The events of last week on the floor of the Nigerian Senate eclipsed any farce that has occurred prior. The backdrop for this particular sequence of events was a probe of the Nigerian Niger Delta Commission. The commission had been in the news months prior after its acting chairman, Dr. Joi Nunieh was ousted by Minister Godswill Akpabio for what we now know was a conflict of personal interest between the two. In her place Professor Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei was made acting chairman. Between January to June 2020, Prof. Pondei is alleged to have approved contracts worth hundreds of millions of naira, including a Covid-19 allowance that was somehow snuck into the NDDC’s budget even though the country didn’t have a Covid-19 plan until March 2020. During Pondei’s probe panel with a committee chosen by the House speaker Hon. Gbajabiamila, Pondei was unable to respond to accusations of graft and faked a fainting spell to get out of questioning.
Mere hours later, Minister Akpabio took the stand to clarify his involvement in the graft and during his interrogation, he accused the Nigerian senate of cornering a majority of the bogus contracts commissioned by the NDDC. This accusation triggered outrage from some of the members of the probe committee while others begged him to remain silent. Eventually Hon. Gbajabiamila issued an ultimatum to release the names of the politicians who benefited from the largesse of corruption at the NDDC or face the legislative wrath of the Senate.
For someone who has been accused of trying to illegally arrest Prof. Joi Nunieh in her home, this threat from the speaker seemed empty. And now Akpabio has called his bluff, and released the names of the politicians and legislators he claims cornered NDDC contracts. Among them, were Senator Matthew Ughorghide, Senator James Manager, Hon. Nicholas Mutiu, Senator Samuel Anyanwu and Senator Peter Nwaboshi, who happens to be the sitting chairman of the Senate committee on the Nigeria Delta, and he was listed as cornering 53 projects.
The projects Minister Akpabio listed seem to have all been awarded in 2018, before the present senate was inaugurated, which is confusing considering the probe is focused on moneys disbursed in 2019 and 2020. Senator Nwaboshi has thrown his hat into the ring and dared Akpabio to send the names o the legislators he alleges cornered contracts to the embattled EFCC, whose own acting chairman is facing accusations of corruption and graft. The Senate has given the house committee on ethics, privileges and public petitions a month to investigate the accusations made by four weeks to probe the allegations made by the management of the NDDC and Mr Akpabio.
This all feels like a needless exaggeration of what is a clear cut case. Money was misappropriated from the Nigerian Niger Delta Commission, money that must be tracked and retrieved and the people who diverted it punished. Theatrics like fainting spells, and counter accusations only seek to derail the process of retrieving these stolen funds and strengthening our governance systems so that leaders are disincentivized from stealing. Until that happens, we will not receive justice.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.