2019: Politics of containment in Akwa Ibom

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The recent offensive against the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Nsima Ekere, which was followed up with the chasing away of one of the commission’s contractors from site by officials of the Akwa Ibom State Government, suggests that the preparations for the 2019 governorship election is gradually building up. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI, who has been following the development, reports.

The Akwa Ibom State Government and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) appear to be engaged in a battle of supremacy over their mandates to develop the state. The disagreement came to the fore during the October 2017 edition of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Security Summit in Uyo, the state capital, when Governor Udom Emmanuel warned the Managing Director of the NDDC, Mr. Nsima Ekere, not to undertake any projects in the region without taking permission from the governors.

Governor Emmanuel’s words: “Let me use this opportunity that the MD 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.”

Two days later, Commissioner for Works, Mr. Ephraim Inyang Eyen, led armed policemen and thugs to disrupt the activities of an NDDC contractor who was repairing Youth Street in Uyo. Eyen’s justification was that the contractor’s job was substandard.

Never in the history of the commission had its relationship with the Akwa Ibom State Government reached such low ebb. In the last six months, there has been one controversy or the other between the two sides, over projects execution and delivery and this is said to have stalled ongoing developmental projects. For instance, in June 2017, the governor had accused the commission of poor project execution, project abandonment and distortion of the state development plan.

But the recent broadside against the commission, which was followed up with the chasing of an NDDC contractor away from site, suggests that the disagreement is deep-seated. Observers believe that it may not be unconnected with the 2019 governorship election in the state. There are speculations that Ekere, a former Deputy Governor of the state, may run for the election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He participated in the 2014 governorship primary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) where Emmanuel emerged as the candidate of the party.

Indeed, it was the disagreement over the conduct of the primary that led the NDDC helmsman to dump the PDP for the APC. Ekere and other aspirants accused the former Governor Godswill Akpabio of manipulating the process in favour of the incumbent governor. The thinking in the camp of Governor Emmanuel is that Ekere may use the NDDC to launch himself into the good books of the people ahead of the election and that may not auger well for the plans of Emmanuel who has indicated his interest to run for a second term.

The NDDC was established 17 years ago as an interventionist agency of the Federal Government with the sole mandate of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta region. The law setting up the agency aligns appointments, projects and programmes with oil production quota of the states in the region. This means that with Akwa Ibom as number one oil producing state, it should be allocated the highest number of NDDC projects.

But, according to reports, that was not the situation Ekere met on ground. In terms of project volume, Akwa Ibom trails Rivers and Delta. Against this background, when he assumed office in November 2016, he sought to allocate more projects to the state and to address critical development issues across the Niger Delta generally.

While other states in the region have been applauding the commission and lobbying for more projects, the reverse is the case for Akwa Ibom. In this regard, the governors of Imo, Cross River, Abia, Rivers, Ondo, Bayelsa and Edo is said to have met with the management of the NDDC and signed strategic memorandum of understandings (MOU), to provide infrastructure for the long-term development of their states. Rather than hail the development as a good one for the people of Akwa Ibom State, the NDDC move was resented by the government.

Since the new board led by Ekere was inaugurated less than a year ago, the relationship between the NDDC and the governor has never really been cordial. The quest by the Akwa Ibom State Government to rubbish the NDDC began in December 2016, barely two months after Ekere assumed offices, when the commission rolled out an advertisement for tender on contract jobs. About 60 of the contracts were for Akwa Ibom State only and covered the areas of the commission’s mandate: water, health, education, power and roads. Nearly all local government areas had one or two projects listed. This, in addition to about 37 emergency roads repair jobs that were also awarded by the commission, was enough to send signals to discerning citizens that the NDDC was going to be pro-active in its posture towards the state.

From the outset, when the NDDC began the implementation of its plan to invest in the infrastructural development of the state, the ruling party has been waiting for an opportunity to confront the commission. The ruling PDP government saw a perfect opportunity, when the state government, which had worked on one of the roads abandoned by the commission in Ikono Local Government Area, inaugurated the road. At the occasion, the Commissioner for Works, Eyen, urged the Federal Government to probe the NDDC, saying the commission has turnied Akwa Ibom State into an abandoned project site.

The government’s bid was backed by a group, the Akwa Ibom Integrity Group, which ran a seven-page advertorial in national and local newspapers, calling for the probe of the Ekere-led management of the NDDC. Their petition listed 377 projects purportedly abandoned.

After the NDDC responded, the hunter became the hunted. It said what the petitioners did not state in its advertorial was that the contracts listed in the petition were mostly the ones awarded between 2007 and 2015 when the PDP held sway at the commission.

Besides, the NDDC said contrary to the claims by the group, the commission has committed itself to 890 projects and 62 emergency repair works across the state. Its spokesman, Mr. Abitoye Abosade, said of the 890 projects, the agency has completed and commissioned 160, while 281 others have already been completed and are waiting commissioning.

The projects, he added, cut across various areas of development, including buildings, roads, electricity, healthcare, education, water, bridges and that the projects have positively impacted on the lives of the people as well as given them a sense of belonging.

He said: “Some of the major projects of the commission in the state include the 12.5km Okoita-Itu-Mbak Atai-Ikot Ntuen-Mkpeti-Oku Iboku road in Itu; the 10.125km Ididep-Ekpenyong-Ikot Etim Afaha Itiat road in Ibiono Ibom; the 30km Nsasak junction-Akon road in Essien Udim; and the 6.7km Iwuochang-Okorutip road project with 600m bridge span bridge.

