By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
Akpabio’s style and tactics: SINCE he was sworn-in August 2019 as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Obong Godswill Akpabio, many would confess, has the ears of his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari, the manner he secures presidential imprimatur for snooping decisions on the Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC, an interventionist agency under the supervision of his ministry.
In some way, he flings the high-level connection brazenly at people. And the problem numerous stakeholders of the region have with him is that the running of NDDC begins and ends on his table, whether his actions are permissible or otherwise. On this account, quite a number have, if truth be told, given up on NDDC, concluding it was the minister’s vineyard.
Unarguably, Akpabio superintends over NDDC as his country estate with contrivances as Interim Management Committee, IMC, and Interim Administrator rather than the management structure and governing board certified by the Act establishing the Commission. Until date, his hand-picked acolytes and devotees run the agency at his command.
A classic Akpabio also has a way of explaining his revolting actions and creating impression that his critics were toothless each time he runs into a difficulty with his more than a few capers.
Take the selection of his former aide and kinsman, Mr. Effiong Akwa, as sole administrator, which many described as illegality after Prof Keme Pondei-led IMC was sacked, December, last year, Akpabio, throwing his authorization from President Buhari at the faces of his faultfinders, declared it was fallacious to refer to a presidential appointment as an illegality.
”Even the first Executive Director of Finance and Administration acted as Sole Administrator of NDDC at various times, we have also had a sole administrator from Rivers state in the person of Sime Tare, we have also had one from Cross River state, as well as Mrs. Enya from Bayelsa, while awaiting the confirmation of a board.
“But the appointment of a sole administrator for the NDDC today cannot be regarded as illegality,” he emphatically said.
The minister, nevertheless, did not show how a most senior management staff running the organization until a managing director is officially appointed in the event of tenure expiration justifies his proclivity for appointing IMC and sole administrator, especially when there was a board awaiting inauguration since October 2019, two months after he was sworn-in
Misleading Mr. President on non-existent court order
President Buhari had, on December 12, last year, following the minister’s briefing on court injunction against Pondei IMC, authorized the sacking of the committee.
The President’s Media Adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, in a statement, said: “The development (referring to Akwa’s appointment) became necessary as a result of a plethora of litigation and a restraining order issued recently against the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC by a Federal High Court, FHC, in Abuja.”
But Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the said Federal High Court, Abuja, alleged to given the order, unequivocally stated days after: “There was no order for an interim injunction (against the IMC) granted by this court.” By the time he made his clarification, Akwa had been appointed and the appointment was not withdrawn until date, meanwhile the grounds of his appointment had been invalidated.
IMCs used, discarded
For his over 18 months so far as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio has left no one in doubt that his rhymes are supposedly a by-law in NDDC. Former IMC MD, Ms. Joi Nunieh, who spanked him for allegedly making sexual advances at her was dismissed when she broke the rules.
When Nunieh was appointed October, 2019, as head of IMC, the minister said it was for six months to supervise the forensic audit. She stayed for four months as her administration was kicked out in February, 2020.
The IMC of Prof Pondei, the minister’s previous contemporary and erstwhile Executive Director, Projects, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh took over with a new promise by Akpabio that the forensic audit would be completed in nine months, December 2020.
Pondei-IMC, which was also expecting tenure extension also went into obscurity when the players flopped in reciting the limericks.
What the minister has used to weather the make-believe he foisted on NDDC is the current forensic audit, which everybody agreed with him and President Buhari was necessary to cleanse the Augean stable at the commission.
When Akwa was appointed December, last year, the thinking was that it was just for three months to wrap up the audit and handover over to the much-awaited governing board screened and confirmed by the National Assembly since October, 2019.
The inauguration of the board headed by former deputy governor of Edo state, Pius Odubu, and management led by Bernard Okumagba, was stepped down for the reason of carrying out a forensic audit.
Under-pressure Akpabio had, January 6, at Abuja, assured stakeholders already weary of his ruses that a board would be inaugurated in April (next month) at the completion of the forensic audit. But with April around the corner, information has since leaked no board would be inaugurated in April and the sole administrator’s tenure likely to be extended.
Though many sight Akpabio’s hands-on practically every pronouncement on NDDC, the minister had always maintained that he got go-ahead from President Buhari for the declarations. That has been the situation at the commission until, last Monday night, when South-South Governors Forum met in Port-Harcourt, capital of Rivers state.
Govs lay ambush
Seemingly acting on some top-level information concerning the minister’s further plots, the governors of the six South-South states, who assumed all the while that Akpabio was acting at the command of Mr. President, decided it was time to call the bluff of Buhari and his minister
They demanded that President Buhari place all funds accruing to NDDC, except the ones for salaries, in an escrow account until he (Buhari) inaugurates a board in accordance with the Act establishing the interventionist agency.
