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Why stakeholders are at loggerheads over NDDC’s new board

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Nineteen days after President Muhammadu Buhari reconstituted the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the oil-producing states have been plagued by tension and bickering. Some governors, leaders of ethnic nationalities and political groups in the region have been allegedly orchestrating the hue and cry over the new board due to extreme distrust among the different political gladiators and ethnic groups in the Niger Delta.

It would be recalled that President Buhari had on August 27 reconstituted the NDDC board, with Pius Odubu, who served as deputy governor when Adams Oshiomhole, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was the governor of Edo State as chairman; Managing Director, Bernard Okumagba (Delta); Executive Director Projects, Otobong Ndem (Akwa Ibom); Executive Director Finance and Administration, Maxwell Okoh (Bayelsa).

Appointed as commissioners were Jones Erue (Delta); Victor Ekhatar (Edo); Dr. Joy Yimebe Nunieh (Rivers); Nwogu Nwogu (Abia); Theodore Allison (Bayelsa); Victor Antai (Akwa Ibom); Maurice Effiwatt (Cross River) and Olugbenga Elema (Ondo).

Governors of the oil-producing states have been kicking against the appointment of the new board. They recently announced their intention to meet with President Buhari over the issue. While speaking on behalf of his colleagues last week, Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, said they were unanimously concerned about the governance process within the NDDC and general dissatisfaction in the various states over the appointment of the new board.

“We are also concerned about the way and manner the recent appointments have been made. Arising from all of these, we want to use this opportunity to call for calm in all our states and across the region. As you are aware, there were some protests in so many states following the recent appointments that were made,” said.

The fact is the Presidency may have reconstituted the NDDC board due to administrative exigency. But they have inadvertently turned the Commission, which is a product of the struggle for an interventionist agency to fast-track the development of impacted communities in oil-producing states, as a launching pad to arouse ethnic sentiments and divide the region.

Already, various ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta have hurled accusations at President Buhari for allegedly failing to adhere to the NDDC Act 2000, which provides for the rotation of the Commission’s leadership among the nine-member states of Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo Ondo and Rivers in alphabetical order. The positions of Managing Director, Executive Director (Projects) and Executive Director (Finance) also follow the rotational policy under Part 4, Section 12 of the NDDC Act.

Itsekiri stakeholders in Delta State described the reconstitution of the board as sheer impunity and injustice, stressing that the appointment of Odubu and Okumagba respectively does not comply with the NDDC law.

In a letter to President Buhari and the Senate President, an Itsekiri leader, Rita Lori-Ugbebor, described the appointments as “odious impunity.”

“It is also important that you address this continuing and odious impunity being undertaken by some persons acting for and on behalf of the Nigerian state to deprive us of our rightful dues. The Itsekiri people, therefore, demand that the recent appointment to the Commission’s board be canceled and a new one appointed in tune with the rule of law, equity, fairness, and justice be made,” she said.

Lori-Ugbebor said previous appointments followed alphabetic order and wondered why Edo State should produce the chairman of the board whereas it is lawfully the turn of Delta State. Besides, she argued that Okumagba hails from Okere-Urhobo in Warri and hence would not appreciate the predicament of people from oil-impacted communities.

Similarly, the Western Ijaw Consultative Assembly chairman, Ebipade Gbegha, and Secretary, Ogbein Zidideke, have insisted that it was the turn of the Ijaw in Delta State to produce the NDDC management.

“It is a clear case of oppression, injustice, and alienation of Ijaw in Delta State by some selfish politicians acting like new pirates in power. We state without fear of equivocation that any executive position slot for Delta State should be given to the Ijaw as it is our turn in line with the rotational arrangement as prescribed by the NDDC Act 2000,” they said.

But former national treasurer of the Urhobo Progress Union, Francis Atanomeyovwi, has lampooned those kicking against the nomination of his kinsman, Okumagba as Managing Director.

“In Delta South, an Ijaw is the senator, while an Itsekiri is the immediate past governor of Delta State who served for eight years. An Ijaw man in the person of Prof. Victor Peretomonode had also served as Commissioner on the NDDC Board. Chief Emma Ogidi, Chief Solomon Ogba, and Val Arenyika, an Itsekiri had also served as NDDC Commissioner,” he said.

