Wike, Nunieh, Akpabio, and NPF
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is probably the most riveting, complex and controversial corruption story in Nigeria today, if not ever. It is also, bars the love scandal that gripped the North in the early 1970s (names withheld), the most romantic.
Whether the country likes it or not, it is also probably the most complete human affairs story Nigeria has seen in recent years. Corruption and mindless accumulation of wealth often for conspicuous consumption used to be the full and complete story of Nigerian public officials; now, courtesy of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio and the former Managing Director of the NDDC Joi Nunieh, Nigerians see their hidden soft part mirrored in the flamboyant and exhilarating lives of the two quarrelsome public officials. Indeed, the NDDC is both the archetype and embodiment of everything that is uniquely and deprecatingly Nigerian.
How did the three people mentioned in the title to this piece, the law enforcement agency, the Niger Delta Affairs ministry, and the Development Commission get themselves so thoroughly entangled in a miasma of shocking financial and romantic escapades to create the lethal brew and lewd stories that have titillated Nigeria for weeks? It began inauspiciously with the National Assembly’s innocuous attempt to investigate the NDDC, which, according to allegations, and in the space of three months, ‘recklessly’ spent a whopping N40bn, or over N81bn in about a year between 2019 and 2020. Senator George Sekibo sponsored the motion.
It was not clear which three months the senate targeted for the probe. Soon, however, with allegations of financial wrongdoing flying everywhere, the former NDDC boss, Ms Nunieh, was sucked in. So, too, the Interim Management Committee (IMC), which soon landed smack in the eye of the storm, particularly for its tragicomic spending pattern exemplified by its expenditure of N1.5bn for COVID-19 relief for commission staff. More risibly, the commission allegedly spent N23.8bn on consultancy, and N3.14bn on the nine police commands in the region and 4,000 staff, including the famous N1.5bn COVID-19 relief and N475m for police face masks.
Put in much grosser perspective, the commission received about N281bn between 2016 and 2020 for the purpose of ameliorating the desperate problems of the region. But, among other things, it managed in three months to spend some N40bn of this allocation. Indeed, in the eyes of the public, and as one sordid revelation unfurled another, the NDDC gradually became an unrecognisable cesspit.
It was impossible for the presidency to feign disinterest. President Muhammadu Buhari has, therefore, finally waded into the fray and ordered thorough investigations, the initial assignment given to the IMC before it got sucked into the vortex of everything peculiarly horrifying about the NDDC. So the Senate, House of Representatives, theoretically the IMC itself, and now the presidential forensic mandate are all engaged in probing the NDDC. The region is to be pitied. They have the Niger Delta Affairs Ministry and the NDDC, and yet can hardly boast of anything inspiring about the region’s infrastructure. Worse, in the hands of Mr Akpabio, even the ministry is also allegedly leeching on the NDDC.
As if the financial malfeasance was not bad enough, stories of sexual harassment and all kinds of fetish practices and dalliances have surfaced. Anxious to save her neck, Mrs Nunieh, who some in the NDDC described as intemperate and high-handed, insisted the alleged financial malfeasance did not take place on her watch. She laid the blame almost solely on the present NDDC interim management.
What is more, she told the press, she was victimised by Mr Akpabio whom she described as a veritable lothario, a lothario she extravagantly claimed to have slapped for exceeding official boundaries and sexually harassing her in his guest house where he constantly scheduled official meetings. The minister debunked her story, saying he never touched her, despite a group photograph in which he wrapped his right arm around her, nor harassed her, despite the unrequited slap. Then, too, there were stories of uncompleted National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme and other cobwebs of allegations bordering on incompetence.
NDDC simply and irresistibly became the most riveting story of the day. But while matters were building to a crescendo, and Ms Nunieh — yes, she of four husbands, according to the Niger Delta Affairs Minister, waiting probably for Mr Akpabio as the fifth — was preparing to depart for Abuja to testify before the House of Representatives ad hoc committee, the police invaded her residence and were prepared to whisk her away.
Poor National Assembly, nobody fears them anymore, yes, not even the police, nor the NDDC management, which scoffed at them a few days ago by walking out of the ongoing hearing. The invasion, Mrs Nunieh claimed, occurred around 4.00 am. She resisted the invasion, locked herself adamantly behind her security doors, and sent an S.O.S to Nyesom Wike the Rivers State governor, who for many distressed and sometimes proud and rebellious Riverians, has proved to be the knight in shining armour.