The governors, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), who is chairman, South-South Governors Forum ; Nyesom Ezenwo Wike (Rivers); Godwin Obaseki (Edo); Senator Douye Diri (Bayelsa); and Deputy Governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Mr. Moses Ekpo, who represented his boss, Governor Emmanuel Udom, took the decision at the forum’s meeting in Port-Harcourt, Rivers Sate.
Governor Okowa, who briefed newsmen described as worrisome the running of the NDDC in more than a year by an Interim Caretaker Committee, and now, an Interim Administrator, adding prevalent situation does not augur well for the people of the Niger Delta as opportunity for all states to be represented as they ought to be represented in the board of the NDDC does not exist
The governors said that whenever the board of the NDDC is constituted, the Advisory Council must be called upon to place its role to ensure there is check and balance so that the states will truly have value for money expended by the NDDC.
According to Okowa: ”So, it means that the NDDC is actually run in such a manner that it is actually not truly beneficial to our people, because there is no stakeholders’ input in the running of the affairs of the NDDC.
“We do know that there is a forensic audit taking place and if that is reason the board has not been constituted, our advice is that monies being sent to the NDDC should be put in an escrow account until a board is constituted and then proper processes are followed in the expenditure of the money in a such a way it will be visibly accountable in the best interest of the peoples of the Niger Delta.
“A situation where we begin to have emergency projects that possibly will not last three to six months is not right, we don’t feel happy about it and we are urging Mr. President to ensure that if the board is not going to be immediately constituted, then funds for the NDDC beyond the payment of salaries should be put on hold until he constitutes the board and the board can now run the finances of the NDDC as per the law creating the NDDC.
“We feel already short-changed as a people in the Niger Delta and we believe that we do not wish to see this kind of situation continue going forward into the future because our people feel the pains, we do not want a situation where there is an abuse of processes, neither should we have a situation where we have abuse of funds.
“We believe that it is best for both the country, for the states of the Niger Delta and for the people of the Niger Delta when the due process is followed by the reconstitution of the board and also in reconstituting the board, that the reconstituted board should come in and have funds to spend as per the law,” he said.
Akpabio derides govs
President Buhari, who the governors directed their demand was understandably yet to figure out the communication when Akpabio responded to the governors, same day, from Port Harcourt.
He said: ”I am not aware that governors now have powers to give directives to the President, but I think they have more critical issues to fix in the region. Federal Government told governors to allow democracy in local government areas and stop the narrative of operating caretakers in the councils.
“In many of the states, councils are left without democratically elected local government areas for several months. But even when they now say we want to conduct elections, somebody will sit in a room and write names of his choice as chairman and councilors, but they have not been denied funds by FG.
“I am ready to have a board for NDDC by tomorrow, but let us finish with the forensic audit first, then we can have a board, but it would not be business as usual. We brought forensic audit and even the governors supported it because we said NDDC has not worked.
“So we want to know why it has not worked to be able to do things differently. Forensic audit will be out in a few months. From what we know already, we will need some policy and legal amendments to have the change we want.
“So the governors should not be issuing directives to the President. They should carry out proper council elections. Today, NDDC does not have a balance sheet you can take to the World Bank to access funds. When the right thing is done, more money will come. A board will definitely be appointed,” he added.
Why the minister did not allow Mr. President to address the dire issues raised by the governors and chose to treat them with such impertinence was palpable in his response.
He has no plan for inauguration of a board for the commission in April as earlier pledged in January. Secondly, Akwa’s tenure may be extended going by his words that forensic audit would be out in a few months because nobody expects that another sole administrator will be appointed to oversee completion of the forensic audit.
Why we don’t trust Akpabio— Monarchs
The suspicion was pervasive even before the governors came out openly, it was already a known secret that Akpabio was not likely to keep his words on inauguration of the much-awaited commission’s board in April.
In fact, when he mentioned inauguration of board in April, many thought it was the Odubu-led board, but he meant an entirely new board, which is the subterfuge he wants to deploy until the governors burst the scheme.
Akpabio had while receiving the interim report of NDDC from the forensic auditors, January 6, in Abuja, stated: “By April, this year, when we are done with the forensic audit, we will inaugurate aboard and the report of the forensic audit will be given to those agitating for it so that we can have a new management.”
Two Niger-Delta monarchs, former national chairman, Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, HM Charles Ayemi-Botu, Udurhie 1, the Ovie of Idjerhe kingdom, Delta state, HRM Obukowho Monday Whiskey, had days before the governors exploded, charged Senator Akpabio not to fail on his promise in January that the board NDDC would be inaugurated next month.
HM Ayemi-Botu, also the paramount ruler of Seimbiri kingdom, Delta state, asserted: “My call on Akpabio is to abide by his promise that NDDC board led by Chief Pius Odubu as chairman and Chief Bernard Okumagba as managing director would be inaugurated in April, which is just next month.”
