Boma Ebiakpo laments the equivocation which has become a visible characteristic of Senator Godswill Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, as he continues to postpone the inauguration of the Senate-approved board for the Niger Delta Development Commission
The attention of Niger Delta Peoples’ Forum (NDPF) has been drawn again to a vexatious report, another embarrassing volte-face by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, the fourth in less than two months, which appeared in a national newspaper, on December 8, 2021, under the headline “Akpabio denies asking protesters to approach Buhari.”
Using another senior official of his Ministry, Dr. Babayo Ardo, Permanent Secretary, for this flip-flop, Senator Akpabio now claims that he “never advised protesting youths and women of the region to channel their grievances to President Buhari,” with regard to the inauguration of the board of the NDDC. The statement however added that “at the appropriate time, upon the recommendation of the Minister to the President,” the Board of NDDC will be inaugurated.
With this new ambivalence, it is another denial of a December 4, 2021 story in another leading newspaper under the headline “NDDC Board: channel your grievances to Buhari, Akpabio tells women, youths,” which was the Minister’s reply to women of Niger Delta who accused him of delaying NDDC Board inauguration. The letter, dated November 30, 2021 was signed by his ministry’s Director, Planning, Research and Statistics, Alfred A. Abah.
The Minister’s unending ambivalence and denials are embarrassingly a sad commentary on governance and an uncalled-for bringing to disrepute the office of the President because with each statement of denial or ambivalence by Senator Akpabio, he is either blaming President Buhari for the delay in inaugurating the NDDC Board, or he is contradicting President Buhari’s position and what the President said on the inauguration of the NDDC Board.
Recall that in a similar pattern, Senator Godswill Akpabio, as reported in the media on November 2, 2021, under the headline “It’s not Part of my Job to Constitute NDDC Board, says Akpabio,” also absolved himself from the delay in inaugurating the NDDC Board, thereby blaming President Buhari, only to later walk back in a November 12, 2021 story in THISDAY Newspaper entitled “Re: Formation of NDDC Board Not Part Of My Responsibility.” In this denial story personally signed by Akpabio on November 12, 2021, Akpabio stated that the report of forensic audit, which he submitted to President Buhari on September 2, 2021 “has just been submitted to Mr President, who is studying it to come up with a formula for a commission fit for purpose. That formula is what the board being put together will work with.” This again contradicts President Buhari’s promise and commitment to Nigerians on June 24, 2021 that “I want to assure you that as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted, the NDDC Board will be inaugurated.”
With him now stating that “at the appropriate time, upon the recommendation of the Minister to the President,” the Board of NDDC will be inaugurated, he has again contradicted President Buhari’s firm promise on inaugurating NDDC Board on completion and submission of the forensic audit report.
Recall that when the leadership of the pan-Ijaw group, Ijaw National Congress (INC) visited President Buhari, on June 24, 2021, the President promised the nation that he will inaugurate the NDDC Board on receipt of the forensic audit report.
The President said: ‘‘Based on the mismanagement that had previously bedeviled the NDDC, a forensic audit was set up and the result is expected by the end of July, 2021. I want to assure you that as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted, the NDDC Board will be inaugurated.” The report of the forensic audit has since September 2, 2021 been submitted to President Buhari by Senator Godswill Akpabio.
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs is acutely aware of the fever pitch tension the inexplicable continued delay in inaugurating the substantive board of NDDC is causing in the region after two years of the forensic audit exercise and after three months of President Buhari’s receipt of the forensic audit report, coupled with Mr. President’s earlier promise to inaugurate the Board on receipt of the audit report.
Embattled Senator Akpabio, in addition to either blaming President Buhari for the delay in the inauguration of NDDC Board, or sharply contradicting his boss’ position, also now resorts to classic red herring, using his well-worn excuses which he describes as accomplishments.
According to him, these include the ‘completion’ of NDDC head office, completion of the Students’ Hostel at Uyo, and the rural electrification project in Ondo State.
Senator Akpabio continues to flaunt the ‘completion’ of NDDC Head office, which was already 80% complete before his assumption of duty in July 2019; the completion of a student hostel block in Uyo; and a rural electricity project in Ondo, as accomplishments by his NDDC in two years. This, we restate, is an embarrassment for a Commission whose combined two-year budget for 2019 and 2020, as approved by the National Assembly was N799 Billion!
But most alarming is a newspaper report in on December 3, 2021, deflating Akpabio’s most touted accomplishment under the headline, “Workers, contractors, groan as all elevators in 13-floor NDDC building break down.” Nothing can be more embarrassing.
In the report, which Akpabio and his minders are yet to deny, “contractors and workers at the 13-floor corporate headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) located in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, are groaning over the breakdown of all the lifts installed in the building.”
According to the newspaper report, “Investigations revealed that all the four lifts installed to facilitate movements in and out of the multi-billion naira edifice stopped working about a month ago. An insider source, who spoke in confidence, said they started malfunctioning almost immediately they were activated on completion of the project. They started malfunctioning, breaking down midway and dropping in capacity. Sometimes they got only to the fifth floor then dropped to the third and finally packed up. We kept raising the alarm to the management but the Sole Administrator, Effiong Akwa, did nothing about it until they stopped working, she said.”
