OrderPaperToday – On the 25 of July, 2019, When House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, announced the composition of standing committees, one particular appointment raised not a few eyebrows.
Little known Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo was appointed to chair the committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) regarded as a ‘Grade A’ committee because of its very strategic mandate of providing oversight on the interventionist agency created two decades ago to accelerate the development of the deprived and depraved oil-rich Niger delta region of Nigeria.
The appointment jolted many because it is often reserved for ranking and experienced members of the House. In fact, the position had been severally reserved for the longest serving member of the House, Mr. Nicholas Mutu, a taciturn but very powerful member from Delta State.
Mr. Mutu was compensated with another important committee- that of Gas. Yes, the word compensated is used here deliberately. This is because the appointment of the committee chairs showed a pattern of reward system where loyalty played a vital role.
A careful analysis of the list of chairpersons and deputies showed that the tussle for speakership and the position of minority leader of the House was a key determinant factor. Those who endorsed the incumbent speaker earlier in the campaign got appointed into ‘juicy’ committees and those who challenged the emergence of Ndudi Elumelu as minority leader found themselves without being given high profile committees and in some case, completely snubbed in the sharing of positions.
Findings show that Mr. Tunji-Ojo displayed loyalty in the run-up to the Gbajabiamila speakership bid early on. On the 30th of May, 2019 he penned an op-ed in a national daily where he canvased full support for the then embattled Gbajabiamila, who was made to maneuver through an alleged legal conviction in the United States of America.
Who is Tunji-Ojo?
Born on the 1st of May, 1982, he attended FUTA Staff Secondary School from 1993 to 1999. The youthful Olubunmi thereafter proceeded to Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife where he studied from 1999 to 2002 before travelling to the United Kingdom.
Reports say he attended London Metropolitan University from 2002 to 2006 and obtained degrees in Information and Communication Technology and Electronics and Communication Engineering. He was also reported to have obtained a master degree in Digital Communication and Networking from the same institution.
Prior to his arrival at the National Assembly in June 2019, the 38 years old newbie had no known record of public service; at least none was publicly available. According to his LinkedIn profile, he was the Chief Executive Officer of an IT solutions firm with no functioning website even though a campaign publication claimed its clientele included “the World Bank, Petroleum Technology Development Fund, Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” among others.
It was with such light-weight profile that the young Olubunmi clinched a seat in the lower chamber to represent Akoko North-east/west federal constituency of Ondo State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). It was therefore doubly surprising that such rookie with no remarkable profile would land the prestigious and patronage-filled NDDC committee of the House.
Little was known of him in the House until the budget defence of 2020 where he made remarks warning against sponsored media attacks against his committee. In one year of the inauguration of the parliament, records show that he had not a single bill to his name, unlike other first time members like the House spokesman, Benjamin Kalu who ranks 5th in the top ten bill sponsors within same period.
Tunji-Ojo however courted public attention perhaps for the first time when, in December 2019, he announced the appointment of 220 aides. According to media reports, he appointed one Chief of Staff, six special advisers, 156 special assistants, and 67 personal assistants.
The NDDC scandal…
But Mr. Tunji-Ojo is currently in the limelight not because he is a rookie lawmaker. He has become popular or notorious due to his alleged involvement in contracts award in the NDDC. The whole messy affair started in May when the committee fought back at the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC which alleged that a N40billion probe launched by the parliament was instigated by its refusal to play ball in some alleged corrupt practices.
Mr. Tunji-Ojo called a press conference to say he was being blackmailed by the NDDC officials and that nothing would stop the probe from happening.
And so the probe commenced last week. But on Monday, he recused himself from the committee hearing even though his members passed a vote of confidence on him at the previous hearing where the acting head of the NDDC, Prof. Keme Pondei, asked him to step aside after pointedly accusing him of corrupt practices and being an interested party in the probe he was presiding over.
Matters got worse for Tunji-Ojo and his committee when Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, threw a salvo that hit the entire parliament hard. Akpabio sent tongues wagging when he alleged that lawmakers investigating the NDDC are also beneficiaries of a large chunk of the contracts of the Commission.
Although he specifically mentioned the chairmen of the House and Senate committees, the Minister beat a clever detour when he came under a barrage of angry reactions. “I think I must have been misunderstood. I was giving an example of contract of N10.9 billion in the Chairman’s place. I am saying that contracts are split to a point where it comes below the threshold of the minister’s approval. The contract is actually for the Chairman’s state (Ondo) and not for himself,” the colourful and wily minister tried to clarify.
But the damage was already done. There is, in the minimum, a reputation burden on the youthful lawmaker from Ondo State. How long he bears it would depend on how the messy NDDC-gate ends or drags.