NDDC: Why Does Akpabio Want an Interim Board?

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Godswill-Akpabio

Godswill Akpabio is the Minister of the Niger Delta. He has been around the Nigerian political space for over two decades, having served as a commissioner to Governor Victor Attah of Akwa-Ibom State between 1999 and 2007. He then became a two-term governor and thereafter proceeded to the senate for one term, and from there he landed the ministerial job, having not won his re-election bid.

In these years, Akpabio, a lawyer and typical garrulous Nigerian politician, sure knows the way of Nigerian politics and all its shenanigans.

It is perhaps difficult to assume that a man could have been in the political mill for this long and still smell innocent. Sure, Akpabio has had a good measure of his troubles with the Nigerian state, essentially bothering on accountability matters with public funds. In
fact, there are some of such cases that are yet running in courts.

How far they will ever go remain to be seen. Indeed, a few other controversial encounters or clashes with the integrity agencies have been skillfully managed. A quick example is the controversy over how operatives of the DSS had broken into some special houses and apartments within the Akwa Ibom Government House and huge sums of foreign and local currencies, said to belong to Akpabio, were discovered and seized. That was long before Akpabio pulled out of the
PDP and joined the APC.

President Mohammadu Buhari was said to have intervened at the time, directing the DSS to withdraw from the case as it seemed to have infringed on the immunity of the sitting governor, Udom Emmanuel (whose official residence was stormed for the action). Again, that was when Akpabio and his god son, Gov Emmanuel were chummy and on the same page. Now, they are like cats and dogs, and would prefer to live
on different planets, if possible.

In 2016, Akpabio was still wielding so much power and influence in the polity, especially as the Senate’s Minority leader; and so, caused his lackey, Mr Nsima Ekere to become the Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Presiding over the NDDC at the time was almost like being, two times over, the Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), with all the financial
war chest that goes with it. The same Ekere was the one Akpabio had unsuccessfully positioned to take over from Governor Udom Emmanuel, at the last election as the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Two weeks ago, President Buhari had ordered a forensic audit of the NDDC from 2001 till date. During the said period, the NDDC had had about ten different boards. No doubt, the commission is being owed so much money both by the federal government and the oil industries, which are supposed to be co-funders of the commission. But the truth is that even the little or much that it has received has not been justifiably spent for the people of the Niger Delta. It has been described as the ATM of many influential people in government, including being used to fund elections.

Last August, President Buhari constituted another board. The senate was on vacation at the time and that delayed the screening and clearance of the nominated members of the board. And just when the presidency has sent the name to the senate preparatory for clearance, Akpabio suddenly comes up with the idea of an interim management /Engagement Board. According to the minister, the interim board would help to oversee the forensic audit.

Every reasonable person is surprised at the move of the minister. What does he need an interim board for, when the substantive board will soon be inaugurated? Does the Act setting up the NDDC prescribe anything like interim management board? I listened to Cairo Ojougboh a beneficiary of the anomaly, argue on Channels TV that there is nowhere in the NDDC Act that says interim management board cannot be set up. Why are they looking for what the Act did not say? Why are they not focusing on what the Act prescribes? On the contrary, did any section of the NDDC Act prescribe interim management board? Away with wonky arguments!

Was this why the former minister of state in the ministry, Mr Festus Keyamo was edged out and redeployed to Ministry of Labour and Productivity?

So, where is Akpabio deriving his powers from? The claim that the so-called interim management has the approval of the presidency is suspect. How can the same presidency which had sent the names of the substantive board members to the senate for clearance be the same presidency that will constitute a somewhat parallel interim board?
What kind of confusion is that? Already, as at last Tuesday, 16 out of the 17 names nominated for screening by the senate have been cleared, awaiting swearing-in.
Indeed, how will the interim board function? Who will they report to? Are they going to be the auditors and lawyers that will review the operations of the commission?

Did Akpabio just conceive an idea of a job for some of his men? Were it not so, what is the wisdom of appointing a medical doctor, Cairo Ojougboh, as Executive Director Project? Akpabio seems to be desperately up to something foggy Of what use is an interim management team when there is a substantive management team? Is it all to keep splurging the money they complain of not having?

Is it true that none of the top accounting or audit firms in the country has been shortlisted for the forensic audit job? Why does Akpabio want his men to supervise or teleguide the auditors?

Is it because of Ekere, his boy? Or is he compromised in the commission as well and would get the interim management to fashion out a redeeming report? Just why does he want an interim management?

Thankfully, the senate President, Ahmed Lawan, has declared the so-called interim body void, with the coming of the board. So, Akpabio, let’s return to status quo ante.

Already, under Akpabio’s ministerial watch, we have recorded what could pass as two uncommon scandals in less than four months which have been carefully and promptly managed from blowing out. First was that of the hiring of 300 workers in one fell swoop and two, of a N3 billion water hyacinth contract. These are not cheering stories. And those stories explain why we are as we are in the region: huge money,
little impact.

With the NDDC as the one and major agency under the purview of the Ministry of Niger Delta, Niger Deltans and indeed Nigerians are concerned that the NDDC is indeed not reduced to an abused cash cow.

Going forward, Nigerians want to be reassured that Akpabio means well and will do well for the interest of Niger Deltans in particular and Nigerians in general.