Politics and not development debate is at the heart of the unceasing rivalry between the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Mr. Nsima Ekere, and Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State. Okon Bassey reports

There are evident indications that the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, and the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Nsima Ekere, are having a cold war over the 2019 elections in the state. Until his appointment as the NDDC MD, Ekere was deputy to Senator Godswill Akpabio, although his tenure was very brief. Interestingly, Emmanuel and Ekere are from the same senatorial district, Eket Senatorial District.
However, while Emmanuel is from Onna Local Government Area, Ekere hails from Ikot Abasi Local Government Area of the state. As deputy governor then, Ekere was rumoured as the likely successor to Akpabio in 2015 if he joined the governorship race. He had what it takes to achieve that. His political activities, maneuverings and connections across the state were seen as superb. However, the political forces that see tomorrow plotted his exit from government, the race and eventually, the PDP.

This caused him to leave the PDP for the rival All Progressives Congress (APC). Also, his brief absence from the political scene after leaving government had made it seem like he was already finished politically. But his appointment as the NDDC MD has changed all the political extrapolations in the mind of the ruling PDP and other opposition groups.

The appointment is seen by pundits as reawakening the spirit of politics in him. And since assuming office, he has been approaching the NDDC job seriously and creating the necessary impact across his area of jurisdiction, covering the nine Niger Delta states. In Akwa Ibom State, the work of the NDDC under Ekere could easily be seen and felt by residents across the three senatorial districts of the state. Besides, he has also reactivated and reinvigorated his political machines across the three senatorial districts.

With his involvement, APC in the state is now becoming lively as people defect to the party almost on a monthly basis. People are now talking good about the works of NDDC and the state government feels slighted and intimidated in terms of performance and popularity. Although Ekere has not openly expressed his intent to contest the 2019 governorship election or his party coming forth to say so, series of consultations and alignments indicate that he might be that bride of the party in the election. Perhaps, this is one reason Governor Emmanuel, PDP and top government functionaries in the state see Ekere’s position in the NDDC as a threat to the PDP in 2019. Emmanuel wants to return to office in 2019. But the fear of Ekere is generating palpable tension in the camp of the PDP. The party and top political office holders will in any comfortable forum try to run down or rubbish the activities of the NDDC, under Ekere’s leadership.

It is not only the NDDC activities that attract heavy criticisms from the ruling party in the state and government officials, there are instances that where APC and Ekere names are mentioned, the PDP will find or create lope-holes either to snide at or ridicule the NDDC.
On October 3 when the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, held a security summit and lecture for the people of the South-south in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, it was a good forum for Governor Emmanuel to run down the NDDC before its MD, Ekere who was quietly sitting among top guests on the high table

“The federal government should look at development agencies that were set up. Have they performed? You can’t set up a development agency and hand it over to politicians. They will politicise the development. Let development agencies go to people that know how to manage resources, people who have done it overtime and know what to do with it so that they can also bring development into the region.

“Let me also use this opportunity that the MD of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is here to state clearly that NDDC does not own even a piece of land. It is the governors that are in charge of land. NDDC should not enter any of the nine states to do any project without permission from the governors. That is why they have not been able to execute even a kilometer of road in my state, they have never commissioned even one kilometer of road in my state, because the projects are politicised.

“This thing is a joint force. The state government, federal government agencies joining together to actually make sure we impact on the lives of our people. When it is time for politics, we will play politics; when it’s time for development, let’s develop and impact on the lives of our people and leave some of these things that we are doing. Let’s know that it is time we come together and get some things done for our people”, Emmanuel fumed at the summit.
Curiously, the state government and PDP soon took their rivalry of the NDDC and Ekere to the United States of America. At this year convention of the Akwa Ibom State Association of Nigeria (AKISAN), USA, held in August in Atlanta, Georgia, the 42-man Akwa Ibom State government delegation was said to have boycotted the conference for the first time after arriving at the venue.

The delegation reportedly led by the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio with other top government officials returned home unfulfilled, because the organisers ignored their request and agenda for the meeting. Some of the demands the leader of the government delegation had reportedly asked for was the picture of the NDDC Managing Director, which was on the cover of the convention programme to be replaced with that of the governor, Emmanuel.

The delegation was said to have demanded a withdrawal of the programme and a quick reprint of same with the governor’s photograph replacing Ekere’s, amongst other things. Unfortunately, the request was turned down with genuine explanation. Again the delegation had sought to know why the APC members were allowed to hold a meeting on one of the floors of the hotel.

