Ministry Of Niger Delta: Could This Be The Finest Moment?


“Being a Niger Deltan, I will ensure that things are better for further and effective development of the region” – Sen. Godswill Akpabio
By Substance Udo-Nature

The appointments had come with mixed grill. Whereas some lauded the President, some expressed disappointment and reservations on some of the faces on the list, seeing it simply as a recycling of cronies and compensation of political bedfellows. But such indifference should have been expected because this has proven to be a country where anything that does not favour somebody or a party is condemned on its merit.
A cynosure among the new ministers was the man tasked to man the Ministry of Niger Delta, a charismatic personality with excess swag, who naturally knows how to make things happen, immediate past Minority Leader in the Nigerian Senate, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio, otherwise generally known as “Uncommon Transformer”. This sobriquet is a residual gratuity for his landmarks as immediate past two-term governor of Akwa Ibom State,
Although Akpabio’s appointment, like others’, was escorted to the public space by questions and disapproval by some, not many analysts disagreed that sending Mr. Transformer to the Niger Delta Ministry was, prima facie, a sign of good things to come because of his enduring clout, administrative credential and, maybe, his indwelling steam and infectious political sagacity known for anger and hunger to change things where change may have been elusive for centuries. Yet, the criticisms lingered; and may still be lingering till now to no effect.
Recall that a twig of elders of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Akwa Ibom State, that calls itself Ibom Integrity and Servant Leadership Culture Initiative (IISLCI), led by its executive vice president, Asuquo Etim, had earlier in a letter advised President Buhari not to consider nominating Senator Godswill Akpabio for any ministerial post. One of their many reasons was that having Akpabio as a minister could hurt President Buhari’s image and the “Next Level” agenda.
“So, we implore you, our dear leader, to be circumspect in considering him as minister in your government, so as not to appear insensitive to the people…and his State”, the letter supplicated. But that abrasive critique, when subjected to scrutiny in Aso Rock, was as far as politics can go, because the State Working Committee of the APC, in a statement by the Publicity Secretary of the party, Nkereuwem Enyongekere, had queried and publicly distanced itself miles away from the junk mail. Consequently, the anathematic epistle was inconsequential because it lacked the ingredients to convince the President.
Admittedly, following Sen. Akpabio’s eventual ministerial appointment, the undercurrent of such lack of confidence in him by the Etim-led faction, a section of a party that not long had welcomed him into its fold with fanfare, must have become to him (Akpabio) a huge challenge that only time and events will justify. The quick question was: Will Akpabio in the final analysis have sufficient legacies to silence his opposers and critics? Therefore when he said in his speech the first day staff of the Ministry of Niger Delta ushered him into office, Wednesday, August 21, 2019, that he was coming to salvage the Niger Delta, he certainly was aware of the challenges ahead.
To complement Sen. Akpabio as lieutenants on his new assignment, the President also appointed Mr. Festus Keyamo, as Minister of Niger Delta, State, as well as the immediate past Senior Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Sen. Ita Enang, but this time on Niger Delta Affairs. In spite of their genetic eccentricities and political metamorphoses, no one can question the cerebral quality of this duo: Enang can win platinum for the most seductive, fortuitous and conspicuous face in every administration since 1999; Keyamo, a legal luminary of note and latter-day political convert of invaluable role in the last election. Keyamo was on Tuesday, 24th September, 2019 redeployed to Labour, in exchange for Senator Tayo Alasoadura, former Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream).
The appointment of Akpabio, Alasoadura and Enang, all aboriginal to the region, therefore became a trinity with specific but peculiar responsibilities that would directly or indirectly affect the status, growth and destiny of the Niger Delta. None of these three is a stranger to the history, politics and recurrent narratives of the Niger Delta, a region that oil was discovered four years to the country’s Independence, and exploration two years to 1960, making it 63 years ago by today. The delta is enviably a vault of gold that almost singlehandedly is the breadwinner to the country; yet is panting for the breath of life in her over-pullulated oily creeks and stinking swamps of superfluous endowment.
That the President was sensitive to sentiments that would have attended these appointments had they been otherwise must be commended. But that circumspection comes with great responsibility and moral burden on the favoured. Although the buck would still stop on his table in gratification of bureaucratic and democratic norms, by having the triune and the NDDC board loaded with Niger Delta indigenes, President Buhari tacitly challenged the new men on the bloc in a way they may not have realized with regards to changing the story of the region or face the imminent blame, assuming the federal government did its part before expiration of the ‘Next Level’.
