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AKWA IBOM: OF DEVELOPMENT, AMBITION AND FEAR

By Willie Etim

As the adage goes, when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. This
is the situation in Akwa Ibom today as the state governor Udom
Emmanuel is seemingly locked in a battle of wits with the managing
director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Nsima
Ekere.

At stake: the governorship of the state which, from rumoured
indication, Ekere may be contesting. But Governor Udom does not like
this, and he is ready to battle the NDDC chief at all cost, in a bid
to protect and ensure a second term for himself.

It is a fact that it is in bowels of the Niger Delta that the oil that
is the mainstay of the nation’s economy resides. It is, however, an
unfortunate paradox, that, unlike most oil producing regions the world
over, the Niger Delta is the least developed of such areas, not only
in Nigeria, but the whole world.

It is in realization of this that the federal government set up the
Niger Delta Development Commission as a special interventionist agency
to address the anomaly and accelerate the development of the region.

The task has been daunting and efforts made by successive leadership
in the commission have not been too impressive. But with the
appointment of the current Board led by seasoned Senator Victor
Ndoma-Egba as Chairman and Ekere as Managing Director and Chief
Executive Officer by the federal government things appear to be moving
in the right direction.

They arrived with a mission to strengthen the Commission’s structures
and capacity to deliver on its mandate with what they called a 4-R
strategy: reform the governance protocols, improve transparency and
strengthen due process, restore the core mandate of the NDDC within a
broad regional and integrated master plan, restructure the bloated
balance sheet of the Commission to make it leaner and fitter to
deliver efficient service and worthy projects and programmes, while
reaffirming the commitment to do what is proper and right at all
times.

Indeed, it is on record that for the first time, the Commission
cancelled about 600 non performing projects valued at N200 billion,
has paid a backlog of debts to contractors of about N100 billion since
inception almost a year ago and has undertaken an emergency
remediation of dangerous and dilapidated roads across the region to
boost socio-economic activities. They have also revived, for instance,
two moribund rice processing mills built by the Commission in Rivers
and Akwa Ibom states, which the Minister of State for Agriculture
Senator Heineken Lokpobiri said at a partnership signing ceremony
would boost regional economy and provide thousands of jobs for youths
and women.

New projects are also being undertaken to serve urgent community
needs, which will boost current initiatives by federal government, led
by conversations between vice president Yemi Osinbajo, involving
PANDEF and key stakeholders, including governors of the Niger Delta to
maintain peace and security in the region. The recent security summit
organised in Uyo, Akwa Ibom capital, by the Inspector General of
Police, Ibrahim Idris, where an ugly chapter of the Udom – Ekere
rivalry was unfolded by off-script comments by the embattled governor,
may be a follow up on those initiatives.

Since his appointment, Ekere has been doing his best to sanitize the
situation at the commission and the impact is now being felt in all
the states that make up the region.

Yet, it is in the midst of these that politics has crept into the
system, especially in Akwa Ibom state where the state government is
now determined to cut down on the work being undertaken by the
commission as a battle of wits is waged between the state government,
who is determined to undermine the work of the commission and the
leadership of the commission which is insisting on actualizing its
mandate.

Welcome to Akwa Ibom state where the race for the 2019 general
election has begun in earnest.

The reason for the antagonism between the government and the
commission is obvious. Governor Udom Emmanuel sees his greatest rival
for the governorship race in Ekere whose leadership ability and
developmental projects in the state are eliciting accolades in the
last few months, especially since he assumed the position of the
managing director of the NDDC.

Another obvious truism is that development is about transforming the
lives of the people, but when politics and development clash on the
altar of personal ambition, development suffers. This is the situation
right now as the Akwa Ibom state government is determined to sacrifice
all developmental projects earmarked by the NDDC in the state just
because it sees the managing director of the commission as a threat.

Yet, the people of Akwa Ibom state are desirous of rapid development
with the intrinsic expectation of transforming and modernising the
state. Governor Udom Emmanuel is conscious of these expectations of
the people. He knows that the resources of the state alone cannot
provide all the infrastructural needs of the communities, thus the
need to partner with development and interventionist agencies.

The new NDDC has shown commitment in the development of the state, and
the entire region, as it has intervened in many road projects
including bridges in line with its mission and vision.

But Emmanuel has consistently challenged the mandate of the NDDC,
accusing it of crossing the borderline and embarking on projects
without due consultation with the state government.

The Emmanuel administration has also severally accused the
interventionist agency of delivering poor quality jobs, project
abandonment and even distorting the state’s development plan.

But this was debunked by the Commissioner representing Akwa Ibom state
on the board of the NDDC Samuel Frank in an interview in Uyo, the
State capital, when he said the commission is only complimenting the
effort of the state government in the provision of basic
infrastructure to make life meaningful for the people.

Frank said the commission will work to promote cooperation,
collaboration and synergy among all stakeholders in the Niger Delta
and to make regional development a shared vision and common aspiration
for all.

But Emmanuel at the South-South states Security Summit and Public
Lecture organised by the Inspector General of Police was openly
confrontational with the management and board of the NDDC.

Udom in his address at the security summit warned the NDDC management
that it has crossed the borderline in its operation as it has no right
to embark on any project in Akwa Ibom or any of the state covered by
the mandate of NDDC without the permission of the state government

His words: “Let me also use this opportunity that the managing
director of NDDC is here to state clearly that NDDC does not own even
a piece of land. It is the Governors that are in charge of land. NDDC
should not enter any of the nine States to do any project without
permission from the governors.”

