By Aghogho Badaseraye
It will be recalled that sometime in November 2019, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to rid the Federal Government interventionist agency of the Niger Delta of the corruption allegations and financial impropriety that bedeviled it.
It is these allegations and mudslinging that led to series of court cases that stopped the inauguration of the board that was nominated by various leaders and stakeholders and cleared by the 9th National Assembly. No sooner had the reconstituted and enlarged Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Prof. Pondei which replaced that of the embattled Dr. Joi Nunieh’s IMC settled down to work under the supervision of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio than the cries of financial impropriety started drifting from the National Assembly calling for the probe of the IMC over an allegation of fraud and misappropriation of N40 billion within a period of three months.
The call for probe of the six months old IMC is seen by many Niger Deltans as a diversionary ploy to frustrate the successful completion of the forensic audit which will cover the 19 year period of the existence of the NDDC.
In self defense, the IMC speaking through its Executive Director Projects, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh had denied the allegations of the National Assembly as baseless and a ploy to frustrate the efforts of the IMC and expose the complicity of the Senate and House of Representatives Committee Chairmen on NDDC.
The National Assembly has hinged its argument of the need to probe the IMC on the time tested legal maxim of “nemo judex in causa sua” which simply means that one cannot be a judge in his own case. The IMC on the other hand is relying on another legal maxim that he who comes to equity must have clean hands” and the position of the IMC seems to be the opinion of most stakeholders of the Niger Delta.
There is an allegation bordering on corruption and fraud on both the Senate and House Committee Chairmen of the National Assembly, rather than investigate the allegations by the IMC of the NDDC, the National Assembly are playing to the gallery by sweeping the weighty allegations of corruption under the carpet and going for the jugular of the IMC.
If the National Assembly is determined to probe the Six month old IMC, who then will probe the alleged wrong doings of the members of the NASS? It should have been more equitable for the National Assembly to investigate the allegations against its members, encourage and support the forensic audit under the management of the IMC and the supervision of the Honourable Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, then in its response know if actually the IMC or the Senate and House of Representatives Committee Chairmen were complicit or not rather than the rat race probe the National Assembly has entangled itself in.
In the IMC’s revelation through the Executive Director, Projects (EDP) Dr. Cairo Ojougboh did not at any time accused and/or indict the National Assembly as an institution rather it was the Chairman Senate Committee on NDDC and his House of Representatives counterpart that were mentioned, how come the National Assembly is taking it upon itself to respond to the allegations levelled against individual members of the National Assembly rather than allow the persons accused to answer to the allegations of the Commission?
Does the oversight function of the National Assembly also include protecting its erring members from questioning or it grants them immunity as provided in Section 308 of Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)? No! I don’t think so, if that be the case, the “distinguished” senators of the federal republic and “honourable” members of the National Assembly should tow a path of honour by allowing by resting in their oars as far as the probe of the IMC is concerned till a time such as the forensic audit would have been concluded before the probe of the IMC is commenced whether it will be necessary or not. The National Assembly should not only do what is right and just but it must be seen to do what is just as that alone can build the confidence of the people of the Niger Delta about the genuineness of the intention of the APC led federal government to develop the Niger Delta region which had been neglected by series of government in the past and indeed the confidence of all Nigerians on government and governance.
The Niger Delta must be given the opportunity to develop at an accelerated pace to get its pride of place as the hen that lays the golden egg of the entity called Nigeria. Shielding people from investigation on allegations of wrongdoing whether true or false is surely not the way to go. The people being accused are not ghosts, they are Nigerians in high places with positions of authority and making laws for the smooth running of our country, it is therefore not right for the laws they make not to be tested, at least the National Assembly must at time live up to it’s billing by rebuilding the peoples’ confidence and support the anti-corruption campaign of Mr. President a trustworthy one that will make Nigeria stand tall among the comity of nations.
Written by Aghogho Badaseraye, Esq.
National Legal Adviser/Delta State Coordinator, Citizens Quest for Truth Initiative