NDDC: The Many “Sins” That May Have Prompted Sack Of Barr. Joi Nunieh

By Substance Nature


“The Committee will take the NDDC to the next level and will not fail the people of the Niger Delta…There will be no compromise and the people will know that a new team is here to work” – Excerpts, Nunieh’s inaugural speech, 2019

Barr. Gbene Joi Nunieh had emerged as Chairman of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) on a wave of controversies. These perhaps were made worse by her subsequent grandstand audacity and orchestrated rebuff of the powers.

Recall that on the day the Senate was in a plenary considering the letter sent to the National Assembly by President Muhamadu Buhari, to consider for confirmation the 16-member board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Tuesday, October 29, 2019, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, that same day launched a-3 man Interim Management Committee (IMC).

The Committee comprised Acting Managing Director, Dr, Joi Nunieh (Rivers), Acting Executive Director, Projects, Dr, Cairo Ojougbor (Delta); and Acting Executive Director, Finance/ Administration, Chief Ibanga Bassey Etang (Akwa Ibom). The then Acting Managing Director, Dr. Akwagaga Enyia, had on October 30, 2019 handed over to Dr. Nunieh.

This action by Sen. Akpabio, which the National Assembly refused to see as an accident, set off series of arguments and counter-arguments, with both Chambers seeing it as a conspiracy and deliberate or calculated underestimation of their powers by Sen. Akpabio and whoever may have been part of the plot. Akpabio had argued that the IMC was set up to man the Commission and spearhead the forensic audit of the NDDC covering the period of 2001 to 2019, with a lifespan of six months after which it will hand over to the duly screened and confirmed board of the NDDC.

To the National Assembly, Akpabio’s action was clearly an affront; a balderdash. Senate therefore described and discarded the IMC as a “stillborn”, “an illegality”, “and “anomaly” and swore never to have anything to do with IMC even as it mandated it’s the House Committee on the NDDC, led by Peter Nwaoboshi (Delta), to screen the President’s list for NDDC and report to the House within one week and have nothing whatsoever to do with the IMC.

On November 5, 2019, when the Committee submitted its report, the Committee’s Chairman disclosed that on two different occasions, Nunieh had rebuffed invitations extended to her and refused to appear before the Committee for screening; hence, she was not screened let alone confirmed. The final 15-man NDDC Board consisted of the former deputy governor to former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomole, Dr. Pius Odubu as Chairman; Bernard Okumagba (Delta State), Managing Director; and Otobong Ndem (Akwa Ibom State), Executive Director Projects; and Maxwell Okoh (Bayelsa), Finance and administration.

Others on the list were Jones Erue (Delta); Victor Ekhatar (Edo); Nwogu Nwogu (Abia); Theodore Allison (Bayelsa); Victor Antai (Akwa Ibom); and Maurice Effiwatt (Cross River). Included also are Olugbenga Edema (Ondo); Uchegbu Kirian (Imo); Aisha Murtala Muhammed (Kano), representing the North-West area; Ardo Zubairo (Adamawa), representing North-East zone; and Ambassador Abdullahi Bage (Nasarawa), for North-Central geo-political zone.

Although Nunieh still continued in her office and position while the fireworks lasted, the Senate plenary of November 5, 2019 had unanimously dropped her name from those duly confirmed. President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, had stated: “With the completion of this process of confirmation, I am sure that any structure that exists in the NDDC is vitiated. I don’t think we have anything to worry about because this is one thing that is clearly established by the law”.

In the same vein, the House of Representatives on Thursday, November 14, 2019 summoned Sen. Akpabio to immediately dissolve the IMC. Ossai Osssai (PDP, Edo) had lighted the flame with a motion that the existence of the IMC contravenes Section 8 of The NDDC Act that allocates the management and administration of the NDDC to a governing board. The resolution was unanimous, irrevocable –and enforceable – in the way the parliamentarians looked.

RELATED: NDDC Board and the lingering Suspense

What therefore was remaining or what the Senate expected was inauguration of the board by President Buhari to begin its official engagement. But in another spell of apprehension, President Buhari delayed –or refused – and the inauguration was never to happen. It was at that point that many concluded that the President was privy to the setting up of the IMC.

