Niger Delta: Can Umana shake-off Akpabio’s Shadow? - By: Monima Daminabo | Dailytrust

Niger Delta: Can Umana shake-off Akpabio’s Shadow?

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

As has been traditional in Nigeria, governance in any year preceding general elections, always suffers a deficit in administration and panders towards preponderance of politicking by politicians, who are jostling to secure power in the forthcoming polls.

So, it is not out of place that with the frenetic pace of political activities in the country, some developments in the administrative terrain may have been side-stepped, in the ongoing drama of high-stakes horse-trading. Hence, a landmark development as the  appointment by President Muhamadu Buhari of a new set of seven ministers, may have been overlooked by a wide cross-section of the Nigerian public.

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Yet, such should not be the lot of the Niger Delta and its leading lights, whose fortunes may be improved or degraded – courtesy of the appointment of a new minister – Umana Umana from Akwa Ibom State, for the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.

Umana Umana was one of the seven ministers who were appointed by the President as replacement for the seven members of his cabinet that resigned last May, to contest various political offices. In assigning portfolios to the new ministers, the President designated Umana to the sensitive Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the only ministry whose brief is the development of a region of the country. 

Among questions that are now trending over the tenure of the new minister, is how he will address the legacies of his predecessor Godswill Akpabio also from Akwa Ibom State. Specifically, the question is whether Umana has the capacity and disposition, to shake off the shadow of Akpabio which had hung as an incubus on the ministry and its agencies as well as   projects. The question has become relevant due to the unmistakenly suffocating grip which Akpabio imposed on the ministry throughout his tenure in office. So pervasive was Akpabio’s grip on the ministry that it was a common query across the Niger Delta region whether he was beyond the supervision and control of the Presidency, in the first place.  

Many Nigerians cannot easily forget the unending instances of policy somersaults, bare-faced ambivalence in official pronouncements of public statements, unbridled play-out of impunity in the discharge of official duties as well as disappointment of the public in his brand of uncommon run of public sector business. To accentuate public misgivings over Akpabio’s tenure are several instances, with space constraint allowing only two to be mentioned here. 

Firstly is the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), whose legal status suffered the worst possible injustice under Akpabio, as it was turned from a regional development agency to the private estate of just one man, whose ordinary sneeze generated convulsions in the agency and across the entire region. Among the outrages perpetuated at the NDDC was the denial of the agency of a statutory board of directors in violation of several resolutions of the Senate and flagrant disregard of not a few promises by the President in that respect. His extra-ministerial sway as an incubus over the affairs of the region, was accentuated by the questionable installation of one of his erstwhile personal assistants – Effiong Akwa as Sole Administrator, in a development which is not only in conflict with the law establishing the agency, but also offends the sensitivities of the core stake- holders in the fortunes of the Niger Delta region. 

Fortuitously or otherwise, Akpabio’s gambit in muscling and personalizing  the affairs of the Ministry and NDDC, came to an official end when he resigned from office to chase the pie in the sky of a Presidential ambition, and failed in the attempt. Not done with the failed bid for the Presidency, he lunged at a ticket to return to the Senate and also lost his deposit there. He may be contemplating by now, a likely, ‘uncommon’ sojourn into political wilderness for good measure, especially if the APC fails to win the Presidential polls, come 2023.It is therefore no surprise that the earliest messages to welcome the new minister Umana Umana are in the main asking him to resolve the crass illegality of running the NDDC with a Sole Administrator instead of the statutory board of directors as provided for by law. 

Another issue of discredited legacy of Akpabio is the East-West Road, which featured more as a pawn in a political chess-game by the serial efforts at denying it its overdue rehabilitation. The deplorable state of the road – is accentuated by its most critical portion which is the 10 kilometer stretch between Eleme Junction and the strategic port community of Onne. Considering that this is the portion that services perhaps the highest concentration of critical economic assets of the country, its neglect qualifies ordinarily as economic sabotage of the nation. 

For the purpose of clarification, the stretch of road has to its credit the two plants of Nigeria’s premier refinery, Port Harcourt Refining Company Limited, the Indorama Eleme Petrochemical Company, the Notore Chemical industries (former NAFCON), the Onne Sea Port, as well as myriad of security and government agencies, hundreds of private companies involved in heavy duty haulage and other services. 

Yet the willful neglect of this road is what Akpabio deployed his ministerial enterprise to perpetuate through omission to do the needful. As a result of his non-performance, the East West Road in its present state, is not only a nightmare to the businesses located around it, but also a deathtrap to unlucky road users.

With barely nine months left for the Buhari administration, Umana as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs his job cut out for him, as far as making an impact is concerned. The options are also open to him either to change the narrative of his brief as minister who posterity will heap kudos on after his tenure. He also has the option of towing the line of his predecessor and sharing the accompanying opprobrium. All depends on what he does with Akpabio’s legacies. 

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