In so many ways, the performance of the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, at the House of Representatives’ public hearing on the Niger Delta Development Commission should dishearten rather than excite Nigerians. Just as the diatribe between Akpabio and a former head of the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC, Joi Nunieh, as well as the testimony of the acting Managing Director, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, are disgraceful and heart-breaking. They raise worrisome questions about the quality of people in leadership positions in Nigeria, their ethos and how much they hold Nigerians in derision. Their attitude should make the blood of every Nigerian boil.
One can imagine the satisfaction some people may have got from Akpabio’s strategic revelation that members of the National Assembly benefitted copiously from the bazaar of contracts that the NDDC has become, but he, in all honestly, was not giving any novel information.
For almost all of the 20 years of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, it has become obvious that some of those in the legislative houses are influence peddlers and money mongers who would sell their conscience for money. What have we not heard in the National Assembly? The first Speaker of the House of Representatives falsified his birth date to qualify for election; a Deputy Senate President was accused of soliciting bribes from a minister; a chairman House Committee on the Capital Market was also so accused while another member, actually chair of the Committee on Police Affairs was convicted for Advance Fee Fraud otherwise known as 419. In essence, Akpabio did not tell Nigerians anything new by suggesting that the legislators took interest and got in the NDDC contracts.
But even if he did, that revelation had no bearing on the issue he was addressing at that time. Nigerians are not particularly interested in who gets what contract, the important thing is whether these contracts were properly executed and as when due. Slinging mud at members of the National Assembly when he was supposed to be talking about why payments were still being made in spite of the House probe and forensic audit is a testament to Akpabio’s disposition.
What is most important out of all of this, however, is that the minister, having been in the parliament himself, should have realised that while at a public hearing, he was accounting to the people of Nigeria and not the members. Pointing fingers at that moment was diversionary and cheap.
At the House of Representatives, Akpabio treated almost everything like a joke that should end between him members of the House. They asked him how a medical doctor qualifies to be the Executive Director, Projects, at the NDDC, contrary to the provisions of the enabling laws, which require that someone with related qualification should hold the office. Akpabio’s answer was that the preponderance of projects at the commission during this COVID-19 is medical and that justifies the appointment of this medical doctor. This is in spite of the fact that the person in question who is the same said to have vowed to execute instructions (including to kill) from Akpabio before asking questions, was appointed before COVID-19.
On Ms Nunieh’s part, bringing in the sexual harassment allegation and Akpabio girlfriend story, presidential ambition and all of that into the mix is equally extraneous. These issues water down the importance of the buccaneering that has continued to go on at the NDDC and suffering of the people of the Niger Delta. In any case, why did the former acting MD who is a lawyer not take up this case at the time that it happened?
Worse of all is the confidence with which Pondei told lawmakers how much the NDDC spent on taking care of its functionaries for COVID-19. Proudly, he said: “(The) NDDC has about one thousand four hundred and something staff, so we decided to pay COVID allowance to every (member of) staff of the NDDC; we are NDDC, we take care of ourselves before we can take care of other people. If we all die because of COVID-19, who will take care of intervention.” The acting MD exhibited a nauseating sense of entitlement in affirming the fact that staffers who got COVID-19 allowances earned salaries. He exudes that mentality that public funds are an extension of personal resources. This is at a period when hundreds of students who are on the NDDC scholarships outside the country are lamenting the failure of the commission to fulfil its obligations.
This brings up a very important question of how we arrive at people who fill public offices in Nigeria. From what the NDDC probe has revealed, a lot of those in public office lack the intellectual, moral, emotional and psychological requirements of their high offices. So how did they get there?
All sorts of people attain political office because merit does not count for anything in Nigeria. Political office is payback for loyalty and financial contributions to the successes of those elected into office. The loyalty requirement is why you have someone who was jobless until he became the personal assistant to a top politician climb the political ladder on the back of his principal. Now, the principal does not nominate his lackey for any phenomenal capacity but the selfish reason of being able to continue to hold on to the leash.
So, essentially most of those who get into public office in Nigeria, rather than serve the people, are more interested in feathering their own nests. When they are not pandering to the wishes of a godfather, they are committed to building a war chest towards their own political ambitions. They are overtaken by a sense of entitlement and imagine that their appointment is an opportunity for them to accumulate wealth for their generations, while the common people whom they were appointed to serve remain secondary.
A sad evidence of the failure of leadership at the NDDC is that 20 years after its establishment, it is hard to point to an enduring development project that adds a lasting value to the people and fulfils the aspirations of people like Isaac Boro and Ken Saro Wiwa.
However, the NDDC currently highlights the dangers in allowing political patronage, primordial factors like ethnicity, religion and the perpetuation of self-interest to override the general good in the selection of people into public office. It is a country-wide problem that needs a quick redress, one which the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should spearhead by sacking some of these opportunists parading as leaders.
Niran Adedokun is a Public Relations practitioner, lawyer and journalist. He tweets @niranadedokun