The House of Reps should be commended in its bid to make the NDDC accountable, writes Uche Njoku

It is never easy fighting graft in a corruption-infested society. A former Minister of Finance and the coordinating minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala lamented how he labored but achieved little in eliminating corruption in government. “When you fight corruption, Corruption will fight back’, she lamented.

There are many ways alleged corrupt individuals fight back. They create a clog in the wheel of justice if the anti-graft agencies succeeded in dragging them before the court of law. They have enough to hire the best attorney in town who is vast in how to drag a case for decades.

Alternatively, a suspect can impugn the integrity of the investigators through unfounded, spurious allegations just to shift attention from the substance of the probe and get the public distracted.

The drama staged by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio during the probe on alleged mismanagement of whopping N81.5bn within a spate of six months that the Interim Management Committee (IMC) took charge of NDDC was a well scripted plot to truncate the fact-finding mission of the panel.

He rambled all through the session. Most of the answers to questions asked were off point and largely irrelevant to the truth-finding mission. The shameful diversionary tactic of the minister had earlier played out when he took a swipe at a former NDDC boss, Joi Nuniel who accused him of turning the commission to his money machine.

Rather than countering the weighty allegations of corruption leveled against him, Akpabio regaled Nigerians with story of how the former NDDC boss had four bad marriages.

That same mischief was the joker Akpabio unleashed on the investigating panel. He knew that Nigerians and the media will be fixated on graft allegations against members of the investigating parliament, even if he later recanted, the damage had been done and already got temporary reprieve.

As expected, the leadership of the House of Representatives led by Rt Hon Femi Gbajabiamila took up the gauntlet against the loquacious minister and challenged him to publish the names of lawmakers who got contracts of the NDDC. In his usual style, Akpabio recanted and said he was misquoted.

The confidence of the Speaker that members of the ninth assembly never abused their office and privileges to line their pockets as alleged by minister made him to mull legal action to protect the integrity of the parliament from being smeared further.

When he could not withstand the bombardments from many quarters, Akpabio hurriedly released a list containing names of certain individuals who were mostly members of the eighth National Assembly as alleged beneficiaries.

The minister deliberately misled the public by engaging in outright falsehood and misrepresentation of facts. Most of the projects listed by Akpabio were constituency projects that lawmakers attracted to their respective communities. The minister is yet to prove that firms that executed these projects are owned by lawmakers.

A simple check at the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC would have lifted the veil on the actual owners of these companies rather making bogus allegations just to distract the public from the massive financial heist under his watch.

The spokesperson of the House Benjamin Kalu aptly captured the rabble rousing minister and exposed his mischief contained in the irrelevant eight-paragraph letter in wrote to the speaker.

Kalu said, “Following this disturbing allegation, the leadership of the ninth House issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the Minister to publish a list of the legislators allegedly awarded 60% of the entire projects of NDDC between January and May 2020. Instead of publishing the list for the world to see in the interest of transparency, the minister in his usual diversionary tactics, chose to send an irrelevant eight-paragraph private letter to the speaker regarding projects of 2018 which pre-date the ninth House of Representatives and had little to do with the bogus claims he made”.

He added, “The projects presented in the Minister’s letter are not within the scope of the investigation and do nothing to address the leadership’s ultimatum for him to publish the list of names of the members who he claimed took 60% of NDDC projects from January to May 2020”.

Till date, Akpabio is yet to satisfactorily prove that 60 percent of the contracts went to the members of ninth National Assembly. The House spokesman continues, “Nevertheless, it will interest Nigerians to know that paragraph three of the Minister’s letter fully exonerated the ninth Assembly. Also, in paragraph seven, the minister completely withdrew his previous statement about 60% of the NDDC projects being awarded to members of the ninth Assembly.

“It is also instructive for Nigerians to note that the total number of projects in the 2019 NDDC budget was 5959 out of which 5416 projects were rolled over from 2018, which the ninth Assembly obviously had no influence or control over.

“Therefore, unable to prove his claims, the minister presented an ineffectual spreadsheet of only 266 projects out of which about 20 projects were attracted by past members of the National Assembly as constituency projects, not as contractors, but in furtherance of their representative mandate.

“The projects presented in the minister’s letter are not within the scope of the investigation and did nothing to address the leadership’s ultimatum for him to publish the list of names of the members who he claimed took 60% of NDDC projects from January to May 2020.

“Also, contrary to the mischievous narrative being peddled on the internet, the only mention of the Chairman of the NDDC Committee of the 9th House of Representatives, Rep. Tunji Ojo in that letter, was as to his alleged request for the complete payment of 19 contractors who had approached him with complaints over NDDC’s non-payment for their services. This is however, an allegation which has been completely refuted by Rep. Ojo and for which there is no evidence linking him.

“The one member of the House mentioned in that letter only attracted the project to his federal constituency, in the same manner that the NDDC MD, EDFA, EDP, Chairman, etc., applied to the Commission for attention to the needs of their people and were obliged. This attraction of projects did not any way mean that contracts were personally awarded to them.

“Additionally, the letter also listed the names of contract awardees with no evidence linking them to those who attracted the projects to the beneficiary communities. It takes lifting the corporate veil for the directors to be seen and the Corporate Affairs Commission is there to establish who the real owners of the companies are. Until then, it is wrong to attempt to establish a nexus which currently does not exist. The document remains a mere spreadsheet of people who attracted projects to their communities in furtherance of their representative functions.

“Furthermore, the directive to press charges against the minister has not been lifted by the House as the leadership is busy considering the weight of the Honourable Minister’s letter. If it does not clear the doubt and wrong perception, it will be sent to the court for clearance as the Speaker stated.

“Once again, the letter’s annexures showing 2018 projects have no relevance to what was requested from the minister because it was outside the scope of his claims, it was also not comprehensive but selective by mentioning only one current member for attracting projects to his constituency and not for receiving contracts.

“The House is mindful of a letter currently before it where the minister also applied to attract several projects to his senatorial zone during his time at the Senate, does it mean the contracts were awarded to him?”.

It is imperative to note that the public outcry and the media persecution of the lawmakers over the Akpabio allegation was a disservice to the parliament that was bent on unraveling the massive looting in the NDDC.

If the National Assembly that many critics predicted will be a rubberstamp proved naysayers wrong and demonstrated patriotism and bipartisan political will to go after looters of our collective patrimony, the parliament should be commended just as the media and public are always eager to slam them when they perform below expectations.

Njoku wrote from Ilorin