Many say corruption is fighting back as Nunieh suffers hacking, identity theft, certificate scandal, boycott of contract verification order, and attempts on her life
What President Muhammadu Buhari ordered at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was forensic audit but what he may be getting seems to be ‘forensic’ warfare and fireworks. This may be aimed at derailing, delaying, or outright disruption of the forensic audit. The target seems to be Ogoni-born Joi Nunieh, who was appointed into the waiting board to represent Rivers State but was surprisingly declared as head of an interim management committee and thereby the Acting Managing Director of the Commission.
Since early January 2020 when Nunieh, daughter of the first Ogoni lawyer, announced a contract verification exercise which requires contractors to go to the states where the contracts took place to go and register it and get it verified by an interim panel, hell seems to let lose. Those who probably believed the forensic audit would not start, may be shocked the turn it was taking. Verifying a contract is being seen as setting the foundation of being found guilty, like one admitting and pleading guilty even before the charge is announced. Inside sources said many contractors held many nocturnal meetings where they resolved not to participate or at best to disrupt it.
Nunieh herself has been courting the tongue of the serpent. She gave verve to the forensic audit by always describing it as the only way to save the NDDC, a stand that many big politicians may not like. Politicians from both divide (PDP, APC) seem deeply enmeshed in contracts in the place and may not be ready for any serious scratch.
She it was who revealed that one senator alone had over 300 contracts and that 120 were paid for without any scratch of work. This alone seemed to give the world a preface of the book of forensic audit ahead. She followed this by disclosing that one man was pocketing N1billion every month to help collect statutory funds from the oil companies mandated by the NDDC Act of 2000 to remit to the Commission. The scandal was that such remittances did not pass through an intermediary and is done by transfers or instruments, not Ghana-Must-Go bags and escorts. Not a few were angry.
Worse, she has since stopped payments and has come up with her verification ‘kamikaze’ poison that many think should not be swallowed without a fight. The forensic warfare had to be launched.
The first obstacle that Nunieh faced was effort not to recognise her as CEO of the NDDC. The Senate was made to reject her position, insisting that those cleared should be inaugurated. The budget of the Commission for 2020 was ignored until the Senate order was implemented. Some said she was imposed by some members of a cabal and not known to the President. She seemed to overcome this when the President indicated affirmation of her appointment.
The next was her email account that was hacked and used to solicit for payments for jobs especially for Ogoni women to be given employments. She and her aides came out denouncing and denying the claims, saying her account was hacked and her identity stolen.
Insiders said had that not been dictated early enough and publicly denounced, detractors would have harvested enough evidence to supply to the security agencies and the presidency to show that the person sent to fight corruption at the NDDC was rather boosting it.
Subtle boycott of the verification exercise is said to be the next strategy to delay or discredit the exercise and get it discarded. At the various centres in the nine states, lines were scanty. It was obvious that an agency that had over 1200 contracts would have crowds at the centres, but the opposite was said to be the case. At a point, the scenes showed images of a failing exercise.
The major script came when a group opened a scandal saying Nunieh forged her certificate. This is a scandal that usually claims the head of the target. The group, a civil society one named Niger Delta Anticorruption Coalition (NDAC) called on President Buhari to sack Nunieh. They did not call for investigation first. The group seemed to go to its core objective when it called on the president to order the immediate stoppage of the ‘Contract Verification Exercise’.
The call was contained in a press statement signed by Executive Director of the group, Boniface Akpoebi, in which the group accused Nunieh of forging a degree of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. They said contrary to claims that she studied Law at the Rivers State University of Technology (UST), that she rather allegedly dropped out of the university.
The group also alleged that Nunieh also forged the National Youth Corps Service (NYSC) certificate and that she never partook in the mandatory one year national scheme.
Akpoebi stated: “We have it on good authority that the Acting MD of the NDDC did not graduate from RUST as she claims. She dropped out of the programme and went abroad. There’s no record she went to the Law School and we know she went abroad after a minor accident. When she came back from abroad she started claiming to fight for the Niger Delta cause. Joy Nunieh should be removed from the NDDC. She will not allow the forensic audit ordered by the president to be carried out. Currently, she has sent people to do verification instead of forensic audit. What are they verifying?
“Joy Nunieh has been bribed by politicians to witch-hunt some top Niger Delta leaders and we won’t allow that to happen. Let her go and sort her certificate issue with RUST and NYSC.”
The media aide to Nunieh did not find the allegation weighty enough to be dignified with a response. The Special Adviser (Communication), Ibanga Isine, reminded newsmen that the alleging organisation was not registered in the first place. He also made it clear that the onus was on the person alleging to produce proof, not to ask the victim to do so.
Nunieh and her defiant fight for the soul of Nigeria
On January 28, the NDDC, through a group it called Coalition of Civil Societies Organisations for Governance and Change Initiative (CCSGGI), said to be led by one Okpokwu Ogenyi (all Idoma of Benue State names) as convener, signed a 30-point bullet attacking Akpoebi and his team.
