BY SIMON REEF MUSA
The Minister of the Niger Delta Ministry, Chief Godswill Akpabio, is walking the tight rope as he attempts to exculpate himself of blame in the face of rising storm of controversy, with the ‘Port Harcourt Lady’ and former Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ms Joi Nunieh, throwing him for public scrutiny in running the affairs of his ministry.
Not many and not a few are incensed at the crossfires of happenings in the Commission, with the can of worms opened up by the former NDDC boss turning into a storm of national discourse.
According to cheerleaders of the Minister, the road to Golgotha for Ms Nunieh did not begin today as they reiterated the claim by Akpabio that the sacked boss of the commission was guilty of insubordination and possessing a questionable certificate of discharge from the National Youth Service Corps.
Since her sack as the head of the NDDC, the activities of the commission has come under the floodlights over questionable spending, prompting President Muhammadu Buhari to set up a panel to unravel the truth about the alleged sleaze rocking the agency.
Riding on the storm of issues that are beyond officialdom, supporters of Ms. Nunieh insist that there is more than meets the eyes in the current fight-to-finish duel between the duos.
Considering what has been happening between the commission and the minister, there has been no love lost between the major characters in a fight described by analysts as unwholesome. The high point of the subterranean war over the NDDC was exposed when the Ogoni-born lady told National Assembly members the reason she was relieved of her duties.
Sounding like a corruption czar under the supervision of a minister that was determined to put his hands in the cookie jar, the Port Harcourt lady recalled her lone and bitter fight against the former Akwa Ibom governor whom she accused of attempting the enthronement of corruption in the commission.
Apart from accusing the former Akwa Ibom governor of attempting to bribe National Assembly committees with the sum of N100 million each, she recalled attempts by the Niger Delta minister to withdraw large sums of money for his personal use. She also alleged that Akpabio’s girlfriend whom she refused to identify was in charge of buying diesel for the commission.
More worrisome, Ms Nunieh added, she had come under constant and serious pressures from the man popularly called the ‘uncommon governor’ to insert certain appropriations in the 2020 budgets in order to swindle the NDDC for self-gratification. Like the eagle that cannot be disturbed by lower birds flying at low levels of engagements, the sacked boss of the commission shocked her listeners with stories on how she resisted Akpabio’s subtle attempts at gaming the Commission.
The last sucker punch was unleashed when she alleged that she slapped Akpabio in his Abuja Guest House over his attempt to go beyond his official conduct. In a blistering television interview in which she claimed that she slapped the former governor, Ms. Nunieh said, “Why did he not tell the President why I slapped him? Why did he not tell Nigerians that I slapped him? Why did he not tell Nigerians the ‘Plan B’ of insubordination? Why did he take me to a guest house in Apo or to visit him in his private room in Le’Meridien?”
Nunieh’s reaction came on the heels of Akpabio’s submission in which he impugned the private life of the former NDDC boss. Describing her testimony before the House Committee as unreliable, the minister referred Nigerians to Nunieh’s four husbands and concluded that the life of his traducer is unworthy of commendation.
Not a few on both sides of the divide agree on some of the issues on the matter. Those in support of the uncommon politician are calling on the ex-NDDC boss to substantiate her claims, while those opposed to the former governor are calling on President Buhari to offload the man and allow for an unfettered investigation to prove that the administration’s anti-graft war is not a charade.
It is obvious that sacking Nunieh in the first place as the NDDC boss without setting up a panel to conform Akpabio’s allegation of insubordination and questionable NYSC certificate amounted to a travesty of justice. There is no contradicting the fact that when men are confronted with strong women who have characters, they often resort to name calling in a bid to cast aspersion on them. Could that be what is playing out in the current controversy raging between the minister and former boss of the commission?
It is morally reprehensible for Akpabio to remain minister against the backdrop of Ms Nunieh’s allegations. In saner climes, the first step the Niger Delta Minister ought to take is to “step aside” until all allegations preferred against him are cleared. We must not sweep away the allegations by the former NDDC boss as just one of those things women resort to stir sentiments to attract sympathy.
In the coming weeks, the storm over the matter won’t go away as many groups, especially gender- based, will in the coming days join the throng calling for Akpabio’s head.
The Buhari Government that has been under searchlight for tolerating what it swore to oppose should do the needful as it recently did in the case of the suspended Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu.
When the present administration was inaugurated in 2015, with the promise to wage war against corruption, no matter whose ox is gored.
For the nation to get rid of corruption, those who are accused of sleaze must be made to face the wrath of the law. Both Nigerians and the international community are waiting anxiously to see how far the government treats this case. With Nunieh alleging that she was pressured to take oath in the presence of top officials that are personal aides to the President Buhari, anything short of Akpabio’s suspension and public probe of the NDDC scam is not enough.
The fire and fury over the sordid affairs at the NDDC would amount to nothing if no action is taken by the Federal Government to probe the alleged corruption in the commission. Nunieh may not be the boss of the Commission today, but she has brought to the notice of the public certain matters that are critical to the continued survival of the agency.
Beyond the maddening crowd that is threatening to take over the discourse that is so critical to the survival of the commission, let the government be aware that the world is watching. The continued retention of Akpabio as a Minister is a sacrilege to the avowed commitment of Buhari to fight corruption.
The Federal Government must move fast and salvage what is left of an agency established to provide hope and succour to region that has given the nation so much in terms of revenue, but rewarded with so little due to massive public corruption.