The tragicomedy that has characterised the public hearing under the auspices of a House committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC’s scandal scaled new heights on Monday, July 20, 2020. The acting chairman of the IMC appeared to have slumped under the weight of serious questions asked. While this may have been the highlight of the day for social media bants, however, we must not allow the mischief of the professor of medicine distract us. We are not unaware that the amateurish acting came from the script used by people like Dino Melaye, Olisah Metuh, Ayo Fayose and Ike Ekweremandu to evade questions at different enquiry settings.

It is unpleasantly surprising that professor Daniel Pondei, even though he only submitted four out of the forty one documents the committee requested for, he was unable to defend the contents of those submitted documents. If the professor was sufficiently aware that the House committee was not afraid to take prisoners in this hearing. He would have mastered the figures of the submitted documents, rehearsed his lines and lies (if any and however many). He should have ironed his story out and role played possible areas of controversies; providing answers that would not sound ridiculous as it did during his presentation. Maybe he did and it was too much a mess that some buckets of lies could fix.

The professor must either have to be a Leonardo Davinci type of genius or the House Committee really dumb before he would have been able to walk out of that room on his feet. 1.5 billion naira shared between him and his cronies as COVID-19 palliatives, which he alluded to have said was for “taking care of themselves.” It didn’t matter much to anyone when he altered the figure after much drilling to 1.32 billion naira. The point had been established; billions taken outside the corridors of a budget as palliatives for COVID-19, when the ordinary Niger Deltan without salary didn’t get ten thousand naira, yet his salary and those of his cronies were not tampered with during the lockdown.

Aside his personal palliative needs, a whopping 31.4 billion naira was spent by NDDC under his management for COVID-19, yet this is not the Commission managing the outbreak in the country. NDDC really wants us to believe it spent 31.4 billion as palliatives in a region of nine states and majority of the states making the Niger Delta are sparingly populated. Then, I shudder at the sort of figures that may emanate from both NCDC and the PTF in charge of managing the COVID-19 in Nigeria.

Furthermore, some 85.6 million naira was said to have been spent on overseas travels in the midst of lockdown of airports everywhere in the world just so that some people could attend graduations, how did that happen? Some 641 million naira paid into Clearpoint company as media support for the forensic auditing being procured. Another 535 million naira was alleged to be used for a “Save lives Campaign” in Niger Delta and it was at this point that the Professor threw in his escape card, after failing to furnish any reasonable answer for all the monies he has alluded to spending in some of the four documents he submitted.

We are talking about 81.5 billion naira allegedly distributed within five months or less and yet where they got the authority and money from to spend was not supplied. Whether they were spending from a 2019 budget that has expired or from the 2020 budget that was recently passed? Yet neither the acting Managing Director nor the Minister could supply that answer in direct terms, each dribbling around the goalpost.

As reckless as the professor’s showing in the House Committee was, especially after maliciously accusing the former chairman of the committee, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo of being compromised and a person of interest in the subject. The honourable member of the House had to honourably recuse himself from the committee so as to allow for a fair hearing without being a distraction in the probe. Yet, the professor still did not make a good show of his insistent of having Tunji-Ojo out of the panel. However, we must not allow the recklessness of Prof. Pondei take our eyes off the big elephant in the room; the Honourable Minister of the Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio.

The uncommon governor and now uncommon minister. Hopefully he does not end up leaving the ministry with an uncommon reputation for supervising and committing the same corruption he was brought in to nip in the bud.

While there are a lot of political gymnastics currently punctuating every step of the proceedings, we must not lose sight of the real issues here. There are clear cases to answer and the drilling session of the minister opened a lot of cans filled with rotten worms. Foremost is the fact that although Senator Akpabio is now ceremoniously parading himself as the face of NDDC, his appointment as Minister of Niger Delta is clearly distinct from the day to day activities of the NDDC. He was never supposed to meddle into the NDDC affairs, however, he unwittingly revealed that there were times when he had to both influence and exercise the authority of the MD/CEO of the Commission. This was against standard practice and his job description. He also alluded to awarding out three contracts directly, which he later altered to say he merely supervised the awarding, which was not something he should be doing.

It is apparent that the honourable Minister is not comfortable answering questions from vocal women. He has found a way to deflect critical questions being asked by Dr. Joy Nunieh. Now during the drilling he needed protection from the fiery questions of the only woman on the committee by the acting chairman, Thomas Ereyitomi. When the chairman could not protect him much when he goofed seriously by implying that a doctor was the best fit for the position of executive director of projects in NDDC as asked by Kolawole Johnson. His excuse, COVID-19 is the biggest project in the world today and it is medical. This really rattled Hon. Boma as she went for blood, asking if there was COVID-19 when he appointed Dr. Cairo Ojugbo as director of projects.

When he could no longer handle the heat she brought, he opened a can of worms by alleging that the National Assembly members were the largest beneficiaries of the whole contract awarding of NDDC, he forgot that he had also once served as a senator in the same complex and therefore was shooting himself in the foot, to mean he had also been awarded tons of contracts in that capacity. A point she really drilled in hard despite the numerous pleas of “It’s okay” by the acting chairman.

Beyond the comedy of the day, there are clear issues that Akpabio succeeded in not addressing definitely and it makes it so easy for a neutral mind to believe the testimony of Joy Nunieh over both Akpabio’s and Pondei’s. Because unlike the two, her points are well articulated, real questions asked and answered and she is yet to alter or twist anything she said during the press conference, on interviews and during her time with the House Committee. Her story is straight and single. Also the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, in their testimony before the House also tried to distant themselves from the mess of that illegal certificate of no objection obtained for the procurement of the lead consultant for the forensic auditing outside it being captured in the appropriation bill of 2020. It is therefore wise to assume that a lot of under table activities have smeared even the credibility of the procurement of the forensic auditors.

There are questions of multiplicity of contracts awarding under Akpabio’s watch. Issues of the Headquarters building project that had hundred percent payment made to contractor before project was completed. The 10 billion naira request for Christmas palliatives allegedly made by Akpabio on Joy which she refused. Although, the minister responded to this by saying there was no 10 billion naira shared, yet the issue raised was not that it was shared but that he requested and she refused. Issues surrounding the thirty files on contracts bordering on Distilting and water Hyacinth projects that he asked for; files that should never have been in his possession at any time. Questions about how the NDDC under the current interim management committee that was brought in solely for the supervision of the forensic auditing of the Commission spent 81.5 billion, whereas, one would have expected extra caution in spending during in trying to supervise such an exercise.

Pondei fainted his way out of some of these questions and Akpabio dribbled his way out of his own share. At the end of the public hearing of Monday, July 20, 2020, it is now left for Nigerians, particularly Niger Deltans on what choice to make. Enjoy the comedy and coin satirical jokes and puns out of the whole drama or demand accountability from not just those involved in NDDC but also the BPP and that all the contractors and accounts that Kolawole Johnson has be published?

Whereas, Akpabio ingeniously cleared the name of Tunji-Ojo, but that does not mean the can he opened did not have worms in it. In that moment was a man on fire, who needed to take some of the heat away from his naked butt. So he knew what he was saying when he told Honourable Boma that she wouldn’t be aware but that both chairmen are aware of the sixty percent contractual arrangement to them. However, the House Committee must be commended for handling the whole probing in such a way that they were able to get under their skins enough to get them to unwittingly open their own cans and make us see how badly rotten the worms in the Niger Delta are.