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Board vs Committee: Power play could undermine NDDC operations, passage of budget

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[FILES] Akpabio


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An atmosphere of confusion now pervades the headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, yesterday, over the lingering power play that has almost grounded its operation. Many stakeholders, fearing that the unfolding power play and intrigues surrounding the Board and management of the Commission might hinder the passage of the Commission’s budget for next year and smooth management and operations of the debt-ridden interventionist agency, have called for the urgent intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari to salvage the organisation and the region.

There are indications that struggle for control of power and quest to amass resources ahead of the 2023 general elections are part of the underlying current behind the controversy and intrigues surrounding the beleaguered commission. A top management source in NDDC told The Guardian that unfolding power play among the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Godswill Akpabio, other political forces in the region and the Senate would have adverse implication on the activities of the Commission if not resolved expeditiously.

“The budgetary process of 2020 is in place. Except the NDDC would not have a budget. Who would even stand before the Senate to defend the budget of the NDDC? Akpabio, who is the Minister of Niger Delta, will he not go back to the Senate for the purposes of this budget?

“These are angles through which the Senate can hold them down. It will be risky to play hide and seek,” he said.The source said since the NDDC has over the years become the cash cow of contending political forces in the Niger Delta, the unfolding drama surrounding the new board and interim management committee might not be unconnected with the quest for control of the commission ahead of 2023.

According to him, the next dimension of the crisis would unfold when President Muhammadu Buhari returns to Nigeria, since he is the only person, as it stands now, who could swear in the Pius Odubu-led Board confirmed by the Senate this week.“Even Akpabio, in his machination, will not swear in the Board, because he had said Joy Nunieh’s team will be there for six months to oversee the audit. If you are coming to do audit, why talk about award of contracts?

“NDDC has a liability of over N2trillion for projects that were abandoned or failed because payments were not made. So, why should the interim management not be interested in ensuring that payments are made? Why are you thinking of awarding new ones to add to the liability of the commission?” he queried.

Some staff, who pledged anonymity, told The Guardian that workers were generally despondent and confused about the unprecedented crisis now rocking the commission, noting: “There is a lot of confusion around here, as you can see. People are seeing through the intent of the minister that it is not altruistic, as it is painted to the world. “We know NDDC is a cesspool of corruption, but somebody who is not a paragon of transparency cannot rescue the place. What we see through the entire whole thing is desperation and undiluted zeal to gain political dominance of the Niger Delta region. It is pure power play.”

An assistant director in the agency described the power play as unfortunate and wondered how the NDDC has to degenerate to level where primordial considerations now supersedes the welfare of the people of the region.“We are praying for God’s intervention and let the madness stop,” he said.

Similarly, a female senior staff explained there was so much uncertainty in the Commission that one could not even predict what may happen the next minute.She accused the minister of engineering the removal of the former acting management because of the alleged refusal of the then acting managing director to approve funds for Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections.

The headquarters of the Commission appeared to be on a standstill, in terms of financial transactions. It was gathered that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has demanded for the letters of appointment of the interim management committee before the mandate of signatories to the commission’s account could be changed.

According to a staff: “At the moment, they have not made any payment; they are still working on the mandate.”It would be recalled that the Senate had this week confirmed former Edo State Deputy Governor (to National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Adams Oshiomhole), Pius Odubu, as Chairman of the Board, with Delta State’s Bernard Okumagba as Managing Director and Bayelsa State’s Maxwell Okoh as Executive Director, Finance and Administration, among others.

The Senate had rejected the nomination of Nunieh as Rivers State Commissioner on the Board.One of the founding fathers of the NDDC (name withheld) had accused political actors from the region who have been diverting NDDC funds and still want exclusive control of its funds of doing everything they can to kill the forensic audit and recovery of stolen billions of naira by foisting the Board immediately Buhari travelled out of the country.

He wondered why the Senate was in so much hurry to confirm the new Board, whilst there are myriads of petitions and pending litigations over the choice and states segmentation of the new Board. The Senate has insisted that having confirmed the appointment of Odubu and Bernard Okumagba as Chairman and Managing Director, respectively, every structure regarding the leadership of the Commission has become inoperative.

The Peter Nwaoboshi-led Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, which screened the nominees before the Senate confirmed them, said legally speaking, the issue of interim committee heading the NDDC no longer arises after the confirmation. Nwaoboshi told The Guardian that the Senate passed its verdict when it confirmed the NDDC nominations from the President. Another member of the committee and a former deputy president of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, said the interim management should not continue to exist, stressing that it has become illegality and sabotage, as the NDDC law expects that any appointment into the Board is to be ratified by the National Assembly.

