Paradox of Leadership Failure in NDDC, Nigeria

Muhammadu Buhari

Emmanuel Ekong, a Policy Advisor vents his frustration at the Federal Government for not being assertive and taking steps that would make Nigeria stop being used in country case studies of why nations fail

I was taught at the Harris School of Public Policy (Kelly Center) University of Chicago that the very essence of public policy is to improve and ensure the best outcomes for common good. The school teaches that making social impact requires fresh thinking and different approach, trains leaders to ask hard questions and prepares them to drive the change that the world needs. I was a proud member of my class until one fateful day Prof Ethan Mesquita introduced a case study “Why Nations Fail” I lost my swagger as Nigeria was chosen for country case study. I felt uncomfortable with the choice of my country but upon further enquiries it dawned on me that Nigeria is the favorite country for case study of why nations fail in Ivy League classrooms and conference halls of USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Until I left the school the guilt of my country remained my shame.

Analyzing the challenges of the Nigerian political economy, it was the submission of everyone that the failure of the country can be basically located in the absence of interrogation in its leadership recruitment process. I honestly wish I can unlearn some of the things the case study revealed but the danger of knowledge is that no matter how unsettling you find it, it can never be un-taught or unknown.

I still remember the fable of Aesop told in one of our “brown bag” sessions on policy design and delivery. The Greek slave fabulist and story teller told a fable called ‘Washing the Ethiopian White’ (or at some period the Blackamoor). The story concerns the owner of a black slave who imagines that he has been neglected by his former master and tries to wash off the blackness. This goes for so long that the person is made ill or even dies of cold. The fable is the source of the saying: ‘’you wash the Ethiopian in vain’’ or ‘’you will never manage to turn black night into day.’ We, as a nation cannot make appreciable progress as we continue to wash the Ethiopian either because he is from our tribe, belongs to our religious sect or that he has sufficiently compromised us and handed us enough detergent.

Most countries continue to get ahead of us not because they are magicians. They do so because we have refused to introduce hygiene in our politics. If we are to progress, we must disinfect and sanitize the system and get our economy moving. Prof PLO Lumumba asks: “you bring a hyena to take care of goats and when the goats disappear you wonder why?” There must be taboo in our politics and our leaders must be subjected to some ideals and exacting standards.

This administration which parrots its primary achievement as the fight against corruption must wake up and live to its billing if global institutions of higher learning must cease from using us as country case study of why nations fail. We must collectively or individually begin to call out high ranking officials of this government who have contributed in making us wear this badge of ignominy.

Recently, there has been a barrage of publications detailing the sleaze going on at the all-important Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) where Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio is the supervising Minister. Even without inheriting any seventh sense about people, anyone with a head in Nigeria can confirm that Senator Akpabio is the dud cheque of this administration, a mess and a menace. Without prejudice to the veracity or otherwise of the tons of nauseating allegations against him and his band of marauders, Akpabio is an Ethiopian whom the Psalmist’s hyssop cannot wash clean.

His eight-year tenure as the Governor of Akwa Ibom State is sufficient red flag to keep him away from any government institution if we have hygiene in our politics. A man who can contaminate heaven, who is incapable of creating a moral tide to lift up a fly is now flexing muscle and fighting to meet corruption at the gates of the commission?

I have spent days and months wondering how he arrived at the dining table of President Buhari, a man known for his intolerance of misconduct in public office.

Akwa Ibom State earned about N3trillion under him as Governor but according to an Attorney-At-Law Mr Edet Eyo Bassey quoting official records, he left a total debt stock of about N500 billion for his successor. He allegedly wasted state’s resources in worthless projects such as the Tropicana Entertainment Complex which he abandoned after over N150 billion had been sunk into it. During his tenure, Akwa Ibom had the second highest unemployment rate of 36.5% in the country despite being the state with the highest federal allocation. He managed the resources of his state with utmost opacity and recklessness. In 2011, he paid out N2.4 billion for a fish farm estate that never was. In the same year, the budgetary allocation of N107.430 billion to the Ministry of Housing could not be traced to a single building in the state. He collected the sum of N408 billion withheld by President Obasanjo from President Yar’Ádua without even letting his State Assembly know. In 2013, Akwa Ibom State received a total of US$1.7 billion from the federation account. The total receipts from other sources including loans, yes loans, amounted to US$2.3billion which was 36% of Ghana’s budget which stood at US$6.4 billion that year. The per capita income of the state that year stood at N71,300 (US$460) against Ghana’s per capita income of US$255 in 2013. Governor Akpabio promised Ibaka Deep Sea Port but nothing was done. He promised the establishment of a U$1.8 billion Petrochemical Plant-Quantum Petroleum without implementing it. After receiving about US$20 billion in 8 years, he couldn’t complete the famous hospital he bragged about, couldn’t complete the Tropicana Entertainment Center, couldn’t complete the Sheraton Hotel in Ikot Ekpene, couldn’t complete the major road linking Uyo with Ikot-Ekpene and had no visible presence in the rural areas.