Meanwhile, representatives of Ndokwa and Oshimili ethnic nationality in Delta North, Mr John Obi and Ben Elu, have also implored President Buhari to appoint their kinsman as managing director and Delta State commissioner in the new board as none of them have had the privilege to occupy these positions since the establishment of the NDDC.

Also, groups such as Ilaje Advancement Forum, Ilaje Youth Congress and Egbe Omo Ilaje of Ondo State have accused President Buhari of marginalising the Ilaje people.

In Edo State, Mr. Imadeyogie Stephen, a youth leader from Ovia North East council, has expressed disenchantment with the nomination of Odubu and Victor Ekhator on the board, calling for equal representation in the NDDC.

Also in Abia State, there have been protests against the state commissioner designate, Nwogu Nwogu, who hails from Ukwa West local government area of the state.

Chancellor of the International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights (ISSJHR), Dr. Jackson Omenazu, told The Guardian that his organisation has filed a suit to challenge the contravention of the NDDC Act by the President.

Omenazu said the ISSJHR would not have been bothered if the reconstituted board was going to operate on a temporary basis. He emphasised that since it is a substantive board, which its tenure would last for the next four years, it behooves any meaningful civil society to intervene otherwise the violation of the NDDC Act would continue unabated.

“There is usually agitation because the powers that be in the country is hell-bent on subverting the rules and it is not proper. Mr. President should be well-advised in some of these things so that they will not dent his integrity. This government came to power on the basis of the integrity of the President. When there is an extant law of the nation and those who are supposed to enforce the law violate and manipulate the law, it gives the impression that we are a banana republic where anything can happen,” he said.

But the political and social commentators in the Niger Delta have described the discordant tunes from various ethnic groups in the region against the board as a farce and antithesis to the values for which the intervention agency was founded.

A member representing Owan Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, maintained that the President was entitled to appoint people he thinks would give realistic interpretation to the mission and vision of the agency.

The agitations over the new board, he declared, were mostly for selfish interest.

“Those who are saying it should be this, it is should be that are being sponsored. They are political jobbers being sponsored by invisible political interest. People have been appointed. These are people who are exposed, educated, experienced and who come from the Niger Delta. He has not gone to the Sambisa forest to bring all the board of the NDDC and then people are saying no. So, what do they want the President to do? To dissolve the Commission? That is not going to happen,” he said.

Ihonvbere, who served as secretary to Edo State government when Odudu was the deputy governor, stressed that those pressuring the President to rescind his decision on the reconstituted NDDC board were not interested in the progress of the Niger Delta and the suffering of the people.

According to him, the Niger Delta people simply want persons who are honest, dedicated, hard-working and who will take them out of poverty to pilot the affairs of NDDC.

He expressed optimism that there would be refocusing and repositioning of the NDDC under this new leadership to make it serve as an institution for promoting development, empowering the people and providing proper leadership, not satisfying the interest of detractors and dealers.

“People think that the NDDC is a place to go and make money, so they use all kinds of machinism to try to influence the appointment. When it does not turn out the way they want they get angry.  I believe that if people take time to study the law establishing the NDDC and take time to understand that NDDC is supposed to promote peace, stability, and growth of the Niger Delta, if they focus on that, they will focus less attention on who is occupying the position and seeing it as a cash cow,” he said.

Also, former provisional president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) cum specialist in economic history, Prof. Ben Naanen, said the bickering over the NDDC should be expected in a country where ethnicity has become the yardstick for distributing commonwealth.

Naanen canvassed depoliticisation of the NDDC counseling that “the leadership is structured to rotate from state to state. Let them not subvert that process. Although, I do also know that within the state, people are struggling that whosoever is appointed from the state must be from their own ethnic community. But I will rather prefer first, that the government should insist on the rotational principle of the leadership of the organisation and then within the state, let there be an effort to pick capable people. We know that this is a political establishment. In as much as they try to balance the political equation in the state from where the leadership is being chosen, they have to make sure that capable people, who can deliver are appointed. That is what I am looking forward to not for it to be just the basis for ethnic acrimony,” Naanen said.

He decried what he termed conversion of the NDDC to an institution of elite gratification.

“NDDC was captured by the elite because they see it as an agency for gratifying the elite and the establishment has created that image for itself. Look at the way contracts are awarded. Are they really done on merit? From anywhere in the country, the elite will go there and capture contracts even though they cannot deliver. So, it is an elite institution. It is basically there for elite gratification. That is the way they have made it be, but that was not the way it was supposed to be.

