Has the microphone been turned off on national assembly’s N81bn probe of NDDC?

By Fredrick Nwabufo

Probe. This is another word for political manoeuvring, horse-trading, chicanery and blackmail – in the Nigerian milieu. Probes are launched here not for righteous ends but for some predetermined recidivist motives. In particular, the so-called ‘’corruption probes’’ are themselves felonious panels set up to exact vengeance, broker deals or cause distraction from national discontent. Beelzebub cannot cast out demons.

I recall the Ndudi Elumelu corruption probe of the power sector in 2009 where as chairman of the house committee on power, ‘’the prober’’ was accused of receiving bribes and allegedly annexing N5.2 billion from the rural electrification budget alongside other officials on the panel. I would like to ask, what came out of this all-important and well-noised probe? Nothing!

I also recall the senate’s probe of sale of government assets by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) under Nasir el-Rufai in 2004. El-Rufai had alleged the previous year (2003) that some senators demanded a N54 million bribe to confirm his appointment as minister. So, the angry senate unleashed itself in a tit-for-tat subsumed as ‘’corruption probe’’.

And not too long ago, Nigerians witnessed perhaps the grandest of all fiasco probes – the fuel subsidy probe involving Farouk Lawan, Mr Integrity, in 2012. Lawan, who was the chairman of the house committee investigating fuel subsidies, allegedly demanded a $3 million bribe from Femi Otedola to exculpate his company, Zenon, of blame in the fuel subsidy fraud.

The probe came on the heels of the unrest occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy by the Jonathan administration in January 2012. The fuel subsidy regime was natively corrupt. Some oil companies held the government by the noggins and were paid regardless of whether they supplied petrol or not. Lawan, Mr Integrity, was recorded on video allegedly receiving a bribe of $500,000 from Otedola – a part payment of the filthy lucre.

In July 2020, Nigerians were entertained by a riveting but gallows-humorous spectacle from the national assembly panels probing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) over alleged stealing of N81.5 billion. The interim management of the commission admitted to have spent N1.32 billion on themselves as ‘’COVID-19 palliative’’.

The commission also owned up to spending N81.5 billion in just eight months. What is most discomfiting, really, is how this humongous sum was spent.

A breakdown of the profligacy by the house of representatives panel ‘’probing’’ the agency showed that the commission spent, ‘’N1.3 billion on community relations; condolences, N122.9 million; consultancy, N83 million; COVID-19, N3.14 billion; duty travel allowance (DTA), N486 million; imprest, N790.9 million, and Lassa fever, N1.956 billion’’.

Other items on the lavish list are, ‘’legal services, N900 million; maintenance, N220 million; overseas travel, N85.6 million; public communications, N1.121 billion; security, N744 million; staffing-related payment, N8.8 billion; stakeholders engagement, N248 million’’.

A big whale feast. That is what the NDDC has become. In July, I wrote that the theatrics and pyrotechnics during the probe sessions at the senate and the house of representatives were nothing more than entertainment skits. It has been four months since the probes, but no one has been held to account for the gross plunder of funds assigned for the Niger Delta people. In fact, owing to the revelations from the probe sessions, Concerned Nigerians, a civil society group led by Deji Adeyanju, filed a petition against certain officials allegedly complicit in the graft bazaar at the NDDC to the EFCC, but none has been invited for questioning, let alone being prosecuted.

Kemebradikumo Pondei, acting managing director of the NDDC, ‘’fainted’’ during an interrogation by the house panel; Godswill Akpabio, minister of Niger Delta affairs, accused Peter Nwaoboshi, a member of the senate panel probing the NDDC, of being a major beneficiary of the sleaze in the agency. The senator riposted, accusing Akpabio of appropriating a N300 million NDDC fencing contract for himself. Joy Nunieh, former MD of the NDDC, unlatched the grimy closet accusing the minister of corruption, abuse of office and sexual harassment.

The distraction continued at the house where the chairman of the committee probing the NDDC was accused of being a shareholding partaker of the iniquity in the commission. Allegations and recriminations – by both the prober and the probed. Unclean hands seeking justice against bloodied hands. Again, Beelzebub cannot cast out demons.

I had said the probes were essentially about deal-brokering. The audit of the operations of the NDDC from 2001 and 2019 will bring to the fore a lot of interred skeletons involving those at the national assembly and those at the composite quarters of national corruption.

So, it is a convenient tactic to hold the dirt of the interim management of the NDDC supervising the audit in the air for an eventual entente. What was happening was just crossfire of blackmail and intimidation. It is the threat of mutually assured destruction before the ‘’meeting at the table of kindreds’’. The NDDC probes have gone the way of other probes.

Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist

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