The crises rocking the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC is an evil wind that must be nipped in the bud, to unlock the huge potentials in that oil rich-region. To achieve this, governors and lawmakers from the nine states that make up the Niger Delta must join hands with Senator Godswill Akpabio, Honourable Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs in his quest to make the region a development hub for the people and Nigerians at large. Lekan Jackson Ojo, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and certified golden member of the International Security Association, Switzerland, stated these and more in this interview with Saturday Vanguard.
By Dirisu Yakubu
You’ve been in the news lately, offering perspectives on the goings-on in the Niger Delta. What exactly is wrong with that region in your opinion?
Ojo: We all know that the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC was created a few years ago, even though it sprung up from the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC. But when you look at the region today, it is nothing to write home about.
There are so many programmes around that area that have been adopted, contracts awarded since about 10 years and up till now, some people did their own contracts but not paid. Some people collected their own contracts running into billions without knowing the contract site.
So based on this, we were very happy when a man like Sen. Godswill Akpabio came. I don’t know him and he does not know me. There are some creeks in the Niger Delta that when they want to buy a bottle of kerosene, they have to use N500 to take a boat to come to town to do so and some have died as a result. So I believe a lot of things need to be done because if there is no peace in the Niger Delta, there won’t be peace in Nigeria and the economy of Nigeria can collapse if nothing is done in the Niger Delta.
You just mentioned Senator Akpabio. What point are you trying to make here?
When Akpabio was appointed, some of us were very happy because of his antecedents in Akwa Ibom state. Akwa Ibom state was not a household name before Akpabio became the governor of the state for 8 years. He did a marvelous job that even the then opposition party acknowledged.
I want to tell you that some of the roads he built at that time are still intact. Some of the roads in some other parts of Niger Delta built by other governors in that era collapsed a few months after commissioning. So recently the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers said they would not allow NDDC to defend budget for 2021, whereas the year 2020 ending soon, NDDC had no budget. This should not be allowed to continue.
If the federal government listened to them and there is no budget for the year 2021, that will be 24 months of no budget in Niger Delta and at the end of the day if the people of that place start agitating; we will have a problem in our hands. Two days of the Avengers coming out in the Niger Delta, Nigeria will feel it more than two months of what we see in Lagos recently during the #EndSARS protests.
I have been a voice for the country by the special grace of God, I am a chieftain of APC but most of the times when I talk some people ask me if I am still a member of the party. What is wrong is wrong. I not being sponsored by anybody and I can tell you that no one is bankrolling me.
Who are those behind these latest spates of crises? Why would people push for their own budget defence to be put on hold?
In security as in journalism, there is information that if you divulge, there will be problems. Yes, I know that the defunct Niger Delta Avengers has some very educated members who were highly exposed. There are some figures at the federal level that are behind this, pushing these boys to heat up the tension in the Niger Delta. If Niger Delta has lost 12 months budget and they are still clamouring for another 12 months just because there is somebody somewhere that said it can no longer be business as usual, there is a problem.
NDDC is an intervention agency but this is an agency whereby some persons are taking contracts running into billions and they never know the contract site and they will be paid 100 per cent whereas some people borrowed money from banks and have completed their contracts for the past 10 years and they have not been paid. Why they have not been paid is because they don’t belong to the right clique. The powerful ones will collect contracts, they will collect the monies because they see themselves as untouchable and they will not execute the contract.
And Akpabio has come and said no, it cannot be business as usual. Let me replicate what I did in my state for 8 years here since the opportunity has been given to me as a minister of Niger Delta Affairs. Akpabio is saying if ten kobo is budgeted for this, it must be spent judiciously.
This is why they are not happy with him. He pushed for the forensic audit of the place and Mr. President agreed. That is how Akpabio stepped on their toes. Some powerful figures are behind the demand by the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers that Akpabio should not be allowed to defend the NDDC 2021 budget until a substantive board of the agency is inaugurated. They are clearly trying to frustrate the Minister but at the end, the Niger Delta as a whole will suffer for it.
What is the implication of the recent threat by the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers that they will go back in the creeks if their demands are not met?
We must be careful because if oil production stops in the Niger Delta, the economy of this country will be grounded and when it is grounded, it will affect entire Africa. What they should have been doing is calling for increment in the budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the NDDC, not pushing for the budget to be put on hold.
Question to ask here is what are the senators of the nine states of the Niger Delta doing in the Senate? They are not representing their people. What are their House of Reps counterparts doing? What can’t these people speak in one voice with high volume and support the minister so that the budget can be made to run in the interest of all? So I advice the father figures that are pushing these boys to stop.
What is your party, the APC doing about this?
The ouster of Adams Oshiomhole has left the APC deeply factionalised. The removal of Oshiomhole brought about the defeat of the party in Edo state. Who is in charge of the party today? We have only one leader, President Muhammadu Buhari but don’t forget Mr President is a person but the presidency is an institution. So APC has nothing to do today, what matters most is the people of Niger Delta that are bearing the consequences. They need to come together, all the governors of the Niger Delta regardless of their political affiliations.
If you look at it, there is no governor today in the Niger Delta that belongs to the ruling party. So instead of them to come together backing up the issue of Niger Delta, they are not doing that because they think Akpabio will take the glory.
Some of the senators representing the nine states of the Niger Delta today, some of them are in PDP. So when APC senator from Niger Delta raise an issue, a developmental issue, PDP senators will not support same. This is wrong. They need some level of political understanding.
Are you not worried that the militants may go back to the creeks if nothing is done to meet their demands? Can’t your party leadership intervene?
If you are talking about APC or the leaders in the Niger Delta concerning this matter, it will not yield any positive result. Today the APC caucus in Niger Delta is not together. They speak from different points of view. But I want to tell you clearly that the Niger Delta Avengers are not illiterates and they are not demonic. Some of them are Christians while others are Muslims. They need to be talked to and I am sure they will see reasons to back out eventually. Before the expiration of the 21 days ultimatum, I believe something positive will happen.
What we must do is for the leaders of the Niger Delta to rally behind Akpabio and once this happen, the boys will toe the path of peace. These things are happening because some people believe that they must enrich themselves while giving out stipends to the boys. This is not going to work.
What happened recently in Lagos is a tip of an iceberg and we should not pray that something like that erupts in Niger Delta. We won’t be able to recover from it for many years.
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