I read Etim Etim’s piece entitled: ‘The Hawks are Circling at NDDC Again’ published in The Sun of March 3, 2020, and came away shaking my head at the tragic ingenuity of the writer’s logic as he laboured to absolve his principal, Senator Godswill Akpabio, the Niger Delta Minister, of the mess that he has created in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The points mentioned by Abiye Tolofari in the National Template on “Why Buhari must stop Akpabio’s circus at the NDDC” and a report in the Vanguard newspaper enttled, ‘’Akpabio has brought NDDC to its knees,’’ at which Etim Etim took umbrage, the unalloyed views of stakeholders in the Niger Delta concerning the management of the NDDC since Akpabio was appointed minister.
The whole argument in Etim’s image-laundering piece for Akpabio is that the minister is doing a good job at reforming the NDDC and the opposition to his interim management committee is the handiwork of contractors and politicians, the favourite whipping boys of Akpabio since opposition to his hijack of the multi-billion naira development agency started last year when he became Niger Delta Minister. The point to make to the writer is that the hawks are not circling again but the hawks have taken over the NDDC. He only needs to ask Ms Joi Nunieh, who until a few weeks ago thought she was a bonafide member of the pack of hawks the minister leads and stepped out of line only to, as Etim said in his piece, be promptly fired for ‘insubordination.’ In effect Akpabio has turned the NDDC into his personal hunting ground where deals, patronage and jobs are dispensed without regards for the core mandate of the agency and with scant appreciation for its geographical spread. This he has done by subverting the law setting up the agency under the guise of a forensic audit that seems to have no fixed timeline. That is the crux of the matter that Etim conveniently seeks to ignore, rather weaponing the names of the President and convenient themes of corruption to obfuscate the minister’s agenda.
The opposition to Akpabio’s agenda is not driven by political interests but by fundamental issues of law and respect for the NDDC Act, probity and accountability, and the ruse of the interim committee. These are the points raised by groups in the Niger Delta, such as Ijaw Youth Council, Oron Nationality Movement and others since October 2019 when Akpabio surreptitiously sold the idea of the Interim Management Committee while the Senate was considering the list of nominees for the NDDC Board. These points all border on Akpabio’s trust deficit, which grows by the day. For the benefit of the reading public, I will take these points one after the other and show why Nigerians should be circumspect about Akpabio and his agenda.
On the law and respect for the NDDC Act 2000 as amended, the points raised by stakeholders in the Niger Delta is that there is a law that governs the operations of the agency, which is being ignored by the current administration on the prompting of Akpabio. The NDDC Act in Part 1 Section 2 provides for the membership and conditions for appointing the Board of the NDDC, which must have representation from all nine oil producing states, three non-oil producing geopolitical regions and other relevant stakeholders, all screened by the Senate. Law does not exist for the sake of it else we are all consigned to a state of anarchy and doomed to failure. The check that the selection process puts on the Board is a fundamental part of governance which is lacking in a committee appointed by one man and whose members, as Etim has told us succinctly in his Freudian slip, must be loyal to one man, the minister. That certainly is not the intention of the governance process set out in the NDDC Act.
It is important to note that this is an issue that would not go away and is not a convenient narrative of politicians. Questions of fact are not open to debate, except in the warped agenda of partisan interests. Only last week at the Third Year Administration Lecture of Ondo State, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu SAN, Femi Falana repeated the fact of the illegality of the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC when he said as follows: “I am submitting that the management of the economy includes the appointment of personnel, the board members of these companies. These agencies that are owned by the country have the appointment of board members made alone by the president; it is not quite right and I know that you can make a case. It is so bad that some of the appointments have nothing to do with the law. NDDC, this concerns Ondo State. There shall be 19 members of the Board of NDDC, one of them shall come from this state (Ondo State), but what has happened, Sir? The Ninth Senate, Senator Adetunmbi you were one of those who screened and when it was time for the President to inaugurate them he decided to jettison the Board and appointed an interim committee. I am submitting here that there is no provision in the NDDC Act for an interim committee. Ondo State must be one of the states that should question the appointment of the interim committee. Two, the Senate surprised all of us when it decided to pass the budget of NDDC after the embarrassing appointment of interim committee.” So the facts of the matter here are very clear.
The second point on which stakeholders in the Niger Delta oppose Akpabio’s schemes is on the issue of probity and accountability. Akpabio was an active participant in the years of waste in the NDDC that he sings so glibly about. First he was a commissioner in Akwa Ibom State between 1999 and 2007, and Governor from 2007 to 2015. As governor he nominated at least a Chairman, Managing Director and State Representative for the NDDC, which was the practice then. As stakeholders we know that governors and the party feasted on the NDDC in these years. As a benefactor and a beneficiary in those years, how can Akpabio be trusted to deliver a flawless forensic audit? Contrary to the oft repeated lie, core community stakeholders have in fact called for a probe of the commission long before Akpabio was made a minister so that we can get to the bottom of the mess in the NDDC, but we do not believe that for a probe or forensic audit to be meaningful the legal governance structures must be set aside. This is because even as we speak the current NDDC budget running into over N300 billion has been approved and is being disbursed by the interim management committee appointed by Akpabio without responsibility to stakeholders in the region!
That brings us to the third point, which is the interim committee itself and the fact that it is simply a smokescreen for selfish schemes to undertake deals and influence the direction of the commission away from its set agenda. We know of deals that have been made on Lassa fever contracts, water hyacinth contracts, contractors being extorted and such other schemes, which we will release in due course. You do not need an interim management committee to manage a forensic audit. A substantive Board should do that. So why does Akpabio not want a substantive Board? Because he cannot hire and fire as he wills and the checks and limitations are too complex for him to manipulate.
So the truth which Etim Etim seeks to obfuscate is that the hawks have taken over the chickens nest, the ones who should be kept away from the chicks have become their caregivers. That is the problem with Akpabio’s control of the NDDC and why his Interim Management Committee must be disbanded and a substantive board inaugurated in line with the NDDC Act. Nigeria is a country of laws and a government should not disregard the laws of the country.
• Nwike writes from Port Harcourt, Rivers State