Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Godswill Akpabio, has again exhibited an act of cowardice the second time within two years as a public functionary.
According to the Merriam-Webster, cowardice is ‘’lack of courage or firmness of purpose.’’
The vociferous Akpabio on Thursday made a dramatic u-turn on his viral accusation that members of the National Assembly were beneficiaries of 60% of spurious contract deals awarded by the messy Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
While Akpabio was defecting formally to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on Wednesday, August 7, 2018, he publicly claimed that he was taking Akwa Ibom to the centre. He made the announcement at a mega rally held at the Ikot Ekpene township stadium.
But, in private, he told some of his political associates he will not be able to withstand the federal might on the worrisome allegations of corruption against him. To avoid that, joining APC was an attractive option for him.
In the main, the then-Senate Minority Leader dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that made him seek shelter in APC, President Muhammadu Buhari’s ruling party.
Before his defection, the former Akwa Ibom governor was encumbered with a damning allegation of embezzling N108 billion during his tenure between 2007 and 2015.
Prior to his embracing APC, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had written to five banks demanding information on Akwa Ibom finances under Akpabio’s administration.
The anti-graft agency made moves to invite key members of the state House of Assembly and serving commissioners, many of whom served during the embattled minister’s administration.
EFCC had written five banks, demanding information on the state’s accounts. It also invited the Accountant-General, the Auditor-General, the Speaker and the Clerk of the House of Assembly, and traced some houses to the former governor in Lagos and Abuja.
Akpabio was first quizzed by detectives of the anti-graft agency in 2016 following a series of petitions written against him. He was, and still being accused of embezzling public funds while he was governor of the big oil state.
In March 2013, he was accused of giving N1.00 million each to six PDP chairmen from the South-South geopolitical zone that converged in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, for a party reconciliation session, telling them to use the money to “buy Mr Biggs.”
When his political romance with Governor Udom Emmanuel was hot, the state government approached a High Court in the state and obtained an interim order barring EFCC from probing Akpabio’s administration.
Justice Ntong Ntong on July 15, 2016, granted the interim injunction sought, and accordingly restrained EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Inspector General of Police from investigating the finances of the Akwa Ibom State Government.
The suit was filed on behalf of the state government by the state Attorney-General, Uwemedimo Nwoko, who also served under Akpabio and was believed to be loyal to the former governor.
His latest drama is contained in a letter to the National Assembly which was read on the floor of the House of Representatives by its Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila.
The minister vehemently denied that he accused federal legislators of being beneficiaries of the NDDC contracts.
While reading the letter which was in response to a 48-hour ultimatum from the House to Akpabio, Gbajabiamila said the minister claimed to have referred to old contracts awarded by the NDDC which had not been paid for and some of which are part of the constituency projects of the lawmakers.
The Speaker said Akpabio’s response will be referred to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges to look at the merits of his arguments.
The minister’s response, however, came after Gbajabiamila announced the resolved of the Green Chamber of the bicameral Legislature to initiate a criminal complaint of perjury against Akpabio, over the allegations that over 60 per cent of contracts in the NDDC went to federal lawmakers.
Piqued by Akpabio’s bomb blast allegations, the Speaker issued a 48-hour ultimatum on Tuesday to the minister to publish the names of the federal legislators that were given the contracts, the details of the contracts so given, dates, among others.
But, the theatrical Akpabio failed to back up his damaging allegation on Thursday, the day the ultimatum expired. Apparently bent on teaching him a lesson, Gbajabiamila announced that he has directed the Clerk to the House to engage the services of a lawyer to institute a criminal complaint of perjury against the minister.
The lawyer, according to Gbajabiamila, will be instructed to explore the possibility of civil defamation suit against the minister, pointing out, “last Tuesday, I issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs to substantiate his allegation that over 60 per cent of contracts awarded by NDDC went to members of the National Assembly. I said then that the Honourable Minister owed it to himself and the country to provide evidence to support these serious allegations.
“The Honourable Minister has failed to respond to my request. Therefore, I must conclude that his statement intended solely to gaslight the nation to avoid accountability for the evident maladministration and malfeasance in NDDC.
“In my time in the House of Representatives, I have held every leadership position from Minority Whip, through to Minority Leader, Leader of the House and now Speaker.
“I recognise that the House has not always lived up to the high expectations of the Nigerian people. As much as we still have a lot to do in that regard, I refuse to sit here in good conscience and allow anyone to assassinate the character of the House in an attempt to deflect accountability for their conduct in office.
“Such mendacity as was witnessed at the public hearing will not be tolerated from anybody no matter how highly placed. The House of Representatives is a public trust placed in our care for the duration of our term in office. We must prove ourselves worthy of this public trust or risk the censure of history.
“Therefore, we will resist every attempt to undermine this institution, whether such attempts come from within or from outside. This House will live up to the highest expectations of the Nigerian people. This is our commitment, and we will not fail”, Gbajabiamila said.