NDDC connundrum: Akpabio on the spot | Dailytrust

NDDC connundrum: Akpabio on the spot

A former governor of Akwa Ibom State and Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio
A former governor of Akwa Ibom State and Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio

Apparently buckling under intense pressures from sundry quarters to dismantle his vicelike grip on the fortunes of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, has announced that the ongoing forensic audit of the agency will end by July 2021. That will be just a month beyond the deadline of end of June 2021, which was issued by the federal government to avail the agency a statutory Board of Directors, by the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) in April 2021. This ultimatum was also endorsed by Chief Government Oweizide Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo), a prominent figure in the agitation by the oil-rich region for resource control and equitable treatment in the Nigerian political calculus. If Akpabio’s promise is fulfilled and July sees the conclusion of the audit exercise, the development is hoped to absolve him to a considerable extent, before the IYC and many of his critics who had largely seen him, all along, as the main obstacle denying the NDDC a formal board of directors, since his advent as the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs.

Since the beginning of 2020, the agency had been subjected to operating without a formal board of directors, leaving it to drift in a deluge of capricious tendencies as spawned by a string of interim management committees and eventually degenerating to its present worst-case scenario of being superintended by a sole administrator named Effiong Oko Akwa, a former personal assistant to Akpabio who is answerable only to the latter. In the same vein, Akpabio had severally justified the take-over of the NDDC management by his erstwhile personal assistant as Sole Administrator, citing such as the outcome of a court ruling by Justice A. Mohmmed of the Federal High Court.

Meanwhile, with his promise of end of July 2021 for completion of the forensic audit of the NDDC, which hopefully is to be followed by the constitution of a board for the agency, Akpabio may have succeeded in securing two victories, all-be-it temporarily, with one stroke. The first of such is the stemming of a build-up of resentment and likely confrontation between the region’s youth and the federal government, with the possible return of the country to fresh concerns over the sustainable flow of Nigerian oil and gas to the international market. The second gain for Akpabio — if his July promise is fulfilled — is the endowment of a new lease of credibility, to assuage for his gravely dented image as the new fall guy for the fresh problems of the NDDC.

It needs to be recalled that the IYC had on April 25, issued an ultimatum for the end of June to the federal government demanding the constitution of the NDDC board. The body had demonstrated their willingness in no uncertain terms, to face-off with the government if their demands were not met, and followed up their threat with the physical occupation of the NDDC premises both in Port Harcourt its headquarters and Uyo, capital of Akpabio’s home state Akwa Ibom. The situation had prompted Akpabio to reach out to critical Niger Delta leaders and influencers of the youth including Tompolo, from whom the former obtained an unmistakable affirmation of the readiness of the youth to kick over any attempt by the federal government to stall on the constitution of a board for the NDDC.

In his position on the spot, as the make or mar factor with respect to a new deal for the NDDC and the region itself, it remains important that Akpabio appreciates the issues at stake, just in case things turn awry with any misstep by him, or under his auspices. And as a correct reading of the situation confirms, things may likely turn awry if, there is a breach in the fulfilment of the two promises comprising the conclusion of the forensic audit and the constitution of the board of directors for the NDDC. All well-meaning Nigerians are now looking up to him to deliver on his self-adopted brief to act as the supreme authority in respect of fostering an NDDC that promises to be saner than hitherto.

It is undeniable that delay in availing the agency of a proper board of directors as provided for by law, in order to carry along the nine involved Niger Delta States, had been a sore point not only in the political space of the region but the entire country, given the critical significance of oil and gas from the region in the Nigerian economy. In a region that is endowed with a multiplicity of ethnic nationalities, any regional development initiative requires for its success, a balance of interests of the constituent ethnic groups. Hence the NDDC from its inception had in its blueprint the existence of a Board of Directors as well as a management team, with broad based memberships, and which were intended to provide for equity in the participation of the affected states. However, the turn of events in the agency featured massive instances of financial recklessness, nepotism and organizational meltdown (just to mention a few of its sins), leaving it to head for the worst. That was so until the governors of the NDDC states met with President Muhamadu Buhari in January 2020 and, with him, agreed on the conduct of a forensic audit of the agency, pursuant to further remedial action on it. Just as well, the course of the forensic audit also featured its own litany of twists and turns, in which the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs was regularly implicated for muscling other interests away from effective participation in the agency’s business, and dominating its operations. Observers are yet to forget how Akpabio single-handedly dictated the terms of operation for the agency, especially as aided by the complacence of the governors of the participating states.

With July just around the corner, it is feared that despite whatever gains may have been recorded by the forensic audit, a new round of jostling may ensue over securing juicy positions in the new dispensation. Already, Akpabio seems to have hinted at such an outcome when he mentioned that a list of the new board members will be sent to the Senate. The hanging question here is what happens to those already screened by the Senate and had their resumption truncated by the Presidency just to give way to Akpabio’s string of pretenders to the throne of NDDC? Will the Ninth Senate concede a fresh assault on its integrity or stand and fight for its honour this time?

This is hoping that another round of fighting between the idiosyncrasies of Godswill Akpabio and his co-travelers versus the wider, altruistic interests of the Niger Delta communities, will not ensue, come July 2021.

 

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