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The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, on Monday refused to respond to the former Managing Director of the Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Joi Nunieh, who accused him of sexually harassing her.

Mrs Nunieh spoke on Monday on an Arise TV programme after the minister dismissed allegations of fraud against him as a temperament problem on the part of the former NDDC boss. She had earlier said her refusal to be part of alleged corrupt acts by Mr Akpabio led to her removal.

In his response, Mr Akpabio said the minister had a character problem and claimed that was best shown in Mrs Nunieh’s failed marriages.

Speaking Monday, Mrs Nunieh said the minister had tried to “come on her” and sexually harrased her with a promise she would be retained as NDDC chief.

“I slapped him. He tried to come on me. He tried to sexually harass me,” Mrs Nunieh alleged.

However, when the Minister was confronted with the allegation in Abuja on Tuesday, he refused to talk on the issue.

“We should not focus on sensationalism and pull-him down syndrome. For me, that (the development of the Niger Delta region) is what should engage our attention.

“As a Minister of the Federal Republic, I cannot discuss about an individual. I can discuss issues that will bring development and move the region forward; things that will promote the ideals of the Federal Government,” he said.

Read the full interview:

PT: What is at the root of this crisis in NDDC?

AKPABIO: We are very determined to reposition the NDDC. The root of the problem, as you put it, has been years of endemic corruption. President Buhari is very determined to leave a lasting legacy as the person who cleaned up the corruption in the NDDC.

For me, I believe strongly that we shall achieve the objective. Today, the Executive Council of the Federation approved the lead forensic auditors, Olumuyiwa, Bashiru & Co., and they have started work.

On the first day, over 8,000 covered documents were given to them to start work with. Some people may have thought the forensic audit was not real.

As a governor of Akwa Ibom State and a Minority leader of the Senate of the Federal Republic, I was personally not impressed the way things were being done in NDDC.

They would do roads, and within one year, the first rainfall will wash the whole road away. I attempted to correct those things in the Niger Delta, by God’s grace I succeeded, but with a lot of resistance, because people do not like change.

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All the roads I did in Akwa Ibom between 2007, 2008 and 2009, more than 11 years after are still there without a single pothole on them, because I built those roads with love in my heart.

I took cognizance of the terrain. I made sure it was better to spend money to do a good job for the people, than to spend money every year attempting to do the same thing.

I was particularly dissatisfied with the situation before I became the governor. As a young lawyer, I came to Akwa Ibom from Ikot Ekpene, about three and half kilometres from Uyo, there was no road, and I could not take my car there. I had to drop my car in town. I had to stay in the village for five days without a car till I was going back to Lagos.

I have always said that if God gave me the opportunity, I will try to make the difference. I said if I have the opportunity, I will not wait to listen to what people say. I will hit the ground running.

Eight years later, people were asking me: What would I be remembered for? My daughter who was then in second year in Corona Secondary School asked the question. My response was that that was not a question for a small child, because she would not understand. But, I still proceeded to answer her.

I said maybe for the free and compulsory education; or for abolishing the house girl/boy syndrome in Akwa Ibom State; or stopping the stigmatisation of children through the domestication of the child rights Act, by making sure that every child is not labelled a witch or wizard, and was not beaten up and thrown to the streets; or for massive quality infrastructure; maybe by opening the way through air to Akwa Ibom, by completing an international airport, and taking people on pilgrimage; or landing the first plane in Akwa Ibom; or constructing the first set of flyovers in the state; or the e-library, or completing the five-star Le Meridien hotel with an international golf course in Uyo; or building the best international hospital at Itam junction; or the best international stadium ever built in the whole of West Africa called the ‘Nest of Champions’ and a host of other achievements.

I pulled down the old Government House in Uyo and built a new one. I demolished the Governor’s office and Deputy Governor’s lodge and built new ones, completely ICT compliant, with some of the best guest houses and banquet hall built by any government in Nigeria.

I embarked on empowerment programmes for the unemployed graduates, integrated farmers’ scheme, where we train, and give them money to start up their farms.

For the elderly, we gave zero interest loans of N250,000 each for those engaged in agriculture, outside free education for primary and secondary schools for all Nigerian children resident in Akwa Ibom State, and free medical services for pregnant women and children under five years.

