… Says NDDC supervision should be removed from Akpabio
…PANDEF calls on govs, ministers, S’South politicians to work in unity
…Ikponmwen, ex-Army provost marshal, Senator Ekpenyong back govs
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Sam Oyadongha, Davies Iheamnachor, Chioma Onuegbu and Ozioruva Aliu, ASABA
FORMER Federal Commissioner of Information and elder statesman, Senator Edwin Clark, yesterday, asked Governors of Niger-Delta states to disregard the tantrum of Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, MNDA, Senator Godswill Akpabio, but rather see President Muhammadu Buhari face to face in Aso Villa and explain why he should quickly inaugurate the Governing Board of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
However, Pan Niger-Delta Forum, PANDEF, an umbrella group of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger-Delta, chose to remain neutral when contacted by Vanguard, saying governors, ministers and political leaders of the South-South should bury the hatchet and work together in the interest of the region.
But prominent South-South leader and former Provost Marshal, Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Idada Ikponmwen (retd), Senator Christopher Ekpenyong representing Ikot Ekpene senatorial district and others, threw their weight behind the South-South governors, who demanded that disbursements to NDDC, except salaries, should be put in an escrow account until the Commission’s screened and approved board is inaugurated.
Clark, who told the story of how NDDC was formed and the role of Niger-Delta leaders, who had to lobby the National Assembly to veto former President Olusegun Obasanjo when he refused to sign the bill after mobilizing for the formation of the commission, told Vanguard: “The governors are right that whatever is approved for capital expenditure in the NDDC budget, except salaries and overhead charges, should be kept in an escrow account until a board is inaugurated.”
“I am supporting the governors, the money should be es-crowed, only salaries should be paid. No new contract should be awarded. Akpabio should not take NDDC money to award a contract for East-West Road, he is wrong.
“The governors did not give order to President Buhari as Akpabio claimed. No, the law setting up NDDC provides a space for the governors to function, they are in the Advisory Council, they have a duty and if they perform this duty, they have to communicate and advise the President.
“It is not Akpabio that they have to advise as Advisory Council, Akpabio was never in charge of NDDC and the commission is not part of Akpabio’s ministry. It is just a recent transfer, whereas the position of the governors is in the law setting up NDDC. They are advised by Mr President and the NDDC board.
“So Akpabio is wrong, he is wrong in reacting when the President is yet to speak. Let the governors of Niger Delta disregard Akpabio’s mischief, go and meet Mr President, advise him and present their case. Ask him about the forensic auditing, tell him the reason he should inaugurate the governing board that the Senate had screened and confirmed.
“They should tell him about the illegality of sole administrator running the commission, the minister, Akpabio, cannot challenge the governors who are performing their rightful duty. They did not say the money should be paid to them, all they are saying is do not allow the 2020 budget of NDDC to be spent by Akpabio.
“Akpabio should, in fact, be removed from that Ministry and taking to another ministry, otherwise we will not see any progress in NDDC.”
“Akpabio has no role in NDDC other than being a supervising ministry, but instead of that, he has made the NDDC his own ministry and his ministry has become a parastatal under NDDC.
“He is spending more time on NDDC matters and to worsen the situation, he has now appointed one person, who though is very competent, a young man from Akwa Ibom, a lawyer and accountant, but I told him the other day when he visited me, this is a very good message sent to us, but the man who delivered the message acted very badly.
“You cannot, in a situation where you have three members of Interim Management Committee, IMC, remove two and put only one, then you now went to the National Assembly to lobby them to approve the 2020 budget of NDDC, which they earlier refused to approve.
Unholy alliance with lawmakers
“People are already wondering how long the forensic auditing will take place because today, there is an unholy alliance between some members of the National Assembly Committees on Niger Delta, who are the people looting money from NDDC. These were the people fighting him, now he is their friend.
“Today, they are all friends, Akpabio who was disgraced the other day in the House is now a friend of the House, they now praise the very man they were condemning, that the edifice is now completed, I saw the two of the lawmakers on television praising him, what type of hypocrisy is this, what type of Nigerians do we have. These are people who should leave behind bars.
“I am 100 per cent behind the governors, but the young man who is sole administrator, I have high regards for him, he has appeared before me, I told him not to tamper with the money and he should listen more to the money than Akpabio in his own interest.
“The budget they approved, they are now spending it anyhow by giving a directive to the sole administrator. And I advised the administrator not to allow Akpabio to spend NDDC money, let him protect NDDC money, but the young man, I do not think he is in a position to stop Akpabio from doing what he wants to do,” he said.
PANDEF sues for peace
Reacting, National Publicity Secretary, PANDEF, Hon Ken Robinson said: “It is important to state that one of the greatest problems of the Niger Delta region has been the non-cooperation among the political leaders in the region.”
