By Appolos Christian
Following the wave of probe of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) over corruption allegations by the National Assembly, the ex-militant forum of the Niger Delta Presidential Amnesty Programme under the aegis of Akwa Ibom Phase 2, has warn against removing Senator Godswill Akpabio, as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
In a statement signed by the Leader of the Forum, Comrade Imoh Stephen Okoko, and made available to journalists in Abuja on Thursday, the group urged President Mohammadu Buhari to ignore calls from some quarters demanding Akpabio’s removal, saying the calls lacks merit and was only driven by sentiments.
Comrade Okoko alleged that Akpabio was facing criticisms because he was a not core Ijaw man from the oil rich region, he added that the people of Akwa Ibom State especially the ex-militants could no longer stand by and watch their son who was appointed to wipe the tears of the people of the zone suffer further threats and humiliations.
The statement in full read: “Akwa Ibom Phase 2 Ex-Militants Forum of the Niger Delta Presidential Amnesty Programme condemns in all ramifications recent threats and calls by some Niger Delta groups and individuals for the removal of the Honourable Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio to pave way for a transparent probe of the Niger Delta Development Commission.
“This is not the first time, some individuals from some ethnic nationalities within the region, would be asking for Senator Akpabio’s removal. It will be recalled that in the latter part of last year, the same groups had accused the Minister of masterminding the movement of the NDDC from the Presidency to the Ministry of the Niger Delta as well as unilaterally appointing an Interim Management Committee, IMC to run the affairs of the Commission during the period of the probe.
“After a careful analysis of the various reasons advanced by the protesting individuals and groups, we wish to state that these calls are all laden with ethnic sentiments and therefore leave much to be desired. The display of parochial interests above the general well-being of the region by those who are supposed to work together towards the positive development of the region is one major reason why the Niger Delta has remained very backward and largely underdeveloped despite the large chunk of funds sunk into it.
“We wish to say that the calls for Senator Akpabio’s removal is simply because he is an Akwa Ibom State indigene and not necessarily that he has committed any offence. On our part, we totally reject the call for the Minister’s removal, but rather commend the President for making the best choice for the Ministry of the Niger Delta.
“It is very sad that the people of Akwa Ibom State have always been treated as second class citizens on issues relating to the development of the region. It is on record that on creation of the Niger Delta Ministry, the appointment of the erstwhile Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) under Chief Obasanjo’s government, Obong Ufot Ekaette, of blessed memory, as pioneer Minister of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, was greeted with protests from the Ijaws and other ethnic groups in the region based on flimsy and unsubstantiated reasons, just because he was from Akwa Ibom State. His successor at the Ministry, Mr Godday Orubebe, who was Obong Ekaette’s Minister of State at the time, was however hailed despite his seeming poor performance because he is an Ijaw man.
“The pioneer NDDC’s Executive Director, Projects, late Engr. Udo Mboso was protested against, likewise Mr Nsima Ekere, the immediate-past NDDC Managing Director. It has been noted that despite Akwa Ibom State being the highest oil producer in the country, our people have always been discriminated against in areas of appointments to top positions in the region. For instance, while other ethnic nationalities are taking charge of the leadership of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, our State is being marginalized and not carried along in the activities of the Amnesty Programme.
“It is, therefore very uncivilized for these groups to call on President Buhari to sack the Minister for no just cause. For the avoidance of any doubt, since the inception of the Niger Delta Development Commission, it is the office of the SGF that had been officially supervising the Commission, until 2015 when the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was mandated to supervise the operations of the Commission. If the Office of the SGF (the then NDDC’s Supervisor) was not accused of being part of the corrupt practices allegedly perpetrated in the Commission, it therefore becomes suspicious and amounts to a display of ethnic sentiments in its highest form to accuse Senator Akpabio who is not yet one year old in the office of being part of the Commission’s corruption scheme and asking him to step down as he is capable of influencing the outcome of the probe.
“We, therefore, warn all those calling for the head of Senator Akpabio for a crime he has not committed purely because of ethnic differences to desist forthwith as any further attack on the Minister shall be met with stiff resistance and unpleasant reactions. We also advise the Presidency not to yield to pressure from any individual or group calling for the Minister’s removal as we shall no longer fold our arms and watch other ethnic nationalities victimize our innocent people. We have already started mobilizing our people against any further attacks and embarrassment on His Excellency, Senator Godswill Akpabio.”