JOI NUNIEH: Akpabio Tried to Subvert All Known Provisions to Have His Way at NDDC

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Joi Nunieh

Joi Nunieh, former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Interim Management Committee, has opened a can of worms in the federal government’s agency and the alleged role of the Minister of Niger Delta, Mr. Godswill Akpabio, in the current mess of the commission. In an explosive interview with Arise TV News Channel, Nunieh revealed scandalous details of his relationship with Akpabio. Since then, things have not been the same. Bayo Akinloye presents the excerpts:

You were accused of insubordination and not having an NYSC certificate or evidence that you participated in the one-year compulsory national service. Could you please respond to these issues?
First of all, I want to appreciate Arise News, because Arise was the only station that agreed to air my press conference after we left the premises of the National Assembly. I give you all kudos and I want to say before the world that Arise (TV) is now my best television station. I have come today to speak. I have not spoken since I left the NDDC over five or six months ago, because I didn’t think it was necessary.

I didn’t go to Abuja since I was removed until I had to go before the senate committee. So, for me, it’s not that I was angry. I was impelled to be at the senate, because of a statement by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs (Godswill Akpabio), and of course, members of the (NDDC) Interim Management Committee, claiming that I spent over N22 billion.

I thought it was important that I go there to make my case and to state to all Nigerians and Mr. President that I did not spend N22 billion. I only spent N8 billion. I’m very happy that members of the National Assembly do have copies of all the money spent by the NDDC from the Central Bank of Nigeria and from the accountant-general’s office.

So, I’m happy I have this opportunity and the right of reply. I am not like Akpabio that will come on television but will not answer relevant questions. I came to tell Nigerians that I have a right of reply and I came to protect my heritage and the dignity of my background.

So, were his allegations regarding the NYSC certificate and four husbands true?
Five issues were raised by Akpabio. The first thing that he said was that I have been married to four husbands. Unlike Akpabio, I have already asked my lawyers to sue him; a senior advocate. I expect Akpabio to also follow suit and sue me for the comments that I made during my press conference. They were issues based on his integrity. I expected that.

In Africa, we say a good name is better than gold and silver but he’s not able to explain the allegations that I had made against him. As my (former) supervising minister, the only relationship that we should have had should have been a relationship of work – a relationship of a supervising minister and the CEO of the NDDC. However, he showed the world that his main interest has always been my love life.

Did he want to be my fifth husband? If no, why is my love life very important to him? Secondly, why is it that six months after, he’s still interested in my love life? I have challenged Akpabio. He’ll have to tell the court so that the issue will be well documented.

He’ll provide a list of my four husbands. I know that I have not married four husbands. So, the onus is on Akpabio to prove his allegation. I’m not going to give the name of my husband so that he doesn’t use it in his testimony. The law is that he who alleges must prove.

The second issue is that Akpabio alleged that I do not have an NYSC certificate. He presented some documents, showing the world it was handwritten. I’m here to tell the world that I wrote that application. The letter that Akpabio showed you was my letter was handwritten. There’s no law that says you cannot write (by hand).

Therefore, for a minister to say, ‘can you imagine it was written by hand?’
Handwritten letters are more authentic than typewritten ones. A typewritten letter, can only be authenticated by my signature. The laws of this land (Nigeria) recognise handwritten letters. I wrote that letter of application to the Nigerian Law School requesting three things from the school.

Akpabio should be asked: When I wrote that letter did the law school reply? Was I given what I requested? Yes! Is the law school NYSC? The law school is not NYSC. For him to be raising an issue with a letter to the law school is just very silly. I wrote to the law school requesting three things: one, a certified copy of my call to the Bar certificate, my enrolment certificate and the third thing I asked for was a list of individuals I went for NYSC with from the law school.

Did the law school give them to me? Were they certified? Yes, they were certified. Now, the issue is you can see Akpabio didn’t have any issues when he said, ‘Look at the date, she graduated over 30 years ago! It’s now that she’s applying.’ My grand-grandchildren can decide that they want to go to law school to get a copy of my call to the Bar certificate.

