The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has cried out that people he called the Niger Delta Vultures are after him, but denied the insinuation going round that he collected money from the former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Isima Ekere, to frustrate the ongoing probe of the commission’s activities.
The minister, in a statement, described as spurious the allegation that he was part of the conspiracy of those who have been milking the resources meant for the development of the Niger Delta for the past 19 years, saying it’s part of the effort to frustrate the forensic audit of the accounts of the NDDC ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari. Akpabio, a former Akwa Ibom State governor, stated categorically that he has not received any kobo from anyone in the NDDC or any other agency of government and would want anyone who has any claim to the contrary to come out openly to lay the fact before the public. “This is a case of corruption fighting back, because no one foresaw that a forensic audit of the accounts of the commission could ever be ordered,” he said.
The controversy came after Niger Delta indigenes under the auspices of different groups yesterday warned that there would be consequences unless Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Godswill Akpabio dissolves the interim committee he set up to oversee the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).Akpabio, however, had declared at the weekend that “corruption” was “fighting” his efforts to sanitize the commission. Last week, the Senate screened members of the NDDC governing board picked by President Muhammadu Buhari. The commission has been in the news in recent times following the order by the president for a probe into allegations of massive corruption. The Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) threatened to embark on mass action and shut down the NDDC office in Port Harcourt unless Akpabio dissolves the committee.
Making the disclosure in Warri, IYC President Eric Omare called for the immediate inauguration of the governing board, alleging that the crisis being perpetrated by Akpabio would derail development in the region. He said rather than create problems; the NDDC should get to work and fix infrastructural challenges in the region. He regretted that following Buhari’s announcement on the board, “to the utter consternation of Niger Deltans and Nigerians, Akpabio announced the appointment of a three-man interim management committee led by one Mrs. Joy Ghene Nuieh as acting managing director.” He added: “The IYC completely rejects the interim committee because it is not in the interest of the NDDC and the Niger Delta region.”
Similarly, the Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition (NDCSC) called for the immediate inauguration of the board. It described as stunning and curious the speed with which the minister set up the committee. It said the former management of the NDDC should have continued with the audit pending the conclusion of the screening of the board nominees. “The minister is playing with fire or much worse with the destruction of our region in a new conflagration,” the group said in a statement by its chairman, Anyakwee Nsirimovu. NDCSC urged Buhari to redeploy Akpabio. It said it would be improper to have the minister oversee the commission while the audit lasted, since he was a member of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta while in the National Assembly.
The group further urged Buhari to hand over the forensic audit to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Nsirimovu urged the president to investigate the allegation that the former acting managing director of the NDDC, Dr. Akwagaga Enyia, was removed from corporate affairs, Charles Odili, dismissed the claim, saying: “The presidency is a sacred institution and people cannot be making spurious allegations or comments. It is at the behest of the president to do what is right at any point in time. And it is not for anyone to make speculation on what the president has done.”
However, Oseghe-Edo Union, a socio-political group, said it firmly supported Akpabio, noting that the decision would clean up the corruption in the commission. “The setting up of an interim management committee is consistent with the forensic audit policy of any organisation. So, we are tired of the business as usual mentality of those who want to hold the commission by the jugular,” it said in a statement by the convener, Okakuo Adaze. It added: “Any APC (All Progressives Congress) politician opposed to President Buhari’s next level agenda for the NDDC, which is manifestly underlined by the recently constituted committee, should be expelled from the party forthwith.”
A recent statement signed by APC national vice chairman, South-south, Mr. Hilliard Eta, had said: “Akpabio should not be embarrassing us. The president has set up a governing council and Akpabio would come and set up an interim management committee. It is unacceptable to the stakeholders of the Niger Delta.”
Also, the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA), a coalition of nine militant groups from the Niger Delta, condemned calls for the sacking of Akpabio. “The RNDA will resist such calls with any means necessary, and those behind such moves will be dealt with, with all the arsenal in our possession, not minding the negative impact of our action on the entire creeks in the region because those who are behind this move are enemies of the development of Niger Delta and are enemies to President Muhammadu Buhari’s good intention towards the region,” the group said in a statement signed by ‘Major General’ Johnmark Ezon-Ebi.