The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, has denied giving $5million bribe to the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami and others to facilitate the appointment of a sole administrator for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Mr Akpabio’s ministry supervises the commission.
The embattled NDDC sole administrator, Effiong Akwa, who hails from the same state – Akwa Ibom State – with Mr Akpabio, was appointed into a previous interim management as a replacement for the late director of finance, Ibanga Etang, who died of COVID-19.
There have been several protests, especially from the Ijaw ethnic group, against the NDDC after President Muhammadu Buhari in December sacked the former interim management and left behind Mr Akwa, whom he elevated to the position of a sole administrator.
Some people, including members of the former interim management, believe Mr Akpabio manipulated the system to edge out others from the NDDC leadership in order to have absolute control of the commission, through Mr Akwa.
They believe that Mr Akwa’s appointment negates the principle of rotation of the NDDC leadership among the nine states that make up the Niger Delta region.
I didn’t bribe Malami – Akpabio
Mr Akpabio, in a statement issued on Saturday by his media aide, Anietie Ekong, denounced some publications which alleged that he gave a $5million bribe to the attorney general, Mr Malami, and others to get Mr Akwa appointed sole administrator.
“The attention of the Honourable Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio has been drawn to a piece of fake news which claimed that Senator Akpabio paid $5 million bribe to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami and others to secure the appointment of a Sole Administrator for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
“The story is a desperate attempt by some unscrupulous bloggers to impugn the integrity of the Honourable Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and the Honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami as the claim is not only spurious but utterly ridiculous,” the statement said.
Mr Akpabio, who threatened to file a lawsuit over the report, said people who are uncomfortable with the NDDC forensic audit were behind the bribe story.
The statement said Mr Akwa’s appointment was a fallout of a lawsuit against the NDDC.
“The fact is that in a suit number ABJ/CS/617/2020 filed by a Civil Society Organization, Forum for Accountability and Good Governance, at a Federal High Court in Abuja, Justice Ahmed Mohammed had granted an order restraining the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC from performing the functions of the board and accessing the Commission’s offices and files.
“The Order clearly listed the Managing Director Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, Acting Executive Director of Projects Dr Cairo Ojougboh, Mrs Caroline Nagboh and Cecilia Akintomide as those restrained. The Order also asked that ‘the most senior civil servant or administrator in the Commission be appointed’ to take charge of the Commission.
“It was based on this order that President Muhammadu Buhari approved the elevation of the Acting Executive Director of Finance and Administration, Mr Effiong Akwa, being the most Senior Administrator to take over the headship of the NDDC as an Interim Administrator pending the completion of the Forensic Audit Exercise.”
PREMIUM TIMES, Monday, asked Mr Akpabio’s media aide, Mr Ekong, why the federal government did not consider appointing others into the NDDC management, if such moves could help douse tension.
“I think that is the discretion of the president to make,” he responded.
Mr Ekong said NDDC has had about two sole administrators in the past, before Mr Akwa’s appointment.
“Some people have this sense of entitlement that if it is not from their stock, it shouldn’t work. But I believe that most of those agitations have been doused and they have come to realise that Akwa is not just eminently qualified, but he is also a son of the Niger Delta,” he said.
The NDDC has failed to lift the Niger Delta people out of poverty, more than 20 years after it was established in 2000 by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, to fast-track development in the oil-rich region.
Billions of naira that have accrued to the commission have been mismanaged and stolen over the years by corrupt officials and politicians, why several abandoned projects litter the region.
Mr Akpabio, in July, indicted federal lawmakers over the corruption and poor job delivery in the NDDC, saying that most of the commission’s contracts were executed by the lawmakers.
The NDDC, in June, accused a senator, Peter Nwaoboshi, of using 11 companies as fronts to secure for himself a N3.6 billion contract in the commission. The contract was not executed and the money not refunded, the commission said.
Mr Nwaoboshi is a Peoples Democratic Party senator representing Delta North District, Delta State. He is the chairman of the Senate Committee on the Niger Delta and the NDDC.
The NDDC spokesperson, Charles Odili, said the contract was the “biggest single case of looting of the Commission’s resources”.
Mr Akpabio, who once said the NDDC ‘abandoned’ $70million in a bank for 13 years, said the commission was so corrupt that it was treated like a teller machine where money could be withdrawn freely at any time.
Interestingly, Mr Akpabio’s tenure as the Niger Delta affairs minister so far has been blighted by the corruption scandals in the NDDC.
“I said it on radio the other day, why did it take us 20 years to know that NDDC was not living up to its mandate?” said Ken Henshaw, the Executive Director of We The People, a non-governmental organisation in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
“It was created in 2000 and it took us up to 2020 to realise that the NDDC wasn’t working.
“The same thing with the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. Have we carried out any evaluation to know whether the ministry is living up to its mandate?
“I think we should put robust monitoring and evaluation frame-work in place to ensure there is a match between projects and objectives and to ensure that those projects actually speak to the issues in the Niger Delta region,” Mr Henshaw said.
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