By Eddy Odivwri
I have tried , ever since he appeared in the public space, to follow his type of politics. And I can declare that he is a perfect representation of all the features of a typical Nigerian politician. He is loud, verbose, somewhat charming, cunning, desperate, power devotee, spends money with valueless spirit, lover of the klieg light, ideologically unstable, sometimes gawky etc.
All of the above and more are what define Obong Godswill Akpabio, a lawyer and politician: former commissioner, former governor, former senator and now sitting minister of the Niger Delta.
Let me first acknowledge that Akpabio registered impactful governance when he presided over the affairs of Akwa-Ibom State for eight years. He is credited with “uncommon achievements” in terms of infrastructural development in the state. And he blared this loud on the public podium. There are several remarkable projects that not only defined his taste but also his determination to drive an impressionistic governance. The roads, the Ibom Hotel, the hospitals, the Ibom Airport, the Gulf Course, the Ibom Air , surely are some of his legacy projects.
Perhaps given the scarcity of such epochal achievements across the nation, nobody bothered to ask at what cost these said projects were executed.
In fact, Akpabio believes he is Akwa-Ibom State and Akwa Ibomn state is him. Little wonder he groups the years before his governance streak, as Akwa Ibom B.A (Before Akpabio), in the same way historians refer to events Before Christ (B.C) He believes he is the apotheosis of the state.
But that is as far as his good deeds can be stretched.
As said earlier, people were literally carried away by the razzmatazz of his “uncommon projects” such that very few bothered to ask the cost of such feats. It was only the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that dared to peep into his books, and what they saw was reeky enough to commence prosecution immediately he left office as governor of the state, when his immunity expired.
But as many things in Nigeria go, the cases of fraud and corruption filed against him by the EFCC has long become hitched. The case is neither dead, nor alive. Nobody talks about them anymore, especially when he decamped from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) into the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Nobody is exactly surprised that immediately Akpabio bathed the APC waters, all his sins were washed away, and he became clean enough to join the cabinet of a government pitched high on anti-corruption war. Didn’t Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the former National Chairman of the APC once declare that as soon as any filthy politician joins the APC, all his sins are forgiven and so becomes as white as snow? Only in Nigeria!
But this same Akpabio it was who after leaving office as governor, retained the custody of some apartments in the Akwa Ibom Government House, especially as he was yet very chummy with his godson, the sitting Governor Udom Emmanuel.
They have long broken apart.
It was reported that on September 4, 2015, that the operatives of Department of State Security (DSS) uncovered a stockpile of arms and Ammunition, plus a whole room loaded with United States Dollars and British Pounds within the Presidential Lodge of the Akwa Ibom Government House complex. Akpabio still had the keys exclusively to the Presidential Lodge, even when he was already in the senate. The catché of arms and ammunition plus bags of foreign currency were seized by the DSS. The then young Gov Emmanuel had protested to President Muhammadu Buhari on what was described as the invasion of the Akwa Ibom Government House. The president intervened, faulted the “invasion”, and as they say in Nigeria, that intervention “died” the matter. Till date, we do not know what happened to the hard currency and even the arms and ammunition. The case was closed. Only in Nigeria!
It was this same Akpabio, two years earlier, on March 18, 2013, who went to Port Harcourt, for a South-south zonal reconciliation meeting of the PDP. And in a brazen show of impulsive spending zipped open his purse and doled out six million Naira, to the six state chairmen of the party for, wait for it… “Mr Biggs refreshment” That was people’s money!
Just before he left office as governor, he had caused to be passed a wild terminal benefit law with uncommon privileges and provisions for a former governor. There is no space to share all the details of the law, but one of it was that a former governor would be entitled to N100 million annual medical fund to take care of his health. The wide condemnation that followed the mindlessness of the provisions of the law sooner than later forced the withdrawal of the law altogether, especially as people were already praying that may Akpabio really suffer such ailments that will cost him N100 million per year, to treat. This same Akpabio!
It is a tribute to the foggy system we run in Nigeria that Akpabio, who was a first time senator in 2015, bulldozed his to become a principal officer of the senate when he emerged as the Senate minority leader—a position hitherto reserved for ranking senators.
Fast forward to his advent as a Minister. He was appointed at a time he had lost his senatorial contest. He had indeed gone to the tribunal to challenge the outcome of the election as he was dazed, having fallen out with the sitting governor.
But Akpabio, being a schemer laboured hard to ensure that the running and operations of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which hitherto had been under the supervision of the presidency—Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF)— got transferred to the Ministry of Niger Delta. It was the target, such that even when the tribunal called for a repeat election, Akpabio chickened out. A bigger apple was already in hand.
And after that, the game began at a higher keel.
Long before this point, Akpabio had pushed his quisling, Nsima Ekere to head the NDDC as the Managing Director. While Ekere presided over the NDDC a lot of water passed under the bridge. The forensic audit ordered by Mr President shall reveal how much water it was that passed under the bridge; that is if the so-called forensic audit ever takes place.
As the Supervising minister, Akpabio was instrumental to the appointment of the Managing Directors of the NDDC.
So much has been spilled by the former Managing Director of the NDDC, Ms Joi Nunieh, as it concerns the micro-managing bid of the Honourable minister. Her refusal to be “loyal” in doing whatever the minister wanted has been officially described as “insubordination”. Nunieh in recent times had been decoding what the insubordination actually meant. But Akpabio has not been able to creditably address the issues and allegations Nunieh raised against him.
The idea of an Interim Management Committee (IMC) was entirely that of Akpabio who, sadly, has seen the length and breath of the Niger Delta ministry as defined by the goings on in the NDDC.
