By: Israel Umoh
The melodrama at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is gradually becoming messier. At the centre of the melodrama is Joi Nunieh, the outgone Acting Chairman of the commission’s Interim Management Committee. And in the main bowl is Senator Godswill Akpabio, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. Both are lawyers, not theatre artists, from the Niger Delta Region.
Joi is the daughter of a second Republic Senator. An Ogoni woman from Rivers State, she was a member of All Nigeria Peoples Party with the name Joi Yowika, later moved to CPC and now All Progressives Congress. A Buharist, she was previously involved with the Ogoni Clean-up programme, tagged Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP). Her first love is law but her second love is socio-political activism.
Since her removal from NDDC about six months ago, Joi has been exploding with allegations against Akpabio, a former Akwa Ibom Governor. Once she corks her gun and discharges her verbal arsenals on the minister, some people would cheer her. Whether she speaks the truth or not, the people do so perhaps some of them have an axe to grind or spear to strike with either Akpabio or NDDC.
Though Joi fired some salvos on Akpabio a few months ago, her allegations of last Thursday, July 9 were like an earthquake. Hear her: “Nobody makes any payment in NDDC without Godswill Akpabio’s approval. After that, he came to Port Harcourt two days after the inauguration and told me that the first thing I should do was to change the dollars. Akpabio pressurised me to take the oath of loyalty, but I resisted. He said I should remove Mr. Kaltungo from the legal unit and send him on compulsory retirement. I refused to do it. He said we cannot have a northerner as head of the legal unit. He said I should repost all other directors that refused to take his instruction during my predecessor’s time.”
Unfortunately, Joi never churned or reeled out the allegations while she was in the office. Perhaps, she was afraid of losing what was seen as a juicy job and she decided to stay put and allowed sleeping dog lie. Like a tramautised widow who decided to endure the nuances of her late husband’s relations because of the children, Joi tolerated the minister with equanimity, perhaps with the hope of scooping the spoils (?) of office sooner than expected.
This is a black man’s burden: To remain in the office against all odds, no matter the pressure to do something or sign a document that pricks one’s conscience or steely principle. Take a cue: on February 27, 2019, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted his Facebook “I hope my resignation will act as a spark for the return of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1963, Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, after the Profumo scandal, making it a third-consecutive Conservative, resigned. The Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, Paul Kaba Thieba, resigned, over the poor landlocked nation in Africa’s Sahel region. Kemi Adeosun, Nigeria Finance minister resigned over allegations she used a forged NYSC certificate. No person has resigned in protest of duty or task conflicting with his or her conscience. The white dudes resigned to placate their conscience.
Why didn’t Joi resign to please her conscience? She sounded as a principled person fired by patriotism and integrity. But, why did she stay put to be booted out unceremoniously for an alleged offence she has denied that she was not culpable? Talking out of office is an act of cowardice and smacks of an afterthought or is she dancing to the drums of Akpabio’s political opponents for the control of the Niger Delta Region? Someone had once said, “Information secured in peace times become weapons in the day of war.” It sounds like the fabled tortoise and elephant tale: a tortoise threw an elephant into a pit and it started begging the tortoise to redeem it from the dungeon.
As a lawyer, Joi should know that some of her allegations sound like pepper soup joint talks. Evidence Act, 2011 is a law of the Federation of Nigeria, which applies to all judicial proceedings in or before Courts in Nigeria. Evidence may be given of facts in issue and relevant facts. Evidence in accordance with section I of the Act is generally admissible. With all the posturings and gesticulations, has she any evidence to back her claims? Her allegations are weightier, but where are the pieces of evidence to prove such beyond reasonable doubt? Are the claims aggrandised eloquence to deceive the gullible and narrow-minded persons? Are the allegations mere jumbled stunts and concocted lies for social media rats and crickets to fish on and cast alarming headlines to sell to the hollow-minded public?
Levelling such accusations against the Minister before the National Assembly’s Committee on Niger Delta showed her naivety about the workings and operations of the government’s establishment. Government is a bureaucratic establishment with laid-down rules and principles, not a tea party club. Why didn’t she ask Akpabio to commit his request(s) into writing or raise a memo that would have captured the minister’s instruction for the necessary approval in writing, instead of coming to talk bla, bla, bla? It does not speak well of her as a learned person qualified to be appointed to such an exalted office. In short, some of her claims sound like cock-and-bull stories.
Her claim of NDDC’s management and by inference the minister of embezzling money is, no doubt, spurious. Since NDDC must have spent N40 billion, is there no Audit Department in NDDC to chalk out the expenses than for her to raise a sanctimonious alarm? What about the role of the office of Auditor-General of the federation or the Public Account Committees of Senate and House of Representatives? Again, it is understood that the Central Bank of Nigeria usually pays every dime to NDDC. Has CBN no Audit Department to cross the t’s and dot the i’s before the money was paid? How fair is she then to point accusing finger on the NDDC management for blowing N40 billion after her exit without a properly documented evidence? Yet, many upstarts and political turncoats started cheering her for raising what they think are copious facts.
This is not to exonerate NDDC of any form of purported financial malfeasance, but the issue is that audit evidence requires data or information, physical or nonphysical, especially Financial Statements, Accounting Books mainly the income and expenditure, bank cheques, ledgers showing remittances and other documents used by NDDC to support financial transactions or events in the financial statements. Moreover, such documents as checkbooks, purchases invoices, sales receipts, journal vouchers, bank statements, tax returns, petty cash records and inventory records must be in order. At last, the auditor would resort to Vouching, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Testing, Physical Examination, Analysis, Scanning, and Inquiry to formally roll authentic reports that cannot be queried or dusted in the law court.
