The arrest of the former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Nsima Ekere, has been linked to the political scheming by former Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio.
Mr. Ekere was on his way to Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, in Nigeria's South-South region, when he received an invitation to report to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Wednesday.
The former NDDC boss was said to have promptly changed his travel plans and boarded a flight from Abuja where he resides to Lagos to honour the invitation of the anti-graft agency.
On arrival at the commission, he was confronted with accusations of corruptly enriching himself while serving as MD of the NDDC between November 2016 and January 2019 and was promptly detained.
A statement issued by EFCC and posted on its website said Mr. Ekere was being held for alleged diversion of funds to the tune of N47 billion through registered contractors of the agency.
However, the EFCC released the former Managing Director of the NDDC, Ekere on Sunday.
A source in the EFCC told SaharaReporters on Sunday that "Ekere has been released on bail".
But the details of the bail conditions were not known as of the time of filing this report.
Ekere was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly diverting N47 billion through registered contractors of the agency.
While details of the alleged fund's diversion by the former NDDC are still unknown, the timing of the arrest and the dramatic nature of it point to the high-level political power play in his home state of Akwa Ibom.
In Abuja and across Akwa Ibom, the word has been out that President Muhammadu Buhari was considering Mr. Ekere as the replacement to Mr. Akpabio at the Niger Delta Ministry.
But findings reveal that Mr. Akpabio is pushing for Etekamba Umoren, his chief of staff at the Niger Delta Ministry and a former Secretary to the Government of Akwa Ibom State during his tenure as governor of Akwa Ibom State.
Many believe that Mr. Ekere’s arrest and detention are meant to dent his nomination for the ministerial job and pave the way for the emergence of Mr. Umoren, who is a stooge of Mr. Akpabio.
The argument hinged on the fact that Mr. Akpabio has been serially indicted for corruption not only in the NDDC but also when he was the governor of Akwa Ibom State.
Since 2020, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Akwa Ibom has been embroiled in factional crises with Akpabio leading one faction and other leaders like Senator John Akpan Udoedeghe, Umana Okon Umana, Don Etiebiet and Mr. Ekere hauled together to wrest control of the party from the former Niger Delta Affairs minister.
While Mr. Akpabio’s faction succeeded in using the court and his closeness to the centre of power to grab the chairmanship of the party, it has been tough uniting the members and getting them ready for the election.
Mr. Ekere, who was APC’s governorship candidate at the last election, by the party convention, should be the leader of the party in the state.
But Mr. Akpabio’s faction has contested this position, insisting that the minister, as the highest-ranking political officer from the state, is the natural leader.
On his part, Mr. Ekere is said to have been making overtures to unite the party, share positions and integrate all factions into the mainstream, a position Mr. Akpabio, and his men are said to be stoutly objected to.
Mr. Ekere’s other sin is his support for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who is a frontline presidential aspirant in the ruling party and a major obstacle to Mr. Akpabio’s ambition to become Nigeria’s president on the platform of the APC.
It is also learnt that Mr. Osinbajo first considered Mr. Akpabio as his presidential campaign coordinator in Akwa Ibom but switched to Mr. Ekere when the former Niger Delta minister declared to run for President.
The Vice President is said to have settled for Mr. Ekere because of his political reach and outlook.
History Of Frosty Relationship Between Akpabio And Ekere
Many insist that Mr. Akpabio has had a long frosty relationship with Mr. Ekere.
The duo contested the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) governorship primary in 2006 to succeed former Governor Victor Attah.
However, the primary did not produce a clear winner and Mr. Akpabio negotiated victory which meant he had to name Mr. Ekere as his running mate.
A few weeks later, Mr. Ekere was dropped based on a negotiated term by the PDP to allow Mr. Attah to nominate the deputy governorship candidate in the person of Patrick Ekpotu.
Mr. Ekpotu served for one term and Mr. Ekere was picked to run with Mr. Akpabio in 2011, a ploy many said was to retire the man from politics.
Just as he was being sworn in, a plan was hatched to impeach Mr. Ekere a few months into the office so he would not be able to contest for any elective position.
Mr. Ekere escaped that fate by resigning a day before the house of assembly was to start impeachment proceedings against him.
Even with his resignation, the lawmakers were still bent on going ahead with his impeachment process.
Mr. Ekere moved to the APC in 2015 after he was frustrated out of the governorship race.
He and many APC leaders at the time had resisted Mr. Akpabio’s moves to decamp to the party when he negotiated to join the party after the EFCC arrested and filed corruption charges against him.
The Akwa Ibom APC leaders were also said to have argued that the corruption baggage on Mr. Akpabio’s neck, while he was governor, would work against the party at the election.
Akpabio joined APC in 2018, contested and lost the senatorial election but got rewarded with an appointment as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
Many people see him more as the Minister of NDDC which has had five chief executives since 2019.
Akpabio's Corruption Cases
Meanwhile, Akpabio was also detained in April 2021 after he attempted to bribe the Chairman of the anti-graft agency, Abdulrasheed Bawa, SaharaReporters had reported.
According to sources, Akpabio was trying to bribe the EFCC Chairman because of the tons of corruption allegations against him, dating back to the time he was governor of Akwa Ibom State.
It was learnt that the meeting between Akpabio and Bawa was arranged by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), who had recently been embroiled in a N5 million bribery controversy himself.
Akpabio was said to have taken the $350,000 in cash personally to Bawa before he was detained.
SaharaReporters gathered that it took a call from the Aso Villa to the EFCC Chairman to get Akpabio and his aides released.
A top source in the EFCC had said, "He arrived at the EFCC office with five others and headed to meet the newly appointed Chairman, Bawa.
"The Attorney General of the Federation who was recently arranged the meeting for the minister. You remember his bribery issue with Malami himself involving $5 million.
"He was ushered in at 1 pm to see the EFCC chairman while carrying the money personally. He was arrested and detained, along with his aides, all six of them. It was a call from the Villa that got him released after two hours."
According to reports, Akpabio had also bribed Malami and others with $5 million to get Effiong Akwa appointed as the sole administrator for the Niger Delta Development Commission, an allegation both of them denied.
There had also been allegations of N40 billion fraud perpetrated in the NDDC which was under the supervision of Akpabio's ministry, explaining the pressure on Akpabio to clear the weight of corruption allegations hanging on his neck.
The Senate and the House of Representatives had in 2020 resolved to probe the alleged N40 billion financial recklessness of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC in the previous three months.
But Akpabio, whose ministry supervised the agency, swiftly released a statement entitled “Re: National Assembly probes alleged N40bn corruption in NDDC”, saying under the supervision of the Niger Delta Affairs ministry, no corruption had been recorded in the NDDC
Also, there had been allegations of over N86 billion contract scam involving Akpabio and the former Acting Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, which the EFCC had been looking into.
Noting the pressure on Akpabio, another source had said, "Don't forget he has tons of corruption cases with the EFCC right from when he was a governor. And now with NDDC scams in billions, he is under a lot of pressure.
"When Akpabio was released, he called Malami, who had arranged his meeting with the EFCC chairmen, frantically asking him to drive to the EFCC office to explain to Bawa that he didn’t mean to cause him any harm by bribing him but Malami said he was sick.
"Malami told him he had just returned from Turkey after which he travelled to Sokoto and collapsed in public."
SaharaReporters had on April 15, 2021reported how Malami collapsed in Sokoto state while he was there for the inauguration of the reconstructed State High Court complex by Governor Aminu Tambuwal.
Malami had collapsed after delivering his address at the ceremony and was quickly revived by his aides and dignitaries.
He was subsequently hospitalised at a private facility upon his return to Abuja.