The newspaper report continued that “The Corporate headquarters of NDDC was completed and commissioned on March 11, 2021. The over N16bn edifice was constructed without furnishing as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who supervised the project said that another contract would be awarded for its furnishing. Apart from the problem posed by the elevators, it was observed that the NDDC workers including the directors have been operating in open spaces. The floors are simply large halls without required demarcation to give workers a needed conducive environment to do their jobs. Most senior workers only have desks and chairs at some corners of the halls to attend to files while other junior employees loiter the premises till the close of work. The walls of the building are already defaced, dirty especially the staircase areas showing lack of maintenance.”
The newspaper further reported that “the insider source said it is obvious that persons, who procured these elevators, bought the inferior ones. For an edifice like this considering the kind of money spent on this project, there are some standard lifts that should have been procured to serve this building. How can four elevators stop working at the same time?”
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, in his latest volte-face continuously touts positive reforms he is bringing to NDDC even when the evidence is to the contrary, and he is also breaking the law establishing the Commission.
Senator Akpabio as supervising Minister of the NDDC, through an official memo in 2019 recommended the suspension of the inauguration of the substantive Board, which President Buhari had appointed, and which was confirmed by the Senate in November of 2019.
Worse still, the Minister instead in that same memo recommended to the President the running of NDDC with illegal interim management/sole administrator contraptions until the completion of the forensic audit, contrary to the provisions of NDDC Act. That illegal interim management/sole administrator contraption has been administering NDDC since October 2019, in contravention of the law, and negates fair and equitable representation which a board guarantees and which ensures proper governance, accountability, equity and fairness to the nine constituent states.
The NDDC Act only provides that the Board and Management of the NDDC at any point in time should follow the provisions of the law which states that the Board and management is to be appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate. In effect, nobody is supposed to begin to administer the NDDC and utilise the huge funds accruing to it on a monthly basis without passing through this legal requirement as stipulated in the NDDC Act. To the detriment of the entire region, Senator Akpabio has been using these illegal interim contraptions/sole administrator to fleece the NDDC of its funds in the last two years.
The stark but startling revelations by the Association of Contractors of the Niger Delta Development Commission (ACNDDC) who picketed the NDDC Head office in Port Harcourt this week further exposes the underbelly of the ongoing mismanagement of funds rocking the Commission.
Addressing journalists during their protest march at NDDC Head Office, Chairman of ACNDDC, Joe Adia stated that “presently huge monies come into the Commission every month and the next thing we hear is that the money is finished. Who are you paying? Give us a record of the people you are paying. How can you pay N800 million each for so-called desilting jobs and yet contractors being owed N5 million you have refused to pay? We cannot die for the jobs we have done for the region. We are saying, you pay us now and you bring in the board as a matter of urgency.”
Continuing, the ACNDDC Chairman stated that “the Minister of Niger Delta affairs is the one that okays everything that must be paid here (NDDC). We contractors are dying. You said you are paying contractors. I am the chairman of contractors association of NDDC, (pointing to others) this is the president, and these are critical stakeholders, contractors that have jobs, do you know how many jobs these people have? Look at a woman here, she has a project, she lost her mother, she cannot even bury her, or are we talking of contractors that died in the hospitals. We protested in Abuja and we are here. We don’t want anybody to come and address us, because it has gone beyond that because they have to pay us what they owe and bring in the board.”
Senator Akpabio talks of stampeding the government. The Minister needs to be reminded again that it is President Buhari who, on June 24, 2021, promised the nation that he will inaugurate the NDDC Board on receipt of the forensic audit report.
The President said: ‘‘Based on the mismanagement that had previously bedeviled the NDDC, a forensic audit was set up and the result is expected by the end of July, 2021. I want to assure you that as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted, the NDDC Board will be inaugurated.”
It is therefore important in the above regard to remind the Minister that it has been over three months when he (Akpabio) submitted the forensic audit report to the President since September 2, 2021. So, how does a legitimate demand by Niger Deltans requesting abidance to the law setting up NDDC and the reminder to the President to fulfill his own promise amount to stampede?
Beyond Senator Akpabio’s continued characteristic flip-flops and ambivalence, contradicting President Buhari or blaming the President for the delay in NDDC Board inauguration, use of President Buhari’s name to try and perpetuate illegality, and ineffectual finger-pointing, what is needed at this point is for the government to redeem itself now that the Forensic audit report has been submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari since September 2, 2021.
Curiously, whereas the North East Development Commission (NEDC) has been allowed to function with its duly constituted Board in place in line with its NEDC Act thereby ensuring proper Corporate Governance, accountability, checks and balances and fair representation of its Constituent states, the NDDC on the other hand has been run arbitrarily in the last two years by Interim committees/sole administrator in breach of the NDDC Act.
The President should do well to heed the call of Niger Delta leaders, governors, youths, women, traditional rulers, civil society organisations, and other stakeholders, comply with the law setting up NDDC, and also fulfill his own promise of June 24, 2021, and inaugurate the board to manage the Commission for the benefit of the people of nine Niger Delta states.