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NDDC’s Advisory Council: A case of the cart before the horse

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• Council Should Not Be Substitute For Statutory Board Of Directors — Stakeholders
Last week’s inauguration of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Advisory Council by President Muhammadu Buhari, has failed to assuage public outrage over the non-existence of a substantive board of the commission.

While it is axiomatic that the advisory council comprising of the Governors of the oil producing states and two nominees of the president, could assist the NDDC through this period of uncertainty and intense political intrigues, stakeholders in the region have said without a board in place, President Buhari had merely put the cart before the horse.

Prior to the inauguration of the advisory council last Tuesday, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike; Governors of Delta and Edo State, Ifeanyi Okowa and Godwin Obaseki, had clamoured for the inauguration of the council in order to improve governance of the beleaguered intervention agency.

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OKowa and Obaseki had after their meeting in Asaba last year jointly demanded the inauguration of the NDDC advisory committee of Governors. They were of the view that based on the resources the Commission receives, there was need for improvement in project conception, siting and execution because nothing stops the Commission from using 50 per cent of its resources to solve the energy problem of the region.

For Governor Wike, he had accused federal government of deliberately refusing to constitute the NDDC Governors Advisory Committee since 2015 because majority of the South-South states are controlled by the PDP.

He had also stressed that the NDDC cannot make significant impact in Niger Delta communities because the states are never involved in the siting and design of projects. For him, NDDC can only make progress when the governments of Niger Delta states are involved in the process of project location and design.

The agitation for the composition of the advisory council was one of the fulcrums of the NDDC host state governors meeting with President Buhari last year October. It was during the meeting also that the governors demanded for the audit of the finances of the commission since inception till date.

In compliance with the yearning of the governors, the President in line with the provisions of Section 11 (I) of the NDDC Establishment Act, on Tuesday eventually inaugurated the council, which is saddled with the responsibility of advising the NDDC board and monitoring its activities.

He explained that Federal Government has placed liens on N6 billion worth assets own by contractors and former directors of the NDDC. In a bid to rid the commission of the rot of the past, he said he had commenced forensic audit of the agency and inaugurate the advisory council ahead of the reconstitution of the NDDC board.

‘‘This is to enable us to develop insights into the affairs of the Commission which will properly guide the Board when reconstituted once the Forensic Audit exercise on the Commission is concluded.  You may recall that the Federal Executive Council, on the 5th of February 2020 approved the appointment of the Lead Forensic Auditors. I am told they are concluding their pre-engagement activities and should be ready to commence work soon’’ he said.

But, stakeholders in the Niger Delta are of the view that advisory council is no substitute for statutory board of directors of the NDDC. They have insisted that properly constituted, advisory board should complement and strengthen the absent board.

National Publicity Secretary of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Ken Robinson, said the President had merely put the cart before the horse.

While acknowledging that the monitoring committee of the NDDC and the advisory council are contained in the provisions in the NDDC Act, there should be a board in place before you the committee and council which are expected to work with the board are inaugurated.

PANDEF, he said had since January maintained that it does not have any issue with the repositioning of NDDC for better service delivery. According to him, it was on this basis that the group had earlier in the year called strict adherence to provisions of the NDDC Act, which recommended establishment of an advisory council that involve the governors and two members that would be appointed by the President.

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“They have inaugurated an advisory council. Now, that is good, but that is putting the cart before the horse when there is no board. So, we call on the President to without further delay inaugurate the NDDC board. If he says he wants to reconstitute the board that was screened and cleared by the Senate and submit a new list, he should do it without further delay. We are expecting that in the next 30 days a board should be inaugurated. Respecting the provision of the NDDC Act is nice and should have been done holistically.”

“Governors should be allowed to play their role that is provided in the Act establishing the NDDC. Governors of the region are critical stakeholders and those who put the NDDC Act together thought it wise that they should have a role to play in terms of advising the Commission. All NDDC projects NDDC are to be carried out in states in the Niger Delta. And one of the issues why there were duplication of projects is because there was no relationship between the governors and the Commission,” he said.

PANDEF recalled that the Presidency had claimed in October last year that the Interim Management Committee would be around for just for six months to supervise the forensic audit. He regretted that within this period, the government had changed the acting managing director and enlarged the committee, without a clear commitment to when a substantive board would be reconstituted.

