By Tony Akowe/Jide Orintunsin, Abuja/Mike Odiegwu, Rose Nwisi, Port Harcourt/Bassey Anthony, Uyo/ THE NATION
- Akpabio wanted me to award contract for things available in store’
- Court restrains police, others from arresting ex-Acting MD
- Rivers CP tells Wike to release her to police
- Scholarship budget diverted into private pockets – Witness
- Reps summon Akpabio, Acting MD Pondei
The immediate past Acting Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Dr. Joy Nuniel, told on Friday of how pressure was mounted on her to give out Christmas palliatives last year to the tune of N10 billion.
Had she yielded, each of the states under the operations of the commission would have collected a minimum of N1 billion.
Her refusal to play ball, she told the House of Representatives on Niger Delta, was one of the ‘sins’ that cost her the appointment.
The committee is investigating financial dealings of the commission.
For the umpteenth time, Nunieh accused Niger Delta Affairs Minister Godswill Akpabio of upsetting a lot of things at the commission.
The House Committee summoned the minister to appear before it on Monday to come and respond to the allegations against him.
Akpabio himself threatened to sue Nunieh for defamation after the former NDDC boss alleged that the minister made sexual overtures to her which she rejected.
Akpabio said: “There is no scintilla of truth in all the allegations peddled around by Ms. Nunieh. They are simply false!”
Ruling on Friday on an ex parte application filed by Nunieh, a Rivers State High Court granted an interim injunction restraining the police from inviting or arresting her, pending the determination of the substantive case before the court.
The ruling came a few hours after the police in the state said that the deployment of policemen to Nunieh’s Port Harcourt residence on Thursday was official and was known to the Inspector General .
They asked Governor Nyesom Wike who ‘rescued’ her from the police on the day to release her ostensibly for interrogation.
Testifying before the House of Reps on the Zoom platform on Friday, Nunieh said all the talk about forensic audit in the NDDC was false as no such audit has started despite alleged huge payments made for the purpose.
She said: “Two days after our inauguration, at the same Le Meridien Hotel (Port Harcourt), that was his first meeting with the IMC (Interim Management Committee), namely Dr. Cairo Ojougboh; the late EDFA, which I will not be talking about much, let me respect his soul, and the only other staff of the NDDC that was there, one Mr. Etiebet, who later became the head of the procurement unit.
“At that meeting, he (Akpabio) reminded me about the dollars. Secondly, he told me that he wanted me to send some staff away; that they were the ones that spoilt Mrs Akwagaga (Enyia) who refused to sign and make certain payments and that he did not want them to spoil me.
“He said the first thing I would do was to write a letter to him – he gave me the draft; that I should put it on my letterhead. In that letter, I was supposed to write that Senator (Peter) Nwaboshi owned the 98 companies. I never ever told the world that Senator Nwaboshi was the senator that was collecting the N1 billion.
“The issue of the N1 billion was different. I said how can an individual be collecting N1 billion every month? The case of Senator Nwaboshi is the case of the 98 companies which I was supposed to write about.
“The other thing was for employment. Of course, he had collected CVs from all gangs of godfathers. I also said I’m from the Niger Delta, and before I came, there was the issue of employment. The Federal Character Commission was giving NDDC the approval for employment, but that was stopped because of the scandal. I want to tell the world that I never did any employment. I never gave out a single contract from NDDC.”
On allegations of corruption against her, she said: “I am not corrupt. No contractor can sit anywhere and say they gave me N10. And I can say before the world that I’m the most unpopular MD ever that came to NDDC.
“The money of the people of Niger Delta is blood money; I refused to touch it. Even when my friends were contractors, even when they claimed that they were owed monies, my instruction was that everybody should go and finish their jobs.
“Everybody saw contractors go back to sites when I was MD. I was privileged to see all the videos. For one job, five people would send me videos of completion – the same job, the same video – and I would just laugh.”
The former NDDC boss blamed the problems in the NDDC on three groups.
Her words: “One group is the management, which is the IMC, and everybody is against the IMC. The second group is the staff of NDDC. And the third group, which I will start with, is the people of Niger Delta.
“This story that we are all calling embarrassing stories cannot be complete without saying that the people of the Niger Delta region are responsible for what has happened – the frauds and corruption that have taken place in the NDDC. I’m speaking from personal experience.
“As soon as an MD is appointed, people begin to rejoice and celebrate, not because they want you to do the right thing; not because they are interested in the development of the Niger Delta; but because they believe that it is now their turn to eat of the national cake.
“They are not interested in anything. All they want is like palliatives. That is why for those who did not harden their heart like me, they fell for this palliative matter and they started giving out.
“But because I was strong; because I always remembered the case of Gani Fawehinmi. Fawehinmi fought for the masses of this country. When he said he wanted to contest an election, they were not there. I remember that I needed to stand properly.