“This is the US and we will not pay thugs to disrupt their (APC) meetings or interfere with the right of people to peacefully converge. We told them that they could also pay for a conference room and have a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) meeting. We were surprised because we thought the delegation represented all Akwa Ibom people. We do not care about PDP or APC; they are the two faces of the same coin,” an official of AKISAN was quoted to have told the government delegation.

Also, when a reception and a church service were held for the MD of the NDDC by his kinsmen of Ikot Abasi on July 22 and 23, 2017 respectively, there was no state government present in the two events that attracted guests from across the country. According to explanations from some government officials, the photograph of the governor on the programme brochure was belittling, not the official portrait of the governor and was deliberate.
To further demean the governor, it was noted that neither the prefix ‘Mr’ or ‘His Excellency’ was added to the governor’s name on the brochure.

“Publishing an ‘unofficial’ photo of Mr. Emmanuel and not attaching ‘His Excellency’ or ‘Mr.’ to the governor’s name was the latest evidence of the NDDC hostility”, a top government official was quoted to have said, adding: “It was discovered at the just concluded event that, while the compliments: ‘His Excellency, Sir and KJW’, were attached to the name of Ekere (the NDDC MD and a former deputy governor of the state), the governor, Emmanuel, was simply addressed as ‘Udom Gabriel Emmanuel’ on page five of the programme, without the corresponding titles and prefix.

Ekere also attracted criticisms over alleged pettiness as captured in the programme, when he presented the governor in a tired and casual mood by refusing to use the governor’s official portrait, while presenting himself in a dignified robe. “If Ekere’s first act was to be regarded as a mere typographical error, what justification would be offered for his refusal to use the governor’s official portrait? And why was the blunder in the programme particularly committed?”

But reacting, an official of the committee that arranged the reception said, “We are aware that Sir Ekere holds the office of Governor of Akwa Ibom State in high esteem. That was why we sent two official invitations to the Governor for the thanksgiving service and Sir Ekere followed up by personally calling the governor to invite him. We are aware that the governor promised to attend the event. Why the governor neither attended the event nor sent any representative, unlike his counterparts in the Niger Delta region, is not known to us.

“Certainly, it could not have been because of the omission of ‘His Excellency’ from his name and non-usage of a particular photograph. Sir Ekere had given the committee firm instruction that he wanted to thank God for His bountiful blessings on him and his family and nothing more. He insisted that no political or social group be allowed to hoist any banner or poster within the area. We followed his instructions to the letter. It is, therefore, amusing to see this needless and unsuccessful attempt to politicise the thanksgiving service,”
A member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly representing Mkpat Enin State Constituency, Otobong Ndem, regretted that the positions of the governor on NDDC projects were being politicised.

“We are happy that we have our own brother as the managing director of the NDDC. It is important that we key into this opportunity. But the position of the state governor is very clear. There is no issue between the government of Akwa Ibom State, managing director of NDDC and NDDC as an agency. The truth is that the NDDC, in developing the state, there is the need to partner the government. So, the position of the governor should not be misunderstood.
“If NDDC wants to construct a road in a particular local government, and the state government has already done a design on that particular road in preparation to move into the site, and might even award the contract, NDDC will still have to spend government money, designing the same road and award the contract on that same road that has already been awarded by the state government.

“That will amount to duplication and waste of money. It would be wrong for the NDDC to waste the tax payers’ money to do the design of the same road. It is important for the NDDC to develop the state, but in doing so they need to key into the development master plan of the state government to avoid duplication of issues.

“The state government and NDDC as an agency of the federal government are not struggling for anything but issues have to be put straight on the table – as you move into my community, there is need to partner the Government of Akwa Ibom State, so that we will know the areas the government has already committed money into in doing their development.

A concerned group in the state, the Network Advancement Programme for Poverty and Disaster Risk Reduction (NAPPDRR) has also expressed concerned at the unhealthy relationship between the state governor and the NDDC leadership.
The group committed to good governance, youths empowerment and overall development of Niger Delta, observed with dismay that “the unfriendly posture of Governor Emmanuel against the NDDC was capable of stunting the agency’s development plans for Akwa Ibom”.

President of NAPPDRR, Alhaji Al Mustapher Emem Edoho, and the Board of Trustees (BoT) member, Comrade Jubril Edukere, however sued for peace, noting that “the governor’s posture may hinder federal government’s agenda for the region. The NDDC was set up as an interventionist agency to complement the policies and programmes of state governors of Niger Delta.

“In these harsh economic realities, the Commission has been doing the utmost, even with paucity of funds to take development to the region. I believe the governors should only complement the agency and work together in harmonious terms in order to accelerate socio-economic development of the region, instead of working at cross purposes”.