Why did I ask for my certificate? My late sister died and she was the custodian of all our family certificates. I had photocopies of all my documents. You must have the understanding to know the difference between certified true copy and ordinary copies. I have the right even if it’s 10,000 years later to request so the argument (by Akpabio) is silly.

Where did you serve as a youth corps member?
Responding to the issue of Kwara, am I from Kwara State? So, was there youth service in Kwara? That is the question that he should have asked. Akpabio was asked (on Arise TV): ‘Why didn’t you tell Mr. president that she (Joi) had issues with NYSC?’ What was his reply? He stated, ‘No, it would have broken his heart.’
What! How would that break the president’s heart, if he could spend his money and time as minister to write to my primary school, secondary school, the Federal Government College Warri; wrote to where I did my A levels, Zaria, to my university, Rivers State University of Science and Technology and wrote to the law school and at the end when he had ‘evidence’ to ‘kill’ Joi Nunieh, he didn’t have anything to give to Mr. President.
He suddenly became very nice to me, claiming he just didn’t want to break the president’s heart. The onus is on him to prove I used a forged NYSC certificate. I thank the two governors, who advised me not to release any of my documents so that they were not doctored.

Why were you removed from office the NDDC boss?
On the issue of being removed as the NDDC boss, I want to tell Nigerians that for the first time (it was on TV that I heard), like other Nigerians, the reason I was removed as the MD at the NDDC – I never knew the reason. You see God brought Akpabio to come to respond on that day (he fielded questions from Akpabio).
The Bible tells me that the heart of the king is like a stream of water. He turneth whichsoever way he pleases. I thank Akpabio because he came to make a case; answered all the questions of my NYSC. He was asked if there was any case of misappropriation or corruption, he said no. This is a man who wrote petitions against me to ICPC, EFCC, etc.

He claimed I was removed as the MD of NDDC because he sent seven letters and he considered my refusal to respond to them as insubordination. I nearly collapsed that night. As a minister, a former governor, and a senator, he should have known that rules apply.

The public service rules are what I would have been bound by as the MD of the NDDC and that requires that at least I should have been given a query about insubordination. I want to tell all Nigerians and even Mr. President that I did not receive a query from Mr. Akpabio to explain myself. I have a constitutional right to a fair hearing and I think I know the reason Akpabio would never have given me that query: he knew that if he had queried me, I would have responded. Why didn’t he use a more substantial case of the NYSC certificate to remove me? Why, because he couldn’t prove the case of insubordination against me.

Akpabio wrote about 30 letters to me. He sent letters to me requesting an ‘intervention towards amicable settlement judgment,’ to pay legal fees. NDDC doesn’t pay legal fees to help people. He just doesn’t understand that NDDC’s money is not be used to assist people. Am I supposed to respond to a letter requesting assistance for people? This letter was written by the minister’s chief of staff!

Can you imagine? How do I respond to this sort of letter requesting assistance to pay for contracts? This one was written by the director of special duties. It’s important that I respond to the issue of insubordination please, that was the reason I was removed as the MD of NDDC. A memo was written to Mr. President that I was removed because I did not respond to letters written to me.

I had advised Mr. Akpabio to stop his directors from writing letters requesting funds, alerting him to the fact that such correspondence could implicate him. Akpabio now wrote me a letter based on my advice that his chief of staff should not write letters again.

That same Akpabio has come out to tell the world that I was removed for not paying and doing all of these. He now wrote me this letter, restrictions of signatories to correspondences to and fro the ministry, he now said that I should never again take acknowledge letters from all these people again.

