It started out as a call for investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds and financial recklessness, but turned into a ‘dirty fight’ between the Niger Delta Development Commission and the National Assembly.
This has happened in a space of about two weeks.
It is however, not surprising to Nigerians. The sour relationship between both parties dates back to previous assemblies. Present and past officials of the commission have accused past and present lawmakers of budget padding and other fraudulent activities.
Most of the commission’s budget defence sessions in past years have been filled with discrepancies and controversies, not forgetting the constant failure of the agency to submit audit reports.
The current National Assembly had also threatened not to pass the commission’s budget, telling President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate an earlier approved permanent board for the agency. The lawmakers rescinded after the president withdrew his earlier nominees for the board and instead nominated an interim management for the commission.
The Senate on May 5 set up a seven-member ad-hoc committee to probe the “financial recklessness” of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC.
The committee was specifically asked to probe the IMC for allegedly squandering N40 billion in three months and seek account of other financial transactions within this period.
The committee commenced investigation almost immediately, inviting the necessary officials for questioning.
In the same vein, the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta commenced investigative hearing on the mismanagement of N81.5 billion between January and July, 2020 by the commission.
These hearings have not only led to shocking revelations, but also indicted lawmakers of both the Senate and House.
At the Senate hearing last week, the acting deputy director, projects, NDDC, Cairo Ojougboh, accused unnamed members of the parliament of ‘hijacking’ the commission’s budgets over the years. Acting Managing Director of the commission, Daniel Pondei, also admitted that the commission spent N1.5 billion for staff as ‘COVID-19 relief funds’.
Daniel Pondei, Acting Managing Director of NDDC. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official web page of NDDC ||www.nddc.gov.ng/]
Similarly, when Mr Pondei and other officials appeared before the House committee, he accused the chairman of the panel, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, of corruption. For this reason, he and other management staff of the commission refused to speak.
They eventually walked out on the panel and vowed to only return when a committee without an indicted lawmaker is set up.
This prompted the panel to issue a warrant for the arrest of the NDDC boss.
…And it gets messier
Shortly after the Senate hearing, the ex-Managing Director of NDDC, Joy Nunieh, accused the Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio, of fraud.
Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio.
Ms Nunieh assumed office as the acting MD of NDDC after the removal of Akwagaga Enyia in October 2019, but she was sacked four months later as the crisis rocking the commission over abuse of funds kept mounting.
PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported how Mr Akpabio played a major role in the removal of Ms Nunieh.
She said during her brief tenure at the commission, Mr Akpabio repeatedly pressured her to take “an oath of secrecy” that was meant to keep her from exposing fraud at the commission.
Joy Nunieh [PHOTO CREDIT: Businessday.ng]
This triggered a back and forth between the two.
In his response, Mr Akpabio said she has temperament issues and suggested she sees a doctor. He said Ms Nunieh was not relieved of her appointment because of corruption but because of insubordination.
And then came the claim that she slapped the minister for sexually harassing her – an allegation he denied.
Police invade Ms Nunieh’s home
Amidst the clash between Mr Akpabio and the ex-NDDC boss, security officials, in the early hours of Thursday, laid siege to Ms Nunieh’s residence in Port Harcourt in an attempt to arrest her.
Dozens of policemen are circling the House of Joy Nunieh, the former MD of NDDC, who is scheduled to testify before a House of Reps panel today as part of the ongoing probe of NDDC. [PHOTO CREDIT: Fisayo Soyombo @fisayosoyombo]
She was scheduled to catch a flight at the Port Harcourt International Airport, to Abuja where she was expected to testify before the House committee.
Ms Nunieh was however, “rescued” by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who took her into protective custody at the Government House. Ms Nunieh said she suspects that Mr Akpabio may have had a hand in the police blockade of her private residence.
Wike, police clash
Following his ‘rescue mission’, the governor condemned the siege by security operatives on Ms Nunieh describing it as a disgrace, a show of shame and an attempted abduction.
He wondered why the ex-NDDC boss was not properly invited if she had committed an offence.
The governor also called on the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, to investigate the invasion.
Nysome Wike rescuing Nunieh
But on the other hand, the Rivers State police commissioner, Joseph Mukan, said the command expects Mr Wike to release Ms Nunieh.
“Nobody says he shouldn’t protect his citizens, but everything should be done within the confines of the law. If you rescue your citizen, we expect you to turn her over to the police, who are in a better position to protect her,” the police commissioner said.
He added that the police were investigating a petition written against Ms Nunieh.
From the Government House, Ms Nunieh was able to appear before the House panel on Friday, to give her testimony.
This is hours after she vowed to make more revelations about the corruption in the agency.
At the hearing, she told the committee that only N8 billion of the said N81.5 billion spent between October 2019 and May 2020 was spent under her watch.
She also said that she was under pressure by Mr Akpabio to abuse processes and engage in financial recklessness, and accused him of hijacking the forensic audit ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The panel thereafter summoned Messrs Akpabio and Pondei for questioning.
Buhari wades in
Amidst the clashes between the NDDC officials and lawmakers, President Muhammadu Buhari warned ministers and heads of government agencies not to ‘disrespect’ or ‘undermine’ the National Assembly.
He said this at a meeting he had with Senate President Ahmad Lawan and House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, Thursday night.
President Muhammadu Buhari receives in audience Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila at the State House, Abuja.[PHOTO CREDIT: @BashirAhmaad]
Mr Buhari also gave directives for better coordination among security and investigating agencies handling the probe of the NDDC.
He asked that such investigations should be done within a short period.
The Senate has concluded its investigative hearing but that of the House continues next week. As it stands, Nigerians are not only looking forward to more revelations but also the reports of the committees – which will contain findings and recommendations.