Time to End Akpabio’s Charade

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Godswill-Akpabio

Boma Ebiakpo, National Chairman of Niger Delta Peoples Forum, amplifies the calls for the swearing-in of the Governing Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission without further delay

President Muhammadu Buhari must not sit by and let the charade orchestrated by Niger Delta Minister Chief Godswill Akpabio at the NDDC continue. Under the ruse of an audit, Chief Akpabio has commandeered the NDDC as his personal estate, which he executes as he wishes.

For one and a half years (Since October 2019) he has caused the NDDC to be run by a succession of interim managements while putting on hold the Governing Board nominated by Mr President and confirmed by the Senate in line with the NDDC Act. In the last 18 months (since October 2019), the NDDC has had three illegal Interim Managements imposed on it contrary to the provisions of the NDDC Act. The first was headed by Joi Nunieh, the second by Prof Daniel Pondei (Akpabio’s former classmate at Federal Government College Port Harcourt), and the third is the current Interim Sole Administrator in the person of Effiong Okon Akwa who was previously Akpabio’s staff while he was Governor of Akwa Ibom State.

When he illegally brought in the first Interim Management Committee in October 2019, the minister said it was to supervise a forensic audit of the NDDC and will last for six months only after which the Governing Board will be inaugurated as required by the law – the NDDC Act. He said the audit would end in six months but by February of 2020 he sacked the acting managing director of that IMC in the person of Ms Joi Nunieh and appointed Prof Daniel Pondei (his former classmate at Federal Government College PortHarcourt) in her place with a fresh promise that the audit would be completed by December 2020, an extension of nine months. As that promised date approached he sacked the Interim Management Committee headed by Pondei and appointed his former personal aide Effiong Okon Akwa as Interim Sole Administrator with a renewed promise that the audit would be completed by the end of March 2021 and the Governing Board put in place on the first of April. Now that the promised date has drawn close, Akpabio is now saying that the audit will end ‘in a few months’ after which the Board will be put in place. This duplicitous tendency has chronicled the manner in which the NDDC under Akpabio is run.

In this period from October 2019 to date, Akpabio has caused the NDDC to be run by illegal interim managements in breach of the law and has squandered over N400 billion of its money which rightly belongs to all people of the Niger Delta from the nine constituent states in fictitious contracts.

The minister made his new statement about ending the audit and bringing in the Governing Board “in a few months” in response to the demands of Governors of the oil-producing Niger Delta states who met in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, on Tuesday, March 9th and demanded that the Governing Board should be put in place immediately in line with the NDDC Act or the financial allocations to the NDDC (aside from salary payments) should be kept in an escrow account pending the putting in place of the Board.

The Governors were unequivocal in their demands in the statement read by the Governor of Delta State and Chairman of the South-south Governors Forum, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, who said that the running of the NDDC in over one year by an Interim Caretaker Committee, and now, an interim administrator is worrisome as it does not augur well for the people of the Niger Delta as opportunity for all states to be represented as they ought to be represented in the board of the NDDC does not exist. According to the Governors, “So, it means that the NDDC is actually run in such a manner that it is actually not truly beneficial to our people, because there are no stakeholders input in the running of the affairs of the NDDC.”

As the Governors further stated: “We feel already short changed as a people in the Niger Delta and we believe that we do not wish to see this kind of situation continue going forward into the future, because our people feel the pains, we do not want a situation where there is an abuse of processes, neither should we have a situation where we have abuse of funds. “We believe that it is best for both the country, for the states of the Niger Delta and for the people of the Niger Delta when the due process is followed by the reconstitution of the board and also in reconstituting the board, that the reconstituted board should come in and have funds to spend as per the law.”

The Governors’ strongly worded statement followed months of complaints, petitions and anger from the elders and people of the nine constituent states of the NDDC on the continued bleeding of the NDDC by Akpabio in flagrant disregard of the law, which specifically provides for representation of states and interest groups in the management of the NDDC. It also followed reports detailed in the National Assembly probe of the Interim Management Committee and other revelations by whistleblowers that several billions of naira have been squandered by the Akpabio Interim Managements with nothing to show on ground. At the last count, over N400 billion has been frittered away by Akpabio and his interim management committees over the last 18 months with no visible projects apart from N10 billion expended on the Headquarters building which was already 70% completed!

