By Anietie Ekong
The appointment of Senator Godswill Akpabio as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs on August 20, 2019 was greeted by great enthusiasm by people across the Niger Delta region. President Muhammadu Buhari was widely hailed for the appointment as putting a square peg in a square hole.
The excitement of the people was not misplaced. As Governor of Akwa Ibom State for eight years (2007 – 2015) Chief Godswill Akpabio unleashed a development model never experienced in Nigeria which the people aptly termed “Uncommon Transformation.” The state within the period witnessed unprecedented infrastructural renaissance that a once largely civil service State, became a destination of choice among Nigerians.
This was possible because of the impeccable infrastructural facilities that Chief Akpabio built in the State. The roads he built as Governor across the state, over 10 years ago have stood the test of times as there are no potholes in them. The airport he built has made access to the state as a destination, possible.
The stadium he built, fittingly named after him as Godswill Akpabio International Stadium is the only FIFA approved stadium in Nigeria, according to the Minister of Sports, Mr. Sunday Dare. The former Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole was so amazed at Ibom Specialist Hospital built by Chief Godswill Akpabio when he embarked on a tour of the hospital that he declared that Nigerians had no reason to embark on medical tourism abroad with the facilities he saw at the hospital which he described as world class. One can go on and on.
It was because of the footprints that Senator Akpabio had left on the sands of Akwa Ibom State as Governor that there was a general consensus that his appointment as Minister was widely received as well deserved and the people commended President Buhari for his choice to man the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
The Niger Delta is a region that has contributed so much to the nation’s treasury but gets underdevelopment in return. The creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) were direct responses to the series of agitations by the people of the Niger Delta flowing from the deep sense of exclusion, environmental degradation, lack of development, poverty and unemployment facing the Region.
NDDC as an interventionist agency was meant to address the developmental challenges in the Niger Delta region but instead the agency has enriched a few people while shortchanging the majority of the people of the Niger Delta. Faceless contractors have pocketed money for phantom contracts that were never meant to be executed. To put it mildly, NDDC has been a cesspool of corruption and bad corporate governance.
This was why President Buhari ordered that a forensic audit of the Commission be carried out to unravel why so much money was sunk into the Commission without commensurate result. Under the supervision of Senator Akpabio the process of forensic audit has started and when completed it would reposition the Commission and set a governance structure that would enable the NDDC to deliver on its core mandate instead of being a conduit for politicians to siphon the resources meant for the collective good of the people of the region. This in itself is a commendable initiative of the administration of President Buhari. Already the fear of forensic audit by contractors is the beginning of wisdom. Contractors who had been mobilized with no intention of doing the jobs have returned to site.
With all the financial inflow from the Federal Government, the International Oil Companies, development partners and other sources, the current debt profile of NDDC stands at about N2 trillion. This has led to the littering of the region with over 12,000 uncompleted and abandoned projects. Typically, jobs done by the NDDC contractors are shoddy and sub-standard.
It is the vision of Senator Akpabio that the Commission should be repositioned to complete ongoing and abandoned projects while its liabilities are reduced to make the interventionist agency “bankable” and deliver quality projects. It does not make sense doling out politically induced contracts that are not funded.
In almost 20 years after its establishment, the NDDC is still operating from a rented headquarters building. The headquarters building started since the days of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), the progenitor of NDDC, has remained uncompleted while the Commission pays about N300 million as rent every year.
In his first meeting with the Management of the Commission, Senator Akpabio put it succinctly that it was a shame that a Commission which so much funds has passed through was still a tenant and gave them a marching order to complete the permanent headquarters building. The building which is almost completed now, would be commissioned and put to use in the next few months.
The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs would soon complete the construction of nine housing estates as well as the construction of one skills acquisition institute in each of the Niger Delta States. The building of the housing estates and skills acquisition institutes has meaningfully engaged the youths of the region. During a recent visit to the projects, Senator Akpabio assured the communities that the Federal Government would complete the projects so that they can be put to use.
Senator Akpabio has realized the importance of peace in the development of the Niger Delta region. Famously known as “the man who turned boys into men” during his tenure as Governor of Akwa Ibom State, he has prioritized youth empowerment to achieve peace in the region. To this end, Senator Akpabio as Minister had in the first 100 days as Minister empowered about 1600 youths with different skills through the youth empowerment programme of the Ministry.
And just recently, Senator Akpabio secured the commitment of the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) for strategic alliance for improved agricultural development and the provision of employment opportunities for the teeming youths of the Niger Delta. The Ministry is embarking on a pilot programme on rice production in the nine states of the region which would also help to provide employment opportunities for the people, check hostilities and youth restiveness and improve the living standard of the people.
Senator Akpabio as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs envisages a peaceful and prosperous region with clusters of small and medium industries where the people are engaged to contribute to the development of the region. This is the mandate that President Buhari has handed down to the Minister and there is an agreement that Senator Akpabio has started well and would also accomplish these onerous tasks.
Ekong is Chief Press Secretary to the Honourable Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.