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Buhari’s board Vs Akpabio’s interim c’ttee: Storm rages in N-Delta over NDDC

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…Minister’s action illegal – Omare, Ijaw youth leader

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta

NIGER Delta activist and President of parallel Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Mr. Eric Omare, says the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, was an interested party in the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and, therefore, stakeholders in the region do not want his participation in any team to  oversee the forensic audit of the agency.

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Meanwhile, Omare observed that the Interim Management Committee, IMC, set up by Akpabio for the NDDC, was unlawful and stakeholders would still have opposed it even it were President Muhammadu Buhari who personally inaugurated it.

Speaking to Sunday Vanguard, he said, “Nigerians would recall that Senator Akpabio was the governor of oil-rich Akwa Ibom State from 2007 to 2015.

“During this period, Akpabio nominated his close political associates as board and management committee members of the NDDC at different times and specifically, in 2009, Akpabio nominated Ambassador Sam Edem from Akwa Ibom as chair of the NDDC board.

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“In 2012, Akpabio nominated Mr. Dan Abia as Managing Director of the NDDC. The last substantive Managing Director, Mr. Nsima Nkere, was Akpabio’s deputy governor and close associate till date.

“Now, the forensic audit from 2001 to 2019 will cover the period Akpabio’s close associates and nominees held sway in the NDDC.

“Therefore, he cannot appoint and supervise the forensic audit over the activities of his nominees and political associates.

“Such a process will be tainted; the only person who can appoint and supervise the forensic audit is President Buhari and not Akpabio, an interested party in the NDDC”.

Told that it is not an Akpabio affair but a presidential directive that should not have generated controversy, Omare said, “There is controversy in the Niger Delta over the appointment of the Interim Management Committee because it came in the most unusual circumstances and ab-initio illegal.

“When the President appointed the Board of  NDDC in August 2019 and dissolved the Prof Brambaifa- led Interim Management Committee, he expressly stated that the board should hand over to the most senior civil servant in the NDDC who would manage the Commission until Senate approved nominees to take over the leadership of the agency.

“Now, in a most curious manner, on the day the President forwarded the names of the nominees to the Senate for approval, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio inaugurated an Interim Management Committee to lead the NDDC until the conclusion of the forensic audit ordered by the President.

“It is an abnormality for an Interim Management Committee to be set up when the presidential nominees are already before the Senate. It makes no legal and logical meaning. It is an illegality and aberration; hence the controversy in the region over the appointment.

“The controversy is accentuated by the fact that the proponents of the Interim Management Committee have failed to provide any logical and legal basis for the setting up of the committee.

“In the view of those of us who are opposed to the setting up of the committee, the whole essence of the committee is to empower political loyalists without any altruistic benefit for the region and that is very unacceptable.

“The NDDC is an interventionist organization set up to develop the Niger Delta and not a political patronage organization.  The North East Development Commission is not being used for political patronage, so there is no reason the NDDC should be used as a tool to compensate political loyalists.

“As to why people are shouting ‘Akpabio’, it is simply because he announced and inaugurated the Interim Management Committee whereas President Buhari personally signed the letter to the Senate.

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“Therefore, some of us regard Akpabio’s action as an affront on the powers of Mr. President. It is incongruous for Mr. President to send names of NDDC board members to the Senate and, on same day, a Minister, who is exercising delegated powers, goes ahead to set up a committee which runs contrary to the law setting up the NDDC and act as an affront on the powers of Mr. President.

“The principle of delegation of powers is that once the person who delegated the powers has exercised the powers in a particular way, the person to whom the powers are delegated cannot exercise same powers.

“However, even if it was the President who personally announced the appointment of the Interim Management Committee, we would still oppose it because the office of the President is a creation of the law and is bound to comply with laws.

“The NDDC Establishment Act 2000 has no room for such an aberration called Interim Management Committee when the process of appointing members of the board has begun”.

Asked if he has problem with the thorough cleansing of the NDDC as that is why the committee is set up to oversee the forensic audit and run the agency, the activist explained, “I totally agree that the NDDC requires thorough cleansing in order for it to achieve its statutory responsibility of carrying out the human, infrastructural and environmental development of the Niger Delta.

