Understanding house of Reps transparency verdict on NEDC, By Michael Attah

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Three weeks today; precisely, it’s more than three clear weeks, after the House of Representatives gave its verdict of a clean bill of health to the management of the North East Development Commission (NEDC), over alleged financial heist at the commission involving a whopping sum of N100 billion.

Surprisingly, but not unexpected, the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and its allied vuvuzelas who led the defamatory assaults are silent. They unconscionably blew the false alarm bordering on spurious, mendacious, politically -motivated and malicious allegations on the commission’s management.

But the CSOs have been humbled with the House’s exonerative verdict on the commission and so, have now chosen the wise path in the wisdom of “silence is golden.” Had the verdict turned against the NEDC management, the fury of hell would not have contained their loud rantings.

The NEDC’s management led by the Managing Director, Alhaji Mohammed Goni Alkali, a stickler to standards, anti-corruption czar, a renowned evangelist of transparency and accountability in public service was alarmed and astonished with the bogus allegations raised against him and members of the NEDC management team in July 2020. But he was unperturbed!

As a first reaction to the spurious garbage spilled by an obscure group, North East Vanguard for Good Governance (NEVGG), Alkali, an astute public administrator and world-class manager of human and material resources, retorted calmly, “Nobody gave us up to N100 billion; I really don’t know how they got that figure.” Armed with this truth and confidence in his leadership of the commission, Alkali was ever willing to appear before the National Assembly Committee to respond to the allegations and redeem the image of the commission from politically-induced brickbats.

But the figure of N100 billion, within span of barely a year, alleged on Alkali by his adversaries, who accused him of corrupt practices was an amount too huge to be ignored by anybody. A synopsis of the allegations fingered Alkali in embezzlement, high handedness, abuse of office, over inflation of contracts, awards of non-existent contracts, massive contract splitting and flagrant disregard for due process or procurement laws in the award of contracts among others. So, the news went viral instantaneously.

Recount that President Muhammadu Buhari had signed the “Northeast Development Commission Bill” into law in October 2017, as a replacement for other existing support initiatives such as the Presidential Initiative on Northeast and the Victims Support Fund for victims of insurgency in the Northeast. The NEDC board of management was later inaugurated in May 2019, with Alhaji Mohammed Goni Alkali as the Managing Director.

But early in July 2020, a year later, NEVGG generated, fabricated, and publicized damaging allegations against the NEDC management and bluntly called for the sack of the NEDC boss and its management for the abuse of the funds voted for the settlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Northeast region ravaged by Boko Haram terrorists.

And the allegations whirled instantly because it coincided with the frenzy of the probe of the over N1trillion massive and multi-layered financial sleazes at the management of NDDC, another commission with a mandate to spearhead infrastructural development in the Niger Delta region.

Therefore, the House of Representatives picked up the gauntlet to investigate the alleged financial heist, two weeks later in the same month of July 2020. The issue was brought before the House in a motion by the Minority Leader, Hon.Ndudi Elumelu and it was unanimously adopted. The House mandated its Committees on Finance, Procurement and the NEDC to meticulously investigate these allegations and submit its findings to the Green Chamber, thus setting the stage for the investigation of the commission.

But the truth deliberately undermined by the petitioners ‘was that when the management of the NEDC commenced operations in 2019 upon inauguration, the released take-off grant was N10 billion only, though N45 billion was the entire sum budgeted for the commission in 2019. Other piecemeal releases later cumulatively pegged the total figure released to the NEDC at N25 billion in the 2019 fiscal year. And for the 2020 budget, fresh funds had not been released to the commission at the time the allegations were raised and mainly due to the exigencies of Covid-19 pandemic.

Therefore, the figure of N100 billion bandied as allegedly embezzled sounded hollow and betrayed the concealed intention of the petitioners as conspiracists after the malicious persecution of Alhaji Mohammed Goni Alkali and the management of NEDC. So, the antagonists of Alkali only stirred the honest nest with such damning frivolities for selfish reasons.

But come to think of it, a peep into the books of account of the commission displays an impressive adherence to every financial management, disbursement and procurement law, which Alkali was accused of violating flagrantly. The attacks on his person were carefully crafted.

For instance, Alkali was alleged to have conspired with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar-Farouk to withdraw and squander N5 billion for the procurement of vehicles for the military without approval of the NEDC board. But the decision to support the military operations in Northeast did not emanate from the NEDC management, but it came from recommendations of a communique of a Security Summit of the relevant stakeholders in Maiduguri, which pressed on the NEDC to support logistics for the Military.

And the NEDC board too was duly informed and gave its nod; but the amount expended for the purchase of vehicles was less than N5 billion as alleged. But since it was over the approval limits of the commission, due process was adhered, as the matter was referred to the ministerial tender’s board to the Bureau for Public Procurement. And advice was sought in the process and the approval granted.

Interestingly too, the probe established nowhere where Alkali neither committed funds of the commission to acquire landed properties in Abuja, Kaduna or Maiduguri nor paid himself monthly salaries and allowances amounting to N8.5 million, without recourse to the Salaries and Wages Commission as alleged by the petitioners. Thus, the otherwise serious investigation of the NEDC management over misappropriated N100 billion and abuse of procurement laws morphed into a comic show.

In the NASS correspondence with ref. No; NASS/CAN/35/Vol.1/153, dated July 8, 2021, to the NEDC Managing Director, it communicated the decisions of the House of Representatives resolutions on the probe of the alleged misappropriation of 100 billion as follows; (a) Commend the North East Development Commission for their due diligence in the execution of the projects; and also, directed the management to hasten to utilize other released, but unspent funds in the commission’s custody.

In clear terms, the House of Representatives found out the truth and absolved the NEDC Managing Director, Alhaji Mohammed Goni Alkali and his management team of any complicity in the handling of the commission’s finances. Therefore, the NEDC under the leadership of Alkali remains a doyen of accountability and transparency in the execution of projects, as it seeks to ameliorate the sufferings and pains of people of the Northeast region devastated by more than 10 years of Boko Haram insurgency.

Attah is a legislative staff at the National Assembly and wrote this piece from Abuja.