By Emmanuel Ufot
Godswill Akpabio, a former governor of the oil-rich Akwa Ibom state , a Senator of Federal Republic of Nigeria who had served as Commissioner for over six years in the state is a news maker.
Apart from the popularity he had gained as the governor of the state given his sterling performance, he is also noted for his generosity and gift of speech, giving his political associates and friends the impression that he is an orator but to some he was loquacious.
The Corruption stink that has bedeviled the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, appears to have brought Akpabio out ,on the news again. But this time, negatively. The whole issue started building up in April when the former governor of Akwa Ibom state and now minister of the ministry of Niger Delta,, instituted a probe of the Commission which led to the sacking of Joi Nunieh , a Rivers state born acting Managing of the agency by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Akwa Ibom state born politician may have thought that the removal of the Ogoni woman from her exalted position will silence her. He got it wrong. The bubble burst when the Lawn Ahmad led Senate and Femi Gbajabiamila led House of Representatives instituted a probe into the allegations of Corruption against the Nunieh led Interim Management Committee, IMC of the NDDC. The probe may have given opportunity to the former NDDC, boss to open up on Akapabio and his interference in the running of the Affairs of the agency and the award of Contracts.
She had first appeared before the Senate seven-man ad-hoc Committee on the Niger Delta set up by the Senate President, Ahmad, to answer questions on how the Board spent N40 billion. She was said to have made damning allegations against Akpabio who she had accused of being instrumental for removal by the Katsina state born Nigerian President for refusing to do his biddings .
She had alleged among others of the minister trying to muscle her to part with the sum of N10 billion as Christmas largess and asking her to change the dollars in the NDDC , account as well as sack the Head of the legal Team of the agency who is from the northern part of the country and Directors who refused to follow his instructions.
AAlthough, Senator Akpabio has fired back denying the allegations of any financial complicity involving the agency, neither knowing anything about the said N40 billion the Commission’s Management were asked to account for by the Federal Lawmakers.
He disclosed that contrary to the spurious allegations made by the sacked former acting Managing Director of the NDDC, on circumstances that led to her remova explaining that it was based on a letter from the late Abba Kyari, former Chief of Staff to the President that she was not qualified to hold that position because she had no requisite qualifications, one of which was the mandatory National Youth Service Certificate, NYSC, discharge Certificate or exemption Certificate.
He also said that Nunieh lost her job for insubordination , one of which was ignoring the invitation to the Federal Executive Council, FEC, to offer explanations on the running of the Affairs of the agency. The NDDC, boss, according to an insider source, had refused to honour the FEC, invitation , because of the alleged reports that it was an ambush laid by Akpabio, the agency supervising minister to mess her up in order to facilitate her removal.
Indeed, Nunieh, damning allegations against Akpabio, may have created an image problem for him that he has been struggling over the last three months to wriggle out of it. An aggrieved Nunieh had accused him of usurping the Commission functions. The minister who will not take it had told the Lawmakers probing the Commission that he never usurped the powers of the Commission under Nunieh, the former acting Managing Director. He told the listening Committee members that he maintained his supervisory role of the agency as the minister of the Niger Delta who wants the basic infrastructural facilities provided in the region.
The Niger Delta minister had said that he had only intervened in the agency when the officials were not doing the right thing. He cited an instance when he intervened on the issue of funds released for Lassa fever. According to him , N2.9 billion had already been paid for that purpose and only for the Management to sought another payment of N572 million. The question on the lips of most people was: how did he know about such a payment for Lassa fever and a request for an additional release of funds to make additional payment for the same purpose , if he was not interfering in the running of the Affairs of the agency?
The minister had also denied giving approval for the award of Contracts in the Commission, stressing that the agency had only awarded three Contracts to his knowledge since his assumption office. He made a damning revelation when he said that the Commission had 300 accounts before his assumption of office, and he had to close the accounts and compress them into one Treasury Single Account, domicile in the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
He may have hit hard on the Nunieh led IMC, when he accused the Interim Management Committee of spending N4.2 billion in one day. Many believe that the minister should have been bold enough to tell Nigerians, on what the former Management spent the billions of naira on, descrbing as a mere allegations.
More worrisome was his claim that the N2.5 billion set aside for the forensic audit of the Commission was misappropriated in the 2019 budget , stressing the audit is still hanging on. The NNDC, probe may have taken another dimension on Monday , July 20, 2020, when the aggrieved minister told the House of Representatives NNDC Committee members that he has on records that 60 percent of the Commission Contracts awarded by the intervention agency were awarded to the Lawmakers. Political Observers consider his claims as diversionary.
