NDDC and the Fight against Corruption Charade in Nigeria

By Segun Ogunlade
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The fight that started between Senator Godswill Akpabio and Mrs Joy Nunieh in relation to the Niger Delta Development Commission has now led to a series of revelation about that Commission. At the height of that fight was how Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State botched the arrest of Mrs Joy Nunieh last week in Port Harcourt. But before the news of her botched arrest, Mrs Nunieh said Senator Akpabio sexually harassed her and she had to slap him to put him in order. This came days after alleging the Minister of serious financial misconduct within the commission.

Last week too, there was a report of the Commission’s defence session of its annual budget being stalled on Tuesday due to alleged missing N143 billion. Then there was the statement credited to the Commission’s Managing Director that staff of the Commission used N1.5 billion as Covid-19 palliatives for themselves as another N40 billion and other financial misappropriation are being investigated by the parliament. It would be recalled that the Senate had in March 2019 approved N346.3 billion for the Commission. These financial scandals that the Commission is steeped in point to the recklessness and impudence with which government agencies are run.

However, this week’s turn of event has been particularly interesting and it is the culmination of the dirty fight that started between Akpabio and Nunieh which has now escalated to involve several officials of the commission. Past officials of the commission have at different times accused members of the national assembly of budget padding, budget hijacking and other fraudulent activities, but it has never been this dramatic and brought international shame to the country.

Before the current showdown between the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC, the Commission has a long history of budget discrepancies and controversies and a perennial failure to submit audit reports to the necessary organs of government. The current national assembly had also threatened not to pass the commission’s budget but later rescinded. From that time, the cold war has started between the commission and the lawmakers. There are many reported cases of misappropriation against the commission from last year till date but somehow, the official remained unfazed.

The table started to turn against the lawmakers who are obviously not clean as expected when the acting Managing Director of the commission, Professor Daniel Pondei and other officials appeared literally forced the chairman of the panel, Mr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, to step down. It would be recalled that the Acting NDDC boss had earlier on alleged the lawmaker of being corrupt and together with his men walked out on the panel and refused to speak. After the staged walk out, they promised to only return to face the panel when a committee without a corrupt chairman is set up.

Indeed, they returned after Mr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo stepped down. That was when the drama began to take shape. From the way the Acting Managing Director of the Commission, Mr Daniel Pondei, was answering question, it was obvious he was not prepared for a proper defence of the commission’s expenditure and the commission was guilty of many things. The same man that said the commission spent N1.5 billion palliatives for its staffs suddenly made a U-turn and said the commission spent N1.32 billion instead. Whether N1.5 billion or N1.32 billion, there was no record of anyone outside the commission ever getting any palliatives. Niger Deltans still suffer the same thing that they suffered before Covid-19.

But the denouement of the drama was when Mr Pondei collapsed whilst still answering question from the lawmakers. The manner with which he twitched his body before he fainted made it obvious that it was pure acting. Being a professor, Mr Pondei also has the good intellect and smartness of dramatis personae. Perhaps, he is the next big thing Nollywood is waiting for. He acted his role well to the chagrin of everyone. But he was not the first dramatis personae to ever grace the floor of the national assembly. There was Senator Dino Melaye with his theatrics and penchant for releasing songs to make light of serious matters before him. Mr Pondei was also not the first official of the government to cower on the day of reckoning. There had been Chief Olisa Metuh who was suddenly struck by an illness that condemned him to a stretcher and Chief Ayodele Fayose, a former governor of Ekiti State who cried for help with a broken neck in the same week he was to appear before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. It is just that the drama involving the NDDC helmsman is too obvious to be overlooked.

But that little art of theatrics has saved him from reappearing in the national assembly. Speaker of the House of Representative, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila said they now had all the documents they needed from him. That means the Acting Managing Director could now continue to recuperate on his hospital bed, that is if what struck him on the floor of the house was serious enough to make him a patient. The decision to not bring Mr Pondei back to the floor of the house was a poor judgement but the Speaker’s position was understandable. With Mr Pondei’s little drama was the most unsettling event of the day.

When Senator Akpabio was accused of being corrupt by Mrs Joy Nunieh, he was unfazed. As a matter of fact, he trivialized the matter and concluded that the former NDDC boss had temperament issue and she needed to sort herself. His sexist remarks about Mrs Nunieh have not been forgotten by feminists. Yet, the Minister felt no remorse. But when it was obvious he was being dragged for the sins of many, he knew it was time for him to spill the beans. After all, he isn’t Jesus that he should be hanged for the sins of others.

So, in a shocking revelation, he said that some of the important contracts from the NDDC go to lawmakers. The revelation clearly unsettled the lawmakers who had all hitherto been playing the innocent man’s card in the matter. He was close to mentioning names before he was surreptitiously told to stop and was assured that the point in his message had been driven home.

For me, taking Mr Pondei and Senator Akpabio for questioning by the lawmakers is like reporting evil to the devil. Isn’t he the greatest perpetrator of evil? At least, that was we were told. As far as I know, never has this type of probe panel amounted to anything in this country. All the accused that has ever appeared before similar panel and their executioners all belong to the same boat. As passengers on the same boat, they do rarely throw one another inside the sea to be fed upon by sharks and whales.

It was when it appeared that was about to change with the Niger Delta Minister that he had to smear everyone with the same paint with which he was being painted. If the lawmakers had known the Minister would let the cat out of the bag, perhaps they would have thread carefully. Whichever way, the truth is gradually coming out. Now, Senator Akpabio has 48 hours to produce the names of all lawmakers that have been awarded contracts by the NDDC or he would face the full wrath of the legislative chamber.

This seemingly fight against corruption in the NDDC is not about the masses. It has nothing to do with the ordinary man and woman in the creek of Bayelsa or on the street of Warri. It is the elite fighting against the elite. This type of fight is usually due to fallout between some members belonging to the top of echelon of an agency and others who want to clip their wings for excessive behaviours. The recent case of embattled former EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu showed how the country’s top guns play their games. Ibrahim Magu didn’t have two bullion vans sent to his compound nor did he singlehandedly control a state for twenty years. But he is being tried as if he is the most corrupt individual in the country today. At the end of the day, I am certain neither Senator Akpabio nor any top management staff of the NDDC would get punished for any act of impropriety, not when people that should convict them have been named as accomplices in the same matter.

But all along, it has been a charade. From the confrontation by Mrs Nunieh to Senator Akpabio’s sexist remarks and the NDDC officials walking out on the lawmakers, all these theatrics in display are put up to distract the people and it is a subterfuge employed by the big players in the game. Whether the lawmakers will come out to refute Senator Akpabio’s claim when he produces the list of lawmakers that had been given contract by the NDDC, it will not be as important as the soft landing that many of the dramatis personae involved in this saga are about to get. It is obvious there is so much corruption going on in the NDDC and it is a shame that the EFCC saddled with prosecuting matters like this is neck deep in its own corruption mess. What a country!

But as keen observers, we are waiting to see how this matter would end, if we would be disappointed by conviction of some persons as it obvious both the accuser and the accused are betrothed to corruption.

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