By Ebibomo Akpoebide
Controversial Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio , last Wednesday joined the long list of aspirants seeking the ticket of the All Progressive Congress (APC) to contest for President of Nigeria.
Hardly had his motley crowd departed the Ikot Ekpene stadium venue of his declaration than the Niger Delta region literally went up in outrage at the Minister’s affront to vie for higher office in the face of what they describe as his “desecration” of the region’s foremost interventionist agency, NDDC, administering the Commission since October 2019 with Interim Managements/Sole Administrator contraptions which were not appointed according to the NDDC Act establishing the Commission.
The people of the Niger Delta region, and indeed all well-meaning Nigerians are understandably scandalised and outraged at Akpabio’s egregious and repulsive audacity to seek to aspire to the highest office in the land after he has spent the nearly three years of his tenure at the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to spearhead, supervise, and superintend the running of the region’s foremost interventionist agency, NDDC in the breach of its establishment Act of 2000, administering the Commission since October 2019 with Interim Managements/Sole Administrator contraptions which were not appointed according to the statutes establishing the federal agency. It is the longest breach of the law governing the operation of the commission since its establishment in 2000.
The media had variously reported, and Senator Akpabio is yet to deny it that he (Akpabio), as supervising Minister of the NDDC, through an official memo in 2019 recommended 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.
It was also reported in the media that the Minister recommended to President Buhari the running of NDDC with illegal interim managements/sole administrator contraptions until the completion of the forensic audit. These recommendations are contrary to the provisions of NDDC Act. The illegal interim managements/sole administrator contraptions have been administering NDDC since October 2019, in contravention of the law, and negates fair and equitable representation which a board guarantees and which ensures proper governance, accountability, equity and fairness to the nine constituent states.
As clearly stated in The NDDC Act, it only provides that the Board and Management (Managing Director and two Executive Directors) of the NDDC at any point in time should follow the provisions of the law which states that the Board and management is to be appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate. In effect, nobody is supposed to begin to administer the NDDC and utilise the huge funds accruing to it on a monthly basis without passing through this legal requirement as stipulated in the NDDC Act. To the detriment of the entire region, Senator Akpabio has been using these illegal interim contraptions/sole administrator to fleece the NDDC of its funds in the last two and half years.
In two scathing editorials in the first quarter of this year, “The Merry-Go-Round In NDDC” published on January 12, and “NDDC And The Anti-Graft Hoax” published on February 23, ThisDay newspaper emphatically stated that “The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is becoming an object of jokes among critical stakeholders. Almost six months after the submission of the report of its much-touted forensic report, the federal government has not been able to implement any of the recommendations or appoint a substantive board to allow the commission function effectively as stipulated by law. All that Nigerians are regaled with are tales and empty presidential threats while the Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio continues to run the commission with some nebulous interim management committees that are unknown to law.” The paper also affirmed that “Despite the agitations of critical stakeholders, the commission also remains without a substantive board. The minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio prefers to treat affairs of the NDDC more like a private estate by saddling the commission with cronies.”
Matter of fact, in October last year, Arewa leader in the South, Alhaji Musa Saidu had called on those urging Senator Godswill Akpabio to run for the 2023 presidency to thread with caution, noting that people of the Niger Delta region are bitter with the Minister over the delay in inaugurating the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
Alhaji Saidu said who will become President come 2023 is of great importance to all Nigerians, adding that as the leader of the north in the South he would advise the north rightly on the feelings of people of the South on presidential aspirants from the Niger Delta region.
The employment of deceit, propaganda and lies by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs in perpetuating the capture of the NDDC for selfish parochial interests is rather intriguing. When inaugurating the first illegal Interim Management Committee (IMC) in October 2019, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio, said the committee would stay in office for six months to ‘supervise the forensic audit.’ Then in January 2021 Akpabio re-stated that the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission would be concluded and the report submitted before April 2021.
But in February 2020, Senator Akpabio sacked his first IMC Acting Managing Director Ms Joi Nunieh and appointed a new Acting Managing Director, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei who was his classmate at FGC Port Harcourt, and extended the stay of the IMC to December 2020, by which time he said the audit will be concluded and the Board put in place. Just when that was drawing near, he sacked the Interim Management Committee and appointed his personal aide, Mr Effiong Okon Akwa, as Interim Sole Administrator “to assume headship till completion of the forensic audit,” with a promised forensic audit completion date of March 2021. That again proved to be a lie as the so-called audit was only completed in August and the report of the audit was submitted to President Buhari by Chief Akpabio on September 2, 2021, yet Okon Akwa is still in office as sole administrator.