“NDDC is supposed to be an effective development agency to intervene in Niger Delta development, create jobs, do environmental activities and do the right things to address poverty in the area and infrastructure deficiency. But the record does not justify that altruism that led to the establishment of NDDC,” he said.

On his part, former Dean, Faculty of Political Science, University of Port Harcourt, Prof. Eme Ekekwe, said the acrimony over the NDDC was consistent with the pattern of Nigerian public office and the way the public views it.

“Our people tend to see public office not as a platform for service, but as a platform for enrichment. So, those people who are clamouring for their person, all of that, in my opinion, is not genuine. It is not that those ethnic nationalities are asking for their person to be represented; it is people who have an interest around certain persons who could be appointed. They are just using the name of the ethnic nationality. These people go into whatever office, including the NDDC, to accumulate wealth. But they don’t share that wealth among their people.

“They have over the years given the impression that this is a place for chopping. So, individuals and groups will now rally whenever there is an opportunity for an appointment to see if they can insert or force one of their members into that position. And sometimes, it is such people who have the ambition to occupy such offices who mobilise ethnic sentiment and use it to feather their own nest, riding on the back of their ethnic group,” he said.

Ekekwe observed that the NDDC has not performed the role it was supposed to in the region. He noted that if the huge budget of the NDDC were anything to go by, there was a mismatch in terms of infrastructural development. According to him, a lot of the Commission’s funds had gone into maintaining the bureaucracy.

“The contractors have done a whole better than the communities, even though some of the contractors may come from some of the communities. So, as a result, if you go in there, it’s like you are going to make money. One would have thought that the agency was on the way to mend itself as an interventionist agency of government to bring some succour to the Niger Delta. But you see, whether they are youth groups in the Niger Delta, whether they are all kinds of elite and contractors group, so long as they are able to get some crumbs from the table of NDDC, they seem satisfied without asking the deeper question of what this agency should do to develop the Niger Delta,” he added.

Deputy National President of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Chika Onugbue lamented turning the interventionist agency to an outlet for political settlement where people can get easy money.

“So, every community, every ethnic group wants to make sure they are represented there because they see it as a place for sharing. And because it is a place for sharing, they have to be on the table to make sure their own share is not denied. Assuming the NDDC is a place where they go and do work, assuming that is the perception of the people, this bickering will not be there. If you check, people don’t bicker when they make other kinds of appointments. But the moment it is NDDC, you are sure there will be bickering because people don’t see NDDC as an interventionist agency actually. They see it as a political set up for the purpose of taking their own dividends of democracy. And so the question comes to who do I know in that board. People generally believe that if you have somebody from your ethnic group, you have easy access to that national cake called NDDC. That is the cause of this bickering,” Onuegbu noted.

He explained that the bickering over appointments into the NDDC was also part of the larger culture of corruption and nepotism in the country, as well as the thinking that what makes a good leader is allowing access to the treasury. He stressed that nepotism and other primordial consideration for selecting board members were responsible for lack of proper checks on the activities of the NDDC.

Onuegbu added: “There is so much easy money flowing around. NDDC projects are overpriced and the quality of work delivered is very shabby. As a matter of fact, 70 per cent of NDDC roads does not last more than the next raining season. Over the years, people see NDDC as a place to do shoddy jobs and become very rich. You construct roads and spend billions of naira and then the roads don’t last more than a raining season. What has just happened is that the entire money spent on that road has become a waste and when people see those roads, they just say this is all the agency known for. It serves no purpose to spend money to do a road and it does not last beyond one rainy season. It is a waste of public funds,” he said.

‘Buhari Has Flagrantly Abused NDDC Act’
From Ann Godwin, Port Harcourt

Chancellor, International Society for Social Justice and Human rights, (ISSJHR), Jackson Omenazu, speaks on the bickering in the Niger Delta over the new NDDC board.