More fuel was added to the fire when on Tuesday, November 26, 2019, President Buhari again forwarded a letter to the Senate requesting appraisal and passage of the 2019/2020 NDDC Budget. The Senate without a slice of pretensions spat on the request, arguing and insisting that it can only deal with the 15-man NDDC board it had duly screened and confirmed, even as Akpabio’s Interim Management Committee had been dismissed as a conspiratorial contraption that assaulted the law.

As such, even earlier claims by the IMC, including that a senator was allegedly handling 300 contracts of the NDDC for which he had collected more than half the money without having taken as small a thing as a shovel to the site; another senator having been collecting 1billion as monthly salaries as a tax consultant; and other questionable revelations were all discarded as fallacies to give the IMC a face of duty. Worst still, the IMC could not prove some of the allegations beyond the pages of newspapers.

The following two to three months therefore became those of remonstrations on who should be in charge of the NDDC. It was such that the 2019/2020 budget could not be presented as the National Assembly had pronounced nullity on the IMC. Nevertheless, on Tuesday, December 10, 2019, the Green Chambers, through its Committee on NDDC led by Mr. Olabunmi Tunji-Ojo, soft-pedalled and gave an olive branch by admitting the IMC into its chambers’.

However, the conditions House of Representatives summarily gave the IMC before the 2020 budget could be accepted were stringent. These include the orders that the Nunieh Cimmittee must first present a balance sheet for the 2019 budget; submit an inventory of all contractors handling services for the NDDC; present a comprehensive debt portfolio of the NDDC and collect all debts owed her; etc. Nunieh was apparently not happy!

This was proven by her next action. While the embargo by the National Assembly was still in force, especially in connection with the 2020 budget of the Commission, Dr. Joi Nunieh, again, dared the powers. In a memo dated January 15, 2020, titled: “Implementation of NDDC Budget”, she directed the Directorate of Planning, Research and Statistics to go ahead with the 2020 budget implementation since, according to her, the sum of N80, 881,610,074 was already appropriated to the NDDC in the 2020 budget presented by President Muhammdu Buhari, which had been signed into law – implying that she has the right to implement the budget whether or not the National Assembly approves it or not. This, no doubt, further worsened the already frosty relationship between her and the National Assembly.

Shockingly, in a statement dated Thursday, December 19, 2019 and signed by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, President Buhari announced dissolution and suspension of the screened NDDC board until further notice. That was an unassailable nod to the existence and endowed powers of the Nunieh-driven IMC, after months of presidential silence and pretentions. Therefore, in a typical cap in hand posture of the present Assembly, both Chambers of the National Assembly had no option than cave in to superior imperative, seeing the scenario as a fait accompli.

Meanwhile, a civil rights organization, Transparency and Integrity Crusaders, like others on the same train of social advocacy, had picked holes in Dr. Nunieh’s National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate, saying it was fake. But as a typical Nigerian, Nunieh said to have dismissed them as political jobbers and sponsored agents by her enemies who were envious of her strides and impending outcome of the forensic audit of the NDDC that might adversely affect some bigwigs.

While Nunieh was luxuriating in her pyrrhic victories, making scathing and earth-shaking revelations, it would appear President Buhari was secretly counting her days and his fears. His unexpected and unpredictable action became the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The former IMC boss, the Iron Lady and Esther of Ogoni Land, the woman who dared and defied the Senate, was sacked by the President, Wednesday, February 19, 2020.

While there has been no official statement for the reason she was removed, grapevine information says it cannot be unconnected with any of the foregoing. But two cardinal reasons tend to drive the assumptions: the dust surrounding her NYSC certificate and her insubordination or otherwise domineering disposition towards Sen. Akpabio, especially over the choice of a lead consultant, Messrs. Olumiyiwa Bashiru and Co. for the NDDC.

The school of thought championing the NYSC scandal as the cause maintains that the President took a clairvoyant step towards averting a repeat of what befell the former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, who capitulated and resigned for the same reason, 14th December, 2018. That was after which she had dented the anti-corruption claims of the present government.

Nunieh’s sack saw the expansion of the Interim Committee to 5, namely Ag. Director, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei; Ag. Executive Director Projects, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh; Ag. Executive Director, and Ag. Executive Director Finance and Administration, Mr. Ibanga Bassey Etang. The other two are, Mrs. Caroline Nagbo (Member) and Cecilia Bukola Akintomide also as member.

The President has the power and can choose to reserve or blow open his reason to hire and fire whoever he so chooses and whenever he deems such necessary. Yet, it is a pity that probe committees in this country always end up being probed!

Related Articles

Back to top button