to the root of the problem undermining the NDDC.’ However, the most effective way to ‘get to the root’ of the corruption problem in the agency, and to ensure and protect the integrity of a forensic audit is to establish a special panel to carry out credible, independent, impartial and effective investigations into the alleged corruption in the NDDC.”

“A decisive action is needed by you and your government to stop the corruption in the NDDC, ensure that anyone suspected to be responsible is brought to justice, and to fully recover stolen, mismanaged or misappropriated public funds.”

“Ensuring an independent, impartial, transparent and effective investigation into the corruption allegations in the NDDC would be entirely consistent with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended), the NDDC Act, and Nigeria’s international obligations, including under the UN Convention against Corruption to which the country is a state party.”

“Section 15 subsection (5) of the Constitution requires your government to abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power, including corruption allegations in the NDDC. Similarly, the UN Convention against Corruption requires your government to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of allegations of corruption.”

“Specifically, article 26 of the convention requires your government to ensure ‘effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions’ including criminal and non-criminal sanctions, in cases of grand corruption. Article 26 complements the more general requirement of article 30, paragraph 1, that sanctions must take into account the gravity of the corruption allegations.”

“Your government should send a strong message of intolerance for grave corruption in the NDDC, and show that you are willing and able to enforce important constitutional, statutory and international principles and obligations.”

“SERAP also urges you to instruct the police authorities and security agencies to immediately end the harassment and intimidation of Ms Joy Nunieh, former Acting Managing Director of NDDC, or any other witnesses and whistle-blowers. Suspected perpetrators will escape justice if witnesses and whistle-blowers are intimidated, harassed or threatened. “

“Effective investigation and prosecution will not be achieved if such crucial participants in the investigation are not sufficiently protected to perform their roles unimpeded. Stopping the harassment and intimidation would also ensure that innocent people are not wrongfully punished and that suspected perpetrators would not subvert the course of justice and escape sanctions.”

“We request that you take the recommended action within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will institute legal proceedings to compel your government to act in the public interest.”

“These allegations and the apparent attempts to weaken the independence, work and freedom of action of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) including alleged deliberate targeting of some directors of the agency have undermined the public’s confidence in the government’s oft-repeated commitment to fight corruption.”

“According to reports, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation have indicted the NDDC of illegally spending 81.5 billion between January and July 2020. Further, the Bureau of Public Procurement has also reportedly stated that it did not issue ‘Certificates of No Objection’ to the NDDC for the procurements made by the commission with the money.”

“The breakdown of the N81.5 billion reportedly include: community relations, N1.3bn; condolences, N122.9m; consultancy, N83m; COVID-19, N3.14bn; duty tour allowances, N486m; imprest, N790.9m; Lassa fever, N1.956bn; Legal services, N900m; maintenance, N220m; and oversea travels, N85.6m.”

“Others are: project public communication, N1.121bn; security, N744m; staffing related payments, N8.8bn; and stakeholders’ engagement (Feb 18 – May 31, 2020), N248m. A senator also allegedly used 11 companies as fronts to secure for himself N3.6 billion contract in September 2016. The current managing director of the NDDC also reportedly said that the commission spent N1.5 billion for staff as ‘COVID-19 relief funds’.”

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