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Simmering discontent over pending re-composition of NDDC board

By Kelvin Ebiri (South-South Bureau Chief)
29 December 2019   |   3:28 am
President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to recompose the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has brought about simmering discontent in the region

President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to recompose the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has brought about simmering discontent in the region.

Activists and other stakeholders in the region, who have accused the President of playing politics with Niger Delta’s development, believe it was the over-politicisation of NDDC that has had a disastrous effect on its smooth operation over the years.

Amid the barrage of criticisms over his failure to inaugurate the NDDC board duly screened and confirmed by the Senate, President Buhari, penultimate week, announced his intention to recompose the board and allow the controversial interim management team, led by acting managing director, Joi Nunieh, to stay and oversee the forensic audit of the agency.

The growing discontent against the President’s stance on NDDC stems from the belief that the region’s development was being adversely hampered.

The executive director, ‘We the People,’ Ken Henshaw, said the steady change in NDDC’s management by the Presidency shows a lack of commitment to the region’s development.

According to him, the seeming indecision on the part of the Presidency gives the impression that NDDC board was a settlement scheme, which many had always suspected prior to this time.

“It does not reflect well on the commitment of the President to the Niger Delta, especially as contained in the 16-point Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) agreement with the President. Definitely, this delay to constitute the NDDC board will hamper development in the region,” he said.

Henshaw noted that having three management teams in 2019 alone, gives the impression that people appointed by the President into public offices do not have tenure of office. He stressed that this transitory feeling about governance was responsible for a situation whereby, when people are appointed into NDDC, they are more preoccupied with what they can get within a short time than what they can do for the region.

He said it was disheartening that the President is insisting that the interim management team remain to oversee the forensic audit.

He said: “What the President ought to have done first was to profile the team members to ascertain if they are unconnected with the rot associated wit NDDC over the years. I do not see any commensurate vetting of the management team. Because if there was one, people who are on the committee wouldn’t be.

“These people have been around the corridors of power in the Niger Delta, and are contractors to NDDC. Has anybody asked whether any member of this committee has a company registered with NDDC or has received a job from NDDC?

“Assuming any of them has a company that has received NDDC contract in the past, how do you expect them to be objective in the forensic audit they are presiding over? It is not possible. The whole thing is a bit messy. It worries me that this is going on only in the NDDC, giving me the impression that there is a silent war going on and NDDC is the battleground.”

Similarly, the founder, African Citizens Initiative for Rights and Development, Dr. Young Kigbara, noted that the decision to recompose the NDDC board showed the President’s lack of respect for constitutional provision and rule of law.

He insisted the interim management committee was formed in ultra vires, as the Act that established NDDC did not give the President power to set up any form of committee to oversee the commission’s affairs.

Kigbara said rather than create unnecessary tension and bad blood in the Niger Delta, what the President ought to have done was swearing in the team immediately, after sending names of members of the board to the National Assembly for screening and confirmation, in accordance with the law.

He said: “Even if the President had noticed there was a breach in the Constitution of the board, he should have responded to it immediately. The President ought to have ensured that all those on the board were properly nominated to fit appropriate positions. But it was not so in this case. He should have immediately swapped or re-nominated them.”

He emphasised that the absence of a well-constituted board would limit the commission’s activities. “For instance, with the controversy surrounding the board, it would be impossible for the commission to access international partners funding, and this would further slow down the pace of development in a region that is in dire need of one.

“Any caretaker management cannot perform as the board should, particularly concerning powers to discharge statutory responsibilities. The minister cannot interfere with the powers of a board. But in this case, the interim management is under the minister’s influence, whims and caprices. They won’t have the power to embark on full-fledged development activities.”

Kigbara decried the President’s directive that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs should supervise NDDC’s activities, which would lead to unnecessary bureaucracy.

“It was for this reason the people of the region insisted the NDDC Act should saddle the President with the responsible of overseeing the NDDC and not a minister,” he explained. “If the President wants to demonstrate that he is interested in the rule of law and wants the country to be governed properly, he needs to immediately constitute the board and swear them in to start work immediately, while the audit is going on.