The IMC, as illegal as it is, has thus become the waste pipe of the commission.
First, Akpabio had said the IMC will be in place for six months to oversee the forensic audit which was also supposed to last for six months. But at the end of the six months, nothing like the structure of the said audit had taken place, prompting the extension of the exerciseby another six months, ending December this year But many doubt if it is not all hoax, given that nothing in that direction has happened yet.
Last Monday, the Honourable minister appeared at the National Assembly fact-finding panel to unearth the rumours(?) of sleaze that filled the public space.
Given the humongous sums that were being bandied as having been spent in just seven months or less, not a few people had thought the commission was being run by Hushpupiie. Talking about N81.5 billion gone in five months was simply mind blowing! And to know that this was coming at a time a forensic audit was supposed to be probing into how wisely or otherwise the funds of the commission have been utilized.
At the panel, it was obvious both the panel members and the Honourable minister were ready for each other.
Too many times, the minister was driven to a tight corner as he was seen struggling to explain away his actions, dodge questions et al. He denied being involved in the day-to day management of the commission even as his several memos showed otherwise. Certain contractors like Rodnap construction company who was involved in the construction of the permanent building is believed to be brought in by Akpabio. That same company was a major contractor in Akwa Ibom in Akpabio’s governorship days.
Too many times, Akpabio pretended to be hard of hearing (could that be as a result of the uncommon slap?) and so talked endlessly on issues not related to the questions asked. Many think it was mere red herring tactics.
Although Nunieh had alleged that Akpabio demanded and got 30 contracts awarded to him, the minister claimed that he was involved only in three contracts: the purchase of operational vehicles, the contract for the lead forensic audit consultant and the provision of COVID-19 palliatives. Even if we concede the propriety of the first two contracts, how does Akpabio explain the COVID-19 palliatives to the tune of N1.5 billion?, even though the acting MD (who faints when hard questions are asked), Prof Daniel Pondei said it is “only” N1.32 billion was spent on palliatives. They claimed they were spending from 2019 budget.
Hey, before we come to the propriety of spending so much on palliatives, how come COVID-19 palliatives was accommodated in a 2019 budget whereas corona virus came to Nigeria late February 2020? What kind of foresight made them know in 2018 (when the 2019 budget was being prepared) that Corona Virus will hit the world, let alone Nigeria? Haba! Do these people fear God? As our dear Mrs Patience Jonathan would say, there is God-o!
It is remarkable that it was when Pondei was asked to point out the budget head that supported the expenditure for palliatives that he theatrically(?) slumped.
In a country where the battle to pay N30,000 minimum wage raged for years, a regional interventionist agency had the “mind” to splurge N1.32 billion on palliatives under the ministerial approval and permission of Mr Akpabio. Gosh!
I do not know anybody in my state that got any NDDC palliative. How many of the 31 million people of the Niger Delta tasted of the so-called NDDC palliatives?
The said Pondei had the guts to say “we had to take care of ourselves too” Really? What impudence! What happened to their salaries? He got N10 million, the Executive Directors got N7 million each and some staff N1million while others N600, 000. What a bazaar! To NDDC workforce, COVID-19 should happen frequently.
And in a bid to search out ways to waste the money, thereby cornering the much they can, the NDDC spent N475 million to buy face masks and sanitisers to the Nigeria Police. Pray, what is the business of the NDDC funding the Police? Is the NDDC the Police Service Commission? And what kind of face masks/hand sanitisers cost N475 million? What is the population of the Nigeria Police Force? And this is just a part of Akpabio’s (third) approved contract!
This same Akpabio in circumventing the questions he was asked tried to explain away the appointment of a medical doctor as Executive Director, Projects in the NDDC, Dr Cairo Ojuigbo. The minister claimed that about 50 per cent of the projects in the NDDC had to do with health and so there’s no better person to handle such department than a medical doctor. How disingenuous! The man bandies figures anyhow as if he is on a political campaign rostrum. How can 50 % of the needs of the Niger Delta be health-related?
The Act setting up the NDDC had provided for an engineer as Executive Director Projects. But our Honourable minister, with his uncommon wisdom thinks a medical doctor can as well perform the function of an engineer. Little wonder that Cairo Ojuigbo, Akpabio’s Man Friday, spent N52 million hiring boats to go inspect projects in the riverine areas. Pray, how much are the boats he hired for N52 million? Not even in Egypt can Cairo spend N52 million to hire boats even if he is to sail the entire length of River Nile. Cairo, a man with very scant reputation and a foremost political charlatan had been shouting himself hoax (that corruption is fighting back) ever since the probes have been spilling the beans in the commission, as its unofficial spokesman, had been in the very middle of the mess in the commission. Cairo admitted collecting huge sums meant for him to attend the graduation ceremony of graduating students (under NDDC scholarship) in the UK. The money has been collected since April for a ceremony allegedly billed for September. These are the same students that have been protesting their abandonment by the NDDC and some of them threatened with expulsion. But Cairo and co are preparing for the fanfare of graduation ceremonies. Why do NDDC officials even have to attend such graduation ceremonies? Has that been the practice? Wonderful Cairo!
What about the N9 billion for de-silting and clearance of water hyacinth? Akpabio has not responded to the many allegations made against him.
In normal climes, the likes of Akpabio, Ojuigbo and the gang should either be locked away in prison or be declared persona non grata to public office. But this is Nigeria. The Nigeria Akpabio understands so well.
While we strongly oppose the scrapping of the NDDC as some have advocated, we look forward to a decisive report from the National Assembly on these matters. But if it all ends as an anti-cimax as in times past, it will be simply Akpabioic, but certainly not God’s will for the people of the Niger Delta.