Unexpectedly, the National Assembly charged with Niger Delta Affairs that is supposed to carry out an oversight function seems to be playing the role of a jury and a judge. The NDDC presented an expenditure of N81 billion in six months. The members quibbled that the thieves had been caught. It sounded infantile for the chairmen of both Senate and House of Representatives committee to have read out the figures spent by the commission and turned such to undue media trial without commensurate authentic audit report from the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation. Or at best, a report from the ongoing forensic audit.
It should be recalled that the incumbent Senate President was for many years 2007-2015 the Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts as an opposition party man (ANPP) in the years that PDP was in control of the government. Are there issues he had left undone that the forensic audit ordered by Mr. President for NDDC may be making him uncomfortable with Minister Akpabio whose defection to APC at Ikot Ekpene Township Stadium on July 8, 2018, he had attended and spoken about Akpabio in glowing terms? The Senate President had lost out in the power play for the governorship of Yobe in 2019 and knows now he may not be returning to the legislature in 2023 as there are no guarantees he will re-emerge Senate President.
Since the North East Development Commission (NEDC) was formed, inaugurated and funded, has the National Assembly any gut to invite or query the commission members? Or, are they sacrasanct or above the law of the land? Has the National Assembly found out and come with details on the composition of the commission to reflecting the Federal Character? There are questions as to why the NEDC is taking funds from the Petroleum Equalisation Fund even in the face of the much-touted deregulation of the downstream sector, especially the price of petroleum products (PMS/AGO). Was the bill not passed into law with the speed of light? Focusing attention and bashing NDDC looks like a selective judgment.
Stories have been told of how some of the Chairmen who have been on NDDC committees of both chambers (Senate and Reps) have abused the use of their signatures on the Appropriation approval documents changing paginations to suit their whims and caprices. Their oversight function never seemed to query the awkward, disingenuous manner of project funding by a flat 15% initial payment and no further consideration during that budget cycle except where their peculiar interests are served. Let the assemblymen not forget that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. And they should not forget in a hurry the legal dictum: He who goes to equity must go with clean hands.
Speaking during an interview on ARISE TV, Akpabio accused Nunieh of paranoia, which he said affected her alleged relationships with her previous four husbands, insubordination, as well as not being able to present National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) discharge certificate.
It was improper for the Minister to have raised the health issue in which a qualified medical doctor should have done that. Bringing in her marriage status into alleged corrupt practices levelled against NDDC was diversionary. Since Nigeria does not value issues bordering on the private life of public office holders, then the mention was uncalled for. If that was a criterion for the public office, why was she appointed? The issue of the NYSC discharge certificate was key, no doubt. But, was Joi coming from the Mars? Why didn’t the Federal Government ask her to produce her NYSC discharge or exemption certificate and other relevant documents before she would have been offered the plum job? This requirement is necessary and of course, the offence is punishable by law. But the issue is, why didn’t her traducers point out her NYSC deficiency? If indeed the NYSC discharge certificate imbroglio was the reason for her removal, then the action was like counting the chickens before they were hatched.
To break the camel’s back, Joi alleged that she is the only woman in Nigeria to have slapped Akpabio for harassing her sexually. Sometimes, many a vindictive woman could bandy sex issue as an article of accusation to emasculate or shame even her lover in the public. It is easy: “Oh! I lost the promotion because I denied him sex.” Potiphar’s wife used the trick in sending Joseph to prison in ancient Egypt. As a lawyer, Joi knows the legal implication of the statement that sounded careless, cheap and derogatory to the Minister and the Federal Government. The Minister wears the badge of Mr. President and by extension the Federal Government. Why will the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice remain mute over such an undignified statement on a Minister? For the purpose of exculpation, the law has to take its course.
The brickbats between the ex-NDDC’ Boss and the Minister call for concern. The duos are the son and daughter of the Niger Delta. And the region is bedevilled by crab mentality- Pull-Him-Down Syndrome. Assuming Joi is asked or sponsored by unseen elements to continue heaping slur and smear the image of the Minister, then will any Northerner take the Niger Deltans seriously in the emerging political scenario? It looks like a divided house as the stakeholders and royal fathers are hushed over the inglorious drama. Oh! It is piggy game: “put me in the mud, I come out and put you in the mud and the ding dong game continues.” This is the demented mentality of a typical Niger Delta person and that is why it may take them more than a decade to produce a President in the country. Forget about Goodluck Jonathan’s case. His presidency was a child of circumstance or what some people may call accidental discharge.
In fact, this administration has witnessed many clashes between heads of government agencies and parastatals with their supervising ministers or another minister of cabinet rank. The last recent one involved the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy and Hon. Abike Dabiri of Nigeria Diaspora Commission. There may soon be an epidemic of #metoo among our public office holders. So, the Federal Government must not remain neutral in the face of bad blood and unfounded accusations supposedly engineered by a few disgruntled politicians or some selfish contractors, whose ambition is to grab the Adams apple of the commission for their whims and caprices. The earlier the government dowse the NDDC’s verbal fire and call the two warring parties- Akpabio and Joi- to order, the better for the development and growth of the region.