THIS REPUBLIC By Shaka Momodu, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, SMS Only: 0811 266 1654
Anyone watching the drama playing out at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) between the Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio, and his hand-picked immediate-past Acting Managing Director of the Interim Management Committee (IMC), Ms Joi Nunieh, must have by now given up on the calibre of people in leadership positions at all levels of governance in this country. There is almost always a lack of sincerity of heart and purpose in the actions and inactions of our leaders. The country is laden with treasury raiders and men of plunder and avarice masquerading as agents of a new beginning. Is it any wonder the once promising country is failing on all fronts?
These gangsters in power are daily devising all sorts of criminal ways to pillage and balkanize our commonwealth. It’s all about the money, more money, and fetish oath of loyalty to sustain themselves in power to continue to superintend over the fleecing of the country’s resources. Corruption has taken over our country and eaten so deep into its soul that hope of redemption is fading fast. The forces of repression are just too powerful. The mind-boggling sums of money being stolen daily across all agencies and parastatals of government under this supposedly corrective administration frighten one to the very core and would shock any sane Nigerian into numbness. It is now so brazenly done that it requires no effort to even hide it.
Akpabio, the controversial and colourful Minister of Niger Delta, is not one that would refrain from stirring up trouble. Convinced that he had a case, he swaggered into AriseTV News studio Saturday night, June 11, clearly with intent to malign, damage and demean Ms Nunieh, who at an earlier press conference in Abuja, had made weighty corruption allegations against him. She had also revealed how he pressured her to swear an oath of allegiance to him which she refused. When given opportunity live on-air to clear himself, he had no convincing response to the serious allegations levelled against him, instead he devolved into Nunieh’s private love life, alleging she had character problems, which could be attested to by the four ex-husbands she married, with emphasis to drive his message home that she was a loose woman. He challenged the interviewer to bring the ex-husbands to the studio to testify to his allegation of temperament and character issues he levelled against her.
In that interview, the minister tried to be clever by half and tried unsuccessfully to make a distinction without a difference. He came across as uncivil, arrogant, ill-mannered, pompous, unaccountable, pretentious, full of avarice, hypocritically petulant, cunningly petty and astonishingly trivial. But he is clearly the loser for it as subsequent events have exposed his shenanigans. He has lost the respect of many.
You see, both Akpabio and Ms Nunieh have laid their cases to the public and it is not difficult for any reasonable person to discern who was telling the truth between the two of them except for those who would prefer to negotiate the evidence.
While Akpabio was blowing hot air and no substance, Ms Joi Nunieh made a compelling case against him in her response on the same AriseTV News on Monday morning, June 13. She laid her case in a dignified and methodical manner, tearing Akpabio’s hubris and infantile allegations against her apart, one after the other. She was articulate, composed, methodical, logical and civil while laying out her case against the braggadocio minister; didn’t seem like one motivated by the desire for revenge or someone out to gain cheap publicity. She was urbane, private and I dare say even brilliant. You could hardly fault her training as a lawyer. To think that Akpabio himself is also a lawyer left much to be desired when matched with Nunieh. One could easily see between the two who took their studies seriously in school. Clearly one was studious, the other was playful.
I was really gripped by her arresting and explosive revelations detailing Akpabio’s abuse of office and corruption. She did not just throw a grenade, or launch an RPG, she dynamited the minister on live television, blowing his career baloney powered by fetish oath taking and built on false confidence and hubris to smithereens. At the end of her interview, Akpabio looked like a rain-drenched village cock shivering in a cold morning.
Even the interviewers were almost speechless and in some moments too shell-shocked by her meticulous delivery on real time TV. I heard Akpabio is still in office and he is carrying on pretending to be unfazed by Nunieh’s explosive allegations, including sexual harassment/assault for which he was given a hot blinding and uncommon slap that possibly shocked and restrained his libido. He probably saw stars. He was used to getting his way with women perhaps, whom he probably sees as added perks that come with his power of office. But this time, his power and mantra of what money can’t buy more money can buy clearly didn’t work with Nunieh. His obsession with Nunieh’s love life was immediately visible in his interview.
And as Nunieh asked, why the interest? Did he want to be her fifth husband?
It is easy to deduce that in the job, while one was eager to defraud the system and break the laws, the other was stridently trying to abide by the laws and protocols governing public servants and public expenditures. While one had integrity to protect, the other couldn’t be enamoured of such niceties. While one saw public resources as a bazaar and an extension of his personal wealth to be shared to his cronies and used for political patronage, the other saw things differently – public resources should be used for the advancement of public good. Clearly, it was a contest between good and evil. And the mendacity of evil was on full-throated display.
In saner societies, Akpabio should have resigned or forced to step down by now. But this is Nigeria where impunity rules the day, where lawless men and women make laws for others to obey, where the head of the anti-corruption agency is himself enmeshed in mind-boggling corruption allegations, where government officials are constantly devising all sorts of cunning ways and means of looting public treasury that would make even Satan shudder and green with envy.
This is just a tip of the iceberg. Take a glance at the milking of NDDC with this bizarre spending: N1.5 billion as ‘Covid-19 relief’ among staff. ‘community relations’ costing N1.072 billion; consultancy, N4.1 billion; duty tour allowances, N486 million; Imprests (October 2019 to May, 2020), N790.9 million; Lassa fever, N1.956 billion; legal services, N906 million; maintenance, N220 million; medicals, N2.6 billion; overseas travel (February to May, 2020 when we were all supposed to be on lockdown), N85.6 million; logistics, N61 million; condolences, N61.7 million; public communication, N1.121 billion; security, N744 million; engagement of stakeholders (February to May, 2020), N248 million, etc. while the police got N475 million to buy face masks, hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE).