In fact, in furtherance of that lie, Akpabio, who has been under fire for how he has manipulated the capture of the NDDC, had assured Niger Deltans that the board will be put in place by the end of July 2021. That promise was, again, not fulfilled.
Unfortunately there has been unending irregularities and lack of due process in NDDC since October 2019 when the illegal interim managements/sole administrator contraptions have been administering the Commission in flagrant violation of the NDDC Act of 2000.
Under the illegal interim managements/sole administrator contraptions, the combined two-year budgets for 2019 and 2020, as approved by the National Assembly was N799 Billion. Yet, 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; 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.”
It is also important to 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.
At the November 2021 protest by the Association of Contractors of the Niger Delta Development Commission (ACNDDC) who picketed the NDDC Head office in Port Harcourt, Chairman of ACNDDC, Joe Adia stated that “presently huge monies come into the Commission every month and the next thing we hear is that the money is finished. Who are you paying? Give us a record of the people you are paying. How can you pay N800 million each for so-called desilting jobs and yet contractors being owed N5 million you have refused to pay?
Also, earlier in the year, the media was awash with the doubly-restated scandal involving the illegal sole administrator contraption in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). According to some national newspapers, and many online platforms, in a story entitled “NDDC: IYC Alleges Illegal N20bn Payment To Ghost Contractors Over Phantom Job,” published on February 18, 2022, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) alleged that illegal N20bn payment was made to ghost contractors over phantom jobs.
In the reports, IYC alleged that the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, “in connivance with some persons, paid the sum of N20 billion to ghost contractors for phony distilling contracts purportedly awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).”
The council further alleged that “information at its disposal showed that the signatures of a former acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Professor Nelson Brambaifa, and the commission’s former executive director (projects), Samuel Ajogbe, were allegedly forged to carry out the sleazy process.”
A spokesman for the IYC, Ebilade Ekerefe, who spoke in Yenagoa alleged that the “phantom NDDC contractors were paid in tranches of between N300 million and N400 million in the last three months, amounting to N20 billion.”
He urged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to launch an investigation into the alleged huge payment to the ghost contractors.
He said, “They should investigate the financial transaction of the commission in the months under review. We have also discovered that out of the N20billion paid out illegally by the NDDC, 60 per cent is going to Abuja through the Bureau de Change while he (Akpabio) has failed to pay the genuine contractors that have finished the projects awarded by the commission.”
Senator Akpabio, by his numerous illegal actions in the NDDC in the last two and half years has been de-marketing the APC under whose platform he now seeks to aspire to become the nation’s President. In an article, “NDDC: Buhari’s Legacy of Illegality and Contempt,” by Godspower Tamunosusi, published in a national daily on December 13, 2021 and in many other national newspapers, he stated that “Niger Deltans are very upset with the disdainful manner the region has been treated.” He also noted that there is increasing anger against Akpabio 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 and half years firmly show a pattern of lies and deceit employed by Senator Akpabio to perpetrate the ongoing illegality of administering NDDC with interim managements/sole administrator contraptions.
On January 6 2021, 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 2021, 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 2021, 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.
In continuation of a pattern of lies and deceit employed by Senator Akpabio to perpetrate the ongoing illegality of administering NDDC with interim managements/sole administrator contraptions, earlier this week, on May 8, 2022, a national online platform, published a story entitled “Despite failing to constitute board, Akpabio says he repositioned NDDC; A civil society campaigner said that NDDC has ‘failed woefully’ under Mr Akpabio.” According to the platform, despite failing to inaugurate a substantive board for NDDC, Akpabio claimed that he “effectively repositioned the agency to meet its core mandate.” But the online platform reported that under Akpabio, NDDC has become a “corruption haven” as the Commission has been “enmeshed in several contract-related scandals and sundry allegations and mismanagement of funds.”
The online platform also quoted the executive director “We the People”, a non-governmental organisation based in the Niger Delta, Ken Henshaw, as stating that “NDDC has failed woefully under Mr Akpabio.” According to the report, “Mr Henshaw lamented how Mr Akpabio continues to direct the affairs of the NDDC with no regard for extant rules, citing example of the appointment of a ‘sole administrator’ for the agency.” Said Mr. Henshaw, “If you doubt me check reports of past panels of enquiry, including the recent probe by the National Assembly. What you’d hear are tales of corruption, mismanagement and the rest.”
Rather than embark on a wild goose presidential chase, Senator Akpabio should hearken to the legitimate demands of Niger Deltans, to undo the damage which he has done to the Niger Delta region, and get President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate the NDDC Board, in accordance with the law and ensure equitable representation of the nine constituent states. This, undoubtedly will ensure that both he and the President do not go down in infamy.
Mr. Akpoebide wrote from Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.