Not a few Nigerians are amused at the theatre of the absurd playing out at the Niger Delta Development Commission. The whole circus show climaxed last Monday when three dramas took place during the House of Representatives Probe Panel of the 20-year-old interventionist agency. First, the indicted Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo recused himself from chairing the day’s meeting following the allegation of his crime against NDDC levelled against him last week by the acting chairman of the Interim Management Committee, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei. The acting Managing Director was to shock the nation days later as he fainted while being grilled by the lawmakers. The last but not the least was the allegation by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, that members of the National Assembly were the greatest beneficiaries of contracts in the NDDC.
It is intriguing that two chambers of the National Assembly, the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on the NDDC, decided to simultaneously probe the commission without deeming it fit to have a joint committee to carry out the public hearing. That does not show prudent management of resources. If what Akpabio said about the NASS members being the greatest beneficiaries of contracts in the NDDC is true and I have no cause to doubt him as he was on several occasions interrupted and cut short by the acting chairman of the probe panel on that day, Thomas Ereyitomi, then the whole essence of the probe has been defeated. That means a case of conflict of interest has been established. What the two chambers of the National Assembly are doing, therefore, is tantamount to mere grandstanding.
There have been several allegations in the past of the NASS members asking agencies they are oversighting for money or logistical support for conducting the oversight. They had been accused of inducement to pad the budgets of some ministries, departments and agencies. Remember the bribe-for-budget that took place in 2005 when Prof. Fabian Osuji was the Minister for Education? Remember the allegation made by the incumbent Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, that the NASS members asked him for a bribe in order to confirm him as a minister in 2003? More recently, in March 2019, the Director-General of the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, said she was once asked for a bribe by the House of Representatives’ committee on healthcare services. Adeyeye said the committee asked her for the bribe in the form of “money for welfare” when they visited her in December 2017.
While I commend Akpabio for the courage in exposing the lawmakers’ deceit and complicity in the non-performance of the NDDC, I urge him to also come clean on many allegations made against him by the immediate past acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Ms. Joy Nunieh. Recall that Nunieh had granted several media interviews where she indicted the minister of instructing her to award some contracts to unregistered companies, some of which got registered after they were awarded the contracts. She said: “In some cases, contracts were pre-awarded before the designs were given so you find out that most of the projects were abandoned”. According to Nunieh, there was no ongoing forensic audit of the commission. She also accused Akpabio of sexual harassment and trying to put her under “an oath of secrecy” that was meant to keep her from exposing fraud at the commission. She also claimed Akpabio ordered her to redeploy some of the members of staff of the commission.
Akpabio has expectedly denied these allegations by Nunieh but accused her of not being qualified to hold the position to which she was appointed and insubordination. Is it not self-indicting that due diligence was not done in appointing Nunieh as claimed by Akpabio? Was her credentials subjected to scrutiny before her appointment? Could it be true that there was no due process in the appointment of the forensic auditors and that there is no forensic audit going on? Recall that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had on October 17, 2019 ordered the forensic audit of the interventionist agency. This audit is to last for six months but nine months after, we are still being told by Nunieh that no audit is going on.
If Akpabio is found guilty of complicity and fraud in the NDDC, it will be very tragic. It shows that like the case of the indicted members of the NASS, he also stands guilty as charged. On Saturday, October 26, 2019 on the Nigerian Television Authority, Akpabio said corruption and political interference had disrupted the original purpose of setting up the NDDC. Is that not what he is being accused of now by Nunieh?
He said the NDDC was noted for substandard and abandoned projects and was quoted as saying, “We currently have about 12,000 abandoned projects across the nine states of the Niger Delta. If those things were completed, you can imagine that the area would have been turned into an El Dorado… I think people were treating the place as an ATM, where you just walk in there to go and pluck money and go away. I don’t think they were looking at it as an interventionist agency.” Could Akpabio have been part of the Niger Delta problem or solution?
Concerning the extravagant spending at the NDDC, it is quite unfortunate that an agency meant to bring succour and development to the impoverished Niger Delta is embroiled in this kind of wastages and fraud. How could the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC under Nunieh and Pondei allegedly spend a whopping sum of N81.5bn in five months (January – May 2020) on the underlisted areas “Community relations -N1.3bn, Condolences- N122.9m, Consultancy: N83m, Covid-19 – N3.14bn, Duty Travel Allowance – N486m, Imprest – N790.9m and Lassa fever- N1.956bn.” Others are: Legal Services- N900m, Maintenance- N220m, Overseas travel – N85.6m, Project Public Communication- N1.121bn, Security- N744m, Staffing related payment – N8.8bn, Stakeholders engagement (February 18 – May 31, 2020 N248 million”. This is simply unconscionable!
In August 2015, the then Auditor General of the Federation, Samuel Ukura, said that at least N183bn that was meant for the development of the Niger Delta was diverted by those put in charge of the commission. In July 2017, a former Managing Director, Nsima Ekere, announced the revocation of over 600 contracts worth N200bn. According to him, the rationale behind the action was because the management discovered that some of the contracts were either not properly awarded or some of them were awarded but the contractors had not yet gone to site.
It is quite unfortunate that it is the sons and daughters of the Niger Delta that are frittering away and plundering the resources of their region. Of course, they have collaborators outside of the region such as our lawmakers who don’t care about conflicts of interest but more concerned about their personal aggrandisement.
I appreciate the 48-hour ultimatum given to Akpabio by the Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, to make public names and contracts given to the lawmakers. In the spirit of transparency and accountability, I hope the minister will back up his claim with facts. However, I am of the opinion that only an independent panel of enquiry can unravel the fraud and misappropriation of resources in the Niger Delta Development Commission. With the controversy surrounding the appointment of the so-called forensic auditors, their expected report may be tainted. I do hope that the North East Development Commission will not be bogged down with the kind of misapplication of resources going on in the NDDC.
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