Why is it that, that there is bickering each time NDDC board is appointed?
The truth is that NDDC is dear to the Niger people but the fact is that most of the boards being appointed did not follow the laid down Act. That is the problem. The Act establishing NDDC should be followed to the letter. Our grouse and the reason some of the civil society organisations went to court is that the NDDC Act is flagrantly being disrespected by the powers that be. And when you go through the Act, the pertinent question is why neglecting the Act and doing the other side of it. This is just because the Niger Delta people are very keen on the outcome of NDDC. You know that NDDC is an interventionist agency even though they have not lived up to expectations. But then we are saying let the right thing be done and we can now begin to ask questions. But when the right thing is not done like the present situation where the Act says the chairmanship of the Commission should rotate in alphabetical order and now the Federal Government denied Delta State, which is supposed to be the next to produce such position, and gave it to Edo State.

Abia, Akwa Ibom, and Bayelsa states had produced the chairman. Now, it is the turn for Delta and the Federal Government, which is supposed to be in a position to implement the extant laws of the nation, is not doing so. Instead of giving it to Delta, it gave it to Edo State and that is where the problem is.

We are saying no to that; we are saying follow the Act establishing NDDC so that there will be no rancour among the people who are supposed to work together. So, it is wrong and that is why some of us have gone to court.  Let the laws of the land be followed to the letter. It is not advisable that those who superintend over the law should violate the law.

Do you think this move is all about development or some persons just want to hijack the Commission for selfish reasons?
Aside from the fact that we are in court about the issue, we are equally looking at asking those who have been there to account for their stewardship because it is not only the Federal Government that should be following the Act. We are saying that responsibilities have been given to somebody and there are expectations, which must be delivered. A lot of things have gone wrong within NDDC; a lot of money has been injected into NDDC that does not impact the development of the Niger Delta. We are raising questions about that and at the appropriate time, you will hear our questions.

What do you stand to gain should the court grant your prayers?
Our stand is that the norms should be followed. We are not interested in who becomes the chairman of the Commission, who becomes who and what. We are interested in the extant laws establishing the NDDC. We are insisting that things should be done right. It will ensure that the duties of everyone are followed to the letter.

For instance, when a father makes a rule in the house that nobody should eat on the dinning table, if the children wake up and see the father eating on the same dinning table, they will look at him somehow. The point we are making is that the appointing authorities will be incapacitated to call those who they have appointed to pilot the affairs of NNDC to order if they fail to adhere to the laws establishing the Commission. That is the truth. But if they notice that the appointing authorities are following the rules, those working under them will know that if they deviate, something will happen. Even those of us who are now ready to monitor, we are not monitoring on behalf of anybody but we are monitoring on behalf of Niger Delta people. So, we are all out now to monitor and evaluate NDDC projects all over the Niger Delta and we are prepared to take the contractors headlong including those who awarded the contracts.

‘Greed And Corruption Behind Bickering Over NDDC Board’
From Inemesit  Akpan-Nsoh, Uyo

A Sociology lecturer and Dean, Students Affairs, University of Uyo, Dr. Anieakan Brown, has asserted that greed and corrupt tendencies were responsible for the bickering that has trailed the appointment of the new board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

“If you ask me, it is a development issue. Ours is a developing society and we are yet to institutionalise the issues of appointment and the bases of appointment. I also look at it from the point of view of the reaction to corruption.

“It presupposes that when someone is appointed into any of those offices, the person is supposed to be corrupt and as a corrupt person, he is supposed to take things to his friends and where he comes from. So, it behooves on those who feel they are detached from whosoever appointed to make noise to discredit the appointment and possibly check if it is possible to reverse the appointment for their own person to be appointed. Primarily, it is an indication of greed and I think with time, we will be able to overcome that,” Brown said.

He concurs with the fact that appointment into the board of the Commission should rotate across the states, adding that in doing so, states with the highest production of oil should be given pre-eminence.

“I also know that the issue of managing directorship of the board should rotate across the state in alphabetical order. I am also aware that for those who produce more of the oil that enriches the Commission should also take the pre-eminence.

“So, I think those appointed should be sensitive to these issues. Beyond that, we should begin to see NDDC as an interventionist agency and begin to see them intervening appropriately.

“The NDDC is to enhance the development of Niger Delta; it is to make the area have the capacity to rejuvenate its soil, farm and fight for life to survive in terms of aquatic life and plant because of the abuse of the environment sequel to oil exploration and drillings.”

A renowned communication expert, who is also a lecturer at the University of Uyo, Prof. Des Wilson, on his part, said that agitations concerning the NDDC board were because the appointment was not confined to those from core oil-producing local councils within the states, but anybody from the state.