This position draws strength from the fact that, from inception on September 10, 2008, in the administration of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, ninety-five per cent of those who have been privileged to spearhead this ministry has been those from the oil-thick region. Yet, many scarcely vacated office without some burning issues trailing them for years to come, principally in connection with corruption that translates into lacklustre performance. Else, there would have been exonerating and telling landmarks for each set of administrators.
Conversely, some of the strongest hindrances to the development of the Niger Delta region have been personal interest in stiff opposition to populist expectations; profligacy, cronyism, politicization of contracts and poor execution of same that has begotten many abandoned and substandard projects, especially in terms of roads that barely last or justify the huge sums allocated to them. Fingers have also pointed at lack of vision and holistic and functional blueprint by successive leadership.
It is hard to see in material consequence government’s huge financial allocations to the Niger Delta ministry. It should in particular bother enthusiastic mind like Sen. Godswill Akpabio that 12 years after the establishments of the ministry, the region still remains an accursed cripple.
Without the slightest attempt to indict what is clearly indictable, the storyline of the Niger Delta is squarely –and sadly – that of excruciating privation and inexplicable deprivation in the midst of stupendous abundance; of great opportunities against colossal wastefulness by the privileged few who should have made things happen, but who rather entered into boomerang conspiracy with politics and chronic kleptomania to pauperize the zone.
It follows that there is always something controversial, questionable and shocking about leadership and administration of this region. Nevertheless, in fairness to efforts made by stakeholders, it cannot exclusively mean that no positive and commendable steps have been taken to revamp the region over the years. But judged by statistics, it has been flash floods of intangible achievements.
Will Akpabio be the messiah or will he dabble into non-essentials to the point of irredeemable distraction? Part of the fears entertained in the ill-fated letter to the President by the purveyors of Ibom Integrity and Servant Leadership Culture Initiative (IISLCI) was that the former governor would have been too empowered to use the lofty and juicy office as a pedestal and deadly bludgeon for revenge against political opponents. “By allowing him acquire a fresh political power from the back door of ministerial appointment, which we fear he may use with vengeance against us, his people and the State”, the letter had probed.
By and large, this is not a possibility that politics cannot offer. Sen. Akpabio already seems to have caused some rumble in political circles with the alleged threats of probe of his predecessors. As expedient as that might be, commentators have said such innuendoes and strong indictments of financial rascality might be the beginning of distraction to the new minister, when he was supposed to concentrate on the huge challenges before him. To others, still, the former Senator may have been quoted out of context.
Opposition voices in particular have declined to see any merit in President Bahari’s latest appointments. They see the exercise as a transitional compensation and gratification of cabals and cartels on a customized template of segregationist politics. But it must not be taken for granted the daunting challenge of one person selecting less than 50 Nigerians out of about Two Hundred Million, based on his personal knowledge of them and conviction of their capabilities, to administer the country under his superintendence.
Those on the Niger Delta new train therefore have the opportunity to vindicate the President by justifying the confidence reposed in them, and possibly convince the incredulous and cynical proportion of the masses that they were no mediocres and opportunists at the benevolent behest of politics, as sentiments may persuade. Sen. Godswill Akpabio and his team must justify their engagements by changing for good the stereotypes and stigma pinned on the stewardship and statistics of both the ministry and the region. Good enough, the Presidency has warned the new appointees against the scourge of endemic management failure.
During his maiden speech in his new office, Senator Akpabio had stated: “I love leaving marks wherever I visit. It is a great privilege on my part being selected to work with you, to see how we can turn around the fortunes of the Niger Delta region”. It therefore would be risky to assess Akpabio on past glories. It might be riskier to say he will or will not succeed.
Let’s give the Uncommon Transformer and his train the benefit of the doubt! When and if that change comes, we all will see.


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