There was a mild drama, when Bon Goodhead, a member of the Committee obviously angered by Akpabio’s claim took him up on the accusations but had to be restrained by the Committee Chairman who told the minister to stop and not to continue such wild claims. But the import of that disclosure for many Nigerians has already sunk in and now in public domain.
Before the ministerial revelations on the Lawmakers conducting what many now regard as phantom probe , being beneficiaries of the spurious contracts, Kemebradikumo pondei, a Professor of Medicine and acting Managing Director of the agency, fainted while being grilled over alleged N1.3 billion spent for COVID 19 palliatives and another N640 million paid to a firm, one Clear Communications Limited.
The revelation of the minister that the Lawmakers had also soiled their hand in NDDC, Contract has stirred the hornest nest and the House is fighting back to redeem its battered image. In their plenary on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, they gave the minister 48 hours ultimatum to publish the names of the National Assembly members he had alleged have been benefitting from NDDC, Contracts but that was how far they could go.
It would be recalled that in making that Statement while appearing before the House Committee on NDDC, Akpabio , whose image is at stake, had insisted that he has records for that. With the unfolding events and the minister’s accusations of those conducting the probe alleging that they were guilty of those they are probing, many Nigerians are looking with apprehension of what would come out from the Akpabio revelations in line with the request with the House members feeling that there is a grain of truth in what the Niger Delta minister claimed if the Opposition and utterances of Pondei, the agency acting Managing Director, and Cairo Ojougboh, the agency , Executive Director , Projects, is anything to go by.
Recall that the Professor, the agency acting Managing Director, during his first appearance before the House Committee probing the agency, had asked Olubumi Tunji-Ola, the Chairman, of the Committee to step Aside as he is an interested party in the case. This is an indication that he has a case to answer in the NDDC rot. He thereafter walked out on the panel.
Again, just on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, Ojuogboh, was walked out by the Peter Nwaboshi led Senate Committee on NDDC, because like Pndei, he had asked the Chairman of the House Committee on NDDC, to step Aside because he was involved in the whole NDDC saga. He, however, went on to reveal to Journalists covering the probe in an interview that the agency Contracts worth N2 trillion were awarded to the National Assembly Committee on NDDC. He said the Contracts were awarded to them between 2016 and 2019.
It is significant to note that this is not the first time that the Lawmakers have been accused of Corruption conduct in the course of their oversight functions.. Nasir El- Rufai, a former minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, under Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and now governor of Kaduna state had before accused the Legislators of demanding bribe from him to facilitate his Clearance as a minister.
Just like this case of Akpabio, , the Lawmakers made what many would regard as puffy protest, but later went with the wild wind. Though, not many people in the Niger Delta region are in the picture of what is happening in the NDDC about the monumental misappropriation of funds meant for the development of the region by a tiny few, contrary to the objectives of setting up the Commission by late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, in 2007, to serve as a vehicle for the development of the region.
Reports from the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, between 2007 and 2016, had shown that the Commission received allocations of N1.413 trillion. The Fiscal Allocation and Statutory Commission reports revealed that the agency received N593.96 billion from mineral and non -mineral sources from 2007-2011 and N819.81 billion between 2012 and 2016. Findings also show that that the Commission owes Contractors N3 trillion till date.
Equally worrisome as analysts have severally pointed out since the probe resurrected revelations are frivolous expenditures embarked upon by the Management when the region still suffer infrastructural neglect. Take for instance, a breakdown of the N81.5 billion the agency IMC was accused of spending within seven months , October to May 2020.
COVID 19, alone was said to have taken N31.4 billion, Duty travel allowances, N486 million,Impress N790.9 million, Consultancy, N83 million, Condolences, N122.9 million, Maintenance, N220 million, Legal services, N900 million,, Security, N744 million, Lassa Fever, N1.956 billion and Staff overhead payment, N 8.8 billion.
In the course of the probe , Nigerians have heard how hundreds of millions of naira have been used to rganise Seminars abroad, carnivals and rallies in Nigeria and over N1 billion used in paying Youths of the region just to identify projects in their area to NDDC.
For now, Nigerians are waiting for the release of the names of those Lawmakers Akpabio, the minister of the Niger Delta, had said have been benefiting from the agency Contracts. He has made it clear to those that cares to listen that he will not be intimidated by the those Lawmakers to distract him from the course of ‘’cleaning the age long rot in the intervention agency that has now become a cash cow for politicians and some privileged stakeholders in the region as against serving as the vehicle for the development of the region it was set up for by the government’’.