Amidst these and other issues plaguing the NDDC, how can things be fixed for the good of the Niger Delta people?
I think it’s very important that I answer the issue of insubordination, because that was the reason I was removed as MD of NDDC. It cannot be irrelevant. He (Akpabio) accused me, made a case, and wrote a memo to Mr. President that I was removed, because I did not respond (to a series of letters he had written to me). When I told Mr. Akpabio that ‘Sir, please let your directors not write letters to me. It can implicate you. It’s very embarrassing. (I noticed that it was because] Mrs. Walton Jack, who was the permanent secretary, refused to write those letters that was why the director and the chief of staff wrote those letters.)
Subsequently, Akpabio now did me a letter based on my advice. He wrote to me this letter, ‘Restriction of correspondences with the ministry,’ directing me not to acknowledge letters from all these people again. So, now he has forgotten that he wrote the letter and then he used it against me.

When Akpabio saw that he could not make me bring out the money, he now tried ‘plan B’ of insubordination. Why did he not tell Mr. President what happened, that I slapped him? Why did he not tell Nigerians that I slapped his face in his Guest House at Apo (in Abuja)? Why did he not tell Nigerians what the alleged insubordination was all about?
Why did I stop going to meet him? He told the Senate committee that I refused to come to meet him to have meetings. Why didn’t we hold our meetings at the office? I told Mr. Akpabio that I would not go to any meeting outside his office or my office. The last time before that week, before I left, he came to Port Harcourt. I did not go to the Meriden Hotel to meet him.

Why did you slap him?
I slapped him, because of his ‘plan B.’ Since he couldn’t get me to allow him to take that money, he thought that with ‘plan B,’ if he could ‘come upon me.’ He didn’t know that I am a Port Harcourt girl. Port Harcourt girls are not moved by money. I wasn’t moved by talks that he’d make me the substantive MD.

What exactly did you mean by ‘plan B’ and that ‘he could come upon’ you?
We were having a meeting. Akpabio’s meeting with me is either in Apo or at Meriden. Those are his meetings. I slapped him well.

Are you accusing Senator Akpabio of attempted rape? Or, is it sexual harassment?
Harassment sounds better; not rape.

So, you are accusing him expressly of sexual harassment?
Yes. I’m accusing him. Most Nigerian women face a lot of this pressure and that’s why you see that Akpabio is more interested in my love life. It’s because of that incident that he said I am temperamental. Two, Akpabio’s girlfriend supplies the diesel used at NDDC.

I looked at that diesel situation and I said ‘why don’t we give the young Niger Delta boys, divide it into the nine states for them?’ And this is most important. NDDC in the past had paid for us to get light directly from Afam power station connected straight to the NDDC headquarters. That was disconnected at the gate of NDDC. Millions of naira were paid to get that light source to NDDC.

It now stopped at the gate. To connect it from the gate, it was sabotaged not to go inside the building. So, when I came, I said, ‘All this money on diesel, how do we cut it down? I am not here to spend money. I am here to cut it down. How do I tell Mr. President that I came to do a forensic audit and I come in here to commit the same offence? I will not do it. So, we went down and looked at the system.

I asked how much it would cost instead of spending money on diesel. To cut a long story short, we got an engineer to do the repair. I have only a view of the remittance platform, I am not the one to pay. The ED, FA (executive director, finance and admin) is the one that presses for payment. Do you know that they refused to pay the money to connect that light into the office so that we can keep buying diesel?
Now that same lady (Akpabio’s alleged girlfriend) had the audacity to go to the National Assembly to insert more projects in the budget submitted by the NDDC. She went to the clerk of the committee and told him that the minister (Akpabio) authorized her to add more projects to our budget after I had submitted it. Akpabio also wanted me to bring money for his presidential ambition. He got upset that I interacted with Mrs. Amaechi and Mrs. Sylva, because they are his political enemies.

Who’s this lady?
I don’t want to mention her name. The clerk called me and said there was a lady that wanted to insert some items in NDDC’s budget. I took her number from the clerk and called her. I told her: ‘If you don’t leave that place I will get the police to arrest you. She said, ‘But the minister sent me to put it.’ I told her that the minister should have called me. In any case, I have submitted it and I can’t go to the National Assembly to say I am putting in anything.

