Stakeholders of the Niger Delta are enthusiastically awaiting the end of this month (June) or latest July 5, which the Minister of Niger-Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, under pressure, promised ethnic nationalities of the region and ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, that the long-expected Board of the Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC, would be inaugurated, when he visited the creek of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Delta State, early this month.
What the people want
Consensus of opinions among concerned parties appears to be that the Governing Board with a former Deputy Governor of Edo State, Dr. Pius Odubu, as Chairman and a former Commissioner for Finance, Delta State, Mr. Bernard Okumagba, as Managing Director, screened and approved by the Senate since November 2019, be sworn- in by President Muhammadu Buhari.
But, it is not as straightforward as that as top officials, including Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, Akpabio, Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, and Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon Rotimi Amaechi, are said to have delegated interests in who runs the interventionist agency fashioned to boost development in nine oil states crisscrossing the South-South, South-East and South-West regions.
A rights group under the auspices of the Niger Delta Movement for Peace and Justice, NDMPJ, accentuating the contemplations of a cross-section of Niger-Deltans, in a statement by the National Coordinator, Comrade Etifit Nkereuwem, last week, said: “Niger Delta Movement for Peace and Justice aligns itself with the people of the Niger Delta region to call on Mr. President to inaugurate the Governing Board of NDDC without further delay.
“However it is sad to hear that the Senate is currently contemplating screening of fresh nominees for the NDDC Governing Board.
“It appears that you (the President) have bowed to pressure from some selfish individuals in the Niger Delta to ignore members of the Board that have already been constituted, awaiting swearing-in.
“This has never happened in the history of democracy in Nigeria. No President of this country has had his screened and confirmed nominees replaced even before they were sworn-in.
“We, therefore, demand Mr. President to demonstrate that he is a true democrat, principled politician and a man of proven integrity by going ahead to inaugurate the 15 nominees already screened and confirmed by the Senate in November 2019 for the NDDC Governing Board”.
Before Akpabio took over as Minister in 2019, Amaechi swayed prominent appointments in NDDC, but Omo-Agege exerted the power of the Senate with the support of former National Chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshimohole, to vet the substantive Board headed by his erstwhile deputy, Odubu, of course with the imprimatur of Mr. President.
Akpabio stamps authority
In some way, Amaechi lost grip, but Akpabio, armed with the authority of supervising minister of the NDDC, threw down the gauntlet over the inauguration of the Board for almost two years, until last month, when a leader of the Niger-Delta struggle, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, joined forces with the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, and other stakeholders, including South-South governors, to demand the inauguration of the Board in a jiffy.
The body language of Akpabio, who was said to have already made recommendations to Buhari on the Board inauguration, even before his visit to Tompolo, appears to be that he wants an outright new Board with the Managing Director coming from Bayelsa instead of Delta State and taking into account the wide-ranging designs of APC leaders.
Hardly had Akpabio sent his recommendations to the President than tales sprung up that he and Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum, were at daggers drawn over the reconstitution of the Board.
In fact, a group of monarchs from Ekeremor local government area of Bayelsa State, comprising HRH Perekebina Alfred, paramount ruler of Koromotoru Kingdom, and Chief Alexander Daunemighan, paramount ruler of Peretorugbene Federated Communities, petitioned Buhari, claiming that Sylva was meddling with Akpabio’s nominee as substantive Managing Director from Peretorugbene in Ekeremor, Bayelsa West.
No rift with Akpabio – Sylva
News was everywhere that Akpabio nominated Elder Denyanbofa Dimaro, an illustrious son of Peretorugbene community as Managing Director, while Sylva was allegedly promoting Maxwell Okoh from Bayelsa East to become NDDC Managing Director, but Sylva in a retort, June 8, entitled, ‘No rift between Sylva and Akpabio,’ signed by his Special Assistant on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Julius Bokoru, denied any disagreement with Akpabio over the reconstitution of the substantive Board.
The statement read in part, “The story is false and nothing more than a string of poorly thought-out and poorly crafted lies that should be totally disregarded and discarded.
“Sylva has maintained excellent relations with Senator Akpabio through the years. The duo considers themselves brothers and comrades in the quest of building a more prosperous Niger Delta and a stronger Nigeria”.
High wired machinations
With Sylva’s confirmation that there was no crack, sources familiar with the ongoing intrigues said the way forward was for the “big men” to find the middle ground. Sunday Vanguard learned that Akpabio, indeed, tipped a Bayelsan as Managing Director in the new arrangement with his associate, Mr. Effiong Akwa, currently the Interim Administrator, programmed for Executive Director, Finance and Administration. Whether Akpabio and Sylva, in the light of their new understanding, have brokered a pact on Managing Director since Sylva hails from Bayelsa is unclear.
As undistinguishable as it is, there is report making the round that the Managing Director-designate in the substantive Board, Bernard Okumagba, powerfully supported by Omo-Agege, is the Chairman in the new Board, while Transportation Minister, Amaechi, is to produce Executive Director, Projects. Our source said Omo-Agege is disposed to the substantive Board, not a new Board.
A Niger-Delta leader, Chief Tom Ofosu, meanwhile, said: “What you are talking about is the scheming of the officeholders you mentioned, but what the stakeholders want is inauguration of the Odubu Board with Bernard Okumagba as Managing Director.
“But, it is true that since Oshiomhole, who nominated Odubu, has lost power, his voice no longer counts.
“What matters now are the interests of Senator Omo-Agege, Akpabio, Sylva and Amaechi.
“Once these four agree and confirm their pact to President Buhari, they think they are good to go, but that is not what the people want.”
Militants warn leaders
Corroborating Ofosu’s standpoint, a militant group, Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders, NDRC, in a statement, Thursday, by its spokesman, W. O.I Izon-Ebi, said: “It has come to our attention that leaders of the region are fighting over who produces the MD of NDDC, thereby diverting attention away from the main issues of injustice, marginalization, underdevelopment and deprivation of the people of the region.
“It is sad that leaders of the region are themselves the problems of the region.
“They are playing politics with the destiny of the people for personal and selfish interest without the region at heart.
“We will not sit back and watch them destroy the future of the people of the region.
“We are sternly warning those who dare to fiddle with the future of the people of the region that they should be ready for hostilities taken to their door steps.
“The people of the region do not expect anything short of credible, competent, vast, and experienced with maturity and the stint as well as who truly understands the yearnings and aspirations of the people of the region to drive the Commission.
“With the current state of affairs in the region, the NDDC needs such maturity and strong hand grounded with the issues of the Niger Delta to lead the Commission if the Federal Government means well for the region.
“Therefore, the Buhari government and the National Assembly should be cautious in the appointment of the MD and do the right thing, else be ready to receive a gift from us. “It will be a huge joke and we will resist the appointment of any charlatan that is a puppet to a politician who will turn the Commission into a conduit pipe.
“The Presidency has ignored the genuine cry of people and has continued to asphyxiate and stifle the growth of the Niger Delta while hobnobbing and satisfying the interests of this set of leaders to the detriment and progress of the region.
“We view the NDDC and the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, that are in their current state of comatose, as the handiwork of selfish individuals from the region and the cabal in the Presidency to undermine the people of the Niger Delta.
“We will not hesitate to speak the language the Federal Government understands”.