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NDDC Board: Buhari needs to earn our confidence, say stakeholders

By Godwin Ijediogor (South-South Bureau Chief), Monday Osayande (Asaba), Obinna Nwaoku (Port Harcourt), Tina Agosi Todo (Calabar)
12 August 2022   |   4:25 am
The recent promise by President Muhammadu Buhari to reconstitute a substantive Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), following formal implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act...

Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) building. Photo/facebook/officialNDDC

The recent promise by President Muhammadu Buhari to reconstitute a substantive Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), following formal implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), with the rebranding of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) into Nigeria National Petroleum Company limited (NNPC) has attracted reactions from stakeholders in the South-South geo-political zone, otherwise known as Niger Delta.

 
While many welcome the development, which they said was long overdue, others, in addition, called for a review of the meager three per cent allocation to host communities in the Act.
 
Professor Steve Azaiki, member representing Opukuma/Kolokuma Federal Constituency of Bayelsa State in the House of Representatives, believed the recent rebranding of the NNPC is good, except that the appointment of Board members is always faulty and usually skewed towards a particular section of the country.
 
He stated that even if the Niger Delta people cannot get what they want now, a time will come when Nigeria stabilises and the NNPC, as a limited liability company, will take responsibility for itself, adding: “I think it is better than what it was before, though not the best anybody will expect of such an organisation.
 
“Nothing has changed so much, but going forward, NNPC has to move with the trend of what is going on in the world today, by really being a limited liability company. We look forward to the new NNPC, hoping that it is better than the former NNPC.”
 
On President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent promise to reconstitute the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), following persisting clamour by the region, Azaiki said he no longer has any expectations from such a Board, “because for over a period of seven years, nothing happened, and I don’t think anything will be different.
 
“I don’t even think it is apt for the President to set up a substantive Board now, because if that is done, less than one year to the end of his administration, after over seven years of foot-dragging, what is the guarantee that the incoming administration will not dissolve it? If any board is set up now, let that board bear it in mind that it could be dissolved immediately a new administration comes in.
 
“So, maybe it will be better for the incoming administration to set up the Board. Senator Godswill Akpabio and Buhari and others have succeeded in having their way. I have lost hope of a functional NDDC under the present administration.”
 
He lamented that it would appear as if the agency was set up to take care of communities and people outside the Niger Delta; hence he had always advocated for something like the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) to take care of the oil producing areas and communities, including Ondo, Anambra, Lagos or wherever crude oil is found and being explored.
 
“The NDDC should be peculiar to the Niger Delta area from the recommendations of the Willinks Commission for the establishment of the Basin Authority when Nigeria was being well administered, to cater for the peculiar, disadvantaged and difficult terrain of the region.
 
“The NDDC is supposed to be an offshoot of the basin authority to take care of the Niger Delta areas because of their peculiarities, not to take care all manner of far-flung communities, to the detriment of the Niger Delta, as it is today,” he stated.
 
The former secretary to the Bayelsa State Government felt despondent, noting; “I don’t even care again, and I think a lot of people in and from the Niger Delta feel the same way, given their antecedents. Let him and Akpabio and all those jostling for positions for their cronies do whatever they want. We have lost hope in them doing the right thing.”
 
On the infighting among political leaders over who should fill what positions and may have delayed the reconstitution of the Board, he said: “All those are flimsy excuses. Is Buhari not an executive President? Who is more powerful than the President of Nigeria? The President of America is powerful, but America has strong institutions that act as checks and balances, unlike here. Nigeria has no strong institutions that can checkmate the President; hence he is the most powerful.
 
“So, who is that person that can control the Nigerian President under the present dispensation? Whatever he wants, he can get, if the will is there. Most members of the National Assembly do not care about the country; they only care about themselves, sectional and party interests.
 
“We from the Niger Delta don’t even have the numbers to carry any major issues concerning us in the National Assembly, irrespective of what comes from the region to the national treasury. For instance, Bayelsa State has just five members in the House of Representatives, because we have only eight local government areas, compared to a state like Kano with 44 local government areas. How can the Niger Delta have its way in such a legislature where issues are discussed, debated and voted on ethnic, sectional and regional basis? Where is the justice? We are constitutionally marginalised from the onset.
 
“You can easily see how that played out during the process of passing the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) in the National Assembly.”
 
A stakeholder in the region and Chairman of Ikwerre Peoples Congress (IPC) Worldwide, Livingstone Wechie, said the government has not genuinely taken the needed steps to win the confidence of the Niger Delta people, given the manner it handled of the PIA and failure to constitute the NDDC Board, which are at the heart of the Niger Delta people. 
 
