The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has been in the news in the past one week over the intrigues, show of power and political razzmatazz currently playing out in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Since the control power of the interventionist agency was moved to the Ministry of Niger Delta which the former governor of Akwa Ibom State oversees, Akpabio has not left anyone in doubt that he can influence and direct the affairs of the commission established in 2001 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to champion the development of Niger Delta communities.
Shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari dissolved the Professor Nelson Brambaifa-led board of the NDDC and the subsequent appointment of Dr. Anyia Akwagaga to oversee the affairs of the commission in acting capacity, Akpabio was alleged to be on the neck of the Akwagaga management committee to do his biddings.
One week after Akwagaga assumed office and had barely settled down to work, Akpabio stormed the commission’s headquarters with the then Minister of State for Niger Delta, Festus Keyamo, and other staff on a fact-finding mission. While the staff and journalists invited to cover the visit were awaiting his arrival, the minister was said to be with Akwagaga and other directors of the commission in a hotel in the GRA in Port Harcourt where he (Akpabio) was said to be dishing out orders to the acting managing director on the do’s and don’ts in the commission.
One of directives, our correspondent learnt, was that the managing director was to pay a N1.9bn water hycient contract said to have been awarded to Niger Delta youths. Sources close to the commission said the contract was awarded by the Managing Director, Nsima Ekere, to a company.
“We that are privy to the information were not surprised when the minister mounted pressure on Dr. Akwagaga to pay N1.9bn being the contract sum for the water hycient contract awarded to some youths of Niger Delta. That contract was awarded by Nisima Ekere who was the Managing Director of NDDC.
“The contract was awarded at the time Nsima was preparing for the Akwa Ibom governorship election and they were doing so many things to get control of Akwa Ibom. The money was not paid until Nsima left NDDC.
“They said it’s water hycient contract but I did not see where such project was carried out. So, because of the interest the minister has in the project, he mounted pressure on madam to pay the money. I learnt about N400m has been paid out of the money,” a source told our correspondent.
The source stated that the minister also put pressure on the former managing director to complete the NDDC headquarters which is still under construction.
“I can tell you that Akpabio really put Akwagaga under serious pressure but the woman being a God-fearing person was not ready to succumb to such pressure. The pressure on Dr. Akwagaga from many quarters to do their biddings was very overbearing. She was summoned to Abuja on a weekly basis to answer one question or the other from either the minister or the senate,” he further stated.
He alleged that the uncompromising stand of the former MD was the reason why she was removed and replaced with an interim management committee.
“Why are they afraid of the woman? It’s because of her uncompromising stand on issues concerning the commission. She had insisted on verifying every contract awarded before payment is approved,” the source said.
Another source said Akpabio is afraid of the new management team because of their closeness to the senate leadership and may influence the forensic audit committee.
“You know that the incoming managing director was nominated by the deputy senate president and he is expected to do the biddings of the deputy senate president. There are so many hidden things in this matter. Every camp is trying to protect it’s interest. There are senators that have so enriched themselves through the NDDC and they are fighting hard to cover their dirty deals. So there is likely going to be a clash of interests between the minister and some powerful forces in the senate,” he said.
The senate early this week confirmed the nomination of 15 persons for appointment into the board of the commission. This followed the adoption of the report of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta which screened the nominees.
The senate, however, rejected the nomination of Dr. Joy Nunieh, the nominee for Rivers State, over her absence at the screening conducted by the committee without any official communication on reasons for her absence.
The committee’s chairman, Senator Peter Nwaboshi, said the nominees were screened and found suitable to serve on the board in accordance with Section 2(2)( a) of the NDDC Act, 2000.
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, declared that with the confirmation, the interim management of the NDDC set up by the minister had become “vitiated”.
He urged members of the committee to perform their oversight functions effectively to ensure value for money in any project.
Those confirmed are; Dr. Pius Odubu as chairman; Bernard O. Okumagba as Managing Director; Otobong Ndem, Executive Director, Projects; Maxwell Oko, Executive Director, Finance and Administration.
Others are; Prophet Jones Erue (Delta), Chief Victor Ekhator (Edo), Nwogu Nwozgu (Abia), Theodore Allison (Bayelsa), Victor Antai (Akwa Ibom), Maurice Effiwatt (Cross River), Olugbenga Elema (Ondo), Hon. Uchegbu Chidiebere Kyrian (Imo), Aisha Murtala Muhammed (Kano), Ardo Zubairu (Adamawa) and Amb. Abdullahi Baga.
The battle over who controls the NDDC board took a dramatic dimension when Senate President, Almad Lawan, directed the new board to take over the affairs of the commission.
Lawan, who was reacting to concerns raised by the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, and former deputy senate president, Ike Ekwerenmadu, who were worried over the fate of the new board, said the law setting up the NDDC does not recognize an interim arrangement once a board is in place.
Reactions have trailed the ensuing cold war. The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) has called for the immediate sack of Akpabio over alleged interference in the affairs of the commission.
The group in a press statement signed by its president, Eric Omare, said Akpabio’s activities since his appointment as minister had led to instability and confusion in the region, especially with respect to the management of the NDDC.
He said hours after President Buhari announced the appointment of the board, Akpabio ran to a television station and announced an interim management team led by Joy Nuieh.
Another group known as IYC Worldwide countered the position of the former and threw its weight behind Akpabio, saying they were not part of the call his sack.
The group’s spokesman, Daniel Dasimaka, in a statement, said Ijaw youths were solidly behind Akpabio and had no reason to demand his removal.
The group said it welcomed the steps Akpabio had taken so far as Niger Delta minister.
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State during a visit by the interim management committee said it’s only the executive arm of government that can appoint and remove NDDC board members, and the state government would support the committee to succeed.