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BACKLASH: The NDDC Loses Balance (2)

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Abraham Ogbodo

Abraham Ogbodo

I promised last week to return to the matter of the appointment of an acting managing director for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). I ended on a note that the appointment of Mrs. Ibim Seminatari from Rivers State, as the acting MD of the multibillion naira agency by President Muhammadu Buhari was insensitive, and indeed, offensive to the people of Akwa Ibom State, whose turn, it is to occupy that office till, at least, December 2017.

For the sake of regional peace and balance, Mrs. Seminatari is a usurpation that shouldn’t be allowed to stand. I want to repeat for the avoidance of doubt that Ibim is a friend, almost like a sister. But like the Greek heroine, Antigone, I am somehow caught between a duty to sisters, brothers and friends and a duty to the Niger Delta region, and by extension, the Nigerian State. It is also like a vote for justice as against a vote for injustice.

I shall choose to remain with justice and allow brothers, sisters and friends to either imbibe justice or be damned. I warn, therefore, to be brutally frank in this self appointed mission to save the Niger Delta region from itself. Regarding the NDDC, there are two major issues to consider: One is using appointments to the board and executive management team of the commission to achieve regional balance, which is very different from the second point of using the same process to achieve structural efficiency and put the NDDC on a stead to deliver on its mandate.

There was some attempt to get it right at inception with the appointment of Mr. Godwin Omene, a Shell incubated petroleum engineer, as managing director. Mr. Timi Alaibe, a consummate banker and financial expert, as the executive director in charge of finance and administration (EDFA), was a perfect complement. The chairman, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, former editor of Daily Times helped to finish the picture of a serious team to intervene in the perennial issues of the Niger Delta.

But this seemingly solid maiden team also sowed the seed of confusion at the commission. Specifically, Chief Ugochukwu, who should know better, misinterpreted his role as chairman and sought executive functions in an arrangement that statutorily removed him from the day to day running of the commission. He and his many aides some of whom he offloaded on the commission as permanent staff at his departure, resumed and retired on a daily basis like other scheduled officers.

A so-called Operational Manual that placed the power of disbursement with the two executive directors was instituted to alienate the managing director who is defined in Section 10 (a) of the NDDC Act, as the chairman of the management committee. There still would have been positive results, working with the strange manual if there had been unity of purpose among the top operators.

With hundreds of billions as annual budget, the NDDC suddenly changed character and became a centre for building capacity for cutthroat political contest. Persons in the commanding heights of the commission saw beyond their subsisting roles to becoming big political actors in their respective states.

Ugochukwu wanted to succeed or even dislodge Orji Kalu as governor of Abia State. Same as Alaibe, who had his eyes fixed on Bayelsa State’s Government House also called Creek Haven. Even Mr. Power Ziakedi Aginighan, who was then playing a subordinate role as assistant director of finance, was emboldened by this culture of adventurism to think of leaving the NDDC in the 2007 political season for the Government House in Asaba, Delta State.

Mr. Emmanuel Agwariavwode, who came as MD after Godwin Omene, was also an adventurer. He pushed relentlessly for a higher stake until he became caught in his own web, precipitating his premature exit from the commission in 2007. The one called Ambassador Sam Edem, who succeeded Ugochukwu, as chairman, actually took this power quest to a bizarre level. It was he who reportedly engaged a con priest to perform a ‘burnt offering’ involving the setting on fire of N700 million cash to smoothen his path to the State House, Uyo.

In the mad quest for higher stakes by key operators, the real purpose of the commission as an interventionist agency became secondary. Nothing was effectively done to position the NDDC in terms of manpower and programmes for big achievements. In fact, the commission was deliberately weakened to serve the purpose of politicians.

The workforce is mediocre and not in any way primed for a big task. To present a picture; 50 per cent of the workforce is redundant while 50 per cent of the active 50 per cent is incompetent. Still, 50 per cent of the so-called competent core is disinterested in the purpose of the commission and nurses a different interest, which is to share contracts with contractors. In effect, the commission runs on the contribution of less than 15 per cent of the workforce, to put it mildly.

Sundry interests have capitalised on the near absence of corporate governance in the commission to ask for their own share of the big money. I shall mention a few. There are militants and ex-militants who, unconvinced about the sincerity of purpose of the political managers of the NDDC, insist on all manner of concessions as a pre-condition for peace in the region.

National legislators, especially, members of the committees on the NDDC in both chambers, see the commission as an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). For instance, the NDDC’s budgeting process is also a season of harvest for the distinguished and honourables who must be adequately ‘mobilized’ to secure their approval. Even so, the budget is never considered as presented by the commission. In making inputs, these committees usually end up supplanting the original budget for their own projections and benefits.

But by far the biggest headache of the NDDC are the governors of the nine member states, who see the commission as an extension of their governments. In presenting persons for appointment into the board and management committee, they search for loyalists, lackeys actually, who can help re-channel the huge budgets therein to the state houses. There is no consideration for competence or suitability and it has been so since 2000 with very few exceptions.

With this, the mediocrity at the commission has become pervading. People who themselves require to be developed and cannot by any stretch of the imagination articulate strategies for development are uploaded on an equally mediocre workforce to drive the management and policy formulation of a development agency.

Even now, the appointment of Mrs. Seminatari is not any different. Outside the fact of its inappropriateness, because it breaches Section 12(1) of the NDDC Act, which specifies the rotation of the offices of the managing director and the two executive directors among states with the highest production quantum, it is doubtful, if, in pushing her for the high office, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi thought of the development of the Niger Delta. What seemed uppermost on his mind was expansion of his own coast as he schemes to become the undisputed champion in the politics of the South-south.

This is the greed, selfishness, parochialism, and I dare add, moral corruption, that has stopped the region from leveraging the benefits of oil ownership for decades. The NDDC as constituted and structured today cannot deliver development in the Niger Delta. As a vehicle, the engine is dead, the body disintegrated and the chassis broken.

The starting point for President Buhari therefore, is reworking this vehicle to give it road-worthiness. To continue in the old tradition of surrendering the commission to regional politicians as part of their heritage shall serve no good purpose. I suggest therefore that while balancing the contending interests in the region, there should be good effort to source technocrats with proven records to return the NDDC to its original concept.

In fact, the President can go ahead right away to declare an emergency at the commission and appoint a sole administrator who must however come from Akwa Ibom State to kick-start the re-engineering. The conversation continues next week.


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