By ETIM ETIM
An important duty of a leader is to regularly engage with the critical stakeholders of his organization. Such contacts serve key purposes, chief among which is to establish mutually beneficial and sustainable relationships between the organization and its publics. The new chief executive of NDDC, Mr Efiong Akwa, has taken this task to heart, and in the six weeks he’s been in office, he has consulted with hundreds of such significant persons and groups, most of them from the Niger Delta region. Among them are Chief Edwin Clark, the well known Ijaw leader, Mrs Ani-kio Briggs, National Assembly members, governors and traditional rulers. It is striking to note the similarity of the messages that ring through during these engagements. The stakeholders have unanimously endorsed and applauded the appointment of Mr Akwa as the chief executive; they seek peace and development in the region and solicit support for Akwa as he repositions the commission in accordance with the mandate of the federal government. The meetings also provided a platform for the energetic Interim Administrator to brief the leaders on his mission, accomplishments and plans.
Early January Mr Akwa invited me to join him on his visit to the Ijaw National Leader, Chief Edwin Clark at his Abuja residence. The ebullient nonagenarian, known for speaking truth to power without fear, welcomed us warmly and swiftly endorsed the appointment of Mr Efiong as the new chief executive of the commission. He announced to his fellow Ijaw compatriots and other Niger Deltans that Mr. Akwa should be supported to succeed and complete his mission which the President has given him. Chief Clark noted that Akwa, being a bona fide son of the Niger Delta, was well qualified to lead the commission. The visit happened a few days after the National Assembly had approved the commission’s 2020 budget. The Interim Administrator quickly briefed Chief Clark on this and spoke of his immediate plans of completing ongoing projects. Chief Clark’s approving support to Mr. Akwa was the needed balm that soothed some frayed nerves in the Ijaw community.
Soon after the visit to Chief Clark, Mr Akwa was in the warm embrace of another Ijaw leading light, Ms Ann-kio Briggs in PortHarcourt. An influential Niger Delta activist known for her doggedness and determination in the fight for equity and justice, Ms Briggs commended the President for appointing Efiong Akwa as the Interim Administrator and berated some of the region’s leaders for not doing much to help in the development of the area. She also keyed into the same theme of fairness. She said: “I am from the Eastern zone of the Ijaw ethnic nationality to which Eastern Obolo in Akwa Ibom belongs. There is no denying the fact that Ijaw people have contributed to the struggle for the emancipating the Niger Delta, but at this particular time in our history, the Ijaw people should not be seen to laying claim to the leadership of the NDDC. They should not be saying that an Isoko man, Ogoni man or Oron man should not be there. Akwa is already there and unless he is doing what is against the development of the Niger Delta, I will not support him. Why should I oppose him?”
The meeting of key stakeholders with the Interim Administrator at the palace of King Ateke Michael Tom, who is the Amanyanabo of Okochiri, in Okirika LGA of Rivers State, was particularly moving. It was one of the few moments that former agitators in the creeks came together to preach peace. Others in the meeting were Chief Ebikabowei Victor-Ben (Boyloaf), High Chief Bibopre Ajube (Shoot at sight), the Interim Administrator of the Amnesty Programme, Col. Milland Dixion Dikio (rtd.). Senator Godswill Akpabio, Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, NDDC Directors and many others from Okrika and the neighbouring communities thronged the palace. There was an air of conviviality. They applauded President Muhammadu Buhari for re-positioning the Niger Delta Development Commission to fast-track the development of Nigeria’s oil-rich region. I commend Senator Akpabio for putting it all together.
In a resolution jointly signed by King Ateke Tom, Chief Ebikabowei Victor-Ben (Boyloaf) and High Chief Bibopre Ajube (Shoot at sight) at the end of the meeting, the leaders thanked President Buhari for appointing Mr Efiong Akwa as the NDDC Interim Administrator and for his “love and support” for the Niger Delta region. ‘‘Let us put it on record that that the appointment of Efiong Akwa as the Interim Administrator of the NDDC is well received by our people. We want to emphasize that no one is more Niger Delta than anyone else. We are aware of the circumstances that led to his appointment as a child of circumstance. He should be supported by anyone that means well for the region. We are also aware of the court order that sacked the previous Interim Management Committee, IMC. But because Akwa was not part of the suit that sacked the IMC, and being the most Senior Executive Director, Finance and Administration, EDF&A, Mr. President appointed him to hold forth and conclude the forensic audit before a new board takes over’’, the statement said. It continues: “We also thank Mr. President and Senator Akpabio for completing the NDDC corporate headquarters at the Eastern bye-pass, Port Harcourt. This project is a star project and we are waiting for Mr. President to come for the commissioning so that we can have an ample opportunity to show our love towards him’’.
