The investigation of the Niger Delta Development Commission got messier on Thursday as the police invaded the Port Harcourt residence of its former acting Managing Director, Joi Nunieh.
The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who prevented the police from taking Nunieh away, reacted angrily and asked the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, to probe the invasion of the former NDDC boss.
In Abuja, top officials of the NDDC, who appeared before the House of Representatives committee investigating the commission, walked out of the venue of the committee sitting after insisting that the panel Chairman, Mr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, must step down.
Apparently disturbed by dramas at the probe, President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday promised to get to the root of the problems undermining the development of Niger Delta in spite of enormous resources voted for it.
He urged agencies investigating the commission to speed up the probe.
Worried by the persistent criticisms of the operations of the NDDC, the President had, in October 2019, ordered a forensic audit of the organisation from 2001 to 2019.
On May 5, the Senate began its own probe of the commission when it set up a seven-man ad hoc committee to investigate the “financial recklessness” of its interim management committee.
The lawmakers said within the last three months, the commission had spent over N40bn without recourse to established processes of funds disbursement.
Also, the House is probing alleged mismanagement of N81.5bn between January and July, 2020 by the commission.
The various investigations have so far led to a lot of revelations about the handling of the commission’s finances.
For instance at the Senate committee sitting on July 8, the current Managing Director of the NDDC, Prof. Kemebrandikumo Pondei, admitted that the commission spent N1.5bn for staff as ‘COVID-19 relief funds.’
It has also led to accusations and counter-accusations between Nunieh and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio.
How police invaded my house at 4am – Nunieh
But in the early hours of Thursday, the security men laid siege to Nunieh’s residence located at 3 Owuru Creek, Port Harcourt in an attempt to arrest her.
Nunieh, who is from Rivers State, was scheduled to catch a flight at the Port Harcourt International Airport, to Abuja where she was expected to testify before an ad hoc committee of the House investigating alleged misappropriation of funds in the NDDC.
Recall that Nunieh had accused Akpabio of harassing her sexually among other allegations including fraud and masterminding her removal from office for refusing to do his bidding with funds of the interventionist agency.
The minister has, however, denied the allegations, including sexual harassment.
A source at Nunieh’s residence told WE4WE REPORTS that several armed policemen stormed her residence about 4am, hit the gate repeatedly before forcing their way into the building painted white, though they could not go into the room where she took refuge and reportedly put a call through to Wike.
Wike, it was gathered, came with few of his aides and moved into Nunieh’s residence and immediately took her into protective custody in Government House, Port Harcourt.
Invasion of Nunieh’s house, a show of shame – Wike
Addressing journalist in Government House shortly afterwards, Wike described the invasion of Nunieh’s home as a disgrace and a show of shame.
The governor said it was absurd that Nunieh who was scheduled to appear before the House of Representative Committee was prevented by the security agencies.
Wike said that the former NDDC MD should be properly invited by the police if she had committed an offence, saying the action of the security personnel was an abduction attempt.
When contacted, the Rivers State Police Public Relations Officer, Nnamdi Omoni, told one of our correspondents that he would get back to him.
When contacted a second time to confirm the incident and his reaction about 3:30pm, Omoni, a deputy superintendent of police, said, “I will talk to you soon. I am still compiling my report.” The state police spokesman neither picked nor returned subsequent calls put across to his mobile phone about 4:28pm.
At the Government House, Nunieh thanked the governor for keeping his promise of protecting her.
She expressed surprise about the invasion of her home by policemen who came without any warrant of arrest.
The former NDDC boss said she called Wike when she heard that some persons claiming to be policemen were at her gate.
She said before, the governor had told her to inform him if she noticed any strange movements.
She said, “Early this morning about 4am, I heard people were around my gate and I tried to reach my governor because he had told me that If I saw any strange movements I should alert him. So I tried to reach him, his phones were turned off and I called other people who told me that they (the invaders) might not be real policemen so I should stay inside.
“They said they came to take me away and I asked them for the warrant of arrest. They said no warrant of arrest, so about 6am, they broke the gate and later Senator Magnus Abe called to tell me that he had reached the commissioner of police who said he didn’t know anything about it.
“The commissioner of police called me. I sent him my address. They (the policemen in her house) told me the commissioner was downstairs, but he wasn’t there. I think it was the deputy commissioner of police that was there. So I opened the door and they wanted to grab me and I managed to push back the door and locked it and went upstairs and got through to my governor.
“The policemen at my house tried to break down the back door. It’s a security door. They kept hitting it for over one hour but couldn’t get access.
“So, as they were still trying, my governor came and asked why they would come to arrest a woman like an armed robber and that they should leave the compound.”
She said she went with the governor to the Government House, where she took refuge.
She said those who were behind the invasion of her house wanted to stop her from testifying in the investigation of the NDDC.
Probe invasion of Nunieh’s house, Wike tells IG
Also on Thursday, Wike called on the Inspector General of Police , to investigate the invasion of the residence of Nunieh.
Wike said the invasion of Nunieh’s residence by security personnel, who were bent on arresting her without a warrant, was a kidnap attempt.
