Many people who have heard the phrase “clean the Augean stables” associate the term with doing an unpleasant and seemingly impossible task. That understanding is not far from the true picture of things but it is also a long way from the fullest appreciation of what it takes to clean the Augean stables. According to mythology, the stables of King Augeas held thousands of cows and had not been cleaned in 30 years. As part of penance for a past misdeed, the superhuman Hercules was assigned twelve Labours by Eurystheus and they were extremely difficult, if not impossible to do. Cleaning out the Augean stables was the fifth such Labour given to Hercules and to further make a difficult task even harder, he was given a timeline of 24 hours only to complete the task! By a combination of his otherworldly intelligence and supernatural strength, Hercules made two rivers bend in such a way that they flowed into King Augeas’s stables and in a single day, washed out the filth that had accumulated for thirty years.
Senator Godswill Akpabio, currently Minister of Niger Delta Affairs is well respected for many reasons including his courage, intelligence and ability to deliver on seemingly impossible tasks. Some have called him the Lion of the Niger Delta and such a sobriquet is not misplaced. Among the crop of Ministers in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet, perhaps no one has been more rightly placed than he. Yet in taking on the task of managing the difficult Niger Delta, he has found himself with the very Herculean task of cleaning the messy Augean stable that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is. The rot in the NDDC is humongous and the stench of the brazen corruption that has gone on there for many years is nauseating to the human conscience. Knowing the way people who benefit from corruption go to great lengths to hide their misdeeds and fight off those who stand against corruption, accepting the challenge like Akpabio did would have come with the reality that the work would involve dirty fighting, mudslinging and the reality that the myth of being able to clean an Augean stable like Hercules supposedly did is only a myth. Any seasoned plumber knows his job requires being able to go low, get dirty and smelly, trace leakages, block them and go home to little or no accolades. A thankless job it is but somebody has to do it.
The Minister for Niger Delta Affairs may not be able to bend Cross River and Rivers in the manner that Hercules bent two rivers to clean King Augeas’s stables. However, from what we have seen in recent months since the can of worms was literally opened at the NDDC, he will somehow make things better than they have been. Keen sociopolitical analysts appreciate the man’s calm resolve when some of the excreta blocking the cesspool of corruption was hurled at him as he probed into the NDDC’s affairs. From being falsely accused by a drama queen in an attempt to deflect the searchlight on her term at the Commission’s helm, to factually schooling members of the House Committee to the extent that the phrase, “Honourable Minister, off your mic” has made into national use albeit humorously is pointer to how suited Godswill Akpabio is to cope with the challenge. As he began to expose how previous and current members of the National Assembly have been major beneficiaries of the corruption in the NDDC, he was asked to keep quiet. Unfazed, he spoke the truth and even the bluffing, huffing and puffing of the wolves that eat our commonwealth has not deterred him from his focus on getting the job done.
One can only wish Senator Akpabio well in the discharge of his duties and pray for his safety from physical and even spiritual assassins. Many have forgotten that in 2008, as then NDDC Chairman Sam Edem was being tried for stealing N715 million to engage the services of a witch doctor to cast spells on his targets and kill his rivals, we learned that part of the “Juju” fortification reportedly involved Sam Edem burning £1.2 million in cash and then smearing the ashes over his naked body in a cemetery in the middle of the night! People who can go to those lengths, real or imagined, still abound and would certainly be no fans of the current Minister for Niger Delta affairs at this time.
Despite the threats to his reputation, his life and his family, Godswill Akpabio has consistently reiterated his commitment to revamp the NDDC and reposition it for greater value and service delivery. Aside from the massive stealing that had gone on there for several years, there are also issues of mismanagement of human resources as well. Even the Bible tells us that a house divided against itself cannot stand and it is proper that all pending staff issues that has led to a demotivated workforce in the Commission is being addressed with a view to resolving them. The Minister is barely over a year at the helm and to be fair, in the short time he has been in charge of Niger Delta Affairs, he has done considerably well by addressing the issues from the bottom instead of only at the top. In a land where citizens greatly distrust public officials, we are counting on Senator Godswill Akpabio to do the right thing. As Joe Biden, former vice president of the United States of America rightly noted, “Corruption is a cancer, a cancer that eats away at a citizen’s faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity.” He may not be able to totally cleanse the Augean stables of the NDDC in a day as Hercules is believed to have done but going by the Honourable Minister’s antecedents, he will definitely make positive impact in the short time he has left.