For Niger Delta, Abuja Is Not Your Problem


Tales of sleaze in the Niger Delta Development Commission underscore reasons for failed interventions of the agency in the region, writes Samuel Ajayi

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), was established to ameliorate the sufferings of the people of the region and produce infrastructure that would reflect the contributions of that region to the national till. But the hundreds of billions, if not trillions, the Commission had received have not reflected on the job done so far in any way.

Curiously, the on-going probe by the House of Representatives into how the Commission blew N81billion in a few months as well as the rot in a Commission that should be putting smiles on the faces of the people is unfortunately at the front burner of national discourse, thus putting Nigeria on the ugly side of the world stage.

The embarrassing tales coming of the probe instituted into the activities of the NDDC are not only discomforting but also an indication of the rot going on right under the nose of the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration despite its much vaunted fight against corruption.

At the centre of it all is the Minister of Niger Delta, and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio, and the embattled former managing director of the Commission, Mrs. Joi Nunieh. Apart from this were lurid tales from the Rivers State-born former chief executive of how Akpabio tried to sexually assault her.

The whole drama started, when the House of Representatives instituted a probe into how the Commission had spent a whooping N81 billion by the interim management committee of the Commission led by Kemebradikumo Pondei, who is the current acting managing director of the Commission.

During one of the sittings, there was a mild drama as Pondei walked out on the Committee, whom he accused of bias and asked the chairman, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, to recuse himself from the Committee, alleging that he and his counterpart in the Senate, Peter Nwaoboshi, had inserted over “500 non-existent” projects in the Commission’s 2019 budget.

Before Pondei, the House had invited Nunieh, who accused the embattled minister, Akpabio, of engineering his removal, because she refused to dance to the tune of the former governor, before allegedly activating Plan B, which was to “come up on her”.

She alleged that Akpabio asked her to change dollars in the Commission’s accounts, sack the head of the legal team who is a northerner, remove all directors, who would not play ball and also implicate Senator Nwaoboshi. She added that Akpabio asked her to take oath of secrecy but she refused.

Her words: “Nobody makes any payment in NDDC without Godswill Akpabio. When we first came to NDDC, on the day of the inauguration, he told me in the car that, ‘Madam MD, if you don’t do what I say, the same pen which I used to sign your letter, will be same pen I will use to remove you’.

“He said the first thing I should do when I get to Port-Harcourt was to change the dollars in NDDC account. I was scared to do that. After that, he came to Port-Harcourt and said the first thing is should do is to make sure I change the dollars and I should remove Mr. Kaltugo from being the legal (head) and send him on compulsory retirement.”

She added that Akpabio would never sign any document but would always want his subordinates to commit fraud. She accused the former governor of wanting her to take an oath of secrecy, which she refused.

She also disclosed that Akpabio once asked her to raise a memo and give emergency contract and stated that before she came in, over 30 contracts had been awarded to the minister.

To say the NDDC stinks is an understatement. It reeks of monumental corruption and it remains not surprisingly that, despite the about N16 trillion the Commission had been given since it was set up by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. The region it was supposed to service and improve lives therein remains a cesspit of underdevelopment and squalor.

From all indications, it seems officials of the Commission are more interested in their own welfare and wellbeing than working to alleviate the sufferings of the people of the Niger Delta region.

For instance, the Commission said it spent N1.7billon on COVID-19 palliatives for its top officials and staff. This was despite the fact that salaries were never stopped throughout the lockdown.

In the period under probe, the Commission spent N85million on overseas trips. The sum of N1.3billion was spent on “community relations” while N122.9millin went into “condolences”.

The Commission spent N220million on “maintenance” and N900million on legal services. ON Lassa fever, the Commission spent N1.956billion and another N790million went into impress. N496million was spent on Duty Tour Allowance (DTA), and N31.4billion spent on COVID-19 and N81million was spent on “consultancy”.

There was another dangerous twist into the whole saga, when Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State prevented some armed men, who claimed to be officers of the Nigeria Police Force, wanted to forcefully take the embattled former managing director of the commission, Nunieh, to Abuja.

It was reported that during the raid, the policemen were seen in a viral video breaking the woman’s rear door to gain entry forcibly. But Governor Wike prevented this and asked the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to probe the invasion.

Nunieh, who later made her submission via teleconferencing, apologised to the House for being absent and claimed she could not allow herself to be taken away and disappear without trace “because what would have happened would have been that nobody would have known who took me away and only God knows what would have happened.”

Speaking further, she said, “This has been the modus operandi for enemies of the minister and ex-governor of Akwa Ibom State. You saw what happened yesterday, it was all about documents.”

Speaking via teleconferencing, Nunieh said the minister breached various laws in a bid to hijack the forensic audit. She said Senator Akpabio tried everything to hijack the forensic audit of the NDDC ordered by President Buhari.

She alleged that Akpabio insisted that he would supervise the forensic audit. She however claimed to have “reminded him and showed him the letter that the President had written, that there is no way we could spend the money that was in our budget.

“In his memo to the President, he requested that the money for the funding of the forensic audit be got from the Service Wide Vote. Mr President, in his wisdom, refused that request and in writing, said it should be from NDDC’s appropriation, making NDDC the producing entity.”

She accused Akpabio of misleading the Federal Executive Council to approve the procurement of auditors even when the audit was to be funded with the 2020 budget of the NDDC and added that she spent a total of N8bn during her stay as acting MD between October 2019 and February 2020.

While many Nigerians have welcomed the probe, there are also fears that nothing much would come out of it. The reason being that, from findings by THISDAY, many of the members of Committee on Niger Delta in both chambers of the National Assembly are contractors to the NDDC.

Apart from this, there was also no lie in the claims made by the head of the interim management committee that the chairmen of the committees, both in the House of Representatives and the Senate, inserted over 500 non-existent projects into the NDDC budget. The implication of this is that, the monies for these phantom projects are going to be claimed by the lawmakers.

While this unwholesome practice has been on for so long, many heads of parastatals and agencies being supervised by these usually choose to play balls to avoid harassment via incessant probes and non-existent oversight functions.

The rot in the NDDC will not go away any time soon. But let the revelations keep coming and perhaps, people of the region will know that Abuja is not their enemy but their own kits and kin, entrusted with taking care of their welfare.