THE FAILURE of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) national headquarters building project despite billions raised in donations has ignited calls for anti-corruption agencies to investigate the management of funds in Nigerian political parties.
A former National Chairman of the PDP Okwesilieze Nwodo, who recently revealed that N11.8 billon he left in the party’s coffers when he was removed from office disappeared without a trace, told The ICIR on December 8 that the EFCC should take a closer look at how political parties operated bank accounts.
Work has stopped on the construction of the new 12-storey PDP national headquarters, located along Muhammadu Buhari Way in the Central Business District, Abuja, since 2014, even though the sum of N21 billion realised from a special fundraising dinner organised by the party in December 2014 was meant for completion of the structure.
The N21 billion, realised from pledges and cash donations, was not accounted for even as the party had severally declared that it lacked funds to complete the building.
Speaking with The ICIR, Nwodo, who was PDP national chairman between 2010 and 2011, having earlier served as the party’s secretary-general, blamed the failure to complete the building on the prevailing culture of mismanagement of funds in political parties.
Nwodo was elected governor of Enugu State on the platform of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) in the Third Republic, from January 1992 to November 1993, when late dictator Ibrahim Abacha took power through a military coup.
The former PDP chairman also blamed lack of seriousness on the part of successive party executives for the failure to complete the building.
“The executives since 2015 have not been serious about completing the building. They have not done anything to raise money to complete the building and nobody can say anything about the money that was raised the last time. So it has remained uncompleted.”
However, he stressed that the money he left in the party’s coffers at the time he was removed as national chairman in 2011 would have completed the building.
Responding to further questions, Nwodo said, “Of course the money I left when I was leaving would have been enough to finish the building.”
He also observed that the N21 billion realised from the fundraising of December 2014 – which was meant to complete the building – has not been accounted for even as the project remained uncompleted.
“The chairman of the fundraising committee then was Namadi Sambo (Vice President to President Goodluck Jonathan) and there was a fundraising event and he raised sufficient money. Today, you ask where the money is and you hear one story or the other. They keep passing the buck and till today we don’t even know where the buck has stopped, yet there was a National Working Committee (NWC). They (the NWC) should tell us what happened to the money. But nobody is owing up to what happened to the money.”
Nwodo insisted that the EFCC should probe how funds were managed in the political parties.
“We can’t raise almost N13 billion from sale of nomination forms and it just disappears – there is nothing in the party to show what it was used for. I am saying parties should now involve the EFCC when there is mismanagement of party funds. The EFCC should be involved to investigate and prosecute. People should not think they can do these things and just get away and think it is normal.”
* General attitude to political party funds is ‘divide and chop’
Nwodo said he established a culture of transparency and accountability in the PDP when he served as secretary-general, before eventually becoming the national chairman.
But, according to him, the culture of transparency and accountability he put in place was not sustained by subsequent party executives that came after.
He said, “Before I became party secretary, the norm in Nigerian political parties was, they collected donations from here and there and just put the money on the table and shared it. Nobody gave any account. I started the practice in the PDP of having a budget. The NWC members headed different departments in the party and they must present a budget to the working committee and we scrutinised it and presented to the caucus of the party, where you have the parliament and the executive. From there, we would take it to the elders in the Board of Trustees (BOT), and then to the National Executive Committee (NEC) for approval. And we run the party according to that budget. If anything comes up outside the budget, we had to vire money and you must retire money. I started it myself.
“I held a national convention and when we finished, we saved money on what was budgeted and I did a cheque in the name of the PDP and we returned the money to the party. Then President Olusegun Obasanjo couldn’t believe it. I made sure that we changed the culture.
“But now, all the gains have been reversed especially because there is no deterrence. People just do what they like. The culture of transparency and accountability we instituted has not been sustained.
“Generally, in Nigeria, people feel that party money is for divide and chop but we have to change the culture.”
* PDP has no account
Nwodo added that currently, the PDP had no dedicated bank account as party activities were funded from individual members’ accounts.
He said, “Even now the party does not have an account. The last executive, when they came in, they said that all the accounts were garnisheed and they couldn’t raise money to pay those who garnisheed the accounts.
“So in the last four years, the party was being run from people’s accounts and it is difficult to be transparent and accountable in that type of situation. That is how party funds are spent in Nigeria and it is not unique to the PDP.”
The former Enugu governor frowned at the prevailing situation where Nigerian political parties largely depended on members who were holding positions in government for funding.
He advocated a situation where government would give subventions to political parties according to the number of seats they won in the parliament, as is the case in some Western countries.
But he also stressed the need for party members to pay dues.
However, Nwodo observed that members of Nigerian political parties were not paying dues because of the perception that politics was where people would go and get rich.
* PDP has an account … Outgoing spokesman
The ICIR sought the reaction of the PDP leadership over Nwodo’s claim that the party currently had no account.
Outgoing PDP National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan told The ICIR that it was not true that the party had no account.
“It is absolutely incorrect to say the PDP does not have an account,” he said.
Ologbondiyan added that, at a valedictory session for the outgoing executives earlier on December 8, the party’s national treasurer announced that unspent funds would be handed over to the incoming NWC led by Iyorchia Ayu, a former Senate President.
“At the valedictory session today, the national treasurer said we have an account and that the chairman and secretary are the signatories and that they are handing over funds to the incoming exco. He said it clearly,” Ologbondiyan told The ICIR.
Efforts to get a response from the EFCC concerning Nwodo’s call on the anti-graft agency to investigate political party funds were not successful.
Calls to EFCC spokesman Wilson Uwajaren were not answered. A text message sent to him was also not replied as of the time of filing this report.
* PDP national headquarters building project failed despite billions raised in donations
The PDP headquarters building project kicked off with a fundraiser in November 2008. Ten billion naira was the target of the fundraising dinner chaired by then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan but ultimately the sum of N6 billion was realised.
The highest donations at the fundraising dinner were from businessmen Femi Otedola, N1 billion, and Aliko Dangote, who promised N3 billion worth of cement. Then President Umaru Yar’Adua (now late) and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan contributed 15 per cent of their basic salaries – N527,205 and N454,735, respectively. It was also announced that the 28 PDP state governors at the time would contribute N50 million each.
The contract was then awarded to BNL Construction and Engineering Company Limited with a completion period of 126 weeks. The company was initially mobilised with N2 billion.
However, the project could not be completed within the stipulated period and work had significantly slowed down by the time the party, in 2013, mandated a 20-member committee headed by then Chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum and Akwa Ibom State Governor Godswill Akpabio to raise funds for the completion of the building.
The sum of N21 billion – in cash donations and pledges – was eventually realised from a fundraising dinner in December 2014 but by then, the contractor, BNL, had moved out of the site. Work has not resumed on the project since then. The money from the fundraising was never invested in the project.
By the time work stopped on the project, the cost of the PDP national headquarters building had been varied upwards from N11.5 bilion to N16 billion.