In the break of day, and with a posse of press hounds in tow, Mr Wike stormed the Bastille and ferried Mrs Nunieh to safety in the Government House. There she has felt free to pontificate about her traducers and intended captors. Mr Akpabio was corrupt, she alleged, and was walking free while she the blameless was besieged. She left the country to ponder the paradox. Yes, the country is bewildered that the NDDC has failed miserably to develop the region and has instead turned into a pork barrel for powerful private interests.
It has also heard and digested stories of how money was being ferried everywhere for silly and crooked projects, some duplicated as in the case of contracts for clearing seaweed, an ocean algae called water hyacinth. But much more, Nigerians, who in the past few months have been besotted to the dramatic Mr Wike, are mesmerised by tales of the governor’s derring-do. They see him as the closest reincarnation and personification of the Age of Chivalry, and Ms Nunieh as the archetypal damsel in distress. No tale in recent years has been quite so evocative and romantic, and none fetches the heart and the public so completely.
Wrong-footed, the usually tongue-tied police have rushed out an explanation for their mysterious invasion of Nunieh’s house in the dead of the night and without a warrant of arrest. They felt obliged to respond because the governor, in ‘rescuing’ Ms Nunieh, had impugned the integrity of the police and suggested that the invasion was carried out without the knowledge of the state police command. Said the police: “The attention of the Rivers State Police Command has been drawn to an Online Publication, credited to Vanguardngr.com, where it was erroneously reported that ‘the MOPOL presence at the residence of Joi Nunieh was not the directive of the Command’…
That the Command is not oblivious of the fact that Social Media is a loose cannon, where all manner of things are thrown into…
That the Officers who were at the residence of the former Ag. MD Joi Nunieh were from the IGP Monitoring Team in Abuja and were here on Official assignment.
That before they proceeded to her residence, they observed due protocols and requisite standard operating procedures, including going through the processes of arriving themselves at the Headquarters with their Investigation Activities duly signed and approved by the Commissioner of Police, CP Joseph G Mukan psc (+)
That they went to her residence with Mobile Policemen, suggesting of course that they were there on official duty and not illegal duty as speculated.
That, the reference indicating that the Officers were there without the directive of the CP nor the IGP is preposterous and most unfortunate, hence should be discountenanced and disregarded.”
Both the police invasion and Mr Wike’s prompt response in thwarting the arrest point to the disturbing anomaly still undermining the Nigerian practice of federalism. This anomaly is compounded by the disturbing penchant of the police to lend themselves to unconstitutional abridgement, if not entirely abrogation, of the rights of citizens. It is significant that the police statement made no reference to why the invasion occurred in the dead of the night, why doors to Ms Nunieh’s residence had to be destroyed, why they have not tendered the order to effect the arrest or a duly signed warrant, and what she was being arrested for. Surely the police cannot be a law unto themselves.
Mr Wike, the one this column once described as a lovable rascal for his abrasive manners, probably undermined good governance by obstructing justice, whether the police are right or wrong to besiege Ms Nunieh. But how can a governor stand aside when a wrong is being committed in his state, a wrong inspired and executed by an agency that should rightly be controlled by the state but is unfortunately not? The paradox does not end there.
Given the sometimes egotism of Mr Wike and a number of other governors, would a devolved police force not be an instrument of tyranny in the hands of autocratic governors? Indeed, given the Nigerian condition, most governors are generally regarded as dictatorial. But so too, damningly, is the federal government, thereby presenting the country a veritable Catch-22 situation. In this instance, however, it is hard to fault Mr Wike for standing up for the oppressed. Given all that is in the public domain regarding the NDDC affair and the probes still ongoing, it was unwise and pre-emptive to arbitrarily arrest Mrs Nunieh when she could have been invited to either the police command in Port Harcourt or police headquarters in Abuja. The night invasion was foolish and needless.
The NDDC affair has just started in earnest. It will not end soon. More sordid financial malfeasances will obviously still be uncovered. Perhaps a few arrests will still be made. Hopefully, however, the investigating authorities will learn to clean up their act and carry out their responsibilities, including arrests when necessary, professionally. Here, the federal government must set the tone.
It didn’t keep a clean nose when it whisked suspended EFCC acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu, before an investigative panel. It should not be surprising that other agencies copied its rule book. But the country reserves the right to be appalled by the lewd stories and corrupt cases coming out of the NDDC, and be benumbed by the unprofessional manner security agencies routinely trample the rights of citizens.