“It is a Nigerian thing. People over the years have been appointed into this board as part of the Federal Government’s cake getting to their own area. As you know, NDDC is an agency that is supposed to deal with issues in the oil-producing communities of Niger Delta but it has not been dealing with the issues.”

‘N’Delta Stakeholders Should Be More Concerned About Competence Of Appointees’
Etim Iyang, a lawyer, spoke with TINA TODO in Calabar on the bickering over the NDDC board. Excerpts:

What factors are responsible for the bickering over reconstituted NDDC board? 
It is politics. You know Nigerian politicians are very sentimental; it must be them. As far as I am concerned, what we should be talking about should be the competence of those nominated.

In Cross River State, the commissioner, a retired permanent secretary, a Knight of St. John has all his qualifications. So, what are you saying? At this time, the narrative should be, is the man qualified? Is he from the Niger Delta, an oil-producing area?  Like in Cross River State, Maurice Effiwat is from Akpabuyo and that is the oil-producing area. He has met the requirement of the law, so that is the most important thing.

Come to think of it. Look at the NDDC Act. I have not seen any provision that says before a president appoints, he must consult with the governors. So, as far as I am concerned, the appointment was well made.

Has NDDC been able to meet the expectation of the Niger Delta people?
Yes and no! In the past, there has been a lot of politicisation of appointment and projects in NDDC. Projects were not given to competent contractors; politicians shared projects. Today, it is only good that the governors of the South-South are not from the ruling party at the centre except Edo. If they were to be from the ruling party, the projects and everything will be handled by them.

One of the greatest projects I want from the Commission is to complete the East-West road because that road is very strategic to the development of the Niger Delta. During President Jonathan’s administration, he extended it from Oron to Calabar. So, I want to plead with the present board and the Ministry of Niger Delta to see how they can complete that road.
With the NDDC and 13 per cent derivation, some are of the opinion that the Niger Delta ought to be transformed like Abuja.

What is your take?
Abuja is our federal capital territory. But we need to interrogate the governors in Niger Delta on what they have done with the 13 per cent derivation. It is a serious issue. Let me give you an instance. A state like Bayelsa is the fourth in terms of revenue allocation and it is a very small state with eight local councils. What is development there? I think we should also focus on what the governors are doing with the 13 per cent derivation. They should be able to account for what they have received. Let the people of the Niger Delta rise up and ask their governor’s question.

‘Nigerians Should Hold NDDC Accountable Poor Infrastructure In N’Delta’
From Michael Egbejule, Benin City

A SOCIAL cultural organization in Edo State, N’Edo Gheria, has lamented the controversy trailing the recently inaugurated NDDC board.

National President of the group, Mr. Ebojele Patrick, in an interview with The Guardian commended President Muhammudu Buhari for the choice of the former deputy governor of Edo State, Dr. Pius Odubu, as chairman of the board.

He said the NDDC has a status and law setting it up, urging the new board to strictly adhere to the law in carrying out its duties.

“But not for its political patronage, I would have preferred that the board be run by technocrats and professionals. However, we must at all times look for men and women of integrity, honesty and proven track records of professional achievement in their field of endeavours. It should not be seen as a call to loot public funds and further impoverish the very poor people in the region,” he noted.

‘An Independent NDDC Will Make A Lot Of Difference’
From Julius Osahon, Yenagoa

Stakeholders in Bayelsa State have urged President Mohammandu Buhari to allow the Niger Development Commission (NDDC) to run as an independent agency to enable it to function optimally just like the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Speaking with The Guardian in Yenagoa, Morris Alagoa, an environmentalist and human rights activist, said the interventionist agency should not work like a core parastatal.

“As such, let it not be in the office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation. If it cannot be independent like INEC as a very special development agency, then let it be under the supervision of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. Interventionist agencies ought not to work like core civil service agencies,” he said.

On the bickering trailing the appointment of the new board for the Commission, he said: “This may be minimised if appointments into the board or management are done in a clearly defined way; how it moved from state to state and such should also be based on competence.

“Issues relating to justice as to whether some states are denied of whatever rotational arrangement that is in place, nepotism and politics are part of the reasons behind the bickering.

“Again, owing to the endemic corruption and favouritism sailing in our clime, some feel that they will gain from such if their own persons are given the position,” he said.


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