“However, many know that except it is through divine intervention, Senator Akpabio will not keep to his promise to inaugurate the substantive board of the NDDC. Having strategically positioned his kinsman as a sole administrator he has succeeded in having the sole and heart of the NDDC, courtesy of Mr. President.
“You see, there is a popular parlance that 20 years is not forever and so the highly orchestrated and controversial, indeed almighty forensic audit, projected to last for six months that endured for nearly two years during which two illegal Interim Management Committees, IMCs, were hand-picked by the Minister of the Niger Delta with the tacit support of President Buhari, will surely end one day.
“That the forensic audit report was submitted without any fanfare leaves room for suspicion. The entire exercise is fraught with illegality and suspicions and was glaringly designed to scuttle the substantive board,” he said.
Similarly, HRM Whiskey, told Saturday Vanguard: “Obong Akpabio cannot be trusted, the promise by the minister to inaugurate NDDC Board in April is a political statement that should not be taking serious by a critical stakeholder in the Niger Delta, but he still has to be held accountable for his word. Obong Akpabio’s body language and activities in the recent time have clearly shown that he is only buying time.”
“As a critical stakeholder, I have had enough of Akpabio’s actions already and cannot take more. For close to two years now, Obong Akpabio has held everybody hostage and selfishly decided the faith of over 50 million people who are direct beneficiaries of NDDC intervention.
“He has deliberately turned the good intention of President Muhammadu Buhari to carry out forensic audit of the agency into a personal project without input of stakeholders. Can you do forensic audit without visiting project sites? Up till date, no forensic auditor has visited any known community to verify project locations and have stakeholders’ input as to whether such project are there or not.
“The forensic audit should have a life span or is this Akpabio forensic audit for life? Today Akpabio’s handpicked sole administrator is destroying whatever is left of the soul of NDDC and concerned stakeholders are pained that an individual and a son of the region can deliberately abandon his ministerial responsibilities and turned all his attention to the regional agency and now makes it his personal estate.
“Returning NDDC back to the Presidency and inaugurating the already screened and confirmed board of the agency under the chairmanship of Dr. Odubu and managing directorship of Chief Okumagba remain the best way to put an end to this dance of shame at the NDDC,” the monarch added.
We shall battle Akpabio— IPF
Except for the Presidency which Akpabio draws his power and some disciples, the minister’s clever plots are now notorious to the people of the region, who have resolved that President Buhari should stop his charade in NDDC.
The leadership of the Ijaw Political Frontiers, IPF, Wednesday, described Akpabio as power-drunk the manner he addressed governors of the region, noting his coded comment that there would not be a substantive board of NDDC until the forensic auditors of the commission complete their assignment.
Spokesman, Mr. Bedford Benjamin, in a statement, stated: “We shall resist you (Akpabio) with every legal means and see to it that your illegal reign of injustice and unconventional practices come to an end.
“Using the caretaker techniques of running local government structures does not apply in this case. It is rather shameful to hear the minister citing that as an example to justify the endless interim administrations in the NDDC,” the group said.
READ ALSO: NDDC: IYC frowns at the inauguration of Advisory and monitoring committee without a substantive board
IPF maintained that Akpabio did not have any right to hold the commission to ransom by installing his acolytes in the guise of conducting a forensic audit.
It sent a stern warning to those allegedly conniving with the minister to “allow this huge misfortune in the Niger Delta.”
“It is however sad to hear Akpabio using subtle insulting words on our elected governors in the bid to make a point. Akpabio is getting power-drunk and his lackadaisical disposition on sensitive issues in the NDDC is worrisome.
“Any further delay may make the waters from the creeks begin to boil again. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. We want the constitution of a substantive board of the NDDC now!”
Stop the sham, NDPF tells Buhari
In the last few days, the groundswell of opposition has escalated with the Niger Delta Peoples Forum, NDPF, asking President Buhari not to sit by and let the charade orchestrated by Senator Akpabio at NDDC to continue.
In a drawn-out statement, National Chairman, NDPF, Chief Boma Ebiakpo, noted: “Under the ruse of an audit, Chief Akpabio has commandeered the NDDC as an estate he runs as he wishes.”
“Rather than listen to the demands of the Niger Delta people, Akpabio insults them and makes light of the request to follow the law in running the NDDC.
“For instance, reacting to the governors’ call for the board to be put in place, he defended the current illegality by saying that since some state governors refuse to hold local government elections he is justified in not allowing the board to be put in place! This is most ludicrous and makes a ridicule of the Buhari administration.
“Through guile and scheming, Akpabio has ‘weaponized’ the so-called forensic audit to justify the illegality and fraud he is superintending at the NDDC.
“In his flawed logic, an external audit cannot be carried out in an agency except the legally-provided-for board (whose members were never part of the NDDC during the audit period is put on hold).
“The reality is that and a number of his interim managers have been deeply involved in the flawed management of the NDDC over the years which should ordinarily disqualify them from supervising the forensic audit of the operations of the NDDC for those years,” the group asserted.