By Donu Kogbara
LAST week, I congratulated the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, for finally commissioning the long-awaited Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, headquarters – a building that had been inexplicably uncompleted for 24 years.
I wasn’t entirely complimentary. I hinted that the whopping price tag – N16 billion – should have included office furnishings, which have yet to be purchased and will require further expenditure.
I also clearly stated that Akpabio and NDDC’s CEO, Mr. Effiong Akwa, both “have what it takes, intellectually, to become great visionaries and drivers of change. But, sadly, very few of the Niger Deltans to whom I have recently spoken share my faith in them.”
Loopholes and dysfunctions
I then mentioned NDDC contractors who have been treated abominably and pointed out that NDDC is riddled with loopholes and dysfunctions that favour nobody except those who work there, those who run the show and those who are their favourite cronies.
I concluded by urging Akpabio and Akwa to act on valid criticisms, up their game and go beyond merely completing elegant edifices. I reckoned that last week’s article was an objective commentary that acknowledged the NDDC leadership’s strengths and failures.
But I still received a deluge of complaints from enraged and concerned Vanguard-reading Niger Deltans who insisted that I had been unjustifiably kind to Akpabio and Akwa. One even accused me, point blank, of being “a sychophant”.
This jibe really hurt because I try my best to be fair and I take pride in being honest. And I’ve decided, in the interests of journalistic balance, to allocate some space on today’s page to those who are unhappy with Akpabio and Akwa because, on reflection, some of the complaints about the status quo at NDDC are reasonable.
All of the complainants who have approached me in recent days have focused on the fact that NDDC has not had a proper Board in place since Akpabio became its supervising Minister in 2019.
Small interim management teams held sway until December 2020 when Akwa was appointed Acting Sole Administrator. In other words, NDDC – which is supposed to be governed by a full Board comprising (but not restricted to) representatives of all nine oil-producing states – has been governed by little cliques for two years.
This unsatisfactory scenario started before Akpabio took over, so he cannot be blamed for causing it. But he is being widely blamed for not only ensuring that NDDC continues to be deprived of a Board but for also concentrating power in the hands of one man (Akwa has transitioned from being part of a top team of four to being on his own).
Akpabio has repeatedly said that he wants to minimise distractions at the management level until a forensic audit he initiated has been done and dusted. And I initially agreed that this was the best way forward and sincerely believed that the forensic audit would be handled more efficiently by a small interim management team.
But we’ve been hearing about this famous forensic audit for 18 months now; and many of us are tired of hearing about it and I for one am praying that the selected auditor possesses the professional competence to do a good job and finish work soon.
The immediate past Governor of Bayelsa, Senator Henry Seriake Dickson, spoke for many when he told me, yesterday, that he views the Sole Administratorship as “illegal, wrong and unacceptable”.
Dickson recently asked President Muhammadu Buhari, to order the immediate constitution of a new Board…and firmly advised Akpabio to start consulting stakeholders regarding membership composition.
According to Dickson: “While the ongoing forensic audit of the NDDC is being finalised, the President can send the names to the Senate for appropriate action. The Niger Delta people need a functional NDDC Board to begin to clear the mess in the Commission.
“I call on the President to follow the NDDC Act in the composition…by which Bayelsa should have the Managing Director.”
Some of Akpabio’s detractors are saying that NDDC should be transferred from the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to the Presidency, to avoid ministers exercising undue influence.
Dickson also spoke for many, including this columnist, when he added that: “I am against the call that the Ministry of Niger Delta be transferred to the Presidency. I advise stakeholders and some leaders in the Niger Delta who are advocating such a move to withdraw as it is not in the best interest of the Niger Delta.
“The Niger Delta does not need such a self-inflicted injury. Even if such people have disagreements with, or do not like Senator Akpabio or any current holder of that office, they should not push for an action that is glaringly inimical to the interest of the region.
“The fact is that the office of the Minister will be occupied by someone from the Niger Delta and it will amount to cutting one’s nose to spite the face to demand its transfer to the Presidency.
“We should not hesitate to point out errors on the part of those who are superintending over the affairs of the NDDC, but it is against Niger Delta interest to move the supervision of the NDDC to any other place other than the Ministry of the Niger Delta.”
Dickson then urged all stakeholders from our region to cooperate with Akpabio and the NDDC Board when it is constituted.