As the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, summons Niger Delta ethnic nationalities over agitations, Niger Delta Elders Forum, Wednesday described his action as a sham.
Recall that Akpabio had invited all ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta region with a view to addressing issues causing unrest in the oil-rich region.
The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), few weeks ago, allegedly disrupted the peace in the area over government’s failure to reconstitute a substantive board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Moreso, Chief Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo, on Sunday, issued a seven-day ultimatum to President Muhammadu Buhari and Akpabio to inaugurate the NDDC board.
In view of the above, Akpabio summoned Niger Delta ethnic nationalities inorder to address problems in the region.
Reacting, Chief Tonye Ogbogbula, National President in a statement sent to Vanguard, opined: “ The announcement put out by Niger Delta Minister Chief Godswill Akpabio, as reported in The Guardian, June 2, 2021, that he will hold a meeting with presidents of the various ethnic nationality youth groups in the nine states covered by the Niger Delta Development Commission to address the protests over the non-inauguration of the NDDC Board is a sham.
“This is discernible from the associations he has invited to the meeting, many of which are either fringe groups or are non-existent. The only objective of the planned meeting is to buy the minister more time to continue to run the NDDC using interim managements, which are illegal and prone to manipulation by him.
“What Akpabio is doing is to call leaders of fringe groups, which are to all intents and purposes portfolio ethnic nationality youth associations that he apparently created and has been projecting to meet and endorse him and his actions so far.
“According to the statement from the minister, the invitation letter was sent to the president of the Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities Youth Council, one Terry Obieh, a portfolio association, which has been employed on several occasions in the past 20 months to praise and endorse every action of Akpabio.
“One year ago, after Akpabio failed to conclude the audit, as promised, and put the Board in place, the selfsame Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities Youth Council issued a press statement ‘passing a vote of confidence’ on Akpabio. Such characters do not represent the Niger Delta people. As usual, these associations will claim to speak for the various ethnicities of the NDDC states where the more established and recognised unions hold sway. This charade cannot confuse anyone.
“These unknown youth groups do not represent the leadership of the ethnic nationalities of the Niger Delta states. For the avoidance of doubt, the authentic leadership of the Niger Delta ethnic groups have spoken clearly on these matters and they align with the central position of the Pan Niger Delta Foundation, PANDEF, Niger Delta Governors, statesmen and people, that Akpabio has a sinister agenda at the NDDC. Having realised the dubious intentions of the minister, all these stakeholders have made it clear that the Board of the NDDC should be inaugurated without further delay.
“On Thursday, April 29, 2021, the Delta State Governor and Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, speaking on behalf of the South-South Governors Forum was unequivocal when he called on President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate the Board of the NDDC without further delay to restore fairness, equity, full representation of the constituent states in its management and accountability to the intervention agency.
“Okowa had stated that: “As governors we have spoken. What is going on at the moment is not the best for our region, it is not the best for the oil producing states. In the first instance, you have a sole administrator that is unknown to law. When we have a full board, the full board has representation from each state and people are able to speak for their States and ensure that there is justice and equity in the distribution of amenities and facilities. That we cannot be assured of as of now because you are running a sole administration which is foreign to us. I do believe also that the earlier the board is inaugurated, the more we can truly plan.”
“Continuing, he said “We cannot hide under the fact that we are doing a forensic audit. That does not stop us from inaugurating a board because the board is looking forward while you are doing your forensic examination which is about the past. Allow a new board to come in to start functioning and when the report of the forensic audit does come, the board can still look at it and know what actions to take or the Federal Government can take those actions that need to be taken.”
“To drive home the position of the South-South Governors, he emphatically stated that “We are currently being fooled; we are not happy about it and when our people do agitate, we believe that they are doing so in the right direction. I think the time has come for the presidency to listen to the South-South governors and all of us from the oil producing states to please quickly inaugurate the board because we are suffering from it. We believe that as at today, the funds of that agency are not being managed equitably and it is not being managed in such a way that we can truly say that are accountable. The EFCC can take over the issue of the forensic audit because we know it is not for the board to handle. The board can only handle those projects but any fraudulent act of the past can be taken over by the EFCC and justice can be done to that. We cry to Mr. President today, we add our voice to those of persons from the oil producing states to say that we urgently need a board for the NDDC. It is for the best interest of the oil producing states and the nation.”
“Over the last two years Akpabio has run the NDDC like his personal fiefdom, appointing and relieving Interim Managements as he chooses, while disregarding the inauguration of the substantive Governing Board. Beginning from October 2019, when he announced the imposition of an Interim Management Committee, Akpabio has shifted the goalposts on the purpose of the two IMCs he appointed and sacked, and the current Interim Sole Administrator. First, it was to stay for six months and allow for the conduct of a forensic audit, now it has taken over 20 months, with fresh excuses every step of the way. But the evidence is that there is absolutely no reason not to put the Board in place while the forensic audit is ongoing. This is the crux of the matter. Why can’t the Board be put in place? The forensic audit is about the past and the incoming Board members did not run the NDDC during the past period which is the subject of the forensic audit.
