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NDDC, East-West Road: What legacies from Akpabio?

It is not always that an individual is availed the liberty of impacting a region as sensitive as the Niger Delta, in the manner the…

It is not always that an individual is availed the liberty of impacting a region as sensitive as the Niger Delta, in the manner the man Godswill Akpabio was privileged to be. From when he was appointed Minister of Niger Delta Affairs on August 21 2019 and availed the responsibility of over-sighting the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), to his resignation on May 10 2023, to contest the Presidency of the country, here was a man who was offered the opportunity to write his name in gold as the harbinger of good fortunes for his native marginalised and restive Niger Delta region.  However, on which side of history he ended up is now a matter of conjecture, as while public opinion may vary with each observer, some of his legacies in that office, especially the NDDC and the signature project of his ministry – the East West Road, remain unedifying sore thumbs, since all they offer the general public are sorrow and tears. While his acolytes celebrate him as a hero, the wider cross-section of the people of the Niger Delta, claim to see nothing beyond mindless rapacious tendencies in his conduct as minister. Hence, as he was relieved of the office, not a few individuals and interest groups in the Niger Delta region heaved a sigh of relief, in celebration of good riddance to him. Indeed the cliché that some people bring happiness when they come around, and others when they go, came to play in respect of Akpabio’s case.

That is why his recent claim that he repositioned the NDDC while in office as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, has whipped up fresh concerns in the region over his legacies, especially with respect to the agency and the road. He had made the claim during the flag-off of his campaign for the office of the President at Ikot Ekpene Stadium last week. However, as far as facts before the public are concerned, neither the NDDC nor the East West Road bears any sign of improvement between what they were before and after the visitation of the ‘uncommon touch of Akpabio’, was foisted on them. The NDDC which was tottering even with various boards of directors at various stages of its life, degenerated under Akpabio with the imposition by him of a series of hand-picked Interim Management Committees and eventually ended up under his former personal assistant as its Sole Administrator. Just as well, the East West Road as busy as it can be on any day, remains a nightmare to ply by commuters, in spite of endless promises by Akpabio that the government was poised to resolve the problem there.   

As a graphic metaphor which debunks Akpabio’s claim of heroic exploits in office, is that the worst portion of the 338 kilometre road which starts from Effurun in Delta State and terminates in Oron his home state,  is the 15 kilometre section from Eleme Junction to Onne in Rivers State – a portion that easily qualifies at the most endowed parcel of Nigeria’s territory with respect to investments by the Federal and Rivers State governments as well as scores of local and foreign business outfits.   

For clarification, Mr Godswill Akpabio, a former governor of Akwa Ibom State and later a Senator, was   assigned the responsibility of over-sighting the NDDC following the reign of sleaze in the agency. Sick as the NDDC was, the lot fell on him to reverse the narrative of the agency. In fairness to him, the NDDC was at that time in such a terrible shape, that it needed a rescue mission. Among its ills were the malaises of in-house managerial incontinence, backlog of 13,777 uncompleted and abandoned projects for which hundreds of billions of naira had been paid up front to contractors and consultants, indebtedness to contractors, outstanding revenue from contributors to its purse who include governments as well as oil and gas firms, infighting among its leadership structure, and a dip in public rating. Superceding all these was the syndrome of political interference and control by the Federal and member state governments in its operations, especially in choice of operatives and projects for execution.

The situation in the NDDC was so deplorable that in 2019, soon after the commencement of the second term of Buhari, the governors of the participating states approached him to complain that they were shut out of the operational oversight of the agency. Meanwhile the NDDC Act had provided for their oversight of the agency, but this had been complied with by them in the breach from the inception of the NDDC in 2001 to 2019 when they complained. Many believe that that their complaint to the President at that time, was due to change in government at the centre with the loss of political power at the federal level by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to which they belonged, to the All Progressives Congress (APC), whereby they were no more in command of the affairs of the agency. It was at that meeting that the President directed that any restorative measure by him would be after a forensic audit of the agency. Along with the exercise of the forensic audit was that a substantive board of directors would be provided the NDDC, since a previous board headed by Senator Victor Ndoma Egba was suspended midway in its tenure. The forensic audit was eventually concluded in September 2020, only to be followed by a series of policy summersaults and evasive maneuvers by the government with Akpabio acting as the point man in this play-out of government deceiving the governed. No substantive board was set up for the NDDC, in spite of intense pressure from a wide field of interests.

As for the East West Road its fate is as good as waiting for Godot, as one instance of availability of the required N10.4 billion for its completion was overtaken by another of further search for funds. At the end of Akpabio’s tenure, the road remains on the back burner of the nation’s road rehabilitation programme with various tranches of funds running unaccounted for. And the masses continue to suffer untold hardship from the failure of these two projects. 

Now the gentleman has been eased out of office the stage is set for the leading lights of the region to move in and reinvent the NDDC, as it should be, and also pay attention to the East West Road. Given the cliché that it is not what happens a man that should define him but what he does after, it is time for the renewal of whatever advocacy will make the Buhari administration do the needful.