NDDC: Nunieh and her gritty fight for the soul of Nigeria

By Philip Agbese

President Muhammadu Buhari has a huge burden as leader of Nigeria. Buhari, a globally acclaimed upright leader with impeccable credentials consciously courted trouble when he defined the operational character of his administration tethered to the tenets of integrity, honesty and incorruptibility.

Right from his first tenure in 2015, President Buhari’s uncompromising stand on these virtues attracted the ire of Nigeria’s powerful and influential thieving elite, who have a sustained history of plundering public commonwealth. Therefore, they employ all manner of antics and blackmail to taint his leadership persona or discredit his government.

They angle to portray President Buhari as a leader who is paying lip-service to sermons of anti-corruption campaigns or he is selective or partisan. Mr. President is aware of such outings, but has remained unperturbed, as he expected it from an elite whose body and soul are irretrievably steeped in the vinegar of evil against their country and Nigerians. It is the reason which, compelled Buhari’s philosophical expression in 2016 that “When you fight corruption, it fights back.”

After failing to nail President Buhari on corruption or pin his government to it several years running, the opponents of the Buhari Presidency have resorted to targeting and raising spurious, unsubstantiated and flawed allegations of corruption on some Buhari’s key appointees. An Africa proverb says; “ When you pull the ear, the head would certainly bow.” It is the underlying force of those eager to persecute his upright, trusted and incorruptible appointees.

Anywhere an inquest is declared or a forensic audit is declared on any government establishment, appointees of the Buhari government who refuse to bend the rules, favour certain personalities or refuse to compromise face very poisonous arrows from the opposition or haters of the Buhari Presidency. They throw meaningless darts at such an appointee for failure to dubiously influence him or her to cover-up their corrupt deals.

Known victims of these vicious attacks or persecutions includes, but not restricted to the Chief of Staff to the President, Alhaji Abba Kyari; the Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Hajiya, Hadiza Bala Usman among others. The latest fish in the net of these debased and heartless Nigerians is the Acting Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Dr. Mrs. Joi Nunieh.

The annual budget of the NDDC is mouthwatering and every administration continues to fund the commission with huge allocations. It is the conviction of the federal government that a functional and performing NDDC will change the face of the impoverished people of the Niger Delta region. Ironically, NDDC is an embodiment of everything corrupt to elites of the region, except discharging its core mandate to the people.

Today, President Buhari is told, the NDDC is indebted to contractors to the whooping sum of N3 trillion. It reminds of the dubious oil subsidy claims under the Jonathan Presidency. Even the oil dealers had a conscience in thievery or plundering of public resources because NDDC claims by contractors outshines them.

Undeniably, the Interim Payment Certificates (IPCs) being claimed by contractors as debts in NDDC are suspicious. The reality on the ground in the oil-rich Niger Delta does not support such bogus claims.

How much has President Buhari’s government spent on capital projects to impact on every part of Nigeria that contractors at NDDC are flaunting N3 trillion contractual debts? It’s amazing! Therefore, President Buhari sought to get to the roots of the matter by ordering a forensic audit of NDDC accounts. And the Dr. Nunieh’s NDDC’s Interim Management Committee provoked the league of looters in the region by inaugurating a 50-Member Verification Committee (VC).

The committee chaired by Dr. Cairo Ojougboh has two weeks to submit a report on the projects/contracts awarded by the NDDC as well as the status of the claims of the Interim Payment Certificates (IPCs). The report of the VC is a preliminary step that would snowball into the concrete forensic audit as ordered by Mr. President. And the looters and plunderers of the resources of the NDDC are understandably scared to the marrow.

Unarguably, Dr. Nunieh is the stubborn fly that has refused to kowtow to their powwow. She has refused to backdown or craftily frustrate the Presidential probe of NDDC finances as a baddie. The plot is to spare nothing to pull her down or discredit her to pave way for the appointment of a pliant fellow who would either mess-up or bury the forensic audit of NDDC enmeshed in fraud and mismanagement.

Those with soiled hands and haunted by the looming danger have contracted emergency activists, who are aplenty in Nigeria’s fake Civil Society Organizations’ (CSOs). Their duty is to trumpet Dr.Nunieh’s alleged forged or fake or non-possession of NYSC discharge or exemption certificates. May be, it has just dawned on the traducers of the NDDC boss that it is daybreak since she was appointed to head the commission.