“Others include the 4.9km Oku Iboku internal roads in Itu; construction of a community centre at Ibiaku Ishiet along Airport road; renovation of hostels, dining and kitchen at Methodist Boys High School, Oron; maintenance/dredging of creek at Esit Eket and Okoroitak in Ibeno; ongoing construction of a specialist hospital at the main campus of the Akwa Ibom State University, Ikot Akpaden, Mkpat Enin Local Government Area.”

He said the NDDC has also intervened in the area of erosion and flood control as evident in the flood control work executed at Ekpene/Obuk Afaha community in Eket and shore protection works at Eastern Obolo, Ibeno and Ikot Abasi and the building of embankment at the Naval Base in Mbo Local Government Area.

In the area of education, Abosade said the agency is building model schools in the nine states of the Niger Delta, including Akwa Ibom. “This is in addition to the provision of scholarships to students of secondary and tertiary institutions from its catchment areas,” he added.

A number of stakeholders have pointed out that Emmanuel and Ekere should sheathe their swords, because when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. For instance, former Akwa Ibom State PDP Chairman, OtuIta Toyo, believes it is wrong to politicise the NDDC intervention. He said: “Now, if Akwa Ibom State Government draws attention to abandoned NDDC projects in the state in good faith, they are in order. Starting from abandoned local and state projects, the state government has a duty to ensure the completion of project within her jurisdiction, even when the project was instituted by United Nations. There is nothing amidst there.

“To our fortune, the NDDC is here doing what the agency could not begin to contemplate in the days we controlled the Presidency. Would it not be a source of joy to then complement the state government for a change now that we have the good fortune of a son who remembers the situation back home? The unhealthy rivalry is senseless, rather there should be cooperation.”

A former Attorney-General in the state, Victor Iyanam, said a Federal Government agency has the right and mandate to embark on projects in any part of the state. He said: “The NDDC can intervene when roads are bad, they have done this in several other states; there are federal roads in Akwa Ibom State, there are also state roads. When the NDDC intervenes in roads rehabilitation in the state, it doesn’t mean that it is only the NDDC or Federal Government officials that will be using the road.

“What I expect the governor to do is that is if the NDDC comes to the state and identifies a bad road and start construction work on it, they should sing halleluiah. Even if the state governor have plans for that road, it will be relieved in that the government will now be able to use that money for some other projects still within. The governor’s statement was in bad faith; it is only a governor who does not have the interest of the people at heart that will be confronting the Federal Government not to enter the state to do project.”

A former member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Hon. Kufre Etuk, also expressed dismay at the altercations between the state government and the NDDC. He said during the 16 years that the 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.

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

He said: “The state needs development, especially internals roads; it is wrong for Governor Udom Emmanuel to say that the NDDC is distorting his development plan. He has already done two years of his first tenure, how many road projects does he have to showcase so far? Besides, there is so much to be done; let him break new grounds, as the NDDC is helping out in some of the remedial works.”

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

He added: “Even if the NDDC wants to come and asphalt the entire road in Akwa Ibom, they should allow the agency to do it; the state government has a lot more things to do.”

A former governorship on the platform of the Accord Party, Mr Okon Iyanam, said what is playing out between Emmanuel and Ekere is nothing but elevating personal interests above that of the state. He said whatever development is coming to the state should not be blocked by such considerations. He said: “The NDDC has been in 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 such simplistic reasons.

“Some of the projects being completed by the NDDC are projects conceived by previous NDDC regimes. They should be finished for the benefit of our people. How on earth can you chase somebody away from tarring a road? How would you explain such an action to the people who live on such roads?”

The Accord Party chieftain said the state governor is a member of the NDDC’s advisory council and therefore he can channel his misgivings through the council. He said: “You cannot forget the childishness involved in a commissioner embarking on civil disruptions. What if the NDDC, which has even more access to the police and other security agencies, being a federal agency, had decided to use force too? No father would allow his children to go hungry, simply because he has issues with his wife. Akwa Ibom must triumph. This is beyond Emmanuel or Ekere.”

Akwa Ibom State is not new to this sort of politics. In the 1980s, in the old Cross River State,  the government of former Governor Clement Isong was perpetually embroiled in a fight for supremacy with prominent indigenes of the state at the centre, led by Senate President, Dr. Joseph Wayas. The fight was so intense that although the state was governed by the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the then ruling party at the centre, it could not attract federal projects throughout the four years. Isong was eventually squeezed out of the party and he lost the re-election bid. Isong’s group was branded the home front, while the Wayas group, which includes Senator Victor Akan and his supporters, was dubbed the Lagos Group.

Under President Olusegun Obasanjo, Akwa Ibom State produced the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in Obong Ufot Ekaete. But, the stormy relationship Ekaete had with the then Governor Victor Attah meant not much came to the state from the centre. Ekaete, as the most prominent indigene of Akwa Ibom State at the centre, became the arrowhead of the Abuja group that hardly agreed with Attah on any matter, even though the state was governed on the platform the former ruling party, the PDP. The implication was that Akwa Ibom State could not attract any significant project from the Federal Government in the eight years of the Obasanjo administration.

To avoid a repeat of the above scenario, former Governor Akpabio recommended for federal appointments during his tenure people that would be extremely loyal to him, above other considerations. But things did not quite work out as Akpabio expected. For instance, Ambassador Sam Edem, the second Chairman of the NDDC was disgraced out of office when his political influence grew larger than Akpabio could stomach. Edem’s successor, Bassey Dan Abia, who later became the Managing Director, towed the line of the then governor. At the end of the day, Akpabio’s closeness and influence on the Jonathan administration did not count for Akwa Ibom State in the allocation of federal projects.

Culled from here

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