Until last Monday, I had erroneously thought that the title ‘Acting’ usually prefixed before an office, referred to an officer who stands in for a substantive occupier of the office, pending the confirmation of such ‘acting’ officer, or the appointment of another person as the substantive officer. But I was wrong all along. Now, I now that the term ‘acting’ refers to a master of make-believe. An actor! As in Nollywood. Just like Kanayo O. Kanayo, Funke Akindele, Chukwuwetalu Agu, Sani Danja, Samanja etc. if you’re in doubt, just play back the tape of what transpired when the Actor (sorry, Acting) Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, appeared before the panel of the House of Representatives investigating the bazaar at the NDDC.
Like the Daniel that Pondei is, he had come to the lion’s den the previous week, looked the lions in the face, and simply walked out, insisting that he would not sit down to be interrogated by a committee chairman who is as guilty of the alleged sleaze as himself. The committee chairman was trying to play accuser, judge and jury in a case where he is also an accused, and Pondei , a professor of Microbiology, would have none of it. He made it very clear and stormed out. However, when he was threatened with arrest (and signals from the presidency also pointed to the fact that he was on his own), he returned the panel, ostensibly, with the same strategy of muddying up things by throwing the committee chairman, Hon. Bunmi Tunji-Ojo, under the bus. Yes, like Senator Godswill Akpabio and Madam Joi Nunieh cleverly led us away from maladministration at NDDC to be discussing four husbands and a slap, Pondei (closely prompted by Cairo Ojougboh) wanted to divert our attention from how he blew N40billion on frivolities, and without budgetary approval, to discussing how Tunji-Ojo was also a member of the thieving gang.
But the lawmakers pulled a fast one on NDDC helmsman, when the panel’s chairman recused himself from the investigation. Without a chairman to accuse and distract the investigation, the NDDC boss who had clearly come unprepared, threw up a Plan B: health challenge. He conveniently ‘fainted’ on his seat. Not being a medical expert, and without access to the Professor’s medical history, I have refused to buy the idea that the ‘collapse’ was less real than make-believe. But, I think he might have genuinely passed out. However, going over the video recording of the incident, and seeing how a supposedly unconscious Pondei was grabbing the hand of the man who was attempting to administer first aid on him, one is reminded of a Yoruba movie my wife and I watched penultimate weekend. In the scene, a supposedly dead lady quickly gathered her own dress around the thighs, to cover her dignity, as the man who killed her carelessly lifted her corpse to drop into a nearby bush. For some curious reason, the post-editing could not take out that aspect, or order a retake.
For days to come, the poser would remain: did Pondei actually faint, or did he just latch on a smart idea to escape further questioning – questions to which he had no ready answers? This is even more so, as the leadership of the House of Reps soon announced that the Professor would not be appearing before the panel again. Or maybe, just maybe, Pondei’s ‘collapse’ served both the accused and the accusers. Or how do we explain the sudden desperation to stop Minister of the Niger Delta Sen. Godswill Akpabio from opening his own Pandora ’s Box before live television?
Clearly, having lost face in the few NDDC cans of worms opened in the preceding weeks, Akpabio had come on Monday to, as we say in my neck of the wood, to break the coconut. He had no plan of going down alone. His aim was clearly to throw the sh*t at the fan. And it would appear that the stand-in chairman of the panel smelt the danger early enough. That explains all that honourable-minister-it’s-okay nudging of the loquacious former governor of Akwa state. Who would forget how the lawmaker was literally begging Akpabio to “off his mic” and not talk anymore?
Incidentally, the same stand-in chairman who stopped Akpabio from talking emerged from the meeting room to field reporters’ questions, and pass judgment on both what Akpabio said and the ones he didn’t say.
Clearly, there is something that both the ‘probers’ and the ‘probees’ know, which the rest of us don’t know. And Akpabio alluded to this much when he cautioned the rather inquisitive Hon. Goodhead to calm down with her pushing him to name names of contractor lawmakers. According to the Minister, even if she was claiming not to know that lawmakers were 60% of NDDC contractors, her panel’s Chairman and Vice Chairman could not say the same thing. Hmmm! As the Yoruba would say; Omode o m’ogun, o n pe e l’efo (the little child easily mistakes herbs for vegetable).
But, even if we did know the difference, native wisdom admonishes us not to intervene in the quarrel between two witches, because both of them know where they meet. And you the non-initiate, who would not follow them to the coven, would do yourself a world of good to stay out of their brickbats.
I think what the rest of us non-politicians have to do in all these probes and anti-corruption theatre productions is just to buy ourselves popcorn and Pepsi, sit back and enjoy the movie. It is actually being released in series and episodes. We move from NNPC to NDDC, from EFCC to ICPC, CBN to PTF and Covid-19 palliatives, the Military and the insurgency war, Customs and Immigration, Police and DSS, Pension fund, INEC and NIMC and back to Population commission. After that, we begin to visit the theatres in the Villa, National Assembly, NJC and the courts. And the judges homes. Before we even get the chance to attend the remote, but no less exciting cinemas in the respective state capitals and local government areas, four years would have long run out. And then, we start all over again.
By the way, who still remembers what came out of the Reps probe of the $15billion power spend? Malabu Oil? P&ID? Chinese oil deal? The fuel subsidy probe? The refinery turnaround maintenance scam? Pipeline security contracts? Grass-cutting contracts? How about the people who, on their own, confessed to rigging elections, looting state treasuries, burning down government houses, abandoning projects after collecting payment?
So, like the probe of Festus Keyamo’s 774,000 jobs before it, this NDDC inquisition too shall pass – for it’s turning out that those who seek to probe are not nearly as clean as those they seek to probe. And, of course, we, the people, whose very existence the politicians are using to play Ludo, would also be here cheering and jeering, as they lead us, and our nation, to ruination.
Welcome to the corruption incorporated enterprise we stubbornly insist in calling a federation. Welcome to our own special brand of democracy: government of felons, by felons, and for…