“Since Akpabio took over the leadership of the NDDC he has turned it into the worst public sector, a fact that is clear to all Nigerians and the international community.
“Not a single project has been executed in any of the states during this period, while he and his cronies as Interim Managements have continued to mismanaging the funds coming into the Commission from the nine constituent states, the Federal Government, the local and International Oil Companies (IOCs), on a monthly basis.
“Through guile and schemings, Akpabio has weaponed the so-called forensic audit to justify the illegality actions at the NDDC. In his flawed logic, an external audit cannot be carried out in an agency except the legally-provided-for Board is put on hold. Everything about his forensic audit is tainted, from the selection of audit firms to Akpabio’s personal interest and involvement in the NDDC corruption over the years.
“Akpabio served as Governor of Akwa Ibom State between 2007 and 2015 during which time he nominated a chairman, a managing director and NDDC state representatives. His Interim Sole Administrator, Effiong Okon Akwa who is supposed to oversee the audit was a key player in a past NDDC management facilitated by Akpabio when he was Governor of Akwa Ibom State.
“Effiong Okon Akwa was first appointed as General Manager of Akwa Ibom Savings and Loans by Akpabio and then posted as Special Assistant on Finance to a former NDDC MD (Bassey Dan-Abia) who was nominated for the position by Akpabio. If, indeed, the idea is to supervise a credible forensic audit from its inception to 2019, which also covers the period of the Dan-Abia regime in NDDC (2013-2015), then Mr Effiong Akwa clearly cannot be the right person to supervise the conclusion of the forensic audit of the NDDC. That management was sacked by President Buhari on assumption of office in 2015. How then can the vomit become the saving meal?
“This exposes the folly in the whole excuse of having the audit before inaugurating the Governing Board. There is nowhere that a Governing Board of a public agency in Nigeria has been set aside for the purpose of conducting an external audit, not even when the current Buhari Administration audited all revenue earning agencies including the NNPC and the NPA between 2016 and 2017. Special audits have also been carried out at both the NNPC and NPA without putting aside their Governing Boards or enabling laws.
“The current impasse at the NDDC is one that the federal government needlessly brought about through the meddlesomeness of Akpabio who wanted to have personal control of the NDDC for his own benefit. In his desire to hijack the NDDC, the minister sold the idea of appointing an Interim Management Committee despite the nomination of a Governing Board, which was duly nominated by the President and cleared by the Senate in line with the NDDC Act.
“President Muhammadu Buhari had in exercise of his constitutional powers forwarded to the Senate for confirmation, the appointment of a 16 – member board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) via a letter dated 18th October, 2019, personally signed by him.
“Specifically, President Buhari in the letter sought the Senate’s confirmation for Dr Pius Odubu, former Edo State Deputy Governor as chairman of the NDDC, Chief Bernard Okumagba as Managing Director and 14 others as members of its board.
“The President’s letter read: “In accordance with the provision of Section 2(2)(a) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) (Establishment) Act, 2000, I write to forward, for confirmation by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the under listed nominees for appointment into the NDDC board, to occupy the positions indicated against their names.” President Buhari, in the letter, expressed hope that “the Senate will consider and confirm the nominees in the usual expeditious manner”.
“Accordingly, the written request, which was read on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 by its President, Ahmad Lawan, was given expeditious consideration by the upper legislative chamber, which directed its Standing Committee on Niger Delta, to screen all the nominees and report back within a week. The Senate screened and confirmed the appointments of 15 out of the 16 nominees on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, based on the report tabled before it by the Committee on Niger Delta. However, this Board that has been screened and confirmed is yet to be inaugurated eighteen months after.
“The Niger Delta people are sick and tired of Akpabio’s actions while the NDDC shirks its primary duty to spur the development of the region, which is why there is popular support across the region for the current protests. Mr President should listen to the voices of the people of the region and put a halt to charade at the NDDC. He should direct that the ministry continue its oversight of the audit process, which it says it has been doing, and direct that the board of the NDDC be inaugurated immediately. We cannot afford to have insecurity and restiveness in the Niger Delta over the shenanigans of one minister, not at this time when the neighbouring southeast region is already caught up in violence and instability.
“The South-South governors and all other authentic stakeholders in the Niger Delta region, not the groups that Akpabio has summoned to a meeting, have affirmed their distrust in the machinations of Akpabio at the NDDC and have demanded the inauguration of the Board in line with the requirements of the law governing the Commission.
“ We urge President Buhari and the Federal Government to heed the demands of the Niger Delta people by inaugurating the NDDC Governing Board to replace the current illegal contraption of a “Sole Administrator”.
The agitations in the region, the threats to oil exploration by various groups and nationalities in the Niger Delta, are clearly avoidable.”