“The second class is the staff. The staff of NDDC are from the Niger Delta region. The contracts that have been awarded are for their communities.
“When I was appointed, I went from office to office; I sat in their offices and I told them, ‘You people are responsible for what has gone wrong in the zone.’
“All the staff have in their wards or local government areas projects. If every staff of NDDC takes up a project in their local government area and ensures that they are well done, we will not have these issues.
“Thirdly, the IMC. For the first time in the history of NDDC, no palliatives were given. I did not give out Christmas palliatives. I was under pressure to bring N10bn – N1bn per state – but I refused. The youths were complaining that things were difficult and I said ‘the day I give you this money, you know I have started collecting your money.’
“I never gave any Christmas bonus or palliative during my time. For the first time in the history of NDDC, NDDC worked throughout December. There was no break except on public holidays.”
When asked to speak on the forensic audit by the Chairman of the Committee, for which the IMC was constituted, Nunieh said: “What I met was not exactly what is going on. Akpabio insisted that he would supervise the forensic audit.
“I reminded and showed him the letter that the President had written, and told him that there was no way we could spend the money that was in our budget.
“In his memo to the President, he requested that the money for the funding of the forensic audit be gotten from the Service Wide Vote. Mr. President, in his wisdom, refused that request and in writing said that it should be from NDDC’s appropriation, making NDDC the producing entity.
“When I was there, I was the one who prepared all the documents for the forensic audit and sent in the applications.
“The first thing was for us to go through the procurement of the lead consultant. Many people have clearly misunderstood the procurement of the lead consultant.
“But because I did not want any illegality and the forensic audit to be discredited, I, with the help of big consultants, came up with the terms of reference for these auditors. The lead consultant that everyone is talking about is not the forensic auditor.
“When all the forensic auditors have gotten all the data and reports from fields, they will put them together and give to the lead consultant who will put them together in a report. That is just his role. He is not the one to carry out any forensic audit.”
She claimed that none of the nine companies touted as having been saddled with carrying out the forensic audit has any such experience.
She said what should have been done was to write to the office of the Auditor General of the Federation to furnish the commission with a list of registered and reputable auditing firms that have carried out forensic audit in the country before.
She said that the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs misled Nigerians when he said that the National Assembly prompted her to move the forensic audit.
She denied reports that N642 million was paid by the IMC for media support for the forensic audit, saying while there as the MD, the only payment she made was directly to the media houses.
She claimed that she never paid any money for forensic audit since there was none going on and since the auditors had not been appointed because the appropriation for the audit had not been passed.
She also alleged that Senator Akpabio wanted her to award contracts for the supply of medical equipment which the commission already had in its store but she refused to oblige him, rather requesting him to pass on the instruction in writing.
On the way forward, she asked that the NDDC be taken away from the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and put under the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Scholarship budget diverted into private accounts of NDDC officials – Witness
Also testifying before the committee yesterday, the Head of Research at the Act for Positive Transformation Initiative (APTI), Johnson Kolawole, alleged that some NDDC officials diverted monies meant for students under scholarship into their personal accounts.
”They (students) kept crying that their dues are not being paid and they are being locked out by their schools,” Kolawole said.
He claimed that while the students were complaining of the non-payment of the scholarship monies, “the NDDC team were busy paying themselves monies meant for students.”
He said some of the affected students had reached out to him to complain about their plight.
He, therefore, called on the Federal Government to come to the aid of the students “as fast as possible, even if it means bending the rules.”
He also said that the IMC had expended over N80 billion between January 2020 and May 2020 as against the N22 billion repeatedly portrayed by the IMC.
He said that the 2019 Appropriation Act as passed by the National Assembly provided for some emergency projects across the state in the region with an additional N800 million as emergency contingency sum.
According to him, the IMC has spent N20 billion on emergency road repairs; there are fraudulent cases of contract inflation and non-implementation.
“How would they explain the payment of N13.6 million for consultancy on the construction of ‘infant Jesus’?
He said: “On May 19, 2020, the IMC paid a firm N39.375 million as consultancy fee for rebuttal. What a waste!
“The company had earlier received 34 million naira into its account for ‘consultancy on reputation management for NDDC’.
“Same day, when businesses and countries were closing their doors, the same company was paid N34 million for ‘Niger Delta Development Forum in Washington DC, USA’ and another N32.9 million for ‘Summit on NDDC and Investment Opportunities in Dorchester, London’, same day.
“There was no evidence of implementation of above contracts. Money paid went to private individuals; this ad hoc committee can call for the account statements of the firm to verify this.
“Same company received into same account a sum of 536 Million Naira for “campaign to save lives” in the Niger Delta on April 23, 2020.
