It is difficult to resist the urge to rejoin the editorial in the Christmas Day edition of a national daily. Titled ‘’A Sole Rot’’, the editorial is a critical review of the appointment of Mr Effiong Akwa as the Interim Administrator of the NDDC by President Muhammadu Buhari.
But it is replete with many inaccuracies. First, contrary to what the paper wrote, Mr Akwa has never been a commissioner in Akwa Ibom State government. Not under Godswill Akpabio or any other governor. Akwa was a banker in some of the nation’s commercial banks until 2007 when he was appointed Managing Director of the state-owned mortgage bank, Akwa Savings and Loans Limited. He served till 2012 and in 2013, he was appointed Special Assistant to the then Managing Director of NDDC, a position he held till 2015. Second, contrary to certain perceptions, the appointment of an interim management board or sole administrator or interim administrator for NDDC by the President is not illegal. Since its inception 18 years ago, there have been over six sole administrators at the commission. The law setting up the commission allows the President enough elbow room to intervene in or tinker with its management whenever the President deems fit. Specifically, Section 23 of the NDDC Act states that ‘’Subject to the provisions of this Act, the President, Commander in chief of the Armed Forces may give to the commission directives of a general nature or relating generally to matters of policy with regards to the performance by the commission of its functions and it shall be the duty of the commission to comply with the directives’’. This is a broad mandate that empowers the President to interfere in the affairs of the commission, including removing of the managing Director or Board members.
It is on the strength of this that previous presidents have appointed sole administrators to manage the agency for a period of time pending the composition of a full Board by the President. In appointing Mr Akwa an Interim Administrator early December, President Buhari had said that Akwa’s main responsibility is to supervise the remaining part of the forensic audit exercise and bring it to a conclusion after which a board would be recomposed. It therefore implies that Akwa’s mission is well defined, focused and short-term in duration. It is therefore imperative to support him to finish the task quickly and turn in the audit report to the government.
I should emphasize that Mr Akwa emerged as the chief executive of the commission by some fortuitous happenstance. Nobody had set out to impose him as a sole administrator. He was the Ag. Executive Director (Finance & Administration) in the recently disbanded interim management. The government’s plan was to have the interim management committee (IMC) headed by Prof Pondei to supervise and bring the audit exercise to conclusion by the end of December. But following the numerous court cases filed against the interim management by some persons (Akwa had not joined NDDC when the cases were filed and so he was not affected by the resultant restraining order) and the restraining order issued by a Federal High Court against the interim management, he automatically became the most senior director left in the commission and the President promptly made him Interim Administrator or Sole Administrator. The claim that Akwa could not be made a sole administrator because he was not a career civil servant in the commission is both untenable and vacuous. The law has no specification on who could be made a sole administrator. But traditionally, such temporary appointments are picked from the most senior director, and as an executive director, Akwa was one.
Third, the editorial made reference to the many cases of corruption that has plagued the commission since its inception, but noted that the tenure of Nsima Ekere between November 2016 and December 2018 was spick and span. Well, there is no reason or evidence to cast aspersions on Mr Ekere and the work he did at the commission. In my previous interventions, I had commended him for his service at the commission and his selfless contributions to building APC in Akwa Ibom. In fact, I can recall that on assumption of office, Mr Ekere promptly launched the 4R strategy which defined his agenda: Restructuring the balance sheet, reforming the governance system, restoring the commission’s core mandate and reaffirming management commitment to doing what is right and proper. But it is common knowledge that many cases of mismanagement, poor corporate governance and corruption were responsible for the inability of the agency to meet its set objectives since its founding, and these are the main reasons the President ordered forensic audit in the first instance. There is nobody in the Niger Delta region who does not know that NDDC has been poorly managed, there are more reason President Buhari will never back off from seeing to its conclusion, no matter the roadblocks on the way. On this, the governors and people of the region are in lockstep with the President. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an audit exercise that seeks to correct the mistakes of the past, overhaul and reposition the commission on the proper route.
It is therefore important that Effiong Akwa be allowed to accomplish his mission. Akwa is an accomplished professional who has never been indicted in the course of his career in banking. He joined the commission only four months ago – long after the National Assembly had launched a probe into the disbanded IMC. He has not awarded a single contract since his appointment. In fact, it is only last week that the National Assembly approved the commission’s 2020 budget that will only run till May or June 2021. During the approval process, Akwa was commended by the senators for his professionalism, sense of duty and humility. Effiong Akwa deserves an opportunity to achieve the goals set for him by the federal government. However, it seems to me that Akwa’s only offence for now is that he was recommended by or is associated with Senator Godswill Akpabio, a man with an equal number of haters and admirers. While some bear him grudges for personal and political reasons, others think highly of him for other purpose. Whatever the emotions, it is only fair to allow the new chief executive to get down to work.
Etim, journalist and media relations consultant, is Abuja-based.