Since his appointment as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, a lawyer, senator and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, has come under the most virulent attacks and orchestrated media lynching. The same man who was the toast of the Nigerian media and even political associates and opponents on account of his uncommon leadership that wrought uncommon transformation in his state has suddenly become the subject of media hounding.
So, what went wrong? To the uninformed, cerebral Akpabio may have committed some infractions to warrant the arrows from the clan of critics. But to the informed and those conversant with Nigerian public service mannerisms, Akpabio has done no wrong; neither has he been involved in any of the usual misdemeanours that often paved the path of most politicians. His offence was being himself, showing a willingness to fulfil the mandate of his ministry and showing determination to bring development to the poor, famished people of the Niger Delta.
And you wonder: who is afraid of Akpabio? Why are they after him? Wonder no more. Only the guilty are afraid of a man whose history and political trajectory is a complete dossier of sterling performance. Truly, the guilty will always be afraid of even their own shadows. Shortly after Akpabio was announced as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, some conspirators hiding under the veil of altruism succeeded in ensuring that the Niger Delta Development Commission, which they have over the years converted to their ATM, was removed from the supervision of Akpabio’s ministry. That was their first jerk of desperation. This tribe of crooks who had turned NDDC to their personal cash cow knew what was about to befall them with Akpabio on board. They quickly went to overdrive to shield their shady deals at NDDC from a man who is never afraid to fight on the side of the poor.
But their scheme backfired. Their momentary “victory” of removing NDDC from Akpabio’s supervision was thoughtfully reversed by the Presidency. And then came the real clincher. The mandate to the Interim Management Committee to conduct a forensic audit of the activities of the NDDC from inception to 2019. It was a directive from President Muhammadu Buhari, whom, having seen the despoliation of the Niger Delta region and the ravaging poverty ripping through communities in the oil-rich region, directed a no-holds-barred forensic audit of the activities of the interventionist commission.
No sane Niger Deltan would fault President Muhammadu Buhari on this directive; neither could any sound mind differ with Akpabio on his determination to carry out the audit as directed by Mr. President. Akpabio’s antecedents lend him to making the most of the moment. He’s a leader for whom development is a tradition. A man who as a routine fights on the side of the downtrodden, a gifted manager of men and resources who was once described by Wikileaks, the spunky whistleblower, as a ‘man to watch’, an obvious inference to Akpabio’s peerless service delivery and transcendental transformation of Akwa Ibom state from a civil service state to a commercial hub and tourist destination.
He’s an infrastructure leader whose signature projects in Akwa Ibom have remained unmatched. Some have argued that Akpabio achieved so much as governor in Akwa Ibom because receipts from crude oil sale at that time was high. But if you consider that both the federal government and other Niger Delta states at that time received the same oil windfall but did little compared to Akpabio’s bullish performance, then you will appreciate this leader of uncommon candour and chutzpah.
Akpabio is not a man who walks with his head bowed. He is bullish with development, especially infrastructural development. He acquitted himself in Akwa Ibom where he left imprints of uncommon transformation. He was a five-star performer among his generation of governors.
Now as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs directly supervising the NDDC, Akpabio is determined to arrest the incubus of corruption that has haunted the development interventionist commission. He has served notice in no unmistakable term that the IMC was going ahead with the forensic audit. This is exactly why the guilty elite of the Niger Delta region and their cronies who plundered the NDDC in the past have bared their claws against Akpabio. But the minister need not worry. He has the backing of President Buhari.
Vested interests in the NDDC both serving and retired and their platoon of conspirators are hauling pellets at Akpabio. Only a man who has dirty linen would guard his cupboard even with a bayonet. The guilty are already afraid. And they are taking their anger and bile on Akpabio. They want to frustrate the audit. They want to protect their loot from the prying eyes of the auditors. It cannot work. Even the gods of the abused land are angry with the clan of looters. Akpabio had earlier described the NDDC as some people’s ATM. He would clarify this to mean that some people erroneously see the NDDC as a place where money grows as low-hanging fruits which they must pluck even before they are due for harvesting.
He once said: “Some people just collect money from the commission; they have no skill, no capacity for the job but they are awarded contracts and they pocket the money and disappear. We want those money to be accounted for. There must be an end to such situation.” To use his exact words: “I think people were treating the place as an ATM, where you just walk in there to go and pluck money and go away, I don’t think they were looking at it as an interventionist agency.”
Upon assuming office, Akpabio raised a red flag: There were 12,000 abandoned projects littering the region. Incredible! And then more revelations: The IMC has released its preliminary findings. And they are as messy as they are startling, to wit, that a past NDDC management awarded 1,921 ‘emergency contracts’ at N1.070 trillion in just seven months, against an annual budget of about N400 billion. Contracts that do not qualify as “emergency contracts’ were converted to ‘emergency’; some contracts only existed on paper but cheques were raised for payments, the report said.
In 2015, the then Auditor General of the Federation, Samuel Ukura, affirmed that over N183 billion was missing from the accounts of the NDDC despite denials by officials of the commission. The NDDC is a nest of scam. How do you justify that a senator would have the ‘privilege’ of handling 300 contracts for the NDDC? These are clear incongruities that have reduced the commission to a conduit for milking the people. The persons behind these heists are powerful. Empowered by their loot, they must do all in their power to undermine Akpabio and the Acting Managing Director of the commission, Professor Keme Daniel Pondei. They are intent on frustrating the IMC from its primary mandate of exposing the diary of financial scandals that defined the NDDC. Strangely, they have found cheap recruits in the media space.
Akpabio and his team must strive to rise above the muckrakers and those raking the muck. The media blackmail to abort the forensic audit must be seen for what it is: desperate kicks from a gang afflicted by the guilt of their misdeeds; misdeeds that have robbed the Niger Deltans of development over the years. Akpabio is on the right path. He must stand tall and fight for the masses of the Niger Delta.
But I trust Akpabio not to budge. He must rally his team at the IMC to salvage whatever is left of a commission that was created solely to bring light to a people mired in the blackness of darkness.
· Ugbechie, public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.