Akpabio’s Forensic Audit And Etang’s Demise

By Kenneth Jude


There comes a time antagonism should take a back seat for some brotherly and human empathy to prevail.

Even if you are a warlord, there comes that moment after a long bout of hot exchanges, whether of words or punches, that you do some rethinking having had your energy sapped beyond limit.

We may hate or love him in equal measure according to our views of him, but at a time like now, it is imperative that we come together to stand with our own no matter our political or ideological differences.

Today, Chief Godswill Akpabio, former two-term governor of Akwa Ibom State and currently the Minister of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), is a man who needs not just solidarity and support, but our earnest and fervent prayers.

It’s no time to antagonise a man who, if anything, retooled and recalibrated the thinking line of an average Akwa Ibom person during his rather tumultuous eight years as governor. He may have chosen a path that got many enraged, but no matter how hard stance one may be with another, there’s always that human side in us that should come true in times where another fellow is trapped in a cesspool of difficulty.

That time, I dare say, is now, when the former boisterous Senate Minority Leader is not having the best of times in his current office as NDDC Minister. His determination to unravel the age-long corruption in the intervention agency has brought him face to face with all kinds of backlash.

From the day the Niger Delta boss mooted the idea of forensically auditing the finances of the commission with the backing of President Muhammadu Buhari, I knew he’ll have it rough given that those who manned the agency in the past with hidden records of financial larceny will not want such probe to take place so that their misdeeds may not be exposed.

Akpabio had on assumption of office, described the NDDC as the ATM of some people who saw the commission as a place where money grows as low-hanging fruits which they must pluck even before they are due for harvesting.


RELATED: Enlarged NDDC Interim Management: Be Focused on Forensic Audit, service delivery- Senator Akpabio 

In his words: “Some people just collect money from the commission; they have no skill, no capacity for the job but they are awarded contracts and they pocket the money and disappear. We want those money to be accounted for. There must be an end to such situation.”

“I think people were treating the place as an ATM, where you just walk in there to go and pluck money and go away. I don’t think they were looking at it as an interventionist agency.”Since this probe idea came up, issues of diverse hue have sprung up all in a bid to frustrate the Minister and his audacious move to probe the finances of the commission. In fact, it has reached a point where the haunter has become the haunted.

Today, he is facing investigation by the Senate Committee on the Niger Delta Affairs who on Wednesday released documents to justify its allegations that Akpabio requested the inclusion of about N 500million worth of projects in the NDDC 2017 budget. Though he has since denied the allegation, but how he will come out of what appears like a witch-hunt unruffled, analysts say, will determine his success in his avowed desire to go ahead with the forensic audit of the commission.

In the midst of all the thorny issues that have engulfed the NDDC in recent times, the death of its Executive Director of Finance and Administration, Mr. Ibanga Etang, on May 28 further fouled the already unpleasant air that has enveloped the agency.

The death of the former Chairman of Esit-Eket Local Government Area generated so much controversy with the actual cause of his death becoming a subject of intense public debate. At first, reports said he may have died of food poisoning. Another group of tale-bearers said he died of COVID-19.

The latter tale gained traction, especially when NDDC announced the immediate shutting down of the commission. Staff of the agency were also asked to embark on 14 days self-isolation.

But the story of his dying of complications arising from COVID-19 did not sit well with many, who still felt the death of Etang was not ordinary. His death, many said, was unconnected with the ongoing power play in the commission, especially in connection to the planned forensic audit by Akpabio. But promoters of this line of thought have not been able to substantiate their claims.

Upset by the controversy surrounding the death of Mr. Etang, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, while inaugurating the 300-bed space isolation centre in Itung Mbang on May 29 as part of activities marking his five years in office, called for a thorough investigation into the death of the late Esit-Eket council chair.

In a tone dripping with displeasure over the sad demise, Governor Emmanuel wondered why it was hastily concluded that the deceased died of COVID-19 even before the test result came out.

Said he: “I know I’m not supposed to say this but the life of my citizen is important to me. I think between yesterday and today, a lot of things have been on the social media about the only citizen we had in the Board of NDDC. He was my special assistant before he left to NDDC. Why is it that of all the persons that are there, it is our own son that has died? There’ll be a time we’ll start asking questions. From the internal memo, NDDC has been shut down and the information there says he died of COVID-19.

“Immediately we had the news, we asked the Commissioner for Health in Rivers State on the result of COVID-19 test on Etang. As I speak, the result is not out. I’m only wondering how people concluded that COVID-19 was the cause of his death.

“Once the result is out, we’ll ask questions certainly. We’ll rise to this situation. We’ve informed the Commissioner that if the COVID-19 test result is out and the deceased’s result shows negative, they must do an autopsy on that body.”

In the same vein, the youths of Esit-Eket, Ibeno, Eket and Onna also protested over the death of their son. The youth who stormed the state office of the commission questioned why Hon. Ibanga Etang died just few days to the probe of the NDDC by the National Assembly, especially after the Commission had, some weeks ago, admitted that the sensitive documents which would aid the probe were in the custody of the Executive Director for Finance and Administration.

They also expressed dismay that the NDDC was quick to link the death of the Ag. Executive Director to the dreaded coronavirus, even when the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the body authorised to make such declaration had not done so.

Coming under the aegis of Afigh Iwaad Ekid, the formost socio-cultural organization in Eket Federal Constituency of which the late Etang was once the President-General, the youth expressed anger over what they described as “conspiracy that has led to the unfortunate death of our respected and very illustrious brother. His death is no doubt a monumental loss to Afigh Iwaad Ekid in particular, and to Ekid nation in general.”

“On this strength, we pledge our commitment, as a pressure group who is pained by the loss of its former President-General, to keenly follow up the process of unraveling the real cause of his death. And this we will do as a mark of last respect and honour to our brother, ObongIwaad (Hon.) Ibanga Etang.”

But the NDDC appears to have put controversies surrounding the death of their Finance Director to bed having announced on Tuesday June 2 that the late Etang died from coronavirus complications after obtaining permission from the family of the deseased to do so.

According to a statement by the Commission, “The family has authorised the Commission to announce that the late executive director tested positive to COVID-19.”

Now that NDDC has reiterated that Mr. Etang died of COVID-19, will the controversy over his demise be laid to rest? The answer will be known in the coming weeks as the people of Akwa Ibom, especially his hometown of Esit-Eket, struggle to come to terms with the sad and unfortunate demise of their son who only started work in the commission in October of 2019.

But while one hopes that this devastating affliction does not arise again, it is imperative that all well-meaning citizens of Akwa Ibom State rise in support of Chief Godswill Akpabio at this trying time. The NDDC job has appeared to be a poisoned chalice for sons and daughters of the state, hence the need for solidarity with Akpabio now rather than antagonism from home.

He needs both mental, psychological and prayerful support to wriggle out of whatever traps are being set for him. At this time, what is of utmost importance is to stand with a son of the soil and not a time to flex political muscles. His success in that ministry will be a plus to the people of Akwa Ibom State.

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