He bemoaned that people in the region are seriously shortchanged with the PIA, as it affects development of host communities, saying the three per cent allocation for them amounts to undermining their sensibilities.
 
“The three per cent allocation for host communities is most unsalutory and ostensibly undermining of the Niger Delta communities, and the Federal Government sadly chose to ignore the protest by our people against it.
 
“Incidentally, the definition of a host community is in issue and this may lead to more rounds of conflict between the communities and the multinational Oil companies. An example is the Mgbuoshimini community in Rumueme, Rivers State, which plays host to the operational headquarters of Nigeria Agip Oil Company and whose recognition has been denied, despite the written directive of the Rivers State Government for recognition and various protests by the community. 
 
“We hope these and other grey issues will be resolved as this Act is implemented, even though it has not changed anything significantly, because NNPC is not privatised per se. The National Assembly should further amend the Act with a view to robustly boost the percentage going to the host communities, because they suffer the impact the most.”
 
Although, Wechie expressed doubts over the President’s fulfillment of his promise to constitute a substantive Board of the NDDC, he urged him to be bold and act like a statesman for once to stop the growing animosity in the region.
 
“It has been a long agitation for the inauguration of the Board, against which a discerning mind will say the President has not kept to his words. The running of the Commission with an interim management and sole administrator has been challenged, resulting in litigation and court order directing that it should be run in line with the Act setting it up, particularly with respect to the constitution of the substantive Board. 
 
“As at today, the NDDC is run by only Akwa Ibom State indigenes, and this is both unfair and curious. A situation where the minister for Niger Delta Affairs, sole administrator of NDDC and the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta are all from Akwa Ibom State is totally unacceptable. 
 
“If the President can keep his pledge to inaugurate the Board, it will facilitate the Commission to live up to its core mandates, and we urge him to do so without any further delay, because we shall stop at nothing to give the needed support,” he said.
 
The paramount ruler of oil-rich Idjerhe Kingdom in Delta State, HRM Obukowho Monday Whiskey, Udurhie 1, said the region expects the Federal Government, to as a matter of urgency, inaugurate the already screened and confirmed Board, headed by former Edo State deputy governor, Dr. Pius Egberanmwen Odubu, with Chief Bernard Okumagba as Managing Director.
 
Whiskey, who is also Chairman Host Communities Traditional Rulers and Elders Advisory Council, was upbeat that inauguration of Board will not only reduce tension in the oil producing areas, but also stop illegalities, insisting that with the submission of the forensic audit report to the President about eleven months ago, delaying the inauguration of the Board is an aberration and an abuse of the Act that established NDDC.
 
According to him, the Niger Delta people are now looking up to Buhari to do the needful by inaugurating the Board to douse tension and stop any illegalities allegedly perpetuated by the defunct interim management and sole administrator, as well as lead to proper accountability in the utilisation of NDDC funds, checks and balances and due process, in compliance with the NDDC Act.
 
He stressed: “The sole administrator tenureship is not known to the law that established the NDDC, therefore money spent, beyond payment of salary, is illegal and should be returned to government for use in other projects in the region.”
 
Another stakeholder, David Agbodia, from one of the oil producing areas, said it is expected of the Federal Government to inaugurate the Board, since they are fresh people whose hands are not soil yet, but with measures put in place to monitor and checkmate their actions.
 
Agbodia said the people’s expectations would only be met and they feel the impact of the Commission when there are projects on ground to show that the money allocated to them are accounted for. Lamenting the massive fraud uncovered at the Commission over the years, Agbodia advocated for proper checks and balances in the system.
 
In Cross River, Chief Ekon Ngbe, told The Guardian in Calabar: “I look at the President as a single individual; when we talk about Presidency, I also holistically look at all the lieutenants working with him. At times, the President might have a good intention for the nation, but the people surrounding him might not look him in the face and tell him the right thing to do. They might also be doing what suits them, and that is why most times, we always apportioned the blame to the President.
 
“There is nothing wrong for him to reconstitute the Board, but I will advise members to work according to the objective and the mission of the President to be able to provide succour for the people through the services they render.”
  
For Dominic Ndem: “The President and every leader should be taken by their word. I know that in the cause of making that promise, there are lots of factors that come to play. I believe that there was something that made him dissolved the previous Board, so maybe he wants to correct the abnormalities. Given the enabling environment and the time frame, I think he can still do it.
 
“I also believe that he is taking his time, as he took his time in appointing ministers, to get the right persons, given that they will also live up to expectations.”