But what is the core mandate of the NDDC established in 2000? It was to develop the Niger Delta region of Nigeria through the training and education of youths of the region to curb hostilities and militancy; while developing key infrastructures to promote diversification and productivity to arrest restiveness in Niger Delta.

Within few years after its establishment, there were serious allegations of fraud and mismanagement in the magnitude of the defunct OMPADEC. The signposts of NDDC is paid, but unexecuted or abandoned projects dotting every nook and cranny of the region.

It has been reported that in the year 2015 for instance, that the NDDC started three months twin certification programme for fiber optics and oil spill management. It engulfed billions of naira, but the training sessions were abandoned two months into the programme and the 200 trainees who were camped at various hotels in Owerri were left to personally pay for their expenses.

Many past management staff of the commission have been indicted for corruption. Many more are still being tried for various financial crimes in the NDDC running into billions of naira. A certain past chief executive of the commission is for example is being tried for a N3.6 billion fraud while another has been investigated for transferring millions of dollars into his wife’s account.

It is obvious from these cases and other similar ones that the intended beneficiaries of programme and initiatives of the NDDC, mostly youths and the less privileged are being shortchanged. NDDC funds are channeled into private pockets, instead of funding its programmes. It motivated President Buhari to shop for a credible person to arrest the rot and Dr. Nunieh was anointed to clean the mess.

She introduced reforms and innovations which have reactivated the Commission. Rural communities neglected for years are also beginning to witness transformation with the provision of basic infrastructures.

And since Mrs. Nunieh assumed duty at the commission, she has her mind fixated on bringing all those who have stolen from the commission to book. So, corruption must fight Dr. Nunieh back to a standstill, by engaging hirelings to conjure all sorts of allegations against her, using the plank of phantom and non- existent CSOs.

But Nunieh has left no one in doubt that she’s an apostle of the kind of change that President Buharu promised Nigerians. The NDDC boss made good her promise to deliver by working closely with the minister of Niger Delta affairs to bring accountability and transparency to the commission.

Initially, those who had skeletons in their cupboards tried to use base sentiments by alleging that she’s being used by President Buhari to witch-hunt her fellow Niger Deltans. But it is now obvious that she is only determined to expose corruption and she is staidly committed to it in order to realize the mandate of the NDDC.

Failure to prod her conscience on the plank of reginal sentiments, they changed tactics. That was when all manners of allegations against her began to surface and the latest about the frivolous and unsubstantiated claims of her lack of an NYSC discharge or exemption certificates.

But the strongest argument of the CSO hired for the undertaker job is centered on hearsay evidence. Nigerians demand more than such peripheral outbursts from anybody or group contracted to defame a public servant.

The detractors think by so doing, Dr. Nunieh would be detracted. But they got entirely wrong. She is more determined now than ever before to clean the mess, expose corruption in the commission and reposition it to excellently discharge its core mandate to the people. Her courage stems from the fact that she has no skeleton in her cupboard and has nothing to hide.

She considers the task of bringing rapid development to the Niger Delta and helping youths in the area to rediscover themselves sacrosanct. And the NDDC boss is ready to break every barrier on her path to achieve this target. Her enemies should bury their heads in shame that at last, a focused administrator is trying to clean up the mess they created and left behind or do what they could not do.

Those sponsoring the CSOs to disparage the person of Nunieh are the same cult of Niger Deltans who have shown a lack of capacity to think beyond self and family. They have brought shame to the Niger Delta through greed and self-centeredness. The clique of kleptomaniac elites should bury their heads in shame that instead of thinking of the general or public good of the region, all that obsess them is their bellies and personal enrichment.

They are worse than thieves and betrayers. Its unimaginable that they have sold their birthright for a pot of soup and mortgaged the prosperity of their people for ages. Their cowardly acts have been exposed as the current NDDC management is set to achieve the mandate of the commission. Dr. Nunieh is urged never to relent or scared, as like President Buhari has always said; If Nigerians do not kill corruption; corruption will kill Nigeria.”

Agbese is an author, publisher and human rights activist based in London