As robust denials and ‘contracts distancing’ by alleged beneficiaries of the corruption that has become the story of the NDDC mount, Louis Achi asks: whodunit?
Peering deep into human history and nature, a puzzled Scottish historical novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott, once bemoaned: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”
But whatever quirky intrigues and impunities that shaped Walter’s early worldview of Scotland, they probably may not hold a candle to the absurd deceptions playing out in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), currently.
Such is the absurdity that even the House Committee chaired by Hon. Thomas Ereyitomi nimbly broke the insightful rule by Napoleon Bonaparte, which counseled: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”
“Honourable minister, it’s okay, off your mic,” Ereyitomi was quick off the blocks, protesting and trying to gag the minister with several bangs of the gavel. Was the minister ‘making a mistake’?
During an investigative hearing by the House of Representatives last month, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, had told lawmakers to their faces that they were the biggest beneficiaries of the corruption that has become the story of the NDDC.
This spawned a storm with Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila of the House, handing down an ultimatum demanding the Minister released the touted names of beneficiaries or faced legal action.
Not cowed, Akpabio subsequently released a list of contractors, in a July 23 letter to the Speaker, which included the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta, Peter Nwabaoshi, whose name was listed against 53 projects.
The minister’s letter addressed to the Clerk to the House, Mr. Patrick Giwa, with Reference Number MNDA/HM/04/IV/158, was also copied to the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
Senator Matthew Urhoghide, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts; and Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, Senate Whip, were among the lawmakers named as beneficiaries. James Ibori and Emmanuel Uduaghan, two former governors of Delta State, were equally listed as beneficiaries. There are many more. Significantly, most of them had denied benefitting from the contracts, accusing Akpabio of tarnishing their reputation.
A fallout from Akpabio’s disclosures, which is significant, is the chorus of denials and lengthy homilies from a broad swathe of the character cast of ‘beneficiaries.’ Then Whodunit?
Former Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori, his successor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, and Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, took issue with Akpabio, for naming them among alleged beneficiaries of NDDC contract awards.
The trio, in separate statements, denied they did not take any contracts from the commission, which is being probed by the National Assembly for alleged financial misconduct.
In October, President Buhari ordered a forensic audit into the finances of the NDDC from 2001 to 2019.
However, Ibori, in a statement by his media aide, Tony Eluemunor, dismissed the allegation, stating he had never solicited for any contract from the commission or been awarded one.
“Chief Ibori hereby states categorically that he never solicited for, or was awarded, or indeed executed any contract with NDDC or any government agency, at any time, for that matter.
“And in all, he has been through in and out of public office, he has never been accused of being a government contractor, let alone a failed one hence he did not want to dignify the allegation with a response because it is ridiculous.”
For good measure, Ibori also described as tragic, the NDDC’s degeneracy, adding that, “We owe it a duty to the people of the Niger Delta to make NDDC work to ameliorate the sufferings of the people of the region and to realise the dream for which we fought for it to be set up. So, let everybody involved in the NDDC do their duties to the good people of the region.”
Uduaghan also denied being an NDDC contractor, saying he could not have collected N429million road contract from the commission as alleged by the minister, adding that he “had never approached the NDDC for any contract whatsoever.”
In yet another statement by his Media Assistant, Monoyo Edon, he said he had already reached out to Akpabio “to immediately correct the report” as he had never been awarded contracts by the interventionist agency.
“We want to state very clearly that the said accusation is false. Dr. Uduaghan has never approached the NDDC for any contract whatsoever. It is even more ridiculous that the said contract is a road inside Port Harcourt town,” the statement read.
Kalu, in a pitch by Emeka Nwala of the office of the Senate Chief Whip, said he believed that the issues at stake in the NDDC had to do with missing funds and not work done.
According to him, the road projects mentioned by the minister as being awarded to him were the interventions he facilitated for the communities as a private citizen before he became a senator.
He said his name was mentioned because he used his letterhead paper to write a sympathetic letter to the NDDC in 2016 pleading with it to repair roads in Abia.
His words: “Between 2016-2018 during my tour to several communities; leaders and welfare unions of most communities pleaded for urgent intervention on some dilapidated roads. I wrote to the NDDC informing the body of the conditions of these roads and the need for their attention since Abia is an NDDC state.”
Many other federal legislators listed in the NDDC contract scandal have also deftly denied culpability. But interestingly, the NDDC maintains the list of contract beneficiaries released by Akpabio is authentic.
In a statement on Tuesday, Charles Odili, NDDC’s director of corporate affairs, affirmed the list emanated from 8,000 documents handed over to forensic auditors. His words: “The Interim Management Committee of the commission stands by the list which came from files already in the possession of the forensic auditors.
“It is not an Akpabio list but the NDDC’s list; the list is part of the volume of 8,000 documents already handed over to the forensic auditors.”
Curiously, NDDC added another twist to the story by revealing that, “Prominent indigenes of the Niger Delta whose names were on the list should not panic as the commission knew that people used the names of prominent persons in the region to secure contracts, and the ongoing forensic audit would unearth those behind the contracts.
“The intention of the list was to expose committee chairmen in the National Assembly, who used fronts to collect contracts from the commission, some of which were never executed.”
It’s debatable whether the added spin was intended to make the short-changed folks of the Niger Delta feel better. In a milieu where crucial processes are routinely short-circuited, laws cavalierly flouted and sundry impunity glossed over, what hope is there that the culprits would be visited by justice? Big question!