By Godknows Sotonye
The article credited to one Etim Etim and published in The Nation newspaper of Tuesday, December 29, 2020, under the headline, ‘NDDC: Let’s Give Akwa Chance’ in response to the paper’s principled editorial questioning the appointment of Mr Effiong Okon Akwa as sole administrator of the NDDC is replete with lies, half truths and innuendos.
It is at best another PR job by a man who clearly identifies himself as a public relations practitioner, the journalist bit a clear design to put a veneer of rationality in his PR treatise for Mr Effiong Akwa and the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio.
One is not surprised that Etim Etim’s name has surfaced here again to promote this patent illegality of appointing a sole administrator for the NDDC in serial violation of the law setting up the Commission. When the now disbanded Interim Management Committee of the NDDC was first appointed in October 2019, Etim Etim jumped to pen copious articles both in support of the decision and in praise of the Minister of Niger Delta, Chief Godswill Akpabio, the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State between 2007 and 2015. In one instance, just weeks after the IMC was appointed, he wrote the following in the Thisday newspaper of November 28, 2019: “The IMC will not be bogged down by contract awards, payments of past obligations and politics of employment.” Yet, that is what the IMC did: engage in contract awards, some on behalf of Chief Akpabio, and in financial recklessness and mismanagement. These infractions are well documented in the reports of the National Assembly committees that investigated the IMC for corruption, and in several accounts by whistleblowers. Records from last year’s National Assembly probe of the IMC and the Commission’s account statements with the CBN show that since October 2019 when they were imposed by Akpabio, these NDDC illegal managements have spent about N200 billion on fake contracts and fraudulent payments, under the smokescreen of supervising a forensic audit.
Considering the billions of naira the NDDC in the last one year under Akpabio has diverted under the headings ‘strategic communication’ and ‘public relations’, it is not difficult to see why these PR articles that have no substance and do not speak to the issues at the heart of the NDDC are churned out on a regular basis by people who support Akpabio and his minions in the NDDC.
While one concedes that Etim Etim has a right to takw a position, he oversteps his bounds when he denies the facts and presents an illegality as legal as he has done in his current piece and in others previously. Etim Etim laboured to put a spin on the readings and interpretation of the NDDC Act in his specious attempt to justify the imposition of the sole administrator, Mr Effiong Akwa. Etim Etim states in his article, “previous presidents have appointed sole administrators to manage the agency for a period of time pending the composition of a full board by the President.” This is false, as no president before President Buhari appointed sole administrators for the NDDC at any time.
To put the records straight, the first executive director of Finance and Administration of NDDC, Timi Alaibe, who was already confirmed by the Senate, acted as Managing Director in 2002, following the resignation of the pioneer Managing Director, Engineer Godwin Omene, and pending the appointment of another substantive MD in accordance with the provisions of Part 1; Section 5; Subsection 3 of NDDC Act, which states, inter alia, that “where a vacancy occurs in the membership of the Board it shall be filled by the appointment of a successor to hold office for the remainder of the term of office of his predecessor, so however, that the successor shall represent the same interest and shall be appointed by the President subject to the confirmation of the Senate.” Senator Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, was subsequently appointed substantive Managing Director and confirmed by the Senate. Senator Aguariavwodo also resigned his appointment and Timi Alaibe, who was a member of that Governing Board as Executive Director Finance and Administration, stepped in again as Acting Managing Director, pending the appointment of a substantive Managing Director. In both instances, the board was not dissolved and as such an existing executive director acted when the MD resigned his position.
Prior to Buhari’s coming to power in 2015, in the absence of a Board duly constituted in line with the NDDC Act, the most senior civil servant in the NDDC took over as Managing Director in acting capacity until a Board was constituted. This principle was briefly honoured by President Buhari in August 2019 upon the sack of the Professor Nelson Brambaifa interim management when the Government asked the most senior Civil servant in the NDDC, Dr Enyia Akwagaga, to act as Managing Director pending the confirmation of the president’s nominees for the substantive Governing Board by the Senate. Surprisingly, rather than allow the confirmed board members to immediately assume office, an illegal IMC was imposed and the board was asked to be on standby.
The fact of the matter is that there have been five interim impositions since the inception of the NDDC and all five were made by the Buhari Administration. The first was that of Mrs Semenitari in 2015 after the substantive Governing Board was dissolved. Rather than allow the most senior civil servant to act pending the composition of a Governing Board, the Administration imposed Semenitari as sole administrator of the NDDC in breach of the NDDC Act, thus denying the nine constituent states of representation in the leadership as provided for in the NDDC Act. The same thing was done when the second illegal imposition was done in the appointment of Professor Nelson Brambaifa in January 2019, and subsequently. The third illegal imposition was that of Ms Joi Nunieh and the first IMC in October 2019, the fourth was that of Prof DK Pondei and the expanded IMC in February 2020, and the fifth is the recent announcement of Mr Effiong Akwa as Interim Sole Administrator. In all the appointments, the law which provides for the representation of the nine of states in the leadership, principle of rotation of principal offices and the confirmation by the Senate, were not followed.