“The NDDC is not supposed to exist forever, based on Willink Minority Commission and United Nations’ reports. The NDDC is supposed to intervene in the Niger Delta over a period till the area is properly developed and now precious time is being wasted.”

Executive Director of the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), David Ugolor, said the President’s assertion that the NDDC board confirmed by the Senate would be recomposed smacks of disregard for the development of the Niger Delta.

He said: “As we speak now, the common man in Niger Delta is dying, and if the people in the region begin to demand for their rights, they will be labelled as violent. But who is more violent than the President?  How else do you demonstrate violence? You were the one that sent the names to National Assembly, and they were approved. But suddenly within a few months, you turned around. This is classic violence towards the region.”

Ugolor noted that the President’s action has once again resonated with the inconsistence and crisis in the All Progressives Congress (APC). He accused the Presidency and APC of taking advantage of the lack of clarity of leadership in the Niger Delta.

He said: “Because of the competing ego among APC leaders in the region, it had been difficult for the political class to speak with one voice and demand for an end to playing politics with Niger Delta’s development. It would amount to sheer waste of time and taxpayers money, if the President remains resolute that the interim management team and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs should oversee the forensic audit of the commission.

“Why would the President rely on political appointees to carry out a forensic audit, when you have NEITI that is statutorily obligated to do things like this? This is a huge set back for us as a country, and it is not good for this government’s credibility. We need to speak out, so that Buhari will know this is not good for this country. At the end, we don’t expect anything to come out of this. This is a great blow to the anti-corruption fight.”

The President of Ijaw Youth Council, Eric Omare, accused President Buhari of being a serial violator of the rule of law and does not respect other arms of government.

He said: “He is playing politics with the development of the Niger Delta by delaying the inauguration of the NDDC board and the forensic audit of the commission.

“What is happening about the forensic audit is a joke. It shows there is no seriousness on the part of President Buhari to carry out a proper forensic audit. Because if you wanted to undertake a proper forensic audit, you wouldn’t ask Godwill Akpabio, who is an interested party to oversee the interim management committee supervising the audit.”

Omare explained that the President has no legal basis to recompose a board that has been cleared and confirmed by the Senate.

“The President’s action is unprecedented, and if he succeeds, it then implies that the National Assembly merely exists as a stooge of the Presidency,” he said.

But the Secretary-General of PANDEF, Dr. Alfred Mulade, said if the President has realised he made a mistake and is out to correct it, there was nothing wrong in that, provided it was in the region’s best interest.

“It is shows that the government is listening to the public’s cry, provided it is for the good of the people,” he said.

Interestingly, even amid all these competing views, the issue has added a new twist to the political feud between Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki and his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole.

Obaseki had, through his Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, accused Oshiomhole, whose deputy as Governor of Edo State, Dr. Pius Odubu Edo, was initially nominated as the Chairman of NDDC board, of placing the Presidency under undue pressure over the NDDC.

“A case in point is a recent incident when the President was away from the country, and Comrade Oshiomhole got top officials at the Presidency to approve the composition of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), made up of his cronies apparently in violation of the existing rules,” he said.

But President of the Niger Delta Stakeholders, Dimiebi Jackson, refuted Obaseki’s claim, saying leaders from the geopolitical zone comprising of Oshiomhole; the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege; Minister of State for Petroleum, Timpre Sylva and Akpabio made input into the list of nominees approved by the Presidency, which was later forwarded to the Senate.

He said: “We do not wish to be dragged into the unfortunate turf battle between Edo State governor and Oshiomhole. But as key stakeholders in the Niger Delta, we urge the governor to restrain from dragging the NDDC board into the war of words to sustain his narratives of imposition against the APC national chairman.

“For the avoidance of doubt, we wish to set the records straight, and which is also in the public domain, that President Muhammadu Buhari, on October 18, 2019, in a letter he personally signed and addressed to the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, requested the Senate to confirm the appointments of a 16-member board of the NDDC.”