By Ebi Perekeme
The Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio yesterday said endemic corruption, lack of patriotism and the entrenched culture of patronage had crippled the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) from delivering its mandate to the people of the region in the last 19 years of its operations.
Akpabio, a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, also said all these challenges informed the decision of the federal government to commission forensic audit into NDDC’s operations between 2001 and 2019, noting that the report of the forensic audit would be ready before the end of the year.
He made these clarifications on Arise News, a sister TV arm of THISDAY Newspapers Group yesterday, absolving himself of corruption allegations made against by the NDDC’s former Managing Director, Ms. Joy Nunieh.
Nunieh had accused the minister of serial corrupt practices. She had alleged that during her brief tenure at the commission, Mr Akpabio repeatedly pressured her to take “an oath of secrecy” that was meant to keep her from exposing fraud at the commission.
Nunieh, who was relieved of her appointment after confrontation with the minister, said: “For instance, he told me to raise a memo to fraudulently award emergency contracts for flood victims in the Niger Delta. I would have been jailed if I had succumbed to Akpabio’s ‘oath of secrecy.”
Defending his decision to reposition the interventionary agency on Arise News yesterday, the minister alleged that the NDDC had failed to deliver to the people of the region almost two decades after its operation.
For 19 years, the minister alleged that nothing “can be seen on ground in the NDDC because of corruption and because people see it as a place for patronage. For 19 years, NDDC could not even buy a house they could use as an office.”
Asked to explain the factors responsible for the failure of the NDDC, Akpabio claimed that the commission “had been a place for election matters before he assumed office. If you want to contest elections, all you need is to get into the NDDC; make money there and contest elections.
“Unfortunately, so many that made the money never won elections. They did not win the election because they contested with blood money. If the previous managing directors and chairmen of NDDC used the right contractors or have love for the region, they could have done far better.”
He lamented that the NDDC “has existed for 19 years. No one can pass through the Warri-Sapele road every year when it is raining. It is just 45 kilometres. It is a road we can award to fantastic company and people will say this is the NDDC road.
“If you do not love your children, you cannot give them the best. If you bring in those who do not love the region, they move their pocket forward instead of moving the region forward. I do not care about any allegation.
“What I care about is that things cannot remain the same again. In less than eight months, we have moved the managing director and other executive directors to the permanent site. It is an 18-storey building. It is totally finished. But it is 96 percent complete. Under 18 months, that is a will.
“What has happened in the NDDC is the people go there to steal the NDDC. If they attempt to steal the NDDC, then it means there will be no benefit for the people of Niger Delta.
“But they are paying N300 million annually as rent in the place they are using as an office in Port Harcourt. There was a building started under Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC). Yet, they could not complete it.
“When I was appointed the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, I prayed to God. I asked God to give me the ability to take insults that will come my way. At the same time, I asked God to give me the wisdom to turn around the Niger Delta.
“Of course, I expected all these things coming my way. If you place a seed, that seed must first die before it germinates. The NDDC must go through this process before it stands. We must give kudos to the president.”
Besides the proliferation of corrupt practices, the minister also identified paucity of funds as NDDC’s major challenge. He said the commission “needs more than what it is presently getting.”
He acknowledged that NDDC’s previous chairmen and managing directors “tried their best. I believe they tried their best in their own way. Unfortunately, because of paucity of funds, they could not make much impact.”
On the forensic audit, the minister disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari specifically said when he assumed office that it would not be business as usual again in the commission.
He added that this resolve explained why all the governors of the nine states “agreed that we should undertake forensic study.
“The NDDC started in 2000. But its operation commenced in 2001. The audit would cover a period between 2001 and 2019. So, you do not expect those who have been eating fat, even the staff members to be happy with it.
“The report of the forensic audit has not been made public because we are yet to visit state offices. Just last Wednesday, I approached the FEC and prepared the memo for the forensic auditors, who are going to the state. The forensic audit will be completed before December 2020 no matter the allegations.”
On the corruption allegations against him, Akpabio advised the former acting managing director “to go to the hospital; see a doctor; get some injection and relax.”
Asked whether Nunieh was sick, he said: “I am not saying anything is wrong with her. But something is wrong with her temperament. You do not need to ask me. But you ask about four other husbands she married.
“She was not relieved of her appointment because of corruption. But she was relieved of her appointment because of insubordination. My ministry that supervised her wrote seven letters to her. She never responded. And then she said she was bigger than the Minister of Niger Delta.”