While accusing the commission of not executing any project in the
state, he said that, “that is why they have not been able to execute
even a kilometre of road in my State, they have never commissioned
even one kilometre of road in my state.”

Barely a week after the governor gave the warning to the NDDC, though
unconstitutional considering that NDDC is a government agency, the
State Commissioner for Works, Ephraim Inyang, took the threat further
when he went with his police detail and other persons to chase away an
NDDC contractor at a project site located at Youth Avenue off Oron
road in the state. Their equipment were vandalised in the process.

The utterance of Governor Emmanuel and the action of his Commissioner
have provoked reactions around the state. Barrister Victor Iyanam,
former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in the state,
insisted that a federal government agency like the NDDC has the right
and mandate to embark on projects in any part of the state, or
country, adding that this should be done in consultation with the
state government to avoid duplication of works.

He stressed that the NDDC, being a federal government interventionist
agency, does not go to any state to own land or property as all its
activities are done to alleviate the developmental situation in the
region and improve living conditions of the people.

“NDDC can intervene when roads are bad. It has done this in several
other states. There are federal roads in Akwa Ibom state, as there are
state roads. When NDDC intervenes in road rehabilitation in the state,
it doesn’t mean that it is only NDDC or federal government officials
that will be using the road.”

According to him, what he expected the governor to do “is sing
alleluia” if NDDC comes to the state and identifies a bad road and
starts construction work on it.

He said even if the state governor has plans for that road, it will be
a relief since the government will now be able to use that money for
some other projects and nothing will be lost.

“The Governor’s statement was in bad faith. It is only a governor that
does not have the interest of the people at heart that will confront
the federal government and ask its agents not to enter the state to
implement projects,“ he said.

The former Attorney-General recalled that it was such situation that
compelled the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, to constitute a
Presidential Liaison Officer in all states in 1979 t0 1983 in order to
deal with state governments which were confrontational to his
government.

“It will not be out of order if President Buhari also institutes
presidential liaison officers in Akwa Ibom state and other states.

Hon. Kufre Etuk, a former member of the State House of Assembly, has
also expressed dismay at the altercations between the State Government
and the NDDC.

He said for the past sixteen years when the People Democratic Party
(PDP) held sway in the Federal and state level there were no such
altercation between the NDDC and state Government because they were
operating like a family.

He said since the creation of NDDC in 2001, the state has never had it
so good in terms of attracting development projects to the state,
noting that for the first time in the state there is a kind of healthy
competition between the State government and the NDDC in terms of
project delivery.

“The state needs development especially internals roads, it is wrong
for Governor Udom to say that the NDDC is distorting his development
plan, he has already done two years of his first tenure what road
projects does he have to show. Beside there is so much to be done in
the state, let him break new grounds as the NDDC is helping out in
some of the remedial works.” Etuk said.

The former lawmaker argues that both the governor and the NDDC MD
should take advantage of the opportunity and bring development to the
state.

“Even if NDDC wants to come and asphalt the entire road in Akwa Ibom
state, they should allow them to do it, the state government has a lot
more things to do, they can always move their roads, NDDC is a Federal
Government agency, their budgets must be followed strictly.

The state government’s budget can be administered within the state
House of Assembly as they don’t need a Federal approval, but on the
other hand the NDDC will need the approval of the National Assembly.”

Mr Chris Okorie, the Special Adviser on Inter Party Affairs to
Governor Emmanuel who recently resigned his appointment, in a chat
with reporters in Uyo, said the summit that occasioned the governor’s
utterances was a security summit and they would have expected Governor
Emmanuel to tell the people of the state the things he has done to
ensure security of lives and property in the state.

“I come from an area that is in turmoil. I am from Etim Ekpo Local
Government Area and I know that even before the Inspector General of
Police came to the state; there had been reports to the governor about
the incessant killings in the area. As we speak, about 35 person are
confirmed dead due to what they termed cult clashes.”

Professor Etok Ekanem, a lecturer at the University Uyo, said he
regretted the governor’s comments and described it as insensitive and
irresponsible.

He said the Governor should rather commend the Managing Director of
NDDC for using his position to attract infrastructural development to
the state.

Mr Okon Iyanam, a former governorship aspirant under the platform of
Accord party(AC), also said that what is happening between the
Governor of the State and the Management of NDDC is not a policy
crisis but one in which personal interests and aspirations are the
real issue; stressing that whatever development is coming to the state
should not be blocked by such considerations.

“NDDC has beenin existence for this long and across all the nine
beneficiary states, this sort of local challenge has not been
reported. You must note that NDDC states are busy lobbying for
projects to be taken to their states. It is abnormal to chase
development away from your state for very simplistic reasons.”

The Itai Afeh Annang, His Royal Highness Chief Pius Okuku IV, in a
comment said, as a traditional ruler it behoves on him to call on the
two illustrious sons of the state to sheath their sword and pull their
resources together for effective collaboration in the development of
the state for the good of the people.

He said such collaboration between the state government and NDDC will
multiply and increase the number of projects in the state and fasten
the pace of development in the state.

But the State Commissioner for Works Mr. Ephraim Inyang has insisted
that the Commission only delivers inferior and poorly done jobs in the
state.

Mr Inyang however has denied that he stopped the NDDC from doing its
work in the state.

In a world where there are no guarantees, you can bet on this: Life
just isn’t going to be the same in Akwa Ibom until the 2019 election
comes and get done with.

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