Our attention has been drawn to a belated but futile attempt by the embattled Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, in a statement which he released, titled “Re: Formation of NDDC Board Not Part of My Responsibilities.”
In the statement published in a national daily on Friday, November 12, 2021, Senator Akpabio unsuccessfully labored to extricate himself from the above obvious statement of dereliction of responsibility, puerile subterfuge, and unnecessary finger pointing, which all put together, inevitably pointed to casting blame on his boss, President Buhari.
It is rather curious to note that it took a damning story in a national daily early this week titled “Akpabio throws Buhari under the bus,” for Senator Akpabio to refute a two-week old firm statement of his, also published in a national daily on November 2, 2021, titled “It’s not part of my job to constitute NDDC Board,” which was attributed to his media adviser.
Senator Akpabio, in his rebuttal, stated that “I have checked with Mr Udom (Akpabio’s media aide), and he has clearly said he was misquoted.” In effect he would want Niger Deltans to believe that his media aide released that statement in a national daily (two weeks ago) that he is now personally refuting without his approval in the first place?
In another vein the Minister stated that “I am alarmed at the extent of falsehood the writers went in pushing their anti- Niger Delta agenda, to scuttle the due consideration of the report of the Forensic Audit by stampeding the government. More alarming is the attempt to drag the hallowed name of our president into this plot.” This is classic red herring by the Minister.
1. The anti-Niger Delta agenda has been the continued illegality of the interim management committees/sole administrator contraptions which the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs foisted on NDDC since October 2019 in breach of the law, NDDC Establishment Act No. 6 of 2000, which clearly requires that the Board and management (comprising the MD and two EDs) shall be appointed by the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, subject to the confirmation of the Senate.
2. Senator Akpabio talks of “scuttle the due consideration of the report of the forensic audit by stampeding the government.” The Minister needs to be reminded 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.”
3. It is therefore important in the above regard to remind the Minister that it has been over two 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?
What also could be a more “anti-Niger Delta agenda” than that Senator Akpabio as supervising Minister of the NDDC, through an official memo in 2019 recommended to the President 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. 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.
Senator Akpabio, by his numerous actions in the NDDC in the last two years has been de-marketing the APC and the Federal Government. Niger Deltans are very upset with the disdainful manner the region has been treated. There is increasing anger against the Federal Government and the APC in the Niger Delta region as a result of the very poor, biased, illegal and provocative actions of the Federal Government in the handling of matters concerning the NDDC and the Niger Delta region.
Senator Akpabio flaunts 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 is an embarrassment for a Commission whose combined two-year budget for 2019 and 2020, as approved by the National Assembly was N799 Billion!
Akpabio’s real accomplishments as pointed out by no less a person than the President of Ijaw National Congress, Professor Benjamin Okaba, in an interview with a national daily on October 17, 2021, are the reported irregularities and lack of due process in NDDC since October 2019 when his illegal interim management/sole administrator contraptions have been in place.
According to Professor Okaba, “the general feeling is that the region has been auctioned off to one man to do with it as he pleases.” Prof. Okaba also pointed out that “we are not particularly happy about the silence on the over N600bn payments made for emergency contracts; the over 1,000 persons who were allegedly employed in the NDDC between January and July, 2020 without due process. We are also aware that the 2020 budget was passed in December and N400bn was voted for the NDDC but the commission had spent over N190bn before the budget was passed. So, what happened to the Procurement Act?” These are Akpabio’s accomplishments in two years.
Need we also recall the Senate probe of NDDC in June/July of 2020 which revealed how the NDDC Interim Management Committee (IMC) blew N81.5 billion in just a couple of months on fictitious contracts, frivolities, and in breach of extant financial and public procurement laws. The Senate therefore recommended that the IMC should refund the sum of N4.923 Billion to the Federation Account, and that the IMC should be disbanded, while the substantive board should be inaugurated to manage the Commission in accordance with the law.
Senator Akpabio in this self-same response talks of the “forensic audit to understand what went wrong, despite the resources committed to the Commission over the years.”
But hardly had the ink dried on the Forensic auditors’ report on the Commission presented by Akpabio than no less an organisation as NDDC’s statutory External Auditors, Funsho Owoyemi and Co., in a letter dated September 6, 2021, addressed to the Interim Administrator of NDDC, and signed by Otunba Funsho Owoyemi, Managing Partner of Funsho Owoyemi and Co., picked holes in the reported figures of the forensic audit, and emphatically stated that NDDC received N2.396 Trillion in 19 years, and not N6 Trillion stated in the forensic report as announced by Akpabio; that NDDC has never operated 362 bank accounts, as stated in the forensic audit report, but 33 which were closed in 2015 following the introduction of Treasury Single Account (TSA) and reduced to 4 bank accounts; and that there aren’t 13,000 abandoned projects in the Niger Delta region.
Senator Akpabio further claims that “The President wants to give to the region an interventionist agency that will realize the dreams of our fathers for our people and generations yet unborn.” The Minister must obviously be living in the moon because the authentic stakeholders, leaders, traditional rulers, civil society organisations, groups, men, women, and the youth of the Niger Delta region, think otherwise given the avalanche of agitations, decrying the on-going illegality in NDDC, which have heightened tension in the region.
Matter of fact, the pan Ijaw group, Ijaw National Congress (INC), as recently as November 6, 2021, in a statement signed by its President, Professor Benjamin Okaba, titled “Evil Against The Niger Delta: Enough Is Enough, Mr President” warned that if President Buhari does not take “prompt action and the indigenous cross-cultural and multi-ethnic feelings of discontentment assume critical mass and become kinetic, we can do nothing to hold things back,”
Okaba further stated that the INC is “fed up with the lackluster approach of the President to the outlined issues” of “the continued delay of the inauguration of a substantive board for the NDDC” which he described as “an inexplicable aberration that defies logical reasoning and is infuriating the region and the continued existence of the grossly illegal vehicle of Interim Administration at the NDDC.”
Overall, all the negative actions by the Buhari administration in the management of the NDDC in the last two years were recommended by Senator Akpabio to President Buhari for approval including the administration of the NDDC by Interim management committee / sole administrator which is illegal. The NDDC Act has no provision for this illegality. 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.
Beyond Senator Akpabio’s ineffectual finger-pointing and buck-passing, 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.
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.