“But so far, because of undue political interference and mismanagement by successive leadership of the agency, it has not really delivered on its mandate.

“Let me say this straightway that the argument that those fighting against the setting up of the Interim Management Committee are fighting the forensic audit is very wrong.

“Supporters of the Interim Management Committee, for lack of convincing argument in support of the illegally, are only begging the issues to justify the illegality.

“In fact, those arguing for an Interim Management Committee to oversee the forensic audit are the actual enemies and opponents of forensic audit of the NDDC. The real purpose of the Interim Management Committee is to kill the forensic audit and politicize it.

“I will tell the reason for my position. In the first place, the President ordered the forensic audit. Therefore, it is expected and logically too that the appointment and supervision of the forensic audit would be done by the President to give credibility to the process.

“This is not an assignment that any other body or committee should supervise because of the likelihood of conflict of interest.

“Second, the work of the forensic audit and the running of the NDDC are two completely different assignments. The forensic audit team is not expected to run NDDC during the period of its assignment but only to look at the books of the NDDC from 2001 to 2019.

“Therefore, the newly confirmed board of the NDDC can go about its statutory duty of running the NDDC, while the forensic audit is going on.

“The argument that the newly inaugurated board will interfere with the forensic audit is feeble and weak. If the Interim Management Committee set up by Akpabio will not interfere with the forensic audit, why do people think that the substantive board will interfere with the forensic audit?

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“In any case, Dr. Joy Nuineh, who is the acting Managing Director of the Interim Management Committee, is also the Rivers State Representative in the substantive board. So if Joy, as Interim Management Committee Managing Director will not interfere with the work of the forensic team, what makes people think that, as a member of the substantive board, she will be a problem to the forensic team?

“In short, the argument in support of the Interim Management Committee vis-a-vis the forensic audit is meaningless. The real reason for setting up the Interim Management Committee is what I said earlier, which is to kill the forensic audit and empower political loyalists.

“Therefore, my position is that they should inaugurate the substantive board since Senate has confirmed the members.

“Mr. President should directly appoint and supervise the auditors; I am vehemently opposed to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio, having anything to do with the forensic audit. The reason is that he is an interested party and cannot be a judge in his own matter.

“Akpabio was the governor of oil-rich Akwa Ibom State from 2007 to 2015. During this period, Akpabio nominated his close political associates as board and management committee members of the NDDC. Specifically, in 2009, Akpabio nominated Ambassador Sam Edem from Akwa Ibom as chair of NDDC board.

“Then in 2012, Akpabio nominated Mr. Dan Abia as Managing Director of the NDDC. The last substantive Managing Director, Mr. Nsima Nkere, was Akpabio’s Deputy Governor and close political associate till date.

“The forensic audit from 2001 to 2019 will cover the period Akpabio’s close political associates and nominees held sway in the NDDC. Therefore, he cannot appoint and supervise the forensic audit over the activities of his nominees and political associates.

“Such a process will be tainted. The only person who can appoint and supervise the forensic audit is President Buhari and not Akpabio, an interested party in the NDDC”.

The conversation with Omare continued as follows:

Are you aware that there are NDDC abandoned projects everywhere, even the ones for which contractors had collected money and Presidency’s consideration is that it does want the new board entangled in the mess?

I am aware that there are abandoned projects in different parts of the Niger Delta embarked upon by the NDDC and most of us want a solution to it. However, I do not agree with the argument that inaugurating the new board would entangle them in the mess. The point must be made that forensic audit of the NDDC is not the first of its kind in Nigeria. There have been forensic audits of government agencies in the past.

When there were allegations of missing billions of dollars in the NNPC under President Jonathan, government ordered a forensic audit of NNPC led by an international reputable audit firm. Again, when the Buhari administration came on board and was not satisfied with the management of funds released for arms in the fight against Boko Haram under President Jonathan, with Sambo Dasuki as National Security Adviser, he raised a committee to probe the Office of the National Security Adviser. These did not prevent the NNPC or the Office of the National Security Adviser from functioning.

They did not appoint an Interim Management Committee to manage the NNPC during the period of the NNPC forensic audit. And President Buhari appointed a substantive National Security Adviser despite the fact that the office was under probe. Therefore, the argument that having the new board in place while the forensic audit is on will make entangled them in the mess is weak and unacceptable.

