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Controversy! As Akpabio, Nunieh street fight gets messier

Is Nunieh in the trenches to hit back or to heal the NDDC? Can Akpabio save his job, lacerated reputation? The 'other room' gets mentioned as altercation grows prominent And, the hidden warning in President Buhari’s message

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Prologue

Failed abduction or mere house arrest

With the Covid-19 flying protocol, anyone wishing to catch first flight in Port Harcourt would need to be at the international airport at Omagwa by at least 5am. For that to happen, a Port Harcourt resident would need to get out soon after 4am. That was exactly what Joi Nunieh, immediate past acting managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) planned to do.

 

Instead, noises outside at her Macaulay Street home in the Old GRA in Port Harcourt drew her attention. She saw a battery of armed Mopol-looking men and heard a knock to open. They told her the Commissioner of Police was outside. She opened the door an inch and a hand tried to grab her. She shut back the door; locked it back, and began to reach out for help. Help came through her state governor who had the previous day issued a stern warning against any harm coming the way of a Rivers’ daughter.

Before noon of same Thursday, July 16, 2020, the media was awash with the news of alleged abduction attempt. Some said it was an attempt at house arrest. What mattered was that Nunieh was billed to stage what was sure to be another dramatic appearance at yet another committee in the National Assembly probing the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC but in actual sense the Minister of Niger Delta Ministry, Godwill Akpabio, former governor of Akwa Ibom.

The police command in Rivers State however, bounced back later in the evening to claim knowledge of the invasion, saying the team came from the IG Unit and got back up from the Mopol in Port Harcourt. The clarification has rather kicked up more dust.

 

No joy for Joi Nunieh

 

Nunieh was full of joy on October 25, 2019, when President Muhammadu Buhari approved her appointment as the next Acting Managing Director of the Commission to take over from Akwagaga Enyia who had taken over from Professor, Nelson Brambaifa.

Nunieh’s joy must have skipped for the first time when it was clear to her that she would report to the minister instead of directly to the President through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) as was the case before Akpabio was made minister. The woman before her had issues with demands for money.

Soon after, Nunieh was embroiled in NYSC service scandal raked up by faceless non-governmental organisations (NGOs) most of which are two-for-a-penny in the region scouring for activism to pursue with any little sponsorship. Soon, Nunieh was removed. The ex-MD was to tell a television crew in an interview after her Senate panel session that the President did not know about her removal. Many had hinted in February 2020 when she was removed that the President’s attention to the removal was only drawn to the NTA news by another person and that Akpabio when asked told the President that he merely wanted to save the Number One citizen from another NYSC embarrassment after the one by the former minister of finance. This incident is said to have left a sad taste in the mouth of the Presidency or a section of it, until the right time to strike. Since then, there seems to have been little joy for Joi Nunieh.

 

NASS’ daggers and Akpabio’s nightmares

 

The occasion for vengeance seemed to procure itself. The NDDC IMC/Minister clashed over the 2019 budget of the Commission with the IMC’s new helmsman, the professor of Virology, Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei, accusing the NASS committees of padding the budget with 500 items and asking for huge payment of their own contracts before approving the budget. The IMC said the NASS did not want the audit to take place and pointedly accused the heads of the two committees (Senate and House of Representatives) as arrowheads of mass contracts to settle members and to punish any CEO of the NDDC that did not play by their rule. The infuriated NASS charged back with declaration to probe the Commission. The IMC countered that the NASS did not want the forensic audit to proceed, having allegedly demanded to see the documents being forwarded to the auditors. The NASS countered that the audit was untrue and that the real corruption was with the IMC and the Ministry. They swore to probe the IMC and Ministry, and Nunieh found her voice, and her joy, perhaps. She prepared heavily and became an enthusiastic witness. That seemed to be when Akpabio’s own defence began to dry up.

 

Chairman of the Senate panel on NDDC, Peter Nwaoboshi, had during the sessions accused the minister of alleged misappropriation of funds of the Commission over the years. Making available some documents to journalists on the alleged involvement of Akpabio in the financial scam, Nwaoboshi said that in 2017 alone, the Niger Delta Affairs Minister collected contracts worth N500million from the NDDC without execution and failed to refund the money. This was the same type of allegations that the IMC was making against Nwaoboshi and some other NASS members as the nation jeered and booed.

 

What Joi Nunieh is saying

Nunieh is telling the world that the IMC paid out N641million to a communications company to sell the forensic audit and defend the IMC and Akpabio, though sources to the company (Clear Point) said it was a deal to sell the NDDC and the oil region to the international community and counter the ugly image of the oil region to investors.

