Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio on Thursday ate the humble pie as he denied accusing National Assembly members of being major beneficiaries of contracts awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
In spite of his denial, the House of Representatives resolved to sue him for perjury and slander.
Perjury is a criminal act of lying on oath in an official proceeding while slander is making a false statement that damages a person’s reputation.
Akpabio, while testifying before the probe of malfeasance in the NDDC on Tuesday, sensationally made the allegation.
He said: “Who are the greatest beneficiaries? It’s you people now … I just told you that we have records to show that most of the contracts of NDDC are given to members of the National Assembly…The two chairmen can explain to you.”
The video clips showing Akpabio making the claims are still trending online.
With the expiration of the 48-hour ultimatum given to him by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila to name the beneficiary-lawmakers, the contracts and their locations, Akpabio, a former senator, made a U-turn in a letter to the House.
When plenary kicked off on Thursday, Gbajabiamila notified the lawmakers of the letter, saying he had already instructed clerk of the House, Patrick Giwa, to engage the services of lawyers to initiate the perjury proceedings against the minister for failing to publish the list as demanded.
Akpabio said the House will also initiate civil proceedings against the minister, adding that he will not allow anybody to tarnish the image of its members.
Akpabio said: “Last Tuesday, I issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the minister to substantiate his allegation that over 60 per cent of contracts awarded by the NDDC went to members of the National Assembly. I said then that the minister owed it to himself and the country to provide evidence to support these serious allegations.
“The minister has failed to respond to my request. Therefore, I must conclude that his statement was intended solely to gaslight the nation to avoid accountability for the evident maladministration and malfeasance in the NDDC.
“I recognize 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.
“This morning, I asked the Clerk to engage the services of legal counsel, and instruct them to initiate a criminal complaint of perjury against the minister. At the same time, we will instruct counsel to explore the possibility of a civil defamation suit against the minister.
“We will resist every attempt to undermine this institution, whether such attempts come from within or from outside.”
In his letter, which Gbajabiamila read on the floor of the House, Akpabio said as a former Minority Leader of the Senate, he holds the legislature in high esteem.
The letter reads in part: “I refer to the resolution of the House passed on the 21st of July 2020 and forwarded to me on the same day, directing me to respond to the content therein within 48 hours. I hereby respond as follows:
“Investigating committee on NDDC refused or neglected to give me the opportunity to explain that reference to most NDDC contracts yearly being awarded since 2001 from the records allegedly given to members of the National Assembly were done without the knowledge of the alleged beneficiaries (whatever that means. The Speaker chipped in).
“However, the two chairmen of both chambers had adequate knowledge (Gbajabiamila said, once again, he’s referring to two people).
“I never referred to members of the 9th National Assembly as beneficiaries of the NDDC contracts (the Speaker paused as members celebrated their vindication with loud clappings).
“Again, let me repeat, I never referred to members of the 9th National Assembly as beneficiaries of NDDC contracts as NDDC is yet to fully implement any budget since the commencement of the 9th National Assembly.
“In fact, the 2019 budget passed in February and harmonized between the 4th and 6th of March 2020 was received by the commission in the middle of April 2020, when same was designated to expire on the 31st of May 2020.”