The Ogenyi group not only condemned those they called idlers parading as CSOs/activists ready to serve as attack dogs, but said: “It’s illogical, incoherent, patently inchoate, and offending to understand an assemblage of matured men could anchor such a fluid allegation on a respected woman of virtue and leader. They based their conclusions on no empirical or verifiable evidence.”
The Ogenyi group wondered whether the Akpoebi group was present at the so-called FIB Headquarters in Abuja where they claimed that Nunieh was unable to present her certificates and pleaded to rush home to bring them and never returned. “The CCSGGI wonders whether members of the CSO were also part of the FIB vetting panel. In any case, they recoiled from presenting concrete evidence to the public to support their claims.”
The defending group pointed to the fact that Nunieh has worked and held several public offices, including serving at the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, (HYPREP). “Therefore, having staged a bad outing, the group consoled itself by boasting of nationwide protests to press for her sack, if Mr. President fails to direct the Inspector General of Police, Director-General, Department of State Services, the ICPC to commence investigation and prosecution of Dr. Nunieh for alleged forgery.”
No going back
In a firm declaration, the CCSGGI said: “But let truth be told. We are all aware that the NDDC, an agency created by the FG to fast-track the development of the Niger Delta region, has become a cesspool of corruption for decades. And President Buhari’s action to sanitise the agency by ordering a forensic audit of the NDDC, the main mandate of the Dr. Nunieh-led NDDC Interim Management Committee attracted eulogies to the President.
“It is commendable that the NDDC boss has her eyes fixated on sanitising and repositioning the NDDC for optimal performance beneficial to the region. So, any attempt to distract her focus will not be condoned or tolerated. As a bona fide son of the Niger region who knows exactly what transpired in the Commission before now and fully aware of Dr. Nunieh’s courageous efforts, I felt it imperative to mobilise my colleagues to stand up in defence of an apostle of a great Nigeria.
“The Verification Committee is designed to clean the Augean stable for the proper forensic audit of the commission as ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019. The committee has a two-week duration to submit its report. But news filtering from the Commission is unpleasant with startling revelations of mega frauds in the commission. We still remember the popular case of a serving Senator. He was single-handedly awarded about 300 contracts by the NDDC; out of which 120 of the contracts have been fully paid, but none executed. The hired CSOs failed to stage a protest on the matter.
“It is incontestable that the so -called or non-existing CSO peddling the hogwash against Dr, Nunieh is the typical expression of “madness.” It is instigated by those who mindlessly looted the resources of the Niger Delta region. It is unfortunate that these very enemies of the people are out to ruin the integrity and reputation of a woman whose only sin is accepting Mr. President’s charge to rid the NDDC of corruption and mal-administration. We have no doubt that the NDDC boss has maintained a firm level of integrity anywhere she is assigned to perform a national duty.
“And their failure to corruptly influence her to bow to dubious deals or soft pedal has raised a clan of enemies angling for her removal from office. It explains why months after she was screened and assumed office, no one raised the fake NYSC discharge certificate until she inaugurated a Verification Committee. These infantile antics are familiar and cannot constitute a stumbling block to her determination to restore sanity in the Commission. They have barked at the wrong person. Dr. Nunieh is woman who has no skeletons in the cupboard and the enemies should think of another plot to frustrate her administration.
“Let us put it in clear terms to the leeches that the NDDC boss is carrying out a very tasking job and, inevitably, she must trample on lions and lionesses that once defaced humanity at the NDDC. These are the veiled angry contractors and their collaborators who are out against a woman ever ready to catch the fraudulent contractors in their tracks. Those chasing her shadows to stab should ask their conscience what the NDDC boss has done apart from preferring to serve her country in the patriotic posturing, which President Buhari has continued to govern the country in the last few years. The allegations against her are not just unfounded, but totally baseless and should be discountenanced by all Nigerians as the handiwork of Nigeria’s desperate ‘Esaus.’
“The CCSGGI recognises the laudable and manifest initiatives, reforms/innovations Dr. Nunieh has impinged on the administration of NDDC now. Those scared have genuine reasons to be afraid. We encourage you to remain courageous and undaunted in the discharge of your duties bearing in mind that patriotic service to your nation elevates and etches your name on marbles colored with gold.
“Finally, may we warn the detractors to change their style of business or be ready to be disgraced by Nigerians, as any attempt to tarnish the image of the interim management committee Chairman at NDDC will be rejected. It will be stiffly resisted by the Nigerian people on whose behalf Dr. Nunieh is working hard day and night to make life more meaningful for Niger Deltans in particular and all Nigerians in general.”
Will the travails fizzle out or would they upgrade? Facebook pages of some media aides in the Commission have mentioned attempts to life. What is clear is that the contractors refusing to come out seem to have broken ranks. Many have now rushed out to verify.
In western nations, waivers and plea bargains help to court those with minor offences to come and volunteer confessions that may reduce the burden of proof on the Commission and also get them squeal on the hardened ones. It works there. Can the Nunieh team try this, and will it cause a boom in findings and help the Commission move forward?