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Senate probes fresh multi-billion naira fraud in NDDC

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The Senate said it had received fresh fraud allegations against the management of the Niger Delta Development Commission.

The red chamber said the new financial infractions were not captured in the list of the allegation of N40bn reckless spending which a whistle-blower brought against the NDDC to the parliament recently.

The Senate said the fresh probe would be handled by the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions.

The chairman of the panel, Senator Ayo Akinyelure, confirmed the development in an exclusive interview with our correspondent in Abuja.

He explained that the acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Kemebradikumo Pondei, would be summoned after the Senate panel had concluded its public hearing involving the United Bank for Africa Plc and the liquidators of the defunct NITEL/EMTEL, which would take place next Wednesday.

Akinyelure said, “There is a petition that has just been sent to my committee by the leadership of the Senate.

“I received it on Tuesday. It is about the alleged fraudulent practices of the acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission.

“I will take my time to study the petition. Our committee will invite him as soon as we conclude hearing on the case involving the UBA which is before our committee.

“We will invite the MD to come and explain to the whole world how he allegedly misappropriated billions of funds as the head of the agency.”

Akinyelure, who did not give further clue into the content of the petition against Pondei, however, said the embattled MD would also answer questions about allegations of contract scam against some federal lawmakers.

The senator from Ondo Central said, “He (Pondei) will also tell Nigerians about the details of the senators who allegedly took gratification and contracts from him.

“He must come and prove it beyond reasonable doubts. No senator awards contracts. We can only facilitate project allocation for our various constituencies.

“We don’t even know when the executive would advertise those projects.

“Our job is to ensure that the project is executed. If any Senator or House of Representatives member had gone to the NDDC management to take money or contract, we will ask the MD to expose such a person.

“The NDDC should stop blackmailing the entire Senate. We have 109 members in the Senate. We are celebrated Nigerians.

“We were millionaires before we came into the Senate. We had jobs. All the allegations against us are the fallacy of the highest order.”

Investigations by one of our correspondents revealed that the fresh petition against Pondei was sent to the leadership of the Senate after the chamber’s ad hoc panel had concluded its probe of the NDDC and even submitted its report.

The report of the panel, led by Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi, was considered and approved by the upper chamber before proceeding on its annual vacation last week.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, however, gave a hint about some of the fresh allegations against Pondei in a statement he signed last week.

Nwaoboshi had while reacting to the allegations by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, wondered while the former Akwa Ibom State governor chose to blackmail lawmakers instead of checking the alleged daily reckless spending in the NDDC despite its probe by the National Assembly.

Nwaoboshi alleged that the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC under Pondei paid N39.4m to a media outfit, Messrs Clear Point Consultancy, to defend media attacks against Akpabio.

He alleged that Pondei’s IMC was using taxpayers’ money to launder Akpabio’s image.

The senator also said the IMC was allegedly paying N51.8m every month as an allowance to Pondei while other members of the team were allegedly being paid N18m monthly.

Nwaoboshi said, “The above revelations are just a tip of the mind-boggling and reckless payments running into billions of naira by the IMC members to themselves and expended with the approval of Mr Akpabio.”

The Senate had last Thursday called for the dissolution of the IMC.

It also asked the embattled IMC, led by Pondei, to refund an extra-budgetary expenditure amounting to N4.923bn to the NDDC accounts.

The red chamber took the decision after approving the recommendations of its ad hoc committee.

The ad hoc panel was set up to unravel the alleged financial recklessness at the NDDC between October 2019 and May 2020.

The Senate asked the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in the Presidency to take over the supervisory role of the NDDC.

The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, had said the report would be submitted to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), who according to him, was “eagerly expecting it.”

Meanwhile, The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on Friday regretted that some people in his government and the previous one abused the trust reposed in them.

He was speaking when journalists sought his reaction to the revelations coming out from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Niger Delta Development Commission.

The President regretted that some people in his government and the previous one abused the trust reposed in them.

Buhari spoke in an interview he granted State House correspondents after joining his family members and some top government officials to observe the Eid El-Kabir prayers inside the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

He said, “There has been an abuse of trust by people trusted by the previous administration and this administration.

“A number of assets and some money have been recovered. But we have introduced TSA where all the monies are taken and I said asset should be sold and the money be put through TSA so that it can be identified at any level and I will see who will come after us and take it back again to those who misappropriated public funds.”