Within two or three minutes, Akpabio called me. He was screaming and asked why did I talk to the lady the way I did, claiming that the President gave him all the powers of control. I said, ‘The President cannot give you the powers that he doesn’t have. The President only gave you the powers that he has in the Act. He can only delegate the powers that he has in the Act.

The President in his wisdom, all the sections of the NDDC Act that Akpabio requested in his memo that the President delegate to him, rejected all except one, which was his powers of general supervision over policy.
The President never gave him any powers for the day-to-day running. Akpabio boasted that ‘those directors, I could have just removed them.’ He doesn’t know he has no powers to remove directors that are over Level 14. Even I as the MD I didn’t have. Those are the powers of the board.

You alleged that the minister wanted you to take a fetish oath. Why did you wait this long to talk about it? Do you want Akpabio removed as a minister and do you want to be reinstated as the NDCC boss?
It was very difficult for me to tell anyone because our relationship had gotten really bad. Akpabio would come and say, ‘I want $1m.’ How do I bring $1 million? Akpabio would come during Christmas that we have to bring N1 billion cash for everybody in the states. I said, ‘Sir, how do I write it? I don’t know how to write that!’ Everyone in the Niger Delta will bear me witness we didn’t pay any kobo to any youth during the Christmas. You can see what has happened now; you see palliatives flying up and down.

The relationship got so bad that he said the only way he could trust me again, when I said, ‘Sir, why are we having all this conversation?’ was through juju. When we went for that reconciliation meeting in Abuja, I did not tell the people at the Villa. Akpabio himself raised the issue, that ‘gentlemen, all I have said is that she must take this oath.’

I thank God for Mr. Sariki Abba. I have the boldness to call their names. If it were other people they would have held a press conference that there was nothing like that but you can see he (Akpabio) is afraid to discuss this issue, because the people who were present are credible and respected in this nation.
Mr. Sariki Abba got up and said, ‘Listen Minister: Joi is my sister. We’ve been in this politics for years. She is a member of our political family. Minister, she will not take that oath.’ I salute Sariki Abba. I told him I wasn’t going to take that oath.

Can you shed more light on what transpired during that meeting?
There were five issues that were raised at that meeting. I raised the issue of missing files. I reported to them that Akpabio had sent his two EDs to collect files at my back and he collected files of companies that he had an interest in, his contracts he got from NDDC, when he was a governor, his contracts when he was a senator and that the week he was appointed a minister, Akpabio ensured that he got 30 contracts for water hyacinths and desilting and he wanted those things to be paid for immediately.

I said I needed those files. He admitted before the gentlemen that he asked the directors to get him the files. I told him that stealing government’s files under the Nigeria Criminal Code is a criminal offence and that I would write about that. This is the letter that I wrote to the directors (shows the letter) to bring back those files immediately. The second issue I raised was the issue of a forensic audit that the President brought IMC so that we could superintend over the audit and that the issue he raised against me was that on national television I said NFIU, EFCC, the DSS, and the World Bank consultants must be part of that.

I believe the President’s legacy for anti-corruption and I know Mr. President. I have worked with him. I know that he is interested and he loves the people of the Niger Delta. So, I went there to make sure that the President is impressed. I said this was the letter that the President wrote to the Senate for setting up the IMC. Just one line!

He said, ‘I have directed that the forensic audit of the commission be carried out which is being overseen by the constituted Interim Management team.’ Akpabio insisted that it was not the Interim Management Committee; that it was him and that I should send the money for the audit to him. I said it was like the Ministry of Health implementing a Federal Medical Centre project, and that it is criminal. I will not do it.

