NDDC board, SONPED

Civil Society Organisation, Niger Delta Peoples’ Forum, Monday, condemned Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, for asking Niger Delta Women and youths to channel their grievances to President Buhari concerning the inauguration of NDDC Board.

Describing the Minister’s reply to the women and youths demand for NDDC Board inauguration as “another embarrassing volte-face,” Chief Boma Ebiakpo, National Chairman, Niger Delta Peoples’ Forum chided Senator Akpabio for trying to exonerate himself from an unnecessary impasse he created and is rather diverting attention and blaming the President for the delay in inaugurating the NDDC Board.

 READ THE FULL STATEMENT BELOW.

The attention of Niger Delta Peoples’ Forum (NDPF) has been drawn to, yet again, another embarrassing volte-face by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, as reported in The Nation newspaper of December 4, 2021, under the headline “NDDC Board: channel your grievances to Buhari, Akpabio tells women, youths.”

In what now appears to be an inelegant pattern of backtracking and eating of his words, Senator Akpabio, in a reply letter to Wailing Women of Niger Delta (WWND) who accused him of delaying the inauguration of NDDC Board, asked the women to channel their grievances to his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Minister, whose reply, dated November 30, 2021, was signed by his ministry’s Director, Planning, Research and Statistics, Alfred A. Abah, said “kindly redirect your appeal to the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria for his kind consideration.”

Earlier, on September 3, 2021, Akpabio sent a similar letter to youths under the auspices of the South-South Youth Initiative (SSYI) who were demanding immediate inauguration of NDDC Board.

This, to say the least, is most preposterous of a serving Minister to strenuously labour to exonerate himself from an unnecessary impasse he created and is rather diverting attention and blaming the President for the delay in inaugurating the NDDC Board when he effortlessly directs the women and youths of Niger Delta to “channel your grievances to Buhari.”

Yet, this is the same supervising Minister of the NDDC, who, through an official memo in 2019 recommended to the President the suspension of the inauguration of the substantive Board, which President Buhari had appointed, and which was confirmed by the Senate in November of 2019. 

Recall that in a similar pattern, Senator Godswill Akpabio, as reported in The Nation of November 2, 2021, under the headline “It’s not part of my job to constitute NDDC Board, says Akpabio,” also attempted to absolve himself from the delay in inaugurating the NDDC Board. In the above report, the Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Godswill Akpabio spoke through his Media Adviser, Jackson Udom.

Subsequently, in a belated attempt by the Minister, in a statement published in ThisDay ten days later, on Friday, November 12, 2021 which he personally signed, titled “Re: Formation of NDDC Board Not Part of My Responsibilities,” Senator Akpabio labored to extricate himself and walk back his statement that “It’s not part of my job to constitute NDDC Board.”  

 The Minister’s futile attempt to confuse Niger Deltans and exonerate himself from the inexplicable delay in inaugurating the NDDC Board, is embarrassingly puerile because it contradicts what he has publicly said and done in the past two years on the saddle as supervising Minister of NDDC. 

Obviously aware of the fever pitch tension the inexplicable continued delay in inaugurating the substantive board of NDDC is causing in the region after two years of the forensic audit exercise and after three months of President Buhari’s receipt of the forensic audit report, coupled with Mr. President’s earlier promise to inaugurate the Board on receipt of the audit report, embattled Senator Akpabio, now attempts to distance himself from the NDDC Board impasse, which he created in the first place. 

We recall that Senator Akpabio as supervising Minister of the NDDC, through an official memo in 2019 recommended to the President the suspension of the inauguration of the substantive Board, which President Buhari had appointed, and which was confirmed by the Senate in November of 2019. The Minister instead in that same memo recommended to the President the running of NDDC with illegal interim management/sole administrator contraptions until the completion of the forensic audit, contrary to the provisions of NDDC Act.

Unfortunately there has been unending irregularities and lack of due process in NDDC since October 2019 when Akpabio’s illegal interim management/sole administrator contraptions have been administering the Commission in flagrant violation of the NDDC Establishment Act of 2000.

As pointed out by Professor Benjamin Okaba, President of Ijaw National Congress (INC), under the interim management/sole administrator contraptions, “over N600bn payments have been made for emergency contracts; over 1,000 persons have been allegedly employed in the NDDC between January and July, 2020 without due process; while the 2020 budget was passed in December and N400bn was voted for the NDDC but the commission had spent over N190bn before the budget was passed, thereby violating the Procurement Act.”