“In other parts of the country, like the North and West, their region comes first before politics. In the North, it is ethnicity and religion first before the party. In the West too, we see the same thing where governors come together with ministers and National Assembly members when it comes to the issues of the region, no matter their political differences.
“What PANDEF has continued to advocate is for them to work together. During the Presidential visit to all the regions. We saw pictures emanate from the North, South-East and South-West, everybody was there, no matter their political party differences.
“But in the South-South it was not so. The leaders of some political party were conspicuously absent. This lack of cooperation is affecting development in the region.
“We are avoiding to take part in a side when governors, ministers and National Assembly members are at a crossroad. We only sue for peace. We want them to work together. There is no need to attack one another as governors, or ministers, or as National Assembly members.
“We have the Deputy Senate President from the region, we have not seen him liaise with the governors. We have not seen ministers working with the governors to attract development to the region. That is what we want to see and not confrontations.
“PANDEF is calling on leaders of the region to come together and resolve our differences in the house instead of taking them to the pages of newspapers.
“Last Thursday, PANDEF had its National Executive Committee meeting, the first after the emergence of the new National Chairman, and we expressed regrets over the non-composition of substantive board and management for the NDDC. We called on President Muhammadu Buhari to with no further delay constitute a board for NDDC.
“We do not want to believe that the region should be starved of funds because of the continuous existence of interim management in the commission.
“The fact must also be said that since 2019 till date that the interim arrangement has been in place, we have not seen any good project executed in the region by the NDDC except the completion of the commission’s Headquarters in Port Harcourt and we want to celebrate projects completed by the commission.
“People of Niger Delta should not be made to bear the brunt of the inefficiencies of government,” he added.
Govs spoke for the people – Ikponmwen
On his part, a notable opinion leader in the region, Ikponmwen asserted: “I totally agree with the governors that to avoid any abuse because the history of the NDDC has been replete with fraud and misapplication, there must be a board in place to be held accountable, not one- man sole administrator. The money should be put in an escrow account until a board is constituted by the president”
“Mr President has not appointed a governing board yet, what is right and proper is what should be done and what is right and proper as far as I am concerned must be looked at from the point of view of the people and from the point of view of accountable governance and administration. I do not think that it was contemplated that the NDDC will be run as a one-man business or a one-man affair, that will be a dictatorship, so the people have the right to speak on this matter, to say look, we want a board to be in place, which board will be constitutional and legal.
“What the governors are saying is right, NDDC cannot be a one-man affair and sole administrator affair, so we must enjoin the president to appoint the board because if the NDDC is being run without a board, there is no legitimate authority.”
Wrong for NDDC to operate without a board – Ekpenyong
Also speaking, Senator Ekpenyong stated: “The governors are leaders and shepherds of their respective states, therefore, they are supposed to air their views on anything that will benefit the people they serve. They are strong, critical stakeholders in the running of the affairs of the NDDC.”
“All the governors of the nine states that make up Niger Delta can make demands towards the development of the NDDC. So if in their wisdom they feel that the absence of a governing board for this long is affecting the running and proper management of the Commission, there is nothing wrong with that.
“So I expect the president to listen to them, he should take, recognize whatever demands they have made seriously, because I believe they made such demands in the interest of the people of the region.
“In fact, for the president to allow the commission to be run without a governing board for more than one year now against the provision of the Act setting up the NDDC is worrisome. He is giving people the reason to believe that he is encouraging corruption which his administration is fighting against,” he added.
On Akpabio’s comment that governors were issuing orders to Buhari with their demand, he noted: “Wherever Akpabio finds himself, he always acts like a god, so domineering. He should act as a representative of the people by working together with the governors, instead of insulting them. The statement he made was uncalled for because when he served as governor for eight years, he was part of what was happening in the NDDC.”
“And throughout those years, he nominated all the Akwa Ibom officials that served in the NDDC, both the Commissioner on the board or Managing Director. I wonder how he would have reacted if someone had made such remarks during his tenure as governor. He who must go to equity must go with clean hands,” Ekpenyong said.
I see reason with govs, but … – Morris
Renowned Niger Delta activist, Alagoa Morris, told Vanguard in Yenagoa, Bayelsa: said: “If you check well, the reason behind the governors’ demand and the reaction of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs are all pointing towards corruption; to prevent and to perpetuate. And it is very sad, especially when viewed from the fact that they are all Niger Deltans.”
“But, while I see good reasons with the governors, they should also take responsibility for the sailing endless forensic audit because they were responsible for the Nigerians appointed by Mr President and approved by the National Assembly as board members not to be on seat today. They should know that denying fellow citizens of deserved appointment is not fair.
“While I urge the Minister of Niger Delta affairs not to see the NDDC as his cash cow and ensure his ministry spends budgetary provisions for our communities; governors of the region should not see themselves as benefit captors, but servants in a special region crying for development,” Morris submitted.