If there was any Nigerian who was excited and optimistic that the probe of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NNDC, would be concluded in real time, the culprits identified, prosecuted and convicted, he or she must be utterly disappointed by now.
But those who never believed in the charade and had predicted, correctly, that it would go the way other probes usually go in this clime, will, by now, be having a feeling of ‘I told you so’, as the probe appears to have been swept under the carpet.
A fact-finding trip to the Niger Delta region will reveal that the NNDC has been a cesspool of corruption since inception, with so many abandoned projects littering the environment.
The probe of the NNDC corruption scandal started in May, 2020, when it was discovered that the Interim Management Committee, IMC, of the agency had allegedly squandered N40 billion in just three months.
It was further discovered that the agency had mismanaged the sum of N81.5 billion in just seven months, as well as spending a whopping N1.5 billion for staff as ‘COVID-19 relief funds.’
Such financial recklessness in the midst of the sufferings and miseries of the people in the region called for a widespread probe and Nigerians looked forward to it, hoping that this time, the actors will be brought to book, if the promise by the Buhari-led government that it will take on the fight against corruption head-on, was to be taken seriously.
However, the investigation snowballed into a messy and dirty fight between the NDDC and the National Assembly, with accusations and counter accusations flying from all angles.
It was not surprising to Nigerians as the shenanigans took a laughable and dramatic turn. The ‘it is okay, Honourable, off your mic’ comment made by the Chairman of the House Committee probing NDDC scandal, Hon. Thomas Ereyitomi, is still fresh in public memory and has been rehashed into several versions by Nigerians.
The sour relationship between the NNDC and the National Assembly dates back to previous assemblies as present and past officials of the Commission had often accused past and present lawmakers of budget padding and other fraudulent activities.
While the investigation was ongoing, several embarrassing incidents happened which began with the acting Managing Director of the Commission, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, ‘collapsing’ when he was asked to explain the payment of the sum of N336m to Save Life Campaign in the Niger Delta, to the former MD, Joy Nunieh, accusing the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, of forcing her to take an oath of secrecy not to reveal fraud at the Commission, to Akpabio himself accusing members of the National Assembly of being beneficiaries of the NNDC contracts.
As Nigerians expected more revelations, the National Assembly betrayed itself and the people who voted for them by declaring a vacation for its members. Even when the Minority caucus in the House of Representatives questioned the rationale behind the vacation while the case was still on the front burner, the leadership of the NASS insisted on the vacation. Fears that this was meant to stall the investigation has turned out to be true.
President Buhari also played a muted role in the scandal by publicly coming out to say the NASS members should ‘calm down’ on the probe, while the spokesman of the House of Representatives, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, called on the ruling APC not to wash its dirty linen in the public, a clear indication that the stage was set to sweep the probe under the carpet, as usual.
As predicted, that was the final nail in the coffin of the probe as nothing has been heard of it again, further denting the image of this administration in the eyes of Nigerians.
Faced with the threat of legal action by the NASS for accusing the lawmakers of getting 60% NDDC contracts, Akpabio recanted the accusation, saying he did not accuse members of the present NASS, but the past lawmakers.
To further give credence to the belief that nothing will come out of the probe, Akpabio pushed for a forensic auditing of the NNDC and President Buhari ‘graciously’ approved the princely sum of N722.3 million for the audit.
The approval of the money for the audit further raised questions in the minds of Nigerians with many asking if it is justified that a man should be a judge in his own case.
How would the auditors carry out a fair assessment when the Minister who has been fingered in the corruption mess will be the one to initiate and manage the audit process?
So much money has been frittered away by the NNDC and for years, the Commission has continued to be a mainstay of corruption and fraud, with no one to checkmate their activities. And this government keeps telling Nigerians of its commitment in the fight against corruption.
The embarrassment the scandal associated with the NNDC probe has caused Nigeria is quite colossal and further goes to show that the famed fight against corruption in the country may be gradually turning into a sham as the NDDC probe suggests.
Is the NDDC probe going to be another wild goose chase that will not yield any positive result? What will then happen to the dramatis personae who were involved in the monumental fraud that has bedeviled the NNDC since its creation 19 years ago? What happens to Prof. Pondei who has been fingered in the mother of all frauds rocking the agency? What could be playing in the probe that was meant to bring sanity to the NNDC?
What happens to Akpabio who is now the judge in his own case? What happens to the lawmakers he allegedly accused of getting 60 percent of the contracts awarded by the NNDC, and then abandoned?
And ultimately, what happens to the impoverished people of the Niger Delta region who have been left to bear the brunt of the corruption and fraud that has persistently rocked the Commission?
The answers are blowing in the wind!
The road to an N80bn scandal
May 5, 2020: On this day, the Senate set up a seven-member ad-hoc committee to probe the financial recklessness of the IMC of the NDDC over alleged squandering N40 billion in three months
July 13, 2020: Former acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Joy Nunieh, claimed that she slapped the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, for sexually assaulting her.
July 13, 2020: On this same date, Ms Nunieh also accused Akpabio of putting pressure on her to take an oath of secrecy meant to keep her from exposing fraud at the commission.
July 16, 2020: On this day, operatives of the Nigeria Police besieged the Port Harcourt residence of former acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Joy Nunieh.
July 16, 2020: On this day, the acting MD of the NDDC Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei and his team walked out on the probe panel set up by the House of Representatives investigating the Commission over irregular expenditure.
July 17, 2020: On this day, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike foiled a bid by the police to arrest former acting MD of the NDDC, Ms. Joy Nunieh.
July 20, 2020: Acting MD of NNDC, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei ‘slumped’ while being questioned by the House of Representatives panel probing the NNDC while answering questions over misappropriation of ₦81.5bn.
July 20, 2020: On this day, the Chairman of the House Committee probing the NNDC, Hon Thomas Ereyitomi, asked Niger Delta Minister Godswill Akpabio to ‘off your mic’ to prevent more dirt coming out.
July 20, 2020: On this day, Niger Delta Minister, Godswill Akpabio accused NASS members of being the major beneficiaries of the NNDC contracts.
July 21, 2020: On this day, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila gave Godswill Akpabio 48 hours to publish names of lawmakers who got contracts from NNDC.
September 15, 2020: Niger Delta Minister Godswill Akpabio denies accusing NASS members of getting contracts from NDDC.
September 16, 2020: On this day, the spokesman of the House of Representatives, Hon. Benjamin Kalu called on the ruling APC to do everything possible to resolve their issues instead of washing its dirty linen outside.
By Isaac Dachen…
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