“The payment was broken into 16 units to divert attention. Again, the money went into private pockets. Some staffs of the commission were beneficiaries.
“May 22nd, another N641 million was paid to same company for media support for forensic audit as though forensic audit was meant to be a media affair.”
The Committee summoned the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs to appear before it by 11am on Monday to respond to the issues raised by Nunieh.
It also directed the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC to also appear unfailingly with the Minister.
Notice of the summons is to be made through the electronic media or any other medium.
Akpabio denies Nunieh allegations, threatens to sue for defamation
Akpabio, in a statement on Friday through his Special Assistant on Media, Anietie Ekong, said he had instructed his lawyers to seek redress in court over alleged defamatory statements made by the former NDDC boss.
Ms Nunieh had accused the minister of making sexual overtures to her.
In the statement, Ekong described Nunieh’s allegations as “cornucopia of false, malicious and libelous.”
He said: “The Honourable Minister’s initial attitude was to allow his lawyers and the judicial system vindicate him of the false allegations against him, but he is compelled to react to some of the wayward allegations leveled against his person by Ms. Nunieh, especially the one bordering on sexual harassment.
“To start with, let it be known that there is no scintilla of truth in all the allegations peddled around by Ms. Nunieh. They are simply false!
“The Honourable Minister did not at any time, place or circumstance make any form of sexual advances to Ms. Nunieh, not even to put himself in a position or posture suggestive of sexual advances towards Ms. Nunieh, or any female staff of his Ministry or the NDDC.
“For the records, the Honourable Minister, Senator Godswill Akpabio, CON is happily married and contented with his wife. Together they are blessed with children, four of whom are young women.
“The Honourable Minister is an avid believer of the Affirmative Action and that was visible in the appointments he made as a two (2) term Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State between 2007 and 2015. Under his watch, he appointed several women into various high level positions as chairpersons of Local Government Councils, Magistrates, Judges, Heads of Parastatals, Directors, Permanent Secretaries, and Commissioners.
“The Honourable Minister has never hidden his admiration and respect for his wife, Mrs. Ekaete Akpabio, children and sisters. He therefore felt compelled to react to the malicious attack on his person by Ms. Nunieh bordering on allegations of sexual harassment.
“The Honourable Minister therefore finds the said allegation nauseating and a very cheap blackmail, for Ms. Nunieh to suggest or insinuate that he sexually harassed her while she was the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC.
“The Honourable Minister has taken steps to instruct his lawyers to seek necessary redress in a court of competent jurisdiction on his behalf over the defamatory statements made by Ms. Nunieh.
“On a final note, while encouraging all Nigerians to hold their leaders to account, he urges them to take their time to sift between the chaff and the substance before embarking on far reaching allegations, opinions and views.”
Court restrains Police, NDDC, others from arresting Joi Nunieh
A River State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt on Friday granted Nunieh an order of injunction restraining the police from inviting or arresting her pending the determination of the substantive case before the court.
The order came moments after the State Commissioner of Police (CP), Joseph Mukan, asked Governor Nyesom Wike to hand Nunieh over to the police for questioning and protection.
Mukan made the call following a failed attempt by officers of the Inspector General of Police (IG) Monitoring Unit to arrest the former MD at her Port Harcourt residence on Thursday morning.
Wike had said he rescued Nunieh from the police and took her to the Government House where she is being shielded from “abduction” by the police.
The governor described the police siege on Nunieh’s residence as illegal since they could not produce a warrant for her arrest.
He also claimed that the police commissioner appeared not to know anything about the operation.
He called on the IGP to investigate the operation properly to ascertain that the officers are really men of the Nigerian Police Force.
But the CP on Friday confirmed that the operation was legal.
Mukan said: “Nobody says Governor Wike should not protect his citizens, but everything should be done within the confines of the law.
“The IGP Monitoring Unit of the command yesterday (Thursday) came in with their investigation activities which we endorsed.
“It was never an illegal duty; it was a legitimate duty of the unit. We were aware of their presence there.
“I am the chief law enforcement officer of the command. If you rescue your citizen, we expect you to turn her over to the police, who are in a better position to protect her.”
The CP expressed the hope that Governor Wike would do the needful by turning Ms Nunieh over, insisting that the IGP’s visit to her residence was simply to arrest her and not for abduction, and it was a legitimate exercise.
He added: “I have personally got in touch with him (Wike) and have advised him to turn her over to the police because the exercise was legitimate and within the confines of the law.”
On claims that the said arresting officers had no arrest warrant, he said arrests could be made with or without warrant, but that the important thing is that warrant must be prepared after the arrest.
“What people need to understand is that it is not in every situation that warrant of arrest must be produced before arrest is made. There are situations where arrests can be made before warrant of arrest is produced.