 

Always asking for money

Nunieh, daughter of first Ogoni lawyer, also told newsmen that the minister wrote several memos requesting for assistance to pay for even legal services. She said she declined such requests.

 

Why NDDC never had public power supply: The ‘other room’ gets mentioned as altercation grows prominent

 

Nunieh, in defending herself against charges of insubordination to the minister accused him of ‘coming on me’. She later clarified this to mean sexual harassment, for which she boasted of slapping the minister. She said the minister’s mistress supplies diesel at the Commission and for that reason, power supply directly from Afam power station was sabotaged at the gate never to get into the building. The same mistress, she said, went to insert things into the budget without recourse to the MD. She said the Minister was exercising power only the President could apply, saying the minister had power over policy, not day to day running of the Commission.

She said the minister frequently demanded one million dollars or one billion naira for one thing or the other, especially at Christmas. She capped it up by revealing that the minister wanted her to take oath with juju. “I said, Sir why are we having all these conversation; he said its juju oh.” It was the only way he could trust her again. He said it was the minister himself who revealed the oath matter to people in the Villa and one of them objected to such an oath on her behalf.

 

Missing files

She said the minister admitted at a reconciliation meeting that he used two directors in his ministry to take away files of all 30 contracts he got when he was governor, senator and minister.

She said the minister wanted to nominate and implement the forensic audit but that the letter by Mr. President had said it was to be done by the IMC. She said there is no forensic audit going on.

 

Dollars

“I pity Professor 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 ($120,000,000) 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 now gave her cover. Akpabio offered to give the NDDC Committee Chairmen N400 million cash, if they can 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 now promised to get back to him. To cover the woman, they now wrote to her that she is not allowed to change one dollar in the account. That letter from the Committee chairmen protected the woman and Akpabio was bitter with her and similarly started attacking the Committee Chairmen in the National Assembly.

 

No forensic audit going on

She said the certificate of no objection to appoint the auditor was not correct. The fund to pay is to be in the 2020 budget and there is no such budget. She said the minister brought the auditor and wanted to use him to protect his own issues.

“He didn’t want the World Bank consultants to come in. He said this at the meeting and he was rebuked by Mr. Sariki Abba. The certificate of no objection is the most important part of a forensic audit. The lead consultant has not been officially procured. And I am worried that Cairo (Ojuogboh) said that the lead consultant has already been paid. How did the lead consultant get paid when the budget has not been passed? The nine forensic auditors they have applied for have not been procured. Those nine companies are not international. Those nine companies, the President would need to check them out. None of them has carried out a forensic audit before.”

 

Last line

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 SGF’s (Secretary to Government of the Federation) office.

 

What Akpabio is saying

 

The Senior Assistant (SA) media to the minister, Anietie Ekong issued a statement in defence of Akpabio. He said: “To start with, let it be known that there is no scintilla of truth in all the allegations peddled around by Nunieh. They are simply false! The Honourable Minister did not at any time, place or in any circumstance make any form of sexual advances to Nunieh, not even to put himself in a position or posture suggestive of sexual advances towards Nunieh, or any female staff of his Ministry or the NDDC.

 

Happily married

For the records, the Honourable Minister, Senator Godswill Akpabio, CON, is happily married and contented with his wife. Together, they are blessed with children, four (4) of whom are young women. The Honourable Minister is an avid believer of the Affirmative Action and that was visible in the appointments he made as a two (2) term Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State between 2007 and 2015. Under his watch, he appointed several women into various high level positions as Chairpersons of Local Government Councils, Magistrates, Judges, Heads of Parastatals, Directors, Permanent Secretaries, and Commissioners.

First to have a female deputy

He is the first Governor in Akwa Ibom State to have a female Deputy Governor, was also the first to appoint female Chief Justices of the High Court, recommended women for ministerial appointments one of whom was the Minister of Housing and Urban Development, and supported for appointment the first female Vice Chancellor of the only Federal University in the State etc. He has always championed and still champions the cause of women and young children.

 

Sexual harassment? Nunieh did not report it

The Honourable Minister also finds it appalling that Nunieh never deemed it fit to report the alleged incident to the police at the earliest opportunity she had, before, during or after her tenor as the Acting Managing Director on 17th February, 2020, if indeed the allegation was true. Waiting till July 10th and 13th 2020 when the National Assembly appears to be probing some of her actions as the Acting Managing Director of the Interim Management Committee (“IMC”) exposes her motive, especially at a time when the momentum for the Forensic Audit Investigation of the NDDC is heating up and the truth is about to be unveiled for all to see? The critical question is who is afraid of the Forensic Audit at the NDDC? Who is Afraid of the Truth?