I started a television viewing centre with 15-storey five star hotel. We did not complete that before I left office. We completed the shopping mall and 60 studios and a 14-storey Sheraton Hotel, fully furnished, and a brand new international prison we handed over to the Federal Government.

We partnered with Septa Energy to build a gas processing plant at Esit Eket, and built a nine-kilometers pipeline to Ikot Abasi, and completed the Ibom Power plant with capacity to produce about 191 MW of electricity, and created a lot of job opportunities in the state.

At the end of the day, we broke the Guinness Book of World record by assembling the largest group of choral singers in the world to sing to the glory of God.

From the United States Congress to West Africa and all over the world, I was known as the “Uncommon Transformer”. David McCain described my administration in the state as the era of ‘transformation extraordinaire.’

I will like to see that happen in a little way in the Niger Delta region. I will like to see bridges sprout in the Niger Delta region. I will like to see regional projects, like Warri-Sapele road completely dualized; completion of the East-West road before December this year.

Then, I will like to see the commencement of the other portion of the road to Calabar. I like to see a Niger Delta region where employment opportunities are available for the youth and small industries spring up.

I will like to see an end to the Amnesty Programme and the youths involving themselves in post-Amnesty Initiatives. I will like to see that elderly ex-agitators have good jobs that would give them money to enable their children go to school.

I will like see a Niger Delta that is developed like other places that produce oil. I like to see the NDDC partner with IFAD to develop the region.

I’ll like to see NDDC Specialist Hospital built in partnership with international experts as the final bus stop on medical problems. Even if it is not in all the states of the region, but at least in its strategic areas. I’ll like to see major bridges. I’ll like to see a peaceful region that does not pose a problem to oil workers and oil facilities.

As Minister of Niger Delta, I am committed to all those ideals, and I am working towards that. But, we cannot achieve that if the only parastatal under my Ministry, the NDDC, remains the way the people have all made it to be in the past.

Many people try to pretend as if these things don’t exist. But I cannot. As a governor I did not like NDDC, because of the way things were being handled. As a Senator, I did not like it either.

They were doing only projects that can put money in people’s pockets and not those that can turn around the conditions of the region.

They were more interested in organising retreats and trainings. They started three specialist hospitals in Port Harcourt and two other places. Up till today, they have not completed them. I’ll like to see an NDDC that does not pay money for hotels, but has its own guest houses, or has its own international headquarters where people can visit.

I’ll like to see an NDDC with a healthy balance sheet it uses to approach the EXIM Bank for a facility to develop the Niger Delta region.

We had arrangement with the International Foods and Agricultural Development (IFAD) to get a loan for $126million for farming and rice plantation. We were to be paying $5.3million as counterpart funding.

But, that was not possible. It was aborted by the budgeting process in the National Assembly. So, I will like to see an NDDC where the final budget that comes out reflects the will of the people and bring infrastructure for the people and not one for individuals to make money.

As at today, for over 19 years, one cannot point at one project or projects built by the NDDC in the region.

One can point at limousines and luxury cars bought by those who have had the opportunity of working for the NDDC.

For me, my commitment is to have a total turnaround in the region when we finish the forensic audit. It is not meant to be a witch-hunt, but to reposition the NDDC such that the budget that will come out of the National Assembly will be a fit-for-purpose budget that will allow us build hospitals and create employment opportunities for the people of the Niger Delta.

Even if NDDC has an industry for making pure water and they stop buying Ragolis or Nestle water, employment opportunities would be created for the youth of the region.

Nigeria is the only country in the world where development starts from the capital to the oil communities. In Texas, development starts from the oil communities before going to the other areas of the country.

We can change that. All we need is cooperation with management and proper supervision by the parliament, because of the budgeting process. That is the NDDC of my dream.

PT: Sir, the former MD of the interim Management Committee accused you of sexually harassing her. How do you respond to this?

AKPABIO: We are talking about the Niger Delta region and how we can development to the people. Today, COVID-19 has changed everything. That should be the focus of the media. We should not focus on sensationalism and pull-him down syndrome. For me that is what should engage our attention.

As a Minister of the Federal Republic, I can’t discuss an individual. I can discuss issues that bring development and move the region forward; things that promote the ideals of the Federal Government.

