A theatre of the absurd is playing out at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), as fresh facts point to a big cover-up which trailed the recent N5.4billion alleged contract scam. The contract, awarded to a Port Harcourt, Rivers State-based company-Signora Concepts Services Limited, was for emergency procurement of specialized Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE), for health workers and provision of community based sensitization campaign against the spread of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases in 2775 communities in the nine states of the Niger Delta.
However, following a red flag raised by stakeholders amidst queries on the feasibility of implementing the contract term involving community based sensitization for 2775 communities within a period of 15 days as specified in the contract award letter dated April 6, 2020, Ref. NDDC/MD/HPU/20/4/EHSS/05, the Prof. Kemebradekumor Pondei-led management of the Commission dismissed the alarm as false. It claimed the award letter endorsed by the Head, Procurement Unit, Alex Enebeli, was either fake or unauthorized.
A few days later, precisely on Monday, May 4, Godswill Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs who superintends over the NDDC, gave vent to claims of the agency’s management. Akpabio denied speculations that he had issued a query to the Interim Management Committee of NDDC over the alleged N5.4billion contract scam. “It is to be noted that the Niger Delta Development Commission had in its various publications in the media denied without equivocation the alleged contract, stating that the document is simply fake or at best unauthorized”, Olusade Adesola, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs noted in a statement in Abuja. He said an internal probe had proved that no unauthorized or sleazy transaction was conducted. Signora Concepts Services Limited also issued a statement denying receipt of any payment for the purported COVID-19 contract before the NDDC withdrew the award letter it described as either “fake or unauthorized.”
To be sure, the company was not paid for the contract following the panicky withdrawal of the award letter occasioned by the hue and cry, particularly the aspect on the scope of work involving sensitization of 2775 communities within a period on 15 days. Eight days after the contract was awarded to Signora Concepts Services Limited, it was cancelled via a letter dated 14th April, 2020, signed by the Alex Enebeli, Head of the Procurement Unit.
“The Commission has reviewed its outstanding financial commitment to contractors vis-à-vis the depleting funds, and therefore is constrained to step down the referenced contract in anticipation of improved funding. Management in synergy with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Federal Government will review the situation to enable us revert and proceed to perfect the contract accordingly”, part of the letter reads.
Interestingly, while the management of NDDC gave “depleting funds” as the reason for withdrawing the COVID-19 related contract awarded to Signora Concepts Services Limited, it awarded the same contract to another company, Osmoserve Global Limited, with office address at Block B Flat 2, Prince &Princess NSITE, Abuja, at a sum of N4,861,354,250.00. The contract award letter was referenced NDDC/MD/HPU/20/4/EHSS/07 and dated April 6, 2020, same day Signora was awarded the COVID-19 related contract that was later withdrawn. But in the case of Osmoserve, the NDDC management expunged the controversial scope of work relating to community sensitization from the contract terms. It simply stated: “Award of Contract for The Emergency Supply and Delivery of Medical Equipment and Consumables to the NDDC Warehouse at Orowurukwu in Port Harcourt City LGA of Rivers State.”
Part of the award letter read: “This is to notify you that based on your Tender for the Emergency Procurement and Delivery of Medical Equipment and Consumables for use in the testing, treatment and care of COVID-19 cases…across the Nine states in the Niger Delta region, the contract has been awarded to you at a cost of Four Billion Eight Hundred and Sixty-One Million, Three Hundred and Fifty-Four Thousand, Two Hundred and Fifty Naira (4,861,354,250.00) only, …You are to proceed with the contract immediately and ensure supply of the items and delivery to the NDDC warehouse located at Orowurukwu in Port Harcourt City LGA of Rivers State within 15 days from the date of award of this contract.” The letter was also signed by Alex Enebeli, Head of Procurement Unit.
