Alleged $20m scam: Panic in NDDC over arrest, release of MD

Palpable tension and fear have gripped the top echelon of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) following last Friday’s arrest and interrogation of the Managing Director, Mr Chibuzor Ugwoha, by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).

Ugwoha’s arrest on Friday  followed allegations that he used a forged resolution of the NDDC’s governing board, dated September 24, 2011, to illegally transfer $20 million from the commission’s offshore account in Union Bank in the United Kingdom to the branch of First Bank at Finsbury Circus in London, in collaboration with the Director of Legal Services, Mr Harrison Onwon and Acting Director, Finance and Supply, Mr Oma Egbejule.

But ICPC’s Media Consultant, Mr Folu Olamiti, who confirmed the arrest, said the NDDC boss was granted administrative bail in order  to prepare for a proper defence of the allegations. He said Ugwoha was taken into custody because he had shunned the ICPC’s invitation for over three weeks.

This is even as he told the Nigerian Tribune on telephone that other officials of the interventionist agency were being expected in Abuja to answer ICPC’s invitation on various allegations bordering on financial infractions in the running of the NDDC, a development that has caused panic and fear at the NDDC.

Already, letters inviting affected officials had been dispatched to them at the NDDC’s head office in Port Harcourt, it was gathered.

An official of the commission who spoke with the Nigerian Tribune on condition of anonymity said some top officials of the NDDC, particularly those affected were in the office at the weekend.

“The news of the arrest was initially taken for a rumour until we read it in about two news papers on Saturday; as I am talking to you now, some of those who were invited by the ICPC are in the office, may be they are preparing papers of defence when they get to Abuja.

“Even on Friday, it was like a work-free day because all that concerned people at the commission was the issue of the ongoing investigation by the ICPC for which some of our bosses have been invited,” he said.

Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yahale Ahmed, had set up an administrative panel of enquiry to probe the scam in November 2010 in line with a presidential directive, following a letter written to him by the Air Vice-Marshal Larry Koinyan led board, dated November 24, seeking President Goodluck Jonathan’s  permission to suspend the embattled chief executive of the commission on the alleged transfer of the money, saying it was done without board resolution.

It will be recalled that Ahmed had, on November 29, 2010, issued a query to Ugwoha on the matter and directed that his response must get to his office by Friday, December 3, 2010. The query was signed by the Permanent Secretary, General Service Office, office of SGF, Dr. S.D. Kassim, on behalf of the SGF.

Ahmed, in another letter to Koinyan dated the same day, had assured that “the government would thoroughly investigate the allegations and take appropriate actions as required by the extant rules.

“Pending the conclusion of this investigation, the status quo be maintained. For the avoidance of doubt, neither the managing director nor the two directors mentioned in the letter under reference should be sanctioned pending the conclusion of the investigation. You will be duly informed of the process and outcome of the investigation in due course,” the SGF had stated in the letter.

It could not be confirmed, however, that the arrest of Ugwoha was as a follow-up to the steps Yayale took before leaving office, as Olamiti said he could not make any comment on that.
“I cannot make any comment whether we are acting on that or not; all I know is that there are several petitions from different sources, alleging top officials of the NDDC of

financial recklessness.

“What we did was to invite those affected to come and defend their actions and inaction; but for upward of three weeks, the managing director refused to turn up; in fact we were on the verge of declaring him wanted when he showed up.

“I can tell you that as now, he is on administrative bail and he, alongside other officials of the commission, is still being expected at the ICPC because we have to do a proper investigation in order to avoid mistakes,” he said.

Asked whether or not those officials would be arraigned soon, Olamiti said only the outcome of their investigations would determine the next step to be taken.

When contacted on the development, Special Assistant to the NDDC boss on media, Abraham Ogbodo, said he was not prepared to speak with the Nigerian Tribune.

“I am not prepared to talk to the Nigerian Tribune on this matter; why are you calling me to find out whether the man has been released or not? Have you not published the arrest alongside one other paper? What else do you want? You should not call me again please,” he said.

Written by Donald Ojogo, Regional Editor, South-South

Nigerian Tribune