 

She is sponsored

There is no doubt that Nunieh’s attacks are both personal and sponsored. Those afraid of the truth, and who wish to bury it from seeing the light of day, are strenuously behind Ms. Nunieh’s vicious campaign of calumny.

The Honourable Minister has a mandate from Mr. President to unearth alleged looting and financial misappropriation that had gone on at the NDDC since its inception in 2001. He is committed to that mandate through the forensic audit of the NDDC and will not be deterred or distracted from that goal.

 

Plot is to kill forensic audit

The aim of this campaign of calumny is simple: get Senator Akpabio out; kill the forensic audit, and continue business as usual at the NDDC.

 

Awarded only 3 contracts

On the allegations of the Honourable Minister’s involvement in contract racketeering, bombing of oil pipelines, corruption/diversion of funds, the Honourable Minister has stated several times and at various fora that since his assumption of office, he has only awarded three contracts till date- the appointment of the lead forensic auditors which was approved by the Federal Executive Council the emergency procurement contract for COVID-19 intervention in the Niger Delta Area which due to its urgency had his interim approval and Presidential approval in line with the Bureau of Public Procurement Act and the award of Vehicles procurement duly approved by the Bureau of Public Procurement and the Federal Executive Council but yet to be consummated. It is noteworthy, that all these contracts went through due processes.

 

NDDC accounts are with the CBN, you can’t steal the dollars

On her allegation that the Honourable Minister directed her to change the Dollars in the NDDC’s Account; for the records, it should be noted that NDDC’s Account is domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria. Every inflow and outflow is known and traceable. NDDC gets its revenue in Dollars which is paid directly to its Treasury Single Account (TSA) with the Central Bank of Nigeria. The Dollar is then converted to Naira by the CBN and paid into the NDDC Naira Account still domiciled with the CBN upon a written application from the NDDC. It is therefore, impossible for any sum of money belonging to the NDDC with the CBN including the several figures bandied around as missing to be missing.

It is important to state, that unlike in the past where the NDDC had over three hundred (300) bank accounts in different commercial banks, that practice had since changed under the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, which gave full effect to the application of the Treasury Single Account and the NDDC now has its accounts with the CBN. The Honourable Minister does not give verbal instructions to anybody; all instructions are in writing and in response to a request from the Commission.

 

Kaltungo is my friend, was not removed

On the allegation that the Honourable Minister directed Nunieh to remove Kaltungo, same is false. His track record marks him out as a totally detribalised politician and one of the best friends of Northern Nigeria. The Honourable Minister was informed by the NDDC management that over 23 top Management Staff from various parts of Nigeria including the Niger Delta region, who have evaded leave in the last 10 years or had the tendency to influence negatively the ongoing forensic audit, were recommended for mandatory leave by the lead forensic auditors. They are still staff of the Commission currently receiving their monthly salaries and benefits.

 

Threatens to sue Nunieh

The Honourable Minister has taken steps to instruct his lawyers to seek necessary redress in a court of competent jurisdiction on his behalf over the defamatory statements made by Nunieh.

 

Please sift truth from lies

On a final note, while encouraging all Nigerians to hold their leaders to account, he urges them to take their time to sift the truth from lies and the substance before embarking on far-reaching allegations, opinions and views.

 

Niger Deltans react

 

Some citizens who preferred anonymity aired their views on the matter, but it is obvious that people are angry and they want the Commission to be allowed to work.

 

Allow NDDC to work

 

A coalition of youth and women groups in the Niger Delta has called on the National Assembly to allow the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC to focus on developing Nigeria’s oil-rich region.

The groups, led by the President of the Association of Non-Violent Peace Ambassadors, Otolo Emmanuel, stormed the NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt, in a solidarity rally. They accused those running away from forensic probe of trying to destabilise the Commission.

 

Emmanuel said: “We are here to demonstrate our support for Prof. Pondei on account of the good work he is doing in the Niger Delta. We insist that he should be allowed to carry out the forensic audit and anyone that is found wanting should face the full wrath of the law.

 

“We call on the National Assembly to stop impeding development of the Niger Delta region, because all the allegations that are going on do not benefit us. All we want is development which is being frustrated.”