The governor stated this in a statement titled, ‘Governor Wike rescues former NDDC MD, calls on the Inspector General of Police to investigate her attempted abduction.’
In the statement issued by the state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Paulinus Nsirim, the governor berated those he called ‘self-styled armed policemen’ who claimed to be members of the Inspector General Monitoring Unit.
He noted that in civilized society, the proper thing to do was to invite her to answer to any allegation.
N81.5bn probe: NDDC officials walk out, Reps issue arrest warrant
But there was another drama at the investigative hearing held by the House of Representatives committee, where Nunieh was supposed to appear on Thursday.
Top NDDC officials walked out of the venue of the hearing insisting that the committee chairman must step down.
The House, however, issued a warrant of arrest on them.
After the roll-call of the invitees and the lawmakers confirmed that Akpabio was absent, they called on the NDDC to make its presentation.
Pondei, who led other NDDC officials, accused Tunji-Ojo of various “crimes” against the commission.
Pondei said, “Let just say that we are not comfortable with the chairman of this committee presiding over a matter in which he is an accused party. The NDDC has over the time accused Honourable Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo of different crimes against the NDDC and its people, and he has responded in the press. He is an interested party and we do not believe that the NDDC can have justice because he cannot sit on his own case.
“We have no issues with appearing before the committee because we appeared before the Senate committee. And as long as he is the chairman of this committee, the NDDC will not make any presentations here.”
Several members of the committee, however, dismissed the request.
A member, Shehu Koko, who repeatedly screamed “point of order” before Pondei concluded his speech, said, “Before the chairman rules on what the acting MD NDDC said, I will like to state categorically that – and this is the stand of the parliament – if you have anything against the chairman of this committee, there are many ways you can report your matter.”
Koko asked the NDDC to petition the police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission or the Department of State Services for any infraction allegedly committed by Tunji-Ojo.
“But the rule of the parliament is that nobody can come and dictate to us here that the chairman cannot preside because this is not the matter in question now,” he stated.
Another member, Benjamin Kalu, referred the committee and the invitees to the provisions of Section 60 of the Constitution, which allow the parliament to regulate itself.
Kalu said, “The House has decided that this is a committee affair and not a personalised affair. Since it is not about the chairman of the committee, and there is no petition or official document before the House, and the motion that called for this probe by this committee has not been rescinded by the House. I think it is out of order for an invited guest to instruct us on how to regulate the activity of the House.
“I’m praying that Chairman sustains this point of order. Tunji-Ojo sustained the point of order.
Another member, Ben Igbakpa, noted that sections 88 and 89 gave the lawmakers express powers to summon and seek for information to avoid waste, corruption and inefficiency, and that, that was what they were doing.
As Igbakpa finished with his remarks, the NDDC team rose and walked out of the venue.
After the officials had walked out, Kalu asked the committee to put it on record that Pondei and others walked out of the panel.
Also, Goodhead Boma stated that the NDDC officials had acted in contempt of the parliament.
Kalu, therefore, moved a motion, based on Section 89 of the Constitution, that the lawmakers should invoke their powers to issue a warrant of arrest. Koko “strongly” seconded the motion.
Consequently, the committee issued a warrant of arrest on the NDDC management.
Addressing journalists after the walkout, Pondei said the NDDC management was supposed to appear before the committee on Wednesday, adding that it did on Thursday out of its “absolute respect for the National Assembly.”
He said, “Yesterday, for reason beyond our control, we were not able to appear. But the reports that came out had already indicted us. They shaved our heads in our absence.”
We won’t appear until new panel is formed, commission insists
“Any day an ad hoc committee without anybody who is being accused by the NDDC is set up, the NDDC will appear because we respect the National Assembly; we respect the Senate, we respect the House of Representatives.
Buhari calls for speedy probe
Amid accusations and counter-accusation, Buhari, in a statement, titled, ‘NDDC: President Buhari directs speedy, coordinated investigation,’ issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, gave directives for better coordination among security and investigating agencies handling the probe of the NDDC.
He also asked that such investigations should be done within a short period.
Shehu quoted the President as asking investigating agencies handling the probes with the National Assembly to ensure that the administration’s effort to bring sanity, transparency and accountability to the management of the large amount of resources dedicated to development of the Niger Delta sub-region is not derailed.
The statement read, “In his reaction to the unfolding dramas, which include attacks and counter-attacks between and around persons, institutions, and the Niger Delta Development Commission, President Buhari expressed his strong determination to get to the root of the problem undermining the development of the Niger Delta and its peoples in spite of enormous national resources voted year after year for this singular purpose.
“According to the directive, auditing firms and investigative agencies working in collaboration with National Assembly Committees to resolve the challenges in the NDDC, must initiate actions in a time-bound manner and duly inform the Presidency of the actions being taken.
“The President also directed timely sharing of information and knowledge in a way to speedily assist the administration to diagnose what has gone wrong in the past and what needs to be done to make corrections in order to return the NDDC to its original mandate of making life better for people in Niger Delta.
“President Buhari said the administration wants to bring about ‘rapid, even and sustainable development to the region.”