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There is no basis for it. In any case, the board is not to clear the mess, but the mess is to be cleared by relevant anti-corruption agencies such as the EFFC, ICPC, etc under the supervision of Mr. President. There is a world of difference between the functions of the substantive board and the forensic audit team. The reason some of us are insisting on having a substantive board is that there are many issues in the Niger Delta that demand the intervention of the NDDC and an Interim Management Committee without security of tenure cannot address these issues.

The NDDC is the only federal agency in the Niger Delta that ought to attend to immediate needs of the people that require Federal Government intervention ranging from roads to environmental protection, health and education among others. Some of the states of the Niger Delta have done their best, but it is not good enough.

As we speak, to move from Delta to Edo State is a very big issue because the East-West Road has totally collapsed. Same thing applies to moving from Bayelsa to Rivers State. Delta State government has tried in the Delta axis, but there is need for federal intervention. This is one of the areas that Akpabio has failed as Niger Delta Minister. Flood has taken over our communities and there is no palliative action from the Federal Government. Our people need the NDDC to function optimally for the betterment of the region and not an ad-hoc patronage commission.

Some say those calling for the sack of the Interim Management Committee are hirelings, others say they are political jobbers. What do you say?

The truth is that those calling for the sack of the Interim Management Committee are Niger Delta patriots who want the good of the region. This is so because those of us calling for the sack of the committee have the law, logic and, above all, good conscience on our side. Since I issued the statement calling for the sack of both the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and the Interim Management Committee because the action was not in the interest of the Niger Delta, people all over the country have supported it. The Senate, all the APC state chairmen, rights activists and groups have come to see reason.

On the other hand, the Minister’s supporters have been hosting different groups trying to justify the Interim Management Committee to no avail. I am completely in agreement with the Senate that the Interim Management Committee is invalid. If it were my personal interest that I wanted to promote, I would have joined in trying to frustrate the inauguration of the substantive board because I had interest in who should become Managing Director or Chairman of the NDDC board from Delta State, but the person could not make it. However, as a patriot, I cannot say that the Niger Delta should not move on because the person I had interest in did not become the MD or Chairman of the board. However, I agree completely that by the provision of the NDDC Act, the Chairman of the incoming board ought to come from Delta State. This is not in doubt, but it is not the basis to support the illegal Interim Management Committee.

Many are calling for the sack of the Minister of Niger Delta. Is that what you want? What is the way forward?

Yes, I want the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, sacked because he is unduly interfering with the management of the NDDC and has abandoned his duties as Minister to the detriment of the region. When Akpabio became the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, the first thing he did was to direct the NDDC management to pay for water hyacinth projects worth N1. 9billion.

This is even without even verifying the contractors and they excluded the usual beneficiaries of such contracts, the youths and ex-agitators, as we can see from protests everywhere. Then there was the issue of recruitment which was stopped. The problem of the Niger Delta Ministry over the years has been lack of funding, especially money to complete the East-West Road. It was only the late President Yar’Adua who actually provided substantial money in the budget to complete the road but since he died, it has suffered lack of funding. The Jonathan administration made some efforts on the road but the efforts were not good enough; hence the administration did not complete the road.

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Since the Buhari administration took over, the road has been totally abandoned and nothing done. Some of us expected that Akapbio, with his huge personality from the region, would approach the President and secure substantial funds working with our leaders in the National Assembly, especially the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie-Omo Agege, Senator Nwaoboshi, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Niger Delta, to ensure that the East -West Road is completed. Instead, Akpabio abandoned his responsibilities and the Niger Delta Affairs Ministry budget was reduced from more than N30 billion to about N23 billion in the 2020 budget, all that he is interested in is the NDDC. He has not even visited to assess the state of the East- West Road that has nearly collapsed and the different skill acquisitions centres abandoned by the Niger Delta Ministry.

The way forward in my view is for Mr. President to sack Akpabio as Niger Delta Minister and assign another Minister who will push for the development of the region. It is also our demand that the Presidency takes back the supervision of NDDC as it used to be to avoid the undue interference by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.

Vanguard

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