Friends and associates of Effiong Okon Akwa – the newly appointed Interim Administrator of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), owe him a duty of fasting and praying, for him to come back from his new job with at least his integrity intact. By his recent misguided appointment as the (Sole) Interim Administrator of the beleaguered regional development agency, he seemed to be the latest arrow head for driving to the next level, the regime of perfidy and deconstruction of the NDDC – apparently a long-term agenda that has as its target, the hijack of the agency’s soul by vested interests. However, while this agenda may have run with less than a subdued manifestation until the second coming of President Muhamadu Buhari in 2019, a game change took place from then which was marked by the appointment of Godswill Akpabio as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, and the launch of a watershed in the enthronement of illegality as well as impunity in its operations.
Last week, the Presidency upped the ante of crass impunity in the control of the NDDC with the announcement of yet another questionable change of guard whereby Effiong Okon Akwa was appointed the new Interim Administrator. By the appointment, Akwa replaces Kemebradikumo Pondei and his Interim Management Committee (IMC), which came into office in 2020. Incidentally Effiong Okon Akwa was also a member of the outgone Pondei’s team where he served as the Acting Executive Director Finance and Administration. Meanwhile Pondei’s team was preceded by that of Barrister Joi Nunieh which was in office between June 2019 and February 2020, and was preceded in turn by the Nelson Brambaifa led adhoc management team, and which came and left office under circumstances that breached the statutory provisions for a change of guard at the NDDC. So much for the reign of adhoc leaderships for the NDDC!
The Senate had in 2019 complied with the NDDC Act and screened as well as cleared duly nominated members of a new board of directors for the agency. However, while the country was awaiting the confirmation of the new board by the President and their assumption of office, the protocol of their coming to office was truncated to give way to the reign of Interim Management Committees. The first was that under Joi Nunieh, who had earlier been nominated and cleared by the Senate as a member of the then still-born board of directors.
Meanwhile Akwa’s appointment as the Interim Administrator of NDDC is daily manifesting as perhaps one of the biggest hoaxes by the Presidency, for standing on a purported but non-existent court order. According to a press statement by Presidential spokesperson Femi Adesina the appointment of Akwa was sequel to a court order restraining Pondei from further acting as the head of the agency. However according to another press statement by Charles Odili of the NDDC, the court ruling referred to by Adesina did not order the removal of Pondei but rather granted leave for a completely different effect. The immediate questions then are at least three fold. Firstly, why was Pondei removed by an unfounded court order? Secondly, even if Pondei was to go, why was his entire IMC sacked only to allow for the return of just one of its members, the one that shares a close personal relationship with Godswill Akpabio, as Interim Administrator? Thirdly what is so special about Effiong Akwa for him to be so anointed as the new Interim Administrator of NDDC during this period of forensic audit?
For now, even as the appointment of Effiong – Akpabio’s ally, as an illegal Interim Administrator to replace the equally illegal IMCs deepens the cloud of sponsored sleaze in the agency, his personal antecedents at the place are attracting even more uncommon concern of not a few stakeholders, who fear for the worst in the fortunes of NDDC. Their main grouse is the long history of Effiong in the agency’s board room woodwork – especially with respect to its financial operations between 2013 to the present – a period that falls within the coverage of the ongoing forensic audit. According to trending accounts, Effiong Akwa was the Special Assistant on Finance to Bassey Dan-Abia, a former Managing Director of the NDDC between 2013 to 2015. Dan-Abia was himself a former Commissioner of Finance in Akwa Ibom State under the administration of Godswill Akpabio as governor of that state. It was Akpabio who as governor of Akwa Ibom State nominated Dan-Abia to serve as NDDC MD. That was even before he came on board as the Acting Executive Director of Finance and Administration under the Pondei regime. Hence by his appointment Akwa is expected to supervise the on-going forensic audit of the financial operations of NDDC, during periods he could have played more than a salutary role. This situation is nothing other than granting him on a platter of gold, the undue benefit of serving as a judge, in his own case.
While the controversies surrounding Effiong’s new position are trending, the situation has stirred public concern over a complement of issues. Firstly is the brazen manner in which he was appointed without even the input of the governors of the NDDC states. Their seeming exclusion and ‘silence’ is to say the least disturbing. Section 11 of the NDDC Act empowers them to participate in over-sighting the agency including its governance structure. Besides the foregoing, it was the initiative of the NDDC state governors that President Buhari reviews the happenings in the agency, whereby the President spawned the forensic audit in the first place.
Meanwhile the deepening slide of the agency into perfidy is occurring at a time of public disapproval of the state of obnubilation in the Presidency – courtesy of a diminished leadership traction by President Muhamadu Buhari, in running the affairs of the country. Hence the absence of any spirited intervention by these same governors leaves much room to be desired. If nothing else a situation whereby in the course of this dispensation, not a few agents and officers of the federal government (perhaps including Akpabio and associates), are asserting airs beyond their official mandates to run rough shod on government business under their respective briefs, should have induced some affirmative action by the governors, given that their states are the victims of whatever injustice is implicated in the process.
Perhaps they need to appreciate that while interfacing with the Federal government over obtuse demands, the matter of securing equity for the NDDC through returning its governance structure to statutory provisions, claims a higher level of urgency. For as the African proverb goes, if the first child does not crawl, it is sheer presumptuousness to expect the second child to run under normal circumstances.
If the Niger Delta leadership community fail to restore the NDDC to a lawful trajectory, whatever case they make for relief in any other area, will remain inchoate. The earlier the agency is returned to the leadership structure with a statutory board of directors at its helm, the better for the region.