On insecurity, he said his regime had done its best as far as fighting members of the Boko Haram sect in the North- East and militants in the South South was concerned.

The President’s claim that he had done his best on insurgency and militancy came two days after insurgents attacked the convoy of the Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum.

The governor was said to be on a routine inspection when his convoy was attacked by suspected members of Boko Haram between Baga and Munguno on Wednesday.

On Thursday, multiple explosions from mortars fired by suspected Boko Haram members hit Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, leaving many injured.

But Buhari, who recalled that his regime inherited the security challenges from the previous administration, said he had done his best.

He, however, knocked security agencies on the current security challenges in the North-West and North-Central, saying they could do better than what they were currently doing.

The President said, “I want Nigerians to be very conscious of their country and what we inherited when we came in 2015 was Boko Haram – North-East and the militants, the South-South. Nigerians know that we have done our best.

“What is coming up in the North-West and North-Central is very disturbing indeed but I believe the military, the police and other law enforcement agencies from the report I am getting; I think they could do much better.

“They could do much better, but we are keeping them on the alert all the time to do their duties.”

When asked what he wished Nigerians, Buhari said, “I wish Nigerians the best of luck. In the Eid El-Kabir sermon, the Imam has said it all. We want security, prosperity and well-being of Nigerians.”

The President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, later issued a statement quoting Buhari as giving assurances that there would be more resources for the country’s military, police and other security agencies to deal with the unwanted security situation in some areas of the country.

The statement was titled: “President Buhari pledges more resources to deal with ‘very disturbing’ security situation in parts of the country.”

Shehu said, while assessing the state of security in the country, the President described the situation, particularly in the North-West and the North-Central parts of the country as “very disturbing.”

He further quoted Buhari as saying that while much had been achieved, as regard security, from the situation he inherited in 2015, more still needed to be done.

The statement read, “He (the President) said considering the security situation on the ground when he came to office, ‘Nigerians know that we have done our best. However, what is coming out of the North-West and the North-Central is very disturbing.’

“Responding to a specific question on the performance of the service chiefs, which recently he said needed to get better, the President said that the military, the police and other security agencies were working hard.

“’We are making resources available to them to even do better,’ he assured, adding that ‘from the reports I am getting, they could do much better…they could do much better. But we are keeping them on the alert all the time to do their duties.’”

On the issue of corruption, Shehu quoted Buhari as saying that all past and present cases would be fully investigated.

“This is why we put the commission (of investigation) in place. There has been an abuse of trust by people trusted by the previous administration and this administration,” the presidential aide quoted Buhari as saying, stressing that all of such cases would be uncovered and firmly dealt with by his government.

The statement added, “On the specific case of the Niger Delta, the President decried the wastage of the resources earmarked for the betterment of the lives of the people of that region, lamenting that corruption had been unhelpful in that regard, especially ‘if you recall there is the 13 per cent derivation.’

“He also warned against the vandalism of oil pipelines in the oil-producing areas which often results in environmental pollution.

“Those who are blowing up pipelines and interfering with the production of petroleum products are hurting their people more than the rest of Nigerians because the majority of their people are fishermen, fisherwomen and farmers. Now if they pollute the land and the waters, the fish go into the deeper sea where the people cannot go and they cannot grow anything. They are hurting their immediate communities more than any other thing,’ the President further noted.”

Buhari had earlier in the day joined Muslims all over the world to mark this year’s Eid El-Kabir.

The President, his family members and some top government officials observed the Sallah within the precinct of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

His wife, Aisha and son, Yusuf, were among those who took part in the prayers led by the Chief of Imam of the State House mosque, Abdulwaheed Sulaiman.

Shortly after the prayers, Buhari witnessed the slaughtering of the Sallah rams and thereafter took group pictures with family members.

Those who participated in the prayers, including the President, wore masks and maintained social distancing with the arrangement of their prayer mats on accordance with the guidelines issued by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

The President later wrote on his Twitter handle, @MBuhari, “I observed the Eid El-Kabir prayers at home with my family, this morning, in keeping with the advisories from the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs.

“Once again I wish us all a safe and happy Eid. #EidMubarak.”

The President’s wife also took to her social media platforms to wish Muslims well.

