By Paschal Isiguzo
OBONG Godswill Akpabio had something important to say. The House of Representatives had mandatorily asked Akpabio, former Senator, former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, and Minister of Niger Delta, to make a presentation on the investigations of corruption in the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
Akpabio was in mid-flight when the Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Niger Delta, Thomas Ereyitomi, abbreviated him. The drama was just starting. “Is ok Hon. Minister. Is ok. Is ok. Is ok Hon. Minister. Is ok. Don’t talk again. Off your mic,” Ereyitomi ordered, his voice laced with panic. What did Akpabio say that created the panic? Why was Ereyitomi shouting as if another word from Akpabio would put Nigeria in permanent ruination?
Why should Akpabio be denied his freedom of speech? Why then did the House invite him?
He said that more than 60 per cent of NDDC contracts was awarded to members of the National Assembly. Was he wrong? We had no time to find out. It was an issue the House of Representatives did not want to be public. Was the probe sheer hypocrisy? Did the House of Representatives have agenda it wanted to install with the probe?
What was the House of Representatives covering? What was the Committee protecting, the House, other Nigerians? How did the House intend to probe scandalous expenditures of NDDC without knowing who were involved?
Should the House determine what should be said? Did Akpabio, broadly accused as the author and perfecter of the scurrilous expenditures in NDDC, not have a right to defend himself?
Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives, was present at the event. He did his office and the investigation a huge disservice. His curious presence at the hearing, and silence when Akpabio’s presentation was disrupted, has brought the findings to disrepute well before they are known. Which member of the House of Representatives would oppose a report that the Speaker witnessed its production, and that would be presented to the same Speaker for debate?
The final report would have been superintended by Gbajabiamila as the Speaker. He rather chose, through his silence, to supervene on the side of the corruption in NDDC. What would Gbajabiamila do with a report he joined in abridging at source? Are people not right to see the investigation as a charade?
Away from the flurry of questions that floored the acting NDDC Managing Director, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, the house arrest of Ms. Joi Nunieh, and the television appearances of Akpabio and Nunieh, where allegations filled the air, the House of Representatives has made no efforts at transparency in the investigation that has overtaken that of the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC Ibrahim Magu.
The Speaker had a chance to redeem the image of the House. He rather confirmed the House was the problem as much as NDDC boards and managements that took care of themselves at public expense. He should have protected the public.
House member and Chairman of its Committee on Niger Delta, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, had to recuse himself after Pondei accused him of being an interested party in NDDC. Pondei walked out on the Committee. His condition for further participation in the investigations was that Tunji-Ojo should not be part of the investigation. Akpabio told the House he had no evidence that Tunji-Ojo was among NDDC contractors.
The question marks over the investigation have multiplied after the curious muffling of Akpabio who was allowed to speak until he charged that National Assembly members were challenges to the works of NDDC.
Mr. Speaker, a day after, ordered Akpabio to submit names of legislators who were NDDC contractors in 48 hours. There would be consequences if he failed. Should the names not have been made public? What about remaining parts of Akpabio’s presentation?
The House of Representatives – out to protect its members’ interests – has blown the opportunity of any meaningful resolution of the corruption that has crippled the development of the Niger Delta.
A small opportunity remains for the House to rescue itself from the tar it uses in burnishing its image. Akpabio should be invited back to conclude his presentation without interruption. Akpabio must continue speaking beyond the House. He has to do more by setting up structures that would make NDDC work for the peoples of the Niger Delta.
It is important that the public knows. More importantly, the peoples of the Niger Delta also know a bit more about how their sons and daughters lead in the dispersal of resources that should be for the good of the Niger Delta. Even if there is nothing we can do, we have a broader idea of the numerous locusts that devour the resources of the Niger Delta.
Does anyone still doubt that President Muhammadu Buhari is worried about corruption? There are enough reasons to wonder what his convictions are about combating corruption. The President ordered probe of NDDC since October 2019. Nine months after, the probe has not started.