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Why Buhari must stop Akpabio’s circus at NDDC

President Muhammadu Buhari
The sack of Ms Joi Nunieh on Wednesday February 19th 2019, barely four months after she was appointed Acting Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is yet another chapter in the quagmire that the agency has been plunged into since Godswill Akpabio was appointed the Minister of Niger Delta and handed supervision of the agency. The sack, which was announced in a terse statement signed by President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, also announced a new acting managing director and two new members of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) set up by Akpabio on October 29, 2019.

While no reasons were given for Nunieh’s sack, reports indicate that in addition to questions over her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) discharge certificate, which critics say she does not have and may well indicate that she never did the compulsory one-year service, allegations of financial impropriety, lack of financial prudence and conflict of interest in certain transactions played a role in her sack. There was also overwhelming signs that she had fallen out with Akpabio and the minister had promised to deal with her, a threat he obviously made good on. Well, Akpabio appointed, Akpabio sacked. Period.

Nunieh does not deserve pity and it is no surprise that there are no murmurs anywhere because she made herself available for Akpabio’s scheme to be used to scuttle the constitution of a proper Board for the commission with the reward of heading the interim management committee. It is particularly shameful because she did this just after she was announced as a member of the Board appointed by President Buhari to represent Rivers State and had made an appearance before the Police Federal Investigation Bureau for scrutiny as demanded of all nominees. That board was eventually approved by the senate on November 5, 2019, a week after the IMC was set up. She sold herself cheap and got just what she deserved. Hers is the case of a classical use-and-dump.

While one is tempted to sit back and say that Nunieh deserves what has come her way having made herself an accomplice in Akpabio’s scheme to personally control the NDDC through the interim management committee just when the president had appointed a substantive board and sent the names for screening by the senate, her sack and the appointment of new members into the IMC barely four months after the committee was set up renews the questions over the propriety of the ad-hoc arrangement which the minister has trumpeted as necessary to supervise the forensic audit.

The appointment drew protests from various groups in the region who wondered why a board that was nominated should be so whimsically set aside for a committee answerable only to the minister.

Groups such as the Ijaw Youth Council, Urhobo Progressive Movement, Itsekiri Progressive Front, Oron Movement and several influential voices were loud in protesting, insisting that the IMC was Akpabio’s plan to control the agency directly.

Eric Omare, president of Ijaw Youth Council, the foremost youth association in the Niger Delta, said in a press statement issued on October 29 2019, the day the Nunieh committee was announced:

“The activities of Chief Akpabio since his appointment as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs have led to instability and confusion in the Niger Delta region especially with respect to the management of the NDDC.

I make bold to state that Akpabio’s intention in setting up an interim management committee with one of his political loyalist Chief Ibanga Bassey Etang as Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration is to use the NDDC to promote personal aggrandizement at the expense of the development of the Niger Delta region.”

The allegations of sleaze that has attended the work of the committee since it was appointed would seem to justify this fear and make clear why the IMC should be scrapped immediately and a board inaugurated for the NDDC. There is indeed a feeling of déjà vu after the crisis that has hit the IMC.

The sack of Nunieh has exposed the grey underbelly of the NDDC under Akpabio and how it has continued in the tradition of fraud and waste. According to one report, “The reason that was given for the appointment of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) and the stay of the Board was the need to cleanse the NDDC.

So much PR (public relations) capital had been made out of corruption in the NDDC with Nunieh herself not failing to grab the spotlight to highlight one major discovery of fraud or the other. No sooner had she come in than the commission paid one Cyrus and Jenny Limited, a company in which she is a director. The company was paid N326.3 Million for a contract it got in 2016 for emergency repair of Beeri Internal roads in Khana LGA of Rivers State.

A search by whistleblowers at the Corporate Affairs Commission in December 2019 listed her as a director of the company. This was two months after she had been appointed acting MD of the NDDC, which is against the public service rule that demands her resignation of any company of which she is a director.

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