From Akpabio’s interview and Nunieh’s explosive reactive interview, I am convinced beyond any iota of doubt that the minister MUST resign immediately, failing which he should be given the boot and prosecuted without further delay, nothing less. Akpabio cannot hide under a so-called forensic audit that we knew from the outset and has now been confirmed to the whole world by Nunieh as a gimmick, to fleece the interventionist agency to death. Any delay in sacking him will make President Muhammadu Buhari who appointed him culpable in the mind-boggling thievery going on in NDDC. If the president still pretends to stand for anything of value, no matter how infinitesimal, this is the time to be outraged by that scrap of value left, if any. The explosive revelations in Nunieh’s interview should rouse his conscience to for once, walk the talk. Akpabio should not be occupying his office as minister a minute longer. His damaged goods can’t be restored and every minute he hangs on to office is a burden on those who keep him there. Both his interview and Nunieh’s have cratered any whiff of morality left of him beyond redemption to hang on to office. The fact that we still prefix honourable minister to his name when there is nothing honourable about his behaviour speaks a lot about the values that now define us as a people. Can anyone tell me what is honourable in Akpabio’s conduct? I cannot think of a conduct more forbidden than Akpabio has been accused of.
Apparently, Akpabio lobbied the power brokers to bring NDDC under the supervision of his ministry, not because he cared about the failure of the interventionist agency to meet the goals for which it was established nor was he worried about the massive corruption and contract scam that had become rife there. No, far from it. His motive hidden beneath his public posture of forensic audit and refocusing of NDDC, it now appears, was to seize control of the agency’s cash-filled vault and dispense as he fancies. It was never about the development of the region, it was all about his self-interest. To achieve this, he wanted some form of fetish oath taking to secure the loyalty of the managing director. This is a man who would profess Christianity in the day and embrace the dark world of Juju at night all to maintain power. We even heard that an Akpabio’s loyalist stated he would kill for him if directed to do so by the minister before asking about the person’s offence. Who knows how many people have been killed already by those gangsters on the instructions of the minister? Yet the authorities are not doing anything about such a grave allegation. Again, who knows what he has made the current acting managing director of NDDC to go through to retain his job? Who knows?
In November 2019, when Akpabio’s desperation and obsession with NDDC had started to manifest in public, I wrote an article titled: The Paradox in Akpabio’s Anti-Corruption Crusade. I had stated clearly that a man who mismanaged his state’s resources as governor and could not account for trillions of naira in eight years cannot be the right person to lead the crusade to rid NDDC of corruption. Especially when he was under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for money laundering and theft of his state’s money. Here are excerpts from that article published on this column.
“Akpabio contaminates our values, and with him, you get a sense of menace and danger lurking on the horizon. This is the strange paradox here in Nigeria that people that had or still have their hands in the cookie jar are the ones claiming to be leading the anti-corruption crusade…
“It is not because he believes the intervention agency has largely failed. The minister is not serious about fighting corruption; his antecedents and persona speak volumes. Rather, Akpabio’s obsession is to take over effective control of the agency and proceed to use it as an avenue to dispense favours to his cronies. He wants to rebuild his badly diminished political clout. He and his political base would be the ultimate beneficiaries of his fake war on corruption. The NDDC is essentially a contract-awarding agency, all in the multi-billion naira range. It is therefore easily understandable why Akpabio wants to effectively bring it under his control. Who knows what crooked stories he might have whispered into the ears of the powers that be before making his audacious power grab?
“Only a pretender will claim that there is no corruption in the NDDC. Truth be told, the agency is reeking of corruption. It has been badly run; massive corruption by way of contract inflation, poor execution, outright looting of the money meant to provide succour to the people of the Niger Delta region who bear the brunt of environmental degradation as a result of oil exploration are rife. I want the NDDC probed and thoroughly so. All those who have undermined the objectives of its creation MUST be brought to book. All the contractors who have collected money and failed to show up at site or failed to execute contracts to specifications must be held to account alongside their enablers.
“But I can’t for the life of me understand how Akpabio will accomplish this task altruistically when he is still facing allegations of corruption himself. More so, considering the circumstances, he cannot be the one to lead the charge to clean up the mess in NDDC. His hands are soiled in the mess that Nigeria has become. I shudder at his vain attempt to play to the gallery, I pity those who allow themselves to be fooled by the man’s sudden piety and sanctimonious posturing. I am NEVER going to fall for it. I read some fellas are threatening fire and brimstone if he is sacked.
“Really? Since when? You know there is a saying in the land of my fathers that when you have been in slavery for too long, and you are suddenly free, you begin to crave slavery. That’s why I pity Akpabio’s supporters. They have been living in the dark and want to continue to live in darkness because light hurts them.”
Nine months after I wrote that article, Akpabio has succeeded in seizing total control of NDDC. But the dire prophecy of the article has been fulfilled; the minister has been unmasked. The man who claimed he wanted to fight corruption in NDDC is now enmeshed in several jaw-dropping corruption, sexual harassment/assault, oath-taking or occultism scandals, etc. What a paradox!