Nine days after the contract was awarded, the NDDC management allegedly processed an upfront part payment to Osmoserve, despite claiming lack of funds for the cancellation of the same contract it initially awarded to Signora, but later denied. In a Payment Voucher with CBN Code 1018, Batch number 13593, WHT-13594 and VAT -13595, a sum of over N634million was processed for payment to Osmoserve Global Limited. The transaction was initiated by one Effiong Henry on April 15, 2020; review checked by Ebe Peter and approved for payment on the same date, with the final authorization for payment endorsed by the managing director, Prof. Pondei the next day, April 16.
Confronted with the fact that the NDDC management awarded the contract to Osmoserve on April 6, three weeks before President Muhammed Buhari granted approval for the Commission to be provided intervention support to complement efforts of the federal and state governments against the spread of COVID -19 in the nine states of the Niger Delta region in the sum of N6.2billion, Charles Odili, NDDC’s Director, Corporate Affairs admitted in an interview with Scudnews that the contract awarded Osmoserve Global Limited, was actually based on anticipatory approval.
“You know, sometimes when you work in a Federal Government agency, you work in tandem with the head of your parastatal or with the head of Government. So if you know that certain things are going to work, you begin the process. So, yes, it was based on anticipatory approval, and actually the President did say when they released the mandate for the IMC, that they approved expenditure for the COVID -19 pandemic”, he said in a telephone interview. Odili however, insisted that NDDC never awarded the contract to Signora. “We never awarded any contract to Signora and whatever thing that was found anywhere was fake; the contract was awarded to Osmoserve. He also said the letter of withdrawal for the contract allegedly awarded initially to Signora, did not emanate from the NDDC.
When asked to comment on the Payment Voucher with which an upfront payment in the sum of over N634million was processed and final authorization granted on April 16, two weeks before the Commission got its anticipated approval for award of the contract, Odili, evaded Scudnews enquiries and eventually declined speaking on the issue. “I wouldn’t know about Payment Voucher because I am not in finance; I can’t speak authoritatively on that.”When prodded further, the following conversation ensued:
Odili: where did you get the Payment Voucher from?
Scudnews: Well, these are public documents, and it wasn’t classified.
Odili: They are not public documents; you know the process of getting a public document. So if any document has not passed through that process, you cannot say that document is legitimate.
Scudnews: Yes, you can contest the legitimacy of the document, but the fact I want you to clarify is that the Payment Voucher was prepared and processed for payment of a sum of N634million to Osmoserve between 15th and 16th of April…
Odili: (cuts in)…I wouldn’t want to go into such things of accounting figures because that is not my purview, but the baseline is that whatever we did with Osmoserve has presidential approval, and that is the most important thing; I wouldn’t want to talk further on this matter.
Scudnews: But this is just the last question…
Odili: (cuts in)…No, no, no, I am done with this matter; I can’t continue.
Obviously, the weeks ahead promises the stuff of high drama as the National Assembly and perhaps, the anti-graft agencies, commence investigation into the alleged sleaze at the NDDC, an agency in which successive managers have been accused of bleeding the Niger Delta people of resources appropriated for their development. Time and forensic analysis by investigators, shall also tell whether the contract award letters and other documents in the public domain are genuine or fake as claimed by the management of NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
However, efforts by Scudnews to seek clarification on some of the issues from Osmoserve Global Limited were futile. While the official address of the company as indicated in the NDDC letter of award for the COVID-19 supply of equipment contract is Block B Flat 2, Prince & Princess NSITE, Abuja, security personnel at the two entrance gates and staff at the estate management office of Prince and Princess Estate, Gudu district of Abuja, said there is no such address in the estate, raising fresh concern on the Osmoserve official address.
“We do not have addresses bearing block and flat numbers in this estate. What we have here are House numbers on Drives and Crescents, and we have Drives one to six in this estate. There is nothing like Block B Flat 2 at Prince & Princess Estate”, a female staff of the estate management told a pair of Scudnews reporters on repeated visits to locate the address.
How well the ongoing probe into allegations of contract scam and financial malfeasance at the NDDC would be handled, remains to be seen.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]