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NDDC crisis gets messier

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Wike storms Nunieh’s house rescues her from police
• I’m now a refugee in Government House, says Nunieh
• Pondei walks out of Reps proceeding
• Buhari orders speedy probe

Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, yesterday stormed the Port Harcourt residence of a former acting managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Ms. Joy Nunieh, and foiled an attempt by policemen to whisk her away.

Just as the Port Harcourt drama unfolded, the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Prof. Kemebeadikumo Pondei, in Abuja, walked out of the session of the House of Representatives probing into alleged financial mismanagement in the NDDC.

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Before the police invaded her home, Nunieh had vowed to expose alleged misdeeds of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, who she accused of being the mastermind of the attempt to abduct her.

The police had, for hours yesterday, occupied Nunieh’s residence at 3 Owuru Creek View, off Herbert Macaulay Street, Amada-Flat until Wike arrived at the scene about 10.30 a.m.

It was gathered that Wike’s action followed a distress call from Nunieh that armed policemen, without arrest warrant had invaded her premises at about 4:00 a.m. and had attempted to break in.

It was gathered that as soon as the governor alighted from his car, he asked the policemen for the warrant of arrest but they failed to produce any. At that point, he ordered them to leave the premises.

The following altercation ensued between the governor and one of the police officers:
Wike: What kind of country are we in? I say, out.
Policeman: We will remain here Sir; we are to come with her, with due respect, Sir.
Wike: All of you came to invite her.
Policeman: Even the CP had been here.
Wike: It does not matter. Can’t you invite her? All of you, out.
Nunieh: They broke my back door.

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The visibly angry governor, who was escorted by policemen and officials of the Department of State Services, asked Nunieh to come down. She did, entered his car and was driven away to the Government House, a few metres away.

It was learnt policemen had stormed Nunieh’s residence at about 4 am when she was getting set to leave for the airport to board the first flight to Abuja to appear before the House of Representatives ad hoc committee investigating alleged misappropriation of N81.5 billion by the NDDC Interim Management Committee between October 2019 and May 2020.

Nunieh, while briefing journalists at the Government House, said she was notified of the presence of some persons around her gate.

She said, “I tried to reach the governor because he had told me if I saw any strange movement, I should alert him.

“They said they came to take me away. I said for what? Do they have a warrant of arrest? They said no warrant of arrest.”

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She claimed that about 6 am, the policemen broke the gate and forced their way into her premises. Shortly after, she received a call from the commissioner of police, who said he was not aware of the operation.

She also alleged that a few minutes after, the policemen tried to lure her out of the house, telling her the commissioner of police had come to meet with her but that as she tried to come out, the officers attempted to abduct her.

“They tried to break through the back door, it is a security door. They kept hitting at it for over one hour, they could not get access. So my governor came and asked them for the warrant of arrest and why they didn’t invite me to the police, that I would have come instead of going to take a woman as a criminal. So, the governor took me in his car and I am here. I am a refugee in the Government House. I was supposed to be going today to Abuja to make my submission before the House of Representatives committee,” she said.

She accused Akpabio of plotting to stop her from giving her submission to the House of Representatives. She said though he had succeeded, she was however optimistic that the House would give her another day to appear and open more can of worms.

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Efforts made to get the response of the Rivers State Police Command spokesperson, Nnamdi Omoni, on the development was not successful as he neither picked his calls nor replied to text messages.

Meanwhile, Wike has called on the Inspector-General of Police to investigate the attempted arrest of Nunieh.

The governor made the call while speaking with reporters in Port Harcourt.

He said, “What has happened today is a disgrace. Who knows what would have happened to her if they had gained access to her main room? I went there personally to see things for myself and rescued her. She is supposed to testify before the House of Representatives committee and here we are having armed men wanting to abduct her.

“We came out to protect our daughter and we will do so to every Rivers citizen. That is the oath of office I swore to. It doesn’t matter the political affiliation. We will not allow anybody to destroy Rivers State. It is so unfortunate and I cry for this country concerning the ways things are going. They didn’t have a warrant of arrest but would storm somebody’s house. In fact, the state commissioner of police is not aware.

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“Tell me how something will happen in a state and the commissioner of police is not aware. They said it’s the Inspector General Monitoring Unit. So, we have such a unit taking over the responsibility of crime-fighting in a state and the commissioner of police is not aware. I can also assume too that the Inspector General of Police is not aware. He should investigate it, “he said.