February opened with the visit of Mr Akwa to the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike. Loud and swashbuckling in his manners, Wike is arguably the most influential of the nine governors of the nine NDDC states. His administration’s huge investments in infrastructure in the last five years have added some reputational edge to his swagger. If the other stakeholders were forthcoming and passionate in their comments, Gov Wike was particularly enthusiastic and fervent in welcoming Mr. Akwa and his management team to Government House. He pointedly stated that the commission’s top position has never been reserved for one ethnic group in the region, an obvious rejection of the antagonism of some elements in the Ijaw Youth Congress who had earlier claimed that only the Ijaw should be appointed the MD of the commission. Chief Wike commended Akwa for stabilizing the commission after months of drift and commotion. The governor appreciated the five refuse trucks donated by the commission to the state.
In the same week, a powerful delegation from the US Consulate in Lagos led by the Head of the Political and Economic Section, Mr Brandom Hudspeth, visited the commission and was received by Mr Akwa and his management team. Typically, the embassy has no direct bearing on the activities of the commission, but from the standpoint of good governance and transparent public service which the US espouses all the time, the visit struck a chord. At least two major oil producing companies – Chevron and Mobil – that contribute to the funding of NDDC are US corporations. The visit thus provided Akwa an opportune moment to appeal for timely remittances of oil companies’ 2% tax to the commission. But beyond that and of more strategic relevance, Mr. Akwa asked the US government to support the commission’s plans to produce a new master plan for the development of the region. The maiden master plan with a 15-year lifespan had expired in 2020. He noted that although the region is noted for its huge oil reserves, emphasis should shift from oil to agriculture. Mr Hudspeth had earlier assured NDDC of the consulate’s support and noted that the US and Nigeria are close allies that work together to foster good bilateral relations.
The week rounded off with the visit of the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta to the visit to the Headquarters of the Commission in PortHarcourt and the visitof Mr Akwa to Gov Udom Emmanuel in Uyo. Chairman of the House Committee, Hon Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo pledged to support the new management in its earnest efforts at repositioning the commission. ‘’The Committee is willing to and ready to work with NDDC in terms of drafting legislation that will ensure that the NDDC delivers on its mandate. We want to see NDDC deliver on legacy projects like East-West Road, Calabar-Itu Road and Ikot Ekpene-Aba Road, while it still undertakes emergency projects, the chairman enthused. Welcoming the committee, Akwa noted that the committee should work with the commission to review the NDDC Act and redraw a new master plan.
To many observers, the visit of Mr Akwa to Governor Udom Emmanuel in Uyo was the highpoint of the week’s engagements given the governor’s trenchant disposition to previous managements of the commission. The governor could be petty even in good times, we all know. His frosty relationship with Senator Akpabio, the agency’s supervising minister, also came into mind as the visit was being planned. Nobody was sure of what would happen. Despite some apprehensions, I quipped to my source that there was a good chance that the visit would crystallize since Wike had received the Interim Administrator the previous week. ‘’Our governor seems to be enamoured of the Rivers State governor, and he takes a cue from Wike in many instances. Since the Rivers governor had received Akwa, then Udom will’’, I deadpanned. I am glad that it went well eventually. The governor commended Akwa for engaging with stakeholders and urged the commission to continue in its inclusive approach to development. He thanked President Buhari for appointing Akwa the Interim Administrator, and requested for many more of such appointments to Akwa Ibom people. ‘’We also want to inform the President that we have capable hands that can serve as the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, since we produce 36.1% of the oil and gas reserves in Nigeria’’, the governor said. Governor Emmanuel promised to support the NDDC Interim Administrator and advised him to put things in place to ensure good corporate governance in the commission. ‘’We expect that with your private sector experience, you will make a difference’’, he said. Mr. Akwa also presented five refuse trucks to the state government.
It is important that Mr Akwa continues his consultations with other key stakeholders, including the governors of the remaining seven states. It is obvious that he is the right pick for the job. Having been in the forefront of those pushing for support for Minister Akpabio, I feel proud that the President has picked an accomplished and capable professional with character and integrity to lead the commission. Let’s give Akwa a chance, I repeat.