Rather than listen to the demands of the Niger Delta people, Akpabio insults them and makes light of the request to follow the law in running the NDDC. For instance, reacting to the Governors’ call for the Board to be put in place, he defended the current illegality by saying that since some state governors refuse to hold local government elections he is justified in not allowing the Board to be put in place. This is most ludicrous and makes a ridicule of the Buhari administration.

Through guile and schemings, Akpabio has weaponed the so-called forensic audit to justify the illegality and fraud he is superintending at the NDDC. In his flawed logic, an external audit cannot be carried out in an agency except the legally-provided-for Board (whose members were never part of the NDDC during the audit period is put on hold). The reality is that Akpabio and a number of his interim managers have been deeply involved in the flawed management of the NDDC over the years which should ordinarily disqualify them from supervising the forensic audit of the operations of the NDDC for those years.

Akpabio served as Governor of Akwa Ibom State between 2007 and 2015 during which time he nominated a chairman, a managing director and NDDC state representatives. His Interim Sole Administrator, Effiong Okon Akwa who is supposed to oversee the audit was a key player in a past NDDC management facilitated by Akpabio when he was Governor of Akwa Ibom State.

Effiong Okon Akwa was first appointed as General Manager of Akwa Savings and Loans by Akpabio and then posted as Special Assistant on Finance to a former NDDC MD (Bassey Dan-Abia) who was nominated for the position by Akpabio. If, indeed, the idea is to supervise a credible forensic audit from its inception to 2019, which also covers the period of the Dan-Abia regime in NDDC (2013-2015), then Mr Effiong Akwa clearly cannot be the right person to supervise the conclusion of the forensic audit of the NDDC. That management was sacked by President Buhari on assumption of office in 2015. How then can the vomit become the saving meal?

This exposes the folly in the whole excuse of having the audit before inaugurating the Governing Board. As has been stated previously, there is nowhere that the inauguration of a Governing Board of a public agency in Nigeria (whose members were never previously part of the agency) has been set aside for the purpose of conducting an external audit, not even when the Federal Government audited all revenue earning agencies including the NNPC and the NPA between 2016 and 2017. Special audits have also been carried out at both the NNPC and NPA without putting aside their Governing Boards or enabling laws.

The current impasse at the NDDC is one that the Federal Government needlessly brought about through the meddlesomeness of Akpabio who wanted to have personal control of the NDDC funds for his own benefit. In his desire to hijack the NDDC, the minister sold the idea of appointing an Interim Management Committee despite the nomination of a Governing Board, which was duly nominated by the president and cleared by the Senate in line with the NDDC Act.

President Muhamnadu Buhari had in exercise of his constitutional powers forwarded to the Senate for confirmation, the appointment of a 16 – member board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) via a letter dated 18th October, 2019, personally signed by him.

Specifically, President Buhari in the letter sought the Senate’s confirmation for Dr Pius Odubu, former Edo State Deputy Governor as chairman of the NDDC, Chief Bernard Okumagba as Managing Director and 14 others as members of its board.

The president’s letter read: “In accordance with the provision of Section 2(2)(a) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) (Establishment) Act, 2000, I write to forward, for confirmation by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the under listed nominees for appointment into the NDDC board, to occupy the positions indicated against their names.” President Buhari, in the letter, expressed hope that “the Senate will consider and confirm the nominees in the usual expeditious manner”.

Accordingly, the written request, which was read on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 by its President, Ahmad Lawan, was given expeditious consideration by the upper legislative chamber, which directed its Standing Committee on Niger Delta, to screen all the nominees and report back within a week. The Senate screened and confirmed the appointments of 15 out of the 16 nominees on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, based on the report tabled before it by the Committee on Niger Delta.

Under attack from the Niger Delta people after he appointed the interim management in October 2019, Akpabio claimed that President Buhari acted on the advice of the governors for an audit before inaugurating the Governing Board. Now, the governors, having realized that the whole project was a scam to enable Akpabio to hijack the NDDC, are calling for the immediate inauguration of the Board.

The Niger Delta people are sick and tired of Akpabio’s manipulations while the NDDC shirks its primary duty to spur the development of the region. Tension is rising in the region. Mr President should listen to the voices of the Niger Delta people and put a halt to Akpabio’s charade at the NDDC by putting in place the Governing Board for the NDDC comprising the representatives from its nine constituent states in line with the NDDC Act.