The issues here include financial mismanagement, bribery, sexual harassment, and nepotism. You were an eyewitness to some rot going on in the NDDC. Why didn’t you raise the alarm earlier?
I blame Akpabio and I will back it up with documents that there is no forensic audit going on at NDDC, no forensic audit. I pity Prof. Pondei. He looks to me like a gentleman but he couldn’t hold his ground. Akpabio told me, as he did to my predecessor Mrs. Akwagaga, to change all the dollars – $120m in the account of the NDDC at the time to pay for his contracts, the desilting contracts that he got, the water hyacinth and all.
Mrs. Akwagaga got afraid and ran to the Chairmen of the National Assembly Committees on NDDC, and they gave her cover. Akpabio offered to give the NDDC Committee chairmen N400 million cash if they could tell this woman (Mrs. Akwagaga) that they should change $120 million in the NDDC account and let him have access so that he would be able to use the funds to take care of certain people in Nigeria. They promised to get back to him.
To cover the woman, they wrote to her that she was not allowed to change one dollar in the account. That letter from the chairmen protected the woman and Akpabio was bitter with her and similarly started attacking the committee chairmen in the National Assembly. Why did I say there was no forensic audit? I raised the issue of a certificate of no objection.

I am sure the Presidency is taking that very seriously. Part of the insubordination was that I did not go to the FEC (Federal Executive Council) meeting, and I did not go, because I did not want to contravene any provision of the Procurement Act. They kept saying that people were afraid of a forensic audit. I said there was no forensic audit going on at NDDC.

The only documents that were presented and in Akpabio’s memo to Mr. President, he said I refused to carry out the verification exercise. All contractors and Nigerians will bear me witness that there was a verification exercise in all the states. Secondly, the paper that they presented to the lead consultant was the document and the DSS report from the verification exercise that I did, that is the last thing that happened about forensic.
There was an application to the BPP (Bureau of Public Procurement) and it is so embarrassing asking for a due process certificate of no objection for the award of the contract of the procurement of the lead consultant. Now, the source of funding for that was from the 2020 Budget.

As of July 13, the NDDC has no budget. I presented the 2019 budget, which was passed and has elapsed. The 2020 budget has not even been discussed, has not even been passed. So, the BPP gave a certificate of no objection for the procurement of the lead consultant, who Akpabio brought and said he would enable him (Akpabio) take control of the audit process and its outcomes, explaining why he wanted that person and he didn’t want the NFIU, the World Bank consultants to come in. He said this at the meeting and was rebuked by Mr. Sariki Abba.

Why did you say there was no audit going on?
The certificate of no objection is the most important part of a forensic audit. The lead consultant has not been officially procured, because of the fact that there is approval from FEC, which was wrong, it should never have happened, and it’s stated clearly on that certificate of no objection that the source of funding would be from the 2020 budget. That means there is no source of funding.

It is a criminal act under the Public Procurement Act that you will not approve of any procurement. This is called anticipatory budgeting, when the National Assembly has not appropriated funds for it. So, I am correct to say that there cannot be any procurement. And I am worried that Cairo said on national television that the lead consultant has already been paid. How did the lead consultant get paid, when the budget has not been passed?
Two, the second certificates of no objection for the procurement of project vehicles, instead of stating under what budget BPP gave a certificate of no objection, saying the source of funding is the IGR. NDDC is not an internally generating revenue commission, even if they sell their things it must be based on a budget. The nine forensic auditors they applied for were not procured. Those nine companies are not international.
Those nine companies, the President would need to check them out. None of them carried out a forensic audit before.
The President must investigate this. Is there a forensic audit going on? Where are they carrying out the forensic audit? They need to show us. Where is the funding from? The due process certificate that has been given, no approval has been made for the forensic audit.

How can the NDDC be saved from the rot it’s undergoing?
The President should inaugurate the board that has been screened and approved and cleared. They should come as intended to oversee the audit and if Akpabio is there, they should send it (NDDC) back to the SGF’s office. Can you imagine? Akpabio wrote to me to put some projects for the Refugee Commission in the budget of NDDC?
The Refugee Commission is another federal government’s commission for the IDPs. So, why should we put them in NDDC’s budget, when we have so many things to do in the Niger Delta? How do you explain that? They need individuals who care about people. I am hoping that the new board will be able to oversee this.