By Emmanuel Ekanem
It is now undisputed that corruption abounds in Nigeria and has become an existential threat to this much troubled country. Yet when corruption is mixed with the drama we are seeing in the shocking case of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the bumbling incompetence of the Minister of Niger Delta, Mr. Godswill Akpabio, the situation becomes combustible and the time comes for something to give.
Even the now unshockable Nigerians could not believe the monumental levels of corruption that have existed in NDDC under Akpabio. It exploded with the revelations emanating from what initially looked like a personality clash between Akpabio and Ms. Joi Nunieh, the Managing Director of NDDC, whom Akpabio had removed ostensibly on the ground that there was no evidence that she participated in the mandatory national service or that she was exempted from such service. But in what looked like a raging fire, Nigerians were treated to mind boggling tales of how the Akpabio-led NDDC robbed the country blind through reckless and wanton fraud, embezzlement, contract inflation, diversion of funds and old fashioned theft that ran into billions. Ironically, this was money meant to develop the communities of the Niger Delta so adversely impacted by oil and gas exploration and exploitation, and so badly ravaged by poverty and neglect by oil companies and government. NDDC promised to be the most significant mitigation measure to help the indigenous oil producing communities. That was the money Akpabio’s NDDC saw fit to mismanage.
As a citizen of Akwa Ibom State, I was doubly ashamed and embarrassed to remember that this was a man that was the Governor of my State for eight years, and a lawyer for that matter. How could one explain the madness that befell Akpabio? A turning point in our understanding of how devious Akpabio could be was when the National Assembly got involved in the matter and scheduled hearings in exercise of its oversight functions. First, Akpabia orchestrated a midnight attempt to use the police from unknown sources to abduct Ms. Nunieh in order to prevent her from testifying before the House of Representatives. Who else does that sort of thing? Then, NDDC officials, the Akpabio loyalists, walked out from the legislative hearing, accusing the Committee Chairman of bias and conflict of interest. When the hearing finally got underway, the Acting Managing Director of NDDC, a loyalist of Akpabio, staged a dramatic fainting feat that would make Nollywood jealous. That piece of acting abruptly terminated the hearing session.
In a hearing that focused on what happened to the huge sums of money unaccounted for by the NDDC, Akpabio and his team chose to tackle the lawmakers with a single game plan, which was to turn around and try to blackmail as many as possible lawmakers with insinuations and innuendos of complicity in the corruption in NDDC. Akpabio directly blackmailed the lawmakers by telling Nigerians that sixty percent (60%) of NDDC contracts were awarded to lawmakers. He probably assumed he could get way with that. But the Speaker of the House of Representatives called his bluff and demanded to have the list of the lawmakers that NDDC awarded contracts to. The House demanded to have the list within 48 hours.
Realizing that all the shenanigans were not getting him anywhere out of trouble, Akpabio did an about face by denying, in a letter he sent to the Speaker of the House, that he ever said that NDDC contracts were awarded to lawmakers. However, in that same letter, Akpabio attached what looked like a hastily compiled list mentioning a few lawmakers that he alleged were awarded NDDC contracts. Among the lawmakers he mentioned were Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia State) and Senator Emmanuel Uduaghan (Delta State). The two Senators were two term Governors of their respective States.
Both Senator Kalu and Senator Udusghan have flatly and credibly denied that they were awarded any contract by NDDC. Further, they have both challenged Akpabio to substantiate his claim that they were awarded contracts by NDDC.
In his refutation of the insinuation and innuendos from Akpabio, Senator Kalu’s office issued a press statements setting out the following compelling facts:
(1) Senator Kanu was a private citizen between May 29, 2007 and May 29, 2019, which covered the time period during which the alleged contracts could have been awarded.
(2) In his capacity as a private citizen, Senator Kalu had written letters on his personal letterhead urging NDDC to consider rehabilitating roads in some communities in his state that were in extremely bad condition. In this respect, the Senator only intervened to help the affected communities by urging NDDC to do what it was set up to do – develop communities within the statutory mandate of NDDC.
(3) In undertaking to repair the affected roads, the contractors used by NDDC were not related to Senator Kalu. So, the Senator never benefitted personally from any such contracts.
(4) After learning of the absurd claims of Akpabio, Senator Kalu investigated the matter and learned that those contractors the NDDC used to rehabilitate the community roads pursuant to the Senator’s letters have not yet been paid by NDDC for their work. This makes it highly absurd that Akpabio would list those contracts or works as his explanation for monies already spent by the NDDC.
Four days after Senator Kalu’s issued his press statement debunking the claims of Akpabio and three days after Senator Uduaghan did likewise, Mr. Akpabio and NDDC have failed to provide any substantiation for their assertion that these Senators were beneficiaries of NDDC contracts. It is unfortunate that Akpabio prefers to remain silent after making wild and untenable assertions. Nigerians are not stupid. They understand clearly that Akpabio and NDDC cannot account for billions of money they spent. They understand the extreme desperation Akpabio and his men face at the moment.
The question now is what President Buhari intends to do about this glaring case of corruption. It is true that the President is facing challenges from several fronts. But it will be absolutely necessary for him to set an example and leave no doubt in the minds of Nigerians that this kind of graft is unacceptable. Removal of Akpabio is such perfect example to set. That will also save us, the people of Akpa Ibom, this monumental embarrassment which we now wear like an open sore on our forehead.