I cannot fathom how Senator Akpabio became an invaluable asset to the All Progressives Congress (APC) government. I harbor no doubts that every detail of his nefarious history and Mephistophelian cackle as governor is well known to this government. In his jiggery-pokery, empty bluster, vain ego, noisome bombast and trickery he promised to bring “Warsaw War” to Akwa Ibom State and walk on water on behalf of APC in the 2019 election. He spectacularly drowned wearing safety jacket with just one leg in the shallow waters of Ikot Ekpene stream yet the drivers of this administration treat him as one who won 10 Olympic gold medals for them while shattering all known world records.

He not only lost the elections for his party’s presidential and gubernatorial candidates, he got snookered in his own election and slipped into coma when he was asked to do a re-run.

The deteriorating strategic situation in the Commission he is mandated to supervise calls for worry because it appears that he has the permission to continue his rounds of pleasure in the happy valley. Being accustomed to privilege and absolute power and with enough ambition to have himself crowned the Cardinal of Niger Delta, Akpabio has pocketed NDDC so much so that decisions as minor as approval for imprest expenses are taken to him in Abuja. Mr. Usani Uguru Usani was a supervising Minister for NDDC but he never managed the affairs of the commission from his bedroom. Today, Senator Akpabio from the rampant complaints in the newspapers determines who to pay for contracts long executed and verified, how to pay, when to pay and whom the long suffering contractors would pay kickbacks to. This is a man who retired with a life pension of N200m annually, a N100m yearly medical bill and a 5-bedroom luxury mansion in Abuja.

Akpabio, whatever you say of him, is smart which brings us to the issue of his famous quest for forensic audit of NDDC. He is ruthlessly practical and understands the need to make a deal with the strong man, not the weakling. The forensic audit is in his self-interest as it will enable him cover his tracks being the employer of the auditors and hand him a grenade with which to threaten his traducers and opponents. His only defense in all the allegations against him both as a Governor and Minister is that he has a clear conscience which is a glaring evidence of his bad memory. Senator Akpabio, sometime in January 2020 got the former Ag MD of NDDC Mrs. Nunieh to pay the sum of N3.8 billion for what turned out to be a scam under the Education, Health and Social Services Directorate as follows: 1. Supply of Maternal Delivery kits (3 lots) valued at N1,128,750,000.00 2. Supply of Cholera Vaccines (3 lots) valued at N680,000,000.00 3. Supply of Lassa Fever Protective Kits (1 lot) valued at N903,000,000.00 4. Supply of Lasa Fever Kits (22 lots) valued at N1,0922,283,50 and 5. Supply of Outstanding Science Equipment (7 lots) valued at N292, 764,833.50.

I wonder how the auditors would report this scam or treat the report of the Quantity Surveyors that should be consulted to evaluate the real cost of the head office building which was allegedly inflated from N6 billion to N16 billion and awarded to Akpabio’s well known front company called Rodnap. As I write this, he has gotten his minion in the Procurement Unit of the Commission to award a contract valued at N5,474,647,125.00 to Signoria Concepts Limited, one of the companies he used to launder N425million in the January contract payment scam. This current contract dated April 6, 2020 is for the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers in the fight against COVID-19 in the Niger Delta Region and was to be supplied on or before April 21, 2020. The US and European governments are all in the market seeking to purchase PPE. This buffoonery of a contract award begs the following questions: 1. Was the award based on the NDDC 2019 budget that was passed by the National Assembly in the first week of February 2020, well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Nigeria in March 2020? 2. Was there any virement, and if yes, by who?. 3. Where would Signoria get PPE of over US$13 million in 15 days?

The essence of this article is to remind us that we will continue to fail if the government allows Akpabio to continue unimpeded, imagining himself as a professional not a reprobate or a degenerate but only a skilled man doing a difficult but necessary job.