By Wilson Ruvwoghor
So, talkative canvasser of “uncommon” politics and Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, September 20 made his first official visit to his region of jurisdiction, the precise port of call, Port Harcourt.
Predictably, his priority engagement on the visit to the Rivers state capital was not to make any measurable short, long term assurances on the abandoned East West Road Project, flagship of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, MNDA.
He merely made a passing, “We are going to do something” upon visiting the ruined Mkpolu Junction where vehicle movement has been cut off on that Port Harcourt point on the East West Road. He, instead, devoted the visit time to advancing his concentrated crusade to rid Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, of sustained financial recklessness.
Akpabio, frenzied as new superintendent of MNDA, has not introduced any improved insight to the repeated campaigns to compel financial probity into NDDC over the spending indiscipline that has permitted diversion of estimated 70% of its funds into private pockets according to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Before making an anthem of current N2Trillion contracts debts of the commission, NDDC’s financial exposures has been in excess of a trillion naira for years preceding the Nsima Ekere and Nelson Brambaifa led boards. Mr. Uncommon Transformation is simply imitating his predecessor, Usani Uguru Usani in making singsong of corruption in NDDC.
Usani it was who, in December 2017, spoke profound self defeat into MNDA’s capacity to complete East West Road on account that the road contract was “planned to fail” due to perceived faulty engineering designs which needed as much as N30Billion to correct alone.
Asked if he would prosecute probable culprits of perceived sharp practices that had gone into the planned-to-fail East West Road, Usani said then, “I have got a minimum 30 to 40 contractors I am sending to EFCC. On the East West Road, I have taken a private consultant to review the whole cost, so some contractors will obviously refund money for which the present cost will be discounted.”
Usani at the time, in same breath, engaged in tense supremacy battle with Managing Director, Nsima Ekere over who calls the shots in NDDC and even more intense war with then NDDC Chairman, Sen Victor Udoma Egba, a face-off fueled by struggle over who between them becomes 2019 APC flag-bearer For Cross Rivers governorship.
I am yet to come across any report of how many of the 40 contractors whose name Usani submitted to the EFCC were convicted for what charges, but I couldn’t have forgotten that Guy Otobo, whose Otobo Guy Otobo & Partners Ltd was Coordinating Consultant on inception of that project described Usani’s loose verdict as “patently false, most uncharitable and satanic”
The basic lesson, for Akpabio, from Usani’s egoistic sojourn as Minister, MNDA, is to realise that he (Akpabio) is not Minister of NDDC. He can’t leave any “uncommon” legacy in his present office by imitating Usani. NDDC which predates the MNDA with 8 distant years is not, has never been an appendage of the MNDA. The ministry was not created to own or dish orders to NDDC.
Akpabio as lawyer should know better that the idea of MNDA watching over NDDC has no letter, line or clause of legal backing in the extant act establishing the commission. The ministry’s oversights on the NDDC is sheer secondary, if not extraneous duty, ascribed by Presidencial discretion over the years, usually through Office of the Secretary to the Federation who announces dissolution and constitution of NDDC boards.
The MNDA has as much been a conduit pipe for also filtering away, into private pockets, commonwealth dedicated for development of the Niger Delta. Interestingly Akapbio, unlike Usani, has been taciturn on removing the peck in the eyes of his ministry before the fixated attention on NDDC.
It is not debatable that NDDC needs to be compelled to embrace probity in its dealing , but it’s not the place of a Minister of Niger Delta Affairs to play chief forensic auditor, chief investigator and chief recovery agent For NDDC stolen funds. Assuming Akpabio even has the statutory duty to so oversight NDDC, the false start of media trial and convictions against the commission would only compromise formal investigations and judicial trial of perceived culprits.
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Besides, an Akpabio induced probe of NDDC is not likely to yield significant results due to the associated odious hypocrisy. Must he be Minister of Niger Delta Affairs before making change? As Senator of reckoning among opposition PDP in the 8th National Assembly, how honest can Akpabio defend absence of financial recklessness in NDDC back when Nsima Ekere was MD?
Rather than raise the present concerns then, as Ekere’s 2019 elections governorship campaign funds gained expression in strengthening the Akwa Ibom’s APC, Akpabio on Sept 2018 said, “Ekere has shown that NDDC can work. Before he became the NDDC MD, the interventionist agency was not living up to expectations. Today, we are seeing many programmes and projects being executed all over the Niger Delta.”
Such is subjective mindset with which Akpabio is spoiling for forensic audit on NDDC books from inception. This selective judgement is why previous audits have failed to change the narrative of a reckless spending NDDC, beyond making scapegoat of few board members, the most targeted, Executive Directors of Finance and that of Projects.
Again, Akpabio may just be spewing empty threats like those before him because the political contractors who pocket NDDC juicy contracts funds and abandon the projects are backed shielded by sweet talking politicians as Akpabio who influence the job awards in the first place. Will Akpabio probe the political office holders behind the political contractors?
A parting charge; the minister needs to work in the appeal of this stark reminder a former occupant of the MNDA, Dr. Steve Oru, highlighted of public perception of the ministry in his brief but tangibly insightful superintendence over its Affairs.
Though he considered it a wrong perception in the light of other projects MNDA is handling, Dr. Oru acknowledged widespread notion that, “East West Road, without doubt, is flagship of the ministry. The failure of the project is therefore being considered by many as failure of the ministry. Its completion is seen as the surest measure to judge the success of the ministry.”
Akpabio, the task ahead is overwhelming. Stop the drama, get to work, guided that you are not the Minister of NDDC.
Wilson Ruvwophor, commented from Warri, Delta state