He added, “If there is any allegation of crime against her, I will not back her, but you can’t kill her for no established crime. I don’t know who’s responsible, but whoever is behind it should not take Rivers State for granted because we will fight back. From what has happened now, I want to say that Rivers State is fully out. Anybody who is responsible for this attempted abduction of our daughter should know that enough is enough.

“They can’t treat her like a common criminal. I am sure that President Muhammadu Buhari is not aware of this. All the Niger Delta states should find out if any of their citizens have a hand in the unfortunate incident and call on such people to leave our daughter alone. She is no longer the managing director of the NDDC.”

Also reacting to the saga, President Muhammadu Buhari stressed the need for an investigation. He also directed better coordination among security and other relevant agencies with the National Assembly to ensure that the administration’s effort to bring sanity, transparency and accountability to the management of the resources dedicated to the development of the Niger Delta sub-region was not derailed.

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He directed auditing firms and investigative agencies working in collaboration with National Assembly Committees to initiate actions and inform the Presidency of the actions taken.

The President also directed timely sharing of information and knowledge in a way to speedily assist the administration to diagnose what had gone wrong in the past and what needed to be done..

Buhari said the administration wanted to bring about “rapid, even and sustainable development to the region.”

On the botched House of Representatives hearing, the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Prof. Kemebeadikumo Pondei, said he walked out of the session because the Chairman of the House Committee on the NDDC, Mr. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, lacked the moral standing to preside over the probe.

Pondei argued that since Tunji-Ojo had allegedly committed a “crime” against the NDDC, he could not be a judge in his own case.

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Pondei walked out of the venue of the proceedings with other officials of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) in spite of effort by members of the committee to prevail on him to respond to queries revolving around the expenditure of over N81.5bn against the NDDC within the last six months.
Members of the committee, however, passed a vote of confidence in Tunji-Ojo.

In its reaction to the crisis, an anti-corruption advocacy group, Matagu Foundation, called for an independent probe of the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission.

Founder of the advocacy group, Chief Ekene Enefe, made the call during an interview with newsmen in Awka, yesterday.

Enefe also condemned what he described as the high level of allegations of financial impropriety and contract scam in the Commission.

He said: “What is required is an independent inquiry into the NDDC, these things have been happening. What has NASS said about budget implementation at the Commission for many years? Some of their members are among those accused of phony contracts.

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“If at the end of the day, Matagu Foundation is not satisfied with the way this corruption allegations were treated, we will go to court to demand that the Federal Government set up an independent inquiry.”

The Foundation called on the stakeholders, including the Ministry, to address the issues relating to the NDDC budget and its implementation and shun mudslinging.

The Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC), in its reaction, asked the embattled Minister for Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio, not to focus only on the NDDC but to also pay attention to the general development of the region.

IYC made the call in a statement signed by its Chairman, Transition Implementation Committee, Kennedy Olorogun, and Director of Information and Publicity, James Tobin.

The statement issued yesterday in Yenegoa, read, “While the Council applauds the President for finding sons and daughters of Ijaw nation worthy to be given national assignments with global significance, the Ijaw nation wants bridges, roads, hospitals, schools, health centres, recreation facilities, oil and gas allied industries in our communities and villages across the Niger Delta.

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“The position of the IYC Worldwide is eminently clear. One, the Council has commended President Muhammadu Buhari for instituting the Forensic Audit Probe Panel to expose the many years of rot in the NDDC masterminded and precipitated by some persons from the region and their external collaborators.

“That the Interim Management Committee is alien to the NDDC Act, therefore it remains an aberration. Whether or not a member of our tribe or ethnic nationality is presiding over the affairs of the region’s interventionist agency does not remove the fact that the Interim Management Committee is clearly not in consonance with the NDDC Act and it is not what the region needs, rather a substantive board with the full powers to develop the region directly under the supervision of the President.”

The statement added, “That those saddled with the responsibility of developing the Niger Delta and in particular the Ijaw nation should be committed to the task and extricate themselves from the fraudulent activities of siphoning financial resources meant for the development of the region.

“Finally, the revelation of heist and sleaze emanating from key actors that have had the privilege of managing the NDDC or are presently overseeing the activities of the Commission are quite pathetic, worrisome and calls for concern from patriotic minds in the region.

“It shows that these persons have thrown decency overboard and are swimming in infamy. The Ijaw nation welcomes any probe that will expose the sordid activities of those given the responsibility to develop the region. Anybody found culpable should be made to face the music”, the statement added.

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