Next, Etim Etim puts on a jurisprudential hat and deliberately misinterprets Section 23 of the NDDC Act, which states: ‘’Subject to the provisions of this Act, the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces may give to the commission directives of a general nature or relating generally to matters of policy with regards to the performance by the commission of its functions, and it shall be the duty of the commission to comply with the directives’’. In Etim Etim’s convoluted thinking, this provision means a broad mandate that empowers the president to appoint anyone he desires without following the provisions of Section 2 of the NDDC Act on the composition of its Governing Board. What the NDDC Act provides for is that while the president may appoint or dissolve a Board, the law is specific on the management succession. The president can only nominate persons who must be confirmed by the Senate before they can lead the NDDC. The NDDC Act does not provide for the president to break the law under whatever guise.
While the illegality of Mr Effiong Akwa’s imposition subsists, the whole lie that enabled this and the whole adhoc interim managements by Akpabio, which is the desire to conduct a credible forensic audit without undue influence is patently false in the case of Mr Effiong Akwa. It has been proven, and Etim Etim unwittingly confirms this, that Mr Effiong Akwa has been deep in the manahement of the NDDC before now. He was an appointee of Chief Akpabio, while the minister was Governor of Akwa Ibom State and is a previous appointee in the NDDC as well between 2013 and 2015. As Etim Etim himself confirms, Mr Effiong Akwa was appointed by Akpabio and served as General Manager of the state-owned mortgage bank, Akwa Savings and Loans Limited, when Akpabio was Akwa Ibom State governor between 2007 and 2015. In 2013, Mr Effiong Akwa was sent by then Governor Akpabio to Bassey Dan-Abia, Managing Director of NDDC as Special Assistant Finance to Dan-Abia as NDDC MD. Dan-Abia was nominated by then Governor Akpabio to be MD of NDDC between 2013 and 2015, from his position as a commissioner in his cabinet in Akwa Ibom State.
Given his previous role in the NDDC as Special Assistant on Finance to a former MD (Bassey Dan-Abia), if the idea is to supervise a credible forensic audit from its inception to 2019, which also covers the period of the Dan-Abia regime in NDDC (2013-2015), then Mr Effiong Akwa clearly cannot be the right person to supervise the forensic audit of the NDDC. This is what Etim Etim does not address in his PR sophistry.
The propaganda by Etim Etim will not change the facts of the situation as aptly captured by Ledum Mitee in a recent interview where he stated: “This administration is the first to shun setting up of a board for NDDC. Instead it has been run by one ad-hoc interim management outfit to the other and even now the supervising minister and the sole administrator are from the same state for an organisation catering for nine diverse states. Never before has our collective intelligence been so assaulted.”
In the words of Eric Omare, the immediate past president of Ijaw Youth Council: Everything is wrong with the way and manner the Buhari administration has managed the NDDC. But the thing that is peculiar to the Buhari administration is that those in charge of Aso Rock have refused to allow the NDDC operate according to the law. Under this administration, the NDDC management is now synonymous with illegality and impunity. NDDC under Buhari is corruption personified and this is unfortunate considering the administration’s claim to be fighting corruption. What is happening in practice with the NDDC and even the Presidential Amnesty Programme is that the corrupt cabal around Buhari has hijacked these agencies in collaboration with their allies from Niger Delta. They from time to time appoint someone in acting or interim basis and manipulate the agencies without any benefit to the people of Niger Delta who ought to be the beneficiaries.
President Buhari is tainting his reputation further with the likes of Akpabio who are advising him to break the law and disregard the demands of the Niger Delta people across the nine constituent states of the NDDC. The Niger Delta people deserve better. The groundswell of opposition to the latest imposition of Mr Effiong Akwa is based on the fact that the continued imposition of Interim Managements is illegal and does not advance the development of the Niger Delta made up of its nine constituent states. Various persons and groups across the Niger Delta have stated in very clear terms their opposition to Effiong Akwa’s imposition. Mr President should heed the call of the people, terminate this interim administrator imposition and put in place the substantive Governing Board of the NDDC, to return the agency to the path of law, broad representation, checks and balances, probity, equity and accountability for the Niger Delta people.
• Sotonye writes from Port Harcourt, Rivers State.