“All we are seeing are ceremonies. There is no actual work going on in the Niger Delta. The East West Road is the signature road in the Niger Delta as far as roads and other infrastructure are concerned. When that is done we can be sure that something has been done. Yet, you are constituting a monitoring committee to monitor what? But we are insisting that that seems like putting the cart before the horse and so, the board must be inaugurated” he said.

PANDEF has urged the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, to ensure that everything was done to ensure that the NDDC has a board in place before the end of this month.

In selecting the board members, PANDEF spokesperson implored the President to ensure he appoints people of integrity, proven record of service and of course, they must have interest in the development to the NDDC. He stressed that if the President brings someone that has never thought about what NDDC there will be no true and sincere commitment to uplift the livelihood of the people of the area.

“One of the critical challenges that we have had is the politicisation of the appointments in NDDC. The board, managing directors and executive directors were people appointed based on political patronage because of their political affiliations.

And they were compensated as it were for political loyalty. So when you appoint people based on such considerations, they won’t be able to work for the people. Their primary interest will be satisfaction of their political godfathers and their political sponsors. So, if government is serious about the development of the NDDC, we must appoint persons of integrity, persons of proven record of service and of course, they must have interest in the development to the NDDC,” he added.

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For the former President, Ijaw National Congress (INC), Charles Harry, it was absurd to inaugurate the advisory council, a creation of the law, and expect it to work with an ad hoc management committee, that is illegal.

“Ordinarily what should have been done is either they stick with the IMC to finish its job and leave and then appoint a board that will have advisory council over it.  But having an advisory and unconstitutional IMC working together is like mixing oil with water. They are strange bed fellows, it won’t work,” he said.

Worried by the leadership crisis that has plagued the NDDC, Harry observed the powers that be do not see the NDDC as an important institution that should be run according to be best practises. He said the appointment of four managing directors since February 2019 till date has merely being providing some people the opportunity to feather their own nest at the detriment of the people of the region.

“What we have seen is grave insensitivity and a situation where the Federal Government is showing it cares little about the development of the region. Therefore, it is unacceptable and it is something that should be completely discountenanced. If the federal government is no longer interested in the NDDC, then it should come clear and say so. Today we are seeing a proliferation of development commissions. The North East, North West, South and West. It is like what they did with the River Basin Authorities.”

He explained the Sir Willinks Commission, prior to the country’s independence from United Kingdom, had advocated for Niger Delta to be treated as a special area. Rather than create a special area like they did for Lagos, the government after independence created a development board, which was the river basin board. And a few years down the line, this was proliferated all over the country.

“Sokoto Rima basin authority at that time was getting as much as fifteen times the amount that came to the Niger Delta basin development authority. So, this is what they are doing. If you cannot be sincere enough to understand the pains of the people of this region, the level of underdevelopment, the level of infrastructural deficit here, then it is a shame. It is a situation where humanity has been thrown to the dogs,” he said.

Harry, who supports the forensic audit of the Commission, insisted that if the NDDC must be repositioned, then concerted effort must be made to extricate it from the grip of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives committees on Niger Delta, as well as meddlesome individuals in the Presidency who have become overlords who determine who get contracts in the NDDC.

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Former Provisional President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Professor Ben Naanen, said the NDDC seems to be in a limbo and called for clarity of purpose in the running of the Commission.

“The NDDC has become a burden instead of a solution that it was supposed to be because of the way it is managed. The NDDC since its inception has received over N3tr, but nothing on ground to show for this. Most of the confusion in NDDC is arising from power struggle between the powers that be because it has become the ATM of every government that comes to power in Nigeria. When there is so much money to be shared, you also expect so much struggle and confusion and apparently, that is what is happening at the money. If you look at the situation carefully, I am not sure the President is in control the way he should be,” he said.

Concerned about anomalies in the management of NDDC affairs, 22 directors in a letter submitted to the executives of the Commission recently, had complained that failure of governance and other issues pose existential threat to the Commission.

Excerpt from the letter states: “It is no secret that there are serious governance challenges in the Commission. Put simply, governance has become problematic. This is mainly as a result of management and staff breach of laid down procedures and processes.”

The directors stated that the NDDC Act vests the power for making policies in the governing board, while the management provides flesh to policies by providing implementation procedures, guideline and directives. Regrettably, they pointed out the various policies, procedures and guidelines are often breached with impunity and with no dire consequences because of management complicity, connivance or encouragement.

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