She wrote, “On this occasion of Eid el Adha, which signifies the spirit of sacrifice, I wish to congratulate Nigerian Muslims and charge them to imbibe the lessons of the period.

“I wish to use this opportunity to thank Nigerians for respecting the protocols designed for COVID-19 and to call on them to remain resolute in ensuring that the pandemic is controlled.

“I also call on Nigerians to make the best use of the financial support being provided through CBN to boost their businesses in order to cushion the effects of COVID-19.

“It is my ardent prayer that we overcome the pandemic as soon as possible so that we return to our normal lives in earnest.”

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NIGERIA

Gov. Ugwuanyi appoints Dr. Ezugwu as Chief of Protocol

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Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, on Monday, appointed Dr. Barth Ezugwu as the Chief of Protocol, Government House, Enugu.

Dr. Ezugwu is the immediate past Transition Committee Chairman of Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area and a former Commissioner for Transport in the state.

He also served as a Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Youths Mobilization and Empowerment as well as the Administrator of Adada Development Area in Uzo-Uwani LGA.

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NIGERIA

NUPENG meets Lagos Govt, calls off strike

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The National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) has called off its strike which started in the early hours of Monday after a meeting with Lagos State Government officials.

A communique jointly signed by Commissioner for Energy and Mineral Resources, Mr. Olalere Odusote and Deputy National President of NUPENG, Mr. Solomon O. Kilanko, stated both parties agreed the government will meet with heads of all security agencies to prevent further disturbance of vehicles conveying petroleum products.

The two sides agreed the issue of “area boys” will be addressed by the State.

“A dedicated phone number will be established within one week to enable petroleum product transporters gain prompt access to security agencies.”

While assuring the allegation of extra-ordinary levies charged by a particular local government will be investigated promptly, the communique further reads: “The State government will continue to relate with all road users in the planning and execution of road works in the State”.

NUPENG also made a commitment all tankers will not exceed the loading capacity of trucks as provided in the regulations and in compliance with directives of the Department of Petroleum Resources.

Disclosing Lagos will review the timing restriction on movement of petroleum tankers within the next one week, Odusote said recommendations will be put forward to the government on ways to ease access of petroleum tankers to tank farms.

“Lagos State Government will immediately set up a standing committee to relate with the Union on an ongoing basis to address any issues as they arise,” the parties agreed.

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NIGERIA

Kano singer sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy

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A Kano Upper Shari’a Court on Monday sentenced the 22-year-old singer to death by hanging for allegedly blaspheming Prophet Muhammad.

The Presiding Judge, Khadi Aliyu Muhammad Kani, gave the judgement after finding Yahaya Sharif-Aminu guilty as charged.

Sharif-Aminu, a resident of Sharifai in Kano metropolis, was accused of committing blasphemy against the Prophet in a song he circulated via WhatsApp in March 2020.

After the incident, protesters burned down the singer’s family home and led a procession to the Kano Hisbah Command’s headquarters in protest against the singer’s action.

The court also sentenced one Umar Farouq of Sharada quarters in Kano metropolis to 10-year imprisonment for making “derogatory statements concerning the Almighty Allah in a public argument.”

Aggrieved youths on March 4 staged a protest on the premises of the Kano Hisbah office, over what they described as an alleged blasphemous song against Prophet Muhammad.

While addressing the protesters, the Kano Hisbah Commander, Harun Ibn-Sina, said officials in the state were on top of the situation and that the man’s parents had been arrested and were under Police custody.

The protesters alleged that the nonchalant attitude of the government and the security agents in the state over the issue informed their decision to embark on the protest.

The convener of the protest, Idris Ibrahim (popularly known as Baba Idris), said, “Our mission is to alert the government to do the needful; otherwise, we will take the law into our own hands.”

Idris, who said similar incidents had occurred in the state without any action from the relevant authorities, warned that they would not allow Sharif-Aminu’s case to go unpunished.

Sharif-Aminu had composed a song containing alleged derogatory verses against Prophet Muhammad, which ignited violence against his family members.

But the family house of the singer, located at Sharifai quarters in the Kano Municipal Local Government Area, was set ablaze by irate youths who described the song as blasphemous.

Investigations revealed that the singer, said to be a follower of the Tijjaniya sect, is a member of Faidha group, who are known for their preference of Ibrahim Nyass (a famous Senegalese Islamic scholar), over Prophet Muhammad.

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