We need to know that President Muhammadu Buhari has achieved a lot in terms of infrastructural development.

Since I became a politician, I was a Commissioner in Akwa Ibom for six years. I was a governor for eight years. I was Minority Leader of the Nigerian Senate. I am now a Minister of the Federal Republic.

In all the places I have gone to, I always tried to leave those places better than I met. One does not need to like my face. But, look at my record of achievements and know that I have the capacity and the capability to deliver.

So, ask me a question about the things I can do to assist Mr President to achieve the objective for which he contested election, which is to the benefit of Nigerians.

With the current situation, Nigerians don’t even understand that COVID-19 is not like HIV, if one is not infected, one is affected. If one’s relation has it, one will be affected one way or another. Even the way people breath has changed.

My prayer is that we should focus our attention on things that would help bring an end to this pandemic by reporting on what research institutes around the world have been able to discover remedies to this disease.

I will like to answer questions on what this administration is doing to bring succour to Nigerians.

In the NDDC, since I became a Minister I have been involved in giving out of two contracts. The first was the appointment of the forensic auditors, which the FEC approved. The other contract is the COVID-19 intervention by the NDDC, which included a list of items supplied to the nine states of the region.

These include 54 PCR machines for the 27 senatorial districts of the region, to assist the states set up two COVID-19 testing centres each. Those equipment are currently being calibrated by the NCDC. There are so many other equipment, apart from assisting the governors to set up isolation centres.

PT: What about the issue about missing monies?

AKPABIO: Money could have been missing in those days in NDDC, when there were over 300 accounts in all banks in Nigeria owned by the NDDC.

But, today, we have only one account at CBN because of the Treasury Single Account (TSA). It is no longer possible for somebody to go to CBN and withdraw N40billion without a trace.

I am aware that when one takes over a Commission, one inherits both the assets and liabilities. In this case, the liabilities included the piles up of debts that run into over N2trillion.

Sometimes, people do the jobs and are not paid. There are others who do not do the job and were paid. Yet, there are others who have the papers in their hands, have not performed, but have signed contracts, which are among those we call contingent liabilities, which are different from the factual liabilities.

The forensic audit will throw all that up. Those who were paid, and those who were not; those who have money to refund, and those who still have jobs to go back to do, and those who don’t.

Even the mere announcement of the forensic audit alone, over 70 contractors have gone back to site. We have seen over 50 to 80 completed roads in the nine states, because of the fear of forensic audit.

People collected monies since 2004 to 2006 and abandoned the jobs. One said he was even paid money to supply fingerlings. He said the fingerlings are now ready. I asked him if it is possible to sell the fingerlings and bring the money to refund. Things are happening. But, one thing I can assure you is that the NDDC cannot be the same again after this.

Today, the executives have moved to the 12th floor of their headquarters building. They have left the previous place they were paying hundreds of millions of Naira every year since the years of the OMPADEC.

What I am saying is that the story of the Niger Delta will change for good. That is the story people want to hear about and not the story of individuals.

PT: People say the audit is a charade, because there are so many big people involved, who would not allow the report of the audit to come out?

AKPABIO: No! That is not true. That is what so many people thought. But, don’t believe those stories. Try and have confidence in your country. There is no way I will say I am going to do forensic audit and I will not do it.

What I can say is, don’t look at my mouth or my face, but my record. I don’t understand what you mean by big men being involved. We have all the forensic agencies that are taking part registered with the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.

Forensic audit is different from statutory audit, which is carried out every year by agencies and Commissions. Forensic audits audit even the statutory audits.

Why would the report not come out, when even the mere mention of forensic audit has led to the completion of 70 roads across the Niger Delta and the recovery of houses and monies by the EFCC?

The main aim is to ensure that at the end, it will bring a governance structure that will block the loopholes in the system that would make people be afraid to dip hands into government purse to take money for their personal use.

We have to bring out a budget that will work for the Niger Delta people. I cannot be the Minister of Niger Delta and things will not change. If all these rumbles were not going on, it means there is no change coming. But, I see a major change coming out of all these rumblings in the Niger Delta, and that will be very positive.

For the first time, the people are going to have a say in how budgets are made, the projects that come to them and consultation between the Niger Delta governors and the NDDC to avoid duplication of projects and functions.

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