“We cannot be encouraging that kind of sabotage or undermining the powers of the law and the power of the National Assembly. We made a law here stating that there would be a Board for the NDDC and anything outside that, for me, amounts to sabotage,” he insisted.

It was, however, learnt that the NDDC Board appointment issue might jeopardise the chummy relationship between the Ahmad Lawan-led Senate and the Presidency.A lawmaker disclosed that the Senate was waiting eagerly for the action the President would take on the controversy, pointing out that should the President continue to recognise the NDDC interim leadership, against the team he appointed and was confirmed by the senate, some parliamentary sanctions could become imperative.

“I can tell you that this is one issue that would demonstrate the kind of relationship we have with the executive arm of government. If the President could appoint some persons and send same to the senate for confirmation and it swiftly carried off the confirmation, I don’t see the President abandoning that path. Like I said, it is really a test.”Shortly after the senate confirmed the nominees on Tuesday, Lawan had declared that every other structure that existed, including the interim committee, had become ineffective.He said: “With the completion of this process now (the confirmation), I am sure that any other structure that exists now (in the NDDC) is vitiated. I don’t think we have anything to worry about, because this is one thing that is clearly established by the law.”

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition (NDCSC), Anyakwee Nsirimovu, has reiterated the call for the redeployment of Akpabio and for the EFCC to assist independent auditors conduct an effective forensic audit of the NDDC, insisting stakeholders would only accept an audit that is holistic. He stressed that the involvement of the EFCC would foreclose all attempts at cover-ups and protectionism necessary to save the region from future degeneration into violent conflict, following ensuing deepening sense of frustration and helplessness momentarily.

Nsirimovu accused some interested elites of attempting to manipulate and derail the forensic audit of the NDDC, saying the inauguration of the interim management committee smacks of a calculated attempt to engage in actions clearly not in the collective interest of the region.Executive Director of the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), David Ugolor, decried the unfolding power play in the NDDC and urged the President to ensure the audit of the NDDC was devoid of political interference currently playing out.

NDDC acting Managing Director, Nunieh, said the President had upheld the constitution by inaugurating the interim management committee, adding: “The President said he will act in accordance with the Act establishing the NDDC, and the Act says that after Cross River, Delta will produce the Chairman.

“But some people do not want Delta to be chairman. They don’t have the right to dictate. They will only obey the provisions of the Act and as good citizens we stand on the provisions of the NDDC Act.”Nunieh had said that the forensic audit would help the NDDC to recover all funds that were illegally taken away from it.

The NDDC has been rocked by controversy following the abrupt ouster of the former acting managing director, Dr. Akwagaga Enyia, last week.Enyia was said to have refused to approve N30billion for desilting contracts and N5billion for the forensic audit of the commission.

The Guardian gathered that her decision to decline the approvals was for the avoidance of the outrageous reaction that followed the payment of N1.9billion for water hyacinth contracts, which were hijacked by politicians from the region.Meanwhile, Nunieh, yesterday, vowed that the Interim Management Committee would defend the wealth of the people from looters.A statement issued by the Commission’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Charles Odili, said Nunieh, while addressing youths who visited the NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt, stressed that no individual would be allowed to rip off the people of their resources while the committee manages the commission.

“I have been in the Niger Delta struggle from the beginning and these people are beneficiaries of the struggle. But we will not allow them to take the money that belongs to the people of the Niger Delta.“I thank President Muhammadu Buhari especially for believing in us (interim committee) and insisting on upholding the constitution of Nigeria.

The President said that he would act in accordance with the Act establishing NDDC, which states that after Cross River, Delta will produce the Chairman.“But some people do not want Delta to produce chairman. They don’t have the right to dictate.“They will only obey the provisions of the Act, and as good citizens, we (committee) stand on the provisions of the NDDC Act,” she noted.

She said the forensic audit ordered by Buhari would enable the NDDC to recover funds stolen from the commission since 2001.She urged the youths to go back to their communities, assuring them of the Commission’s determination to bring development to all communities in the region.

“So, anywhere you come from in the Niger Delta, the NDDC is coming to your villages. Every village will have water to drink and primary health facility.“We will work with all the governors and stakeholders in the region (to achieve this),” she added, while thanking the people for trusting and supporting members of the committee amid widespread opposition.Leader of the Ogoni youths, Felix Nwidag, was reported to having pledged support of the youths to the three-man committee.


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Godswill AkpabioNDDC
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