 

Elders should step in to restore sanity

 

These earth-shaking and monumental frauds in NDDC have greatly exposed the political fragmentation and undermined the political unity and orientations of the South-South geo-political region towards the development and welfare of the people. Few privileged political elite from the region are the greatest disappointment and antithetical to the very existence of the interventionist agency for the region’s developmental master plan.

But what’s being witnessed in the Commission are dubious contract scams of unimaginable proportions, personal disagreement arisen out of modality of neat execution of deals, oath initiation, threat to expose many underlying issues, honourable slapping, etc. One of the common regrettable lessons to the people of the region is that they are incapable of management of the Commission’s resources and allocations.

The few privileged appointees within the “Federal ruling party” to supervise the Commission have clearly shown their incompetence and preponderance for lack of due process.

The elders can now step into the market square and restore sanity within the centripetal and centrifugal forces in order for the region to be taken seriously politically in the eyes of the international community and other ethnic nationalities despite the denigrating attitudes of infinitesimal few from the Federal ruling political party.

South-South Governors insist on forensic audit

The South-South Governors, who first instigated the forensic audit, have returned to their position, saying the razzmatazz should not becloud the quest for the audit. The forum last Thursday declared wholehearted support for forensic audit of NDDC ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.

It deplored, with great concern, the crisis rocking the Commission and said that it was convinced and expecting that the audit would serve to put the NDDC on a sound corporate governance footing and reposition it to better deliver on its mandate.

In a statement by Chairman of the Forum and Governor of Delta, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, the governors also gave full backing to the ongoing investigation of the Commission by the Senate. According to the release, “We believe the Senate is operating within its oversight functions through the ad-hoc committee set up for that purpose.

“It behoves us to respect the Senate oversight function and allow it to discharge this responsibility in a fair, transparent and equitable manner.

“The South-South Governors are desirous to see an NDDC that is fully alive and responsive to its mandate of accelerating infrastructural development of the Niger Delta region and enhancing the general living conditions of our people. Hence, we will not hesitate to give our unqualified support to any policy initiative that will make this a reality.

 

Buhari reads the riot act

Many say whereas the NASS is striving to stop the forensic audit, that the Ministry of Niger Delta is equally striving to stop the NASS probe of the activities of the IMC. President Buhari seems to follow the middle road, thus, supporting both probes, and promising to act with outcome of both. This may spell doom for many dramatis personae on all sides.

 

According to a statement issued on his behalf by Garba Shehu, his Senior Special Assistant, President Muhammadu Buhari gave directives for better coordination among security and investigating agencies with the National Assembly to ensure that the administration’s effort to bring sanity, transparency and accountability to the management of the large amount of resources dedicated to development of the Niger Delta sub-region is not derailed.

In his reaction to the unfolding drama, which includes attacks and counter attacks between and around persons, institutions, and the NDDC, President Buhari expressed his strong determination to get to the root of the problem undermining the development of the Niger Delta and its peoples in spite of enormous national resources voted year after year for this singular purpose.

According to the directive, auditing firms and investigative agencies working in collaboration with National Assembly Committees to resolve the challenges in the NDDC must initiate actions in a time-bound manner and duly inform the Presidency of the actions being taken.

The President also directed timely sharing of information and knowledge in a way to speedily assist the administration to diagnose what had gone wrong in the past and what needs to be done to make corrections in order to return the NDDC to its original mandate of making life better for people in Niger Delta.

President Buhari said the administration wants to bring about “rapid, even and sustainable development to the region.”

The President gave firm assurance that his administration would put in place a transparent and accountable governance framework, not only in the NDDC but in all other institutions of government.

 

Conclusion

From the tone of two major authorities that can decide the fate of the NDDC (the South-South Governors and President Buhari), calls for scrapping the Commission may not hold water. Instead, the Commission may emerge stronger and more focused. Submissions that would guide the Presidency in the coming months may be secretly welcomed and studied.

The Commission may be headed by technocrats and non-politicians, the board may now be professional people and no politicians, and the agenda may be streamlined to turnkey projects that a state may not be able to embark upon. Most persons expected fireworks as soon as the forensic audit was ordered by Mr. President. The fireworks are here.

At last, the crisis may have paid off well if the lessons are taken into consideration. The issues killing the Commission and the solutions seem to stare everyone in the face.

Blessing Nwikina, a seasoned information strategist and government affairs expert in Port Harcourt, who is from Nunieh’s Ogoni, said Friday morning that by the time the forensic and other probes are done, there may be no single Niger Delta politician clean enough to raise his head or stand an election in Nigeria.

 

 

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