The drama at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) seems unending and demonstrates how life often trumps art in its complexity, absurdity, and ability to amuse us. Recently the ex-Acting NDDC Managing Director, Joi Nunieh claimed within the grounds of the National Assembly, that Godswill Akpabio, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, sexually harassed her and she in turn assaulted him with a slap to the face.
Equally explosive is the revelation that Akpabio fraudulently procured certificates of no-objection from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) for the award of contracts to a lead forensic auditor at N318 million and the purchase of 62 cars for N1.599 billion, for the commission.
Memos seeking approval for these contracts were subsequently presented by Akpabio to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and approved on February 12 and June 10, 2020, respectively. What is now clear from the recent Senate open hearing on NDDC is that as at press time, the Commission does have an approved budget for 2020.
The implications are mind boggling. The Honorable Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio somehow convinced BPP to issue certificates of no-objection for contracts that did not have an approved budget. Then he used this to deceive the President, who. got FEC to approve the contracts. If every Minister starts to subvert BPP and FEC in this manner, the country will implode from the large-scale looting that will ensure. This is a security risk to the nation’s integrity.
This hack of the FEC approval process by the Minister demonstrates a lapse in internal procedures across various sensitive organs of government. Surely BPP should have a more robust process for verifying the status and contents of the NDDC budget and indeed budgets for all Federal MDAs under its purview. Likewise, FEC should have a secretariat that validates what Ministers bring to meetings for approval. It seems the Minister has exploited these lapses and played a confidence trick on his colleagues and on the President, to get these approvals.
The President has ordered a fresh probe into the recent allegations and counter accusations between Joi Nunieh, Godswill Akpabio and Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, the current Acting MD of NDDC. Let us hope that he also investigates how Akpabio subverted the integrity of the FEC. The information in the public domain is enough to place the Minister on suspension, pending a detailed investigation. This is the minimum step that should be taken by any leader who sincerely believes in the integrity of the state and the sanctity of the law.
The President needs to tighten his verification processes to ensure that this type of subversion of the FEC approval process does not occur again. With the recent arrest of the EFCC Acting Chairman and swirling allegations of unexplained wealth against the Attorney General of the Federation, citizens are jaded by the constant barrage of news of bad behavior by public officials with no official sanctions being applied. This incident by the Minister presents an opportunity for the President to take a public stand for the long suffering people, rather than for the interests of the various power blocks seeking to influence Presidential power.
Finally, it is obvious that the Interim Management Committee (IMC) headed by Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei has lost the confidence of the people with the revelations of massive spending without an approved budget amongst other infractions. Pondei came across as incompetent and ill informed when he recently stated at the Senate hearing that “if anyone has any evidence that I collected even one percent from any contractor, let him present it and I will resign instantly.” According to the Procurement Act, you get 5 years in jail with no option of fine, not voluntary retirement at home to enjoy looted funds. The President should relieve Pondei and the IMC of their responsibilities and inaugurate the Governing Board which incidentally the Senate cleared as far back as November 5, 2020. The drama is too much to bear.