By Mike Odiegwu, Port Harcourt
In a desperate move to vacate the seven-day ultimatum issued by a former dreaded militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has undertaken a rare journey to Tompolo’s enclave in Oporoza, Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri Southwest, Delta State.
But the Minister, whose helicopter touched down the Osubi Airport, Warri on Thursday afternoon, left the venue of the meeting unsatisfied because the stakeholders he met at the Palace of the King of Gbaramatu, Oboro Gbaraun11, Aketekpe Agadaga, collectively defeated the reason for his visit.
Ijaw elders represented by the Ijaw National Congress (INC), leaders from Isoko, Urhobo, Itsekiri among others told the minister, who was ferried to the creeks by five gunboats to go and immediately inaugurate the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
They further told him in one voice that the seven-day ultimatum issued by Tompolo remained in force.
The Deputy Governor of Delta State, Kingsley Otuaru, who received the minister and accompanied him to Gbaramatu, told Akpabio to immediately reconstitute the board of the commission.
Otuaru said: “Today is a day of sadness and joy. It is a day of sadness because our dear country is in the threshold of self implosion. If you look at the six geopolitical zones other than the Niger Delta region, everywhere is in turmoil. So, it speaks volume of the singular fact that there seems to be a failure of leadership.
“On the streets of the Niger Delta, the discussion that holds sway is ‘has our brother (Akpabio), the uncommon transformation agenda governor joined the bandwagon of failed leadership?
“We cannot explain why an institution like the NDDC, that is a product of an Act is being run in flagrant abuse of the powers establishing it under the guise of a forensic audit. We are in a representative democracy which warrants that you must listen to the voice of the people.
“The voice of the people is that there must be a substantive board. For goodness sake, the government of Delta and the traditional rulers are having sleepless night to ensure that we maintain the peace in this region. In 2016, we knew what happened to the region to the extent that we could not pay the salaries of our civil servants. God forbid that we return to such situation.
“You must listen to the voice of the people. We need the substantive board of the NDDC. There is no philosophy that forecloses a statutory organisation for the sake of the audit. We don’t want anything untoward in this region. We want the right thing to be done.”
Also, the President, Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Benjamin Okaba, who spoke for elders from other ethnic nationalities in the region, insisted that the ultimatum issued by Tompolo remained valid.
While referring to Akpabio’s visit as the saving grace, Okaba said Akpabio had failed to replicate his feats in Akwa Ibom when he was the governor in the Niger Delta as a minister.
He said: “This nation knows Akpabio as a miracle worker, as a transformer, your legacies in Akwa Ibom can never be beaten by successive governors. So, when you were appointed the people acknowledged you because they felt that you were going to leverage on your wonderful achievements in transforming the Niger Delta.
“I want to frankly tell you that the people of the Niger Delta are not pleased. I don’t want to use the word disappointment. We are not pleased. Since 2015 we have been having crisis in the various management of the NDDC.
“Auditing of any establishment can go together with the running of the system. The 1999 constitution that has obvious infractions is being altered but we have not suspended Nigeria. We have not appointed a sole administrator to run Nigeria.
“We also know that in the organogram and composition of the NDDC, the management board constitutes a little proportion of the workings of that place. We have directors and heads of department that are still working. Monies are going out. We have further cases of infractions without the board.
“The seven days ultimatum stands. Governors of the Southsouth told the world that as part of the demands for peace to reign you must reconstitute the NDDC board. The Ijaw youths, Isoko, Itsekiri youths gave 30 days ultimatum. There was no intervention from anybody. How else do you tell the people that they are fools? How else do you tell the people that they can go and die? We are very bitter. The entire Niger Delta is standing behind High Chief Tompolo. If nothing happens at expiration of the ultimatum, don’t blame anybody if anything happens. We have seen this happen before and that is why we are very careful.”
Though, Akpabio tried at the meeting to reel out some of the achievements of the NDDC, he further incurred the wrath of the stakeholders when he told them that they would have the board in July.
The Fiyewei of Gbaramatu kingdom, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, was visibly angry at Akpabio’s suggestion and told the minister that they were not joking with the ultimatum.
He said: “Anything that happens to the oil industry if the NDDC board is not inaugurated, you (Akpabio) should be held responsible. Why is it that everything Niger Delta is interim. In the NDDC, you have interim administrator, in the Presidential Amnesty Programme, you have interim coordinator. Is it only Niger Delta people that interim management should be serving.
“The people here are not some of the IYC executives that you can just call to Abuja, the presence of soldiers in our region is not the reason for peace, it is because of our resolve, we want that board to be constituted, the ultimatum stands, after the ultimatum and nothing is done, don’t blame anybody.”