Group replies Akpabio over delay of NDDC board inauguration
A civil society organization, Niger Delta Peoples’ Forum (NDPF) has berated the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio for refuting a story attributed to him in a national daily on November 2, 2021, entitled “Formation of NDDC Board Not Part of My Responsibilities,” but insisting that he should take responsibility for the delayed inauguration of the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
According to Chief Boma Ebiakpo, National Chairman of NDPF, “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.”
Responding to the minister’s claim 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,” the group described it as classic red herring by the minister, pointing out that the issues on ground state otherwise, which they listed as follows: That 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.”
NDPF asserts that when Senator Akpabio talks of “scuttle the due consideration of the report of the forensic audit by stampeding the government,” he 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 group quoted the president as saying that ‘‘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.”
Chief Boma Ebiakpo therefore reminded the minister that it has been over two months when he (Akpabio) submitted the forensic audit report to the President since September 2, 2021, wondering “how 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.”
NDPF accused Senator Akpabio of “anti-Niger Delta agenda” because 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.” According to the group, “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.”
The Niger Delta Peoples’ Forum is amused that Senator Akpabio “flaunts the ‘completion’ of NDDC Head office, which was already 80 per cent 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.” According to them, “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.”
The group rather stated Akpabio’s real accomplishments as listed by Professor Okaba, in an interview with a national daily on October 17, 2021 to include “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, the 2020 budget passed in December and N400bn was voted for the NDDC but the commission had spent over N190bn before the budget was passed.”
NDPF also recalled 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,” for which 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.”
NDPF also took swipe at Senator Akpabio, who in his statement stated that the NDDC forensic audit was to “understand what went wrong, despite the resources committed to the commission over the years.”
The group however noted that “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.”
On Senator Akpabio’s 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 group faulted the Minister for misrepresenting the mood of the Niger delta region. According to them, 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.
NDPF therefore stated that 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,”
The group quoted Okaba as stating that the INC is fed up with the lackluster approach of the President to “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.”
The Niger Delta Peoples’Forum therefore advised Senator Akpabio to desist from “ineffectual finger-pointing and buck-passing,” but focus on what is needed for the government to redeem itself now that the Forensic audit report has been submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari since September 2, 2021. According to the group, “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 the nine Niger Delta states.”