We also recall the Senate probe of NDDC in June/July of 2020 which revealed how the NDDC Interim Management Committee (IMC) blew N81.5 billion in just a couple of months on fictitious contracts, frivolities, and in breach of extant financial and public procurement laws. The Senate therefore passed a resolution recommending that the IMC should refund the sum of N4.923 Billion to the Federation Account, and that the IMC should be disbanded, while the substantive board should be inaugurated to manage the Commission in accordance with the law.

Niger Deltans are very upset with the disdainful manner the region has been treated. There is increasing anger against the Federal Government and the APC in the Niger Delta region as a result of the very poor, biased, illegal and provocative actions of the Federal Government in the handling of matters concerning the NDDC and the Niger Delta region.

Further checks on what the Minister has said in the past two years firmly contradict his latest lame claim that on “NDDC Board: channel your grievances to Buhari.”

On January 6 this year, Senator Godswill Akpabio, had stated that a substantive board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) will be inaugurated by April 2021 after the forensic audit of the commission. Akpabio stated this in Abuja while receiving the interim report of the commission from the forensic auditors. Said he, “By April this year, when we are done with the forensic audit, we will inaugurate a board for the Commission and the report of the forensic audit will be given to those agitating for it so that we can have a new management.”

On the 4th of June this year, following the ultimatum by Niger Delta militants including Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo), Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Godswill Akpabio stated that the process of inaugurating the NDDC Board starts with him as the supervising Minister and that he would fast-track the process of inaugurating the substantive Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) board. He stated this after an emergency consultative visit to Oporoza, headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri Southwest of Delta State. Traditional rulers from Bayelsa, Edo and Ondo states joined the Pere of Gbaramatu kingdom in Delta state as part of the consultative meeting.

The minister, at the consultative meeting said: “There is a process and that process starts with me as the Minister of Niger Delta. The major thing is that we have committed to work together to make sure that we give what the people want. We have agreed that government through me, through my office will work very hard to fast-track the process. The consensus of stakeholders is that there is a need for more representation in the NDDC and so a board is needed”. 

Also on June 29 this year, The Minister, who spoke while appearing on a live Radio Nigeria Audience participatory programme organized as part of the activities marking the second term of the Buhari Administration at the Radio House in Abuja stated that the “recommendations and outcome of the forensic audit of the activities of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, would be implemented by the board to be inaugurated soon.”

 The following day, June 30, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who fielded questions from State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja said that action had been expedited on the process of inauguration of the board of NDDC.

Stakeholders in the Niger Delta region are therefore understandably shocked and disappointed in what now appears to be another embarrassing attempt to shift responsibility and blame his boss, President Buhari, for the inexplicable delay in inaugurating the NDDC Board when he now gleefully states that “channel your grievances to Buhari,” contradicting what he has publicly said in the past two years.

The continued illegality of the interim management committees/sole administrator contraptions which the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs foisted on NDDC since October 2019 in breach of the law, NDDC Establishment Act No. 6 of 2000, is a national embarrassment that should be of grave concern to President Buhari, most especially for his legacy when he leaves office in May 2023. For a President who stated in October 2019 when he received in audience the governors of the nine constituent states of the NDDC that “I try to follow the Act setting up these institutions especially the NDDC,” there is no better time than now, when his supervisory Minister of NDDC is serially eating his words, to end the illegality of further administering NDDC with a Sole Administrator which is in breach of NDDC Act – the law setting-up the Commission. 

Recall that President Buhari promised the nation on the 24th day of June 2021, while receiving the Ijaw National Congress (INC) at the State House in Abuja that the NDDC Board would be inaugurated as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted. 

The President said: ‘‘Based on the mismanagement that had previously bedeviled the NDDC, a forensic audit was set up and the result is expected by the end of July, 2021. I want to assure you that as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted, the NDDC Board will be inaugurated.”

However, the Forensic audit report has been submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari since September 2, 2021 prompting the Ijaw National Congress to caution that “any further delay in the inauguration of the NDDC Board is a clear betrayal of trust and display of state insensitivity on Ijaw nation and Niger Delta region.”

Presently, across the length and breadth of the Niger Delta region there are unending calls, demands and peaceful agitations of youths, men and women, political and traditional leaders and civil society organisations that the inauguration of the board of NDDC will ensure compliance with the NDDC Act, promote and sustain peace, equity and fairness, transparency and accountability, good governance and rapid development and transformation of the Niger Delta Region, and douse the tension of militancy as well as curtail the menace of insecurity in the region.

Rather than the unnecessary red-herring, Senator Akpabio should undo the damage he has caused to the region, hearken to the urgent call and legitimate demands of Niger Delta stakeholders, and get President Muhammadu Buhari to comply with the NDDC Act and inaugurate the NDDC Board without further delay to manage the Commission for the benefit of the people of the nine constituent Niger Delta states.”

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