Their fight happened in the public square. That was the boxing ring. The spectators were members of the attentive public, people who had access to information through the media, including social media, and paid attention to media reports.
There was no referee to determine what was fair and what was foul. There was no predetermined number of rounds. So the fight could go on for as long as the pugilists could keep going and keep the fight going.
In the ring were Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio and a former acting managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Joy Nunieh. She had been sacked in February for alleged insubordination. Their fight happened mid-year, in the middle of a corruption-related legislative investigation and forensic audit of the commission.
The fight was a distraction. In October 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered a forensic audit of the agency’s operations from 2001 to 2019. About nine months after, the president’s move to deal with the NDDC’s failure had only produced twists and turns without the desired result.
Then a dramatic exchange of punches happened. Akpabio threw the first punch. He said of Nunieh: “I wish she would go to a hospital, see a doctor and then get some injections and relax. I am not saying something is wrong with her, I am saying something is wrong with her temperament. You don’t need to ask me, you can ask about four other husbands she married.”
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Nunieh hit back. After pointing out that Akpabio was wrong about her love life, she stung him, saying: “Why did he not tell Nigerians that I slapped him in his guest house at Apo? I am the only woman that slapped Akpabio. He thought he could come up on me. He tried to harass me sexually.
“I slapped him. He tried to come on me. I am an Ogoni woman and nobody jokes with us. I showed Akpabio that Rivers women do not tolerate nonsense.”
The slap claim became the talk of the town. Akpabio said he would sue Nunieh for defamation, denying her allegation of sexual harassment. Then the fight fizzled out. It wasn’t clear why the pugilists stopped punching.
Their fight was ridiculous, just as the NDDC’s failure is ridiculous. The agency, established in 2000 by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, has failed to significantly develop Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta. More than six decades after oil production began in the country, in 1958, the story of underdevelopment in the Niger Delta is a continuing story. Nigeria is rated as the largest producer of oil in Africa and sixth largest in the world. It is inexcusable that many communities in the region that produces the country’s oil wealth mirror perplexing underdevelopment.
For engaging in an attention-grabbing, high-profile, public fight in which they not only fought dirty but also displayed that raw killer instinct characteristic of pugilism, Akpabio and Nunieh are this newspaper’s pugilists of the year.
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PUGILISTS OF THE YEAR: Godswill Akpabio vs Joy Nunieh