President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision Thursday ordering the reconstitution of newly appointed board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which received backing from some Senators, has drawn the ire of stakeholders; some of whom interpreted the president’s action as an attempt to cover-up corruption in the agency.
“The Interim Management Team of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) will be in place till the forensic audit is completed. I have given approval for the re-composition and inauguration of the Commission’s Board after the forensic audit is completed. Supervision of the NDDC shall remain under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs,” Buhari had said in a statement through Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina.
The president also ordered a forensic audit of the organization and subsequent inauguration of the reconstituted board after the forensic audit. The statement was, however, silent on the fate of the recently confirmed team appointed by Buhari to lead the commission.
The NDDC is at a historic crossroads having been caught in a web of intricate power play involving contending forces within the Presidency and the National Assembly. Reports indicate a tumultuous time in the Niger Delta region since the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, released a circular announcing the composition of a new NDDC board in August. This was consequent upon the sack of the immediate past interim management committee (IMC) following allegations of corruption and irregularities in the day-to-day functioning of the NDDC.
The genesis of the current fierce battle over the soul of the interventionist agency that was established to address the dire developmental needs of the Niger Delta, as well as oil-producing states, lies in the flawed manner, which the new board members were appointed, particularly the choice of former Edo State, Deputy Governor Dr. Pius Odubu, as the head of the organisation and managing director, Bernard Okumagba (Delta).
Others are the nominee for executive director, Finance and Administration, Maxwell Okoh (Bayelsa State); Delta State representative, Jones Erue; Victor Ekhator (Edo State); Nwogu Nwogu (Abia State); Theodore Allison (Bayelsa State); Victor Antai (Akwa Ibom); Maurice Effiwatt (Cross River State); Olugbenga Elema (Ondo State); and Uchegbu Chidiebere Kyrian (Imo State). Also implicated are the northeast representatives, Ardo Zubairu (Adamawa State); north-central, Abdullahi Bage (Nasarawa State); and northwest, Aisha Murtala Muhammed (Kano State).
The crisis stalled the swearing-in of Odubu and his team after their confirmation by the Senate following their nomination by Buhari. There has also been an agitation for independence of the commission from the control of the Ministry of Niger Delta, while the Niger Delta Minister, Godswill Akpabio, has insisted on the supervision of NDDC by the ministry. According to sources within the Red Chamber, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, who had insisted that the board remained the legitimate body to preside over NDDC affairs, refused to make any official response to Buhari’s decision to recompose the board.
Just last month, Lawan directed the Senate Committee on NDDC not to have any dealings with the interim management committee. He had equally said that with confirmation of the board members by the Senate, the interim management committee had become null and void. Thereafter, he asked the newly confirmed board members to take over the affairs of the commission immediately, stressing that the law, which set up the NDDC does not recognise any interim arrangement once a board is in place.
Lawan’s sentiments were echoed by some groups in the Niger Delta, which accused the president of attempting to cover up corruption in the commission. The chairman of the Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, said Buhari’s decision to suspend the inauguration of a board cleared by the Senate shows he was not committed to an independent forensic audit. “They have realised that if the forensic audit goes on independently, a lot of people will be indicted from within the All Progressives Congress. This is a clear cover-up and we will resist it,” he said.
On his part, Ijaw Youth Council President Eric Omare said: “The interim management committee is illegal and it remains so, irrespective of Buhari’s latest directive. His endorsement of the interim committee in the present circumstances further reinforces his disrespect for the rule of law for which his government is known.” He asked: “Will the Senate confirm another set of nominees by Buhari into the NDDC board when he disregarded the earlier ones he nominated and who was confirmed by the Senate? Will the Nigerian Senate now attend to the budget of the NDDC with the interim committee in charge? Or as usual with the Buhari administration, will the NDDC operate without a budget and board in flagrant violation of the NDDC Act?”
The spokesperson of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Anabs Sara-Igbe, urged Buhari to ensure that the audit of the commission is holistic and that all culpable persons are brought to book. Also, in a telephone chat, PANDEF national leader, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, said: “The problem in the NDDC is the problem of the presidency. Now that the president has spoken, I’m appealing to all Niger Deltans to give peace a chance and allow the forensic audit to take place in a conducive atmosphere.” Earlier, Clark had issued a statement saying he was not in support of either the interim committee or the board but supports a forensic audit.
A former interim secretary of the South-South Peoples Assembly, Olorogun Atuyota Ejughemre, described Buhari’s announcement as shocking. “I don’t think the unfolding development is good for governance. A president sends a list to the National Assembly and it is confirmed. Then he makes a u-turn as if he was not aware of the provisions of the Establishment Act of 2000, and says the board should be recomposed.
A lawyer and activist, Chief Fred Agbeyegbe, said: “The crisis we are seeing at the NDDC has nothing to do with the commission but is the reflection of the power play and politics of ambition for 2023 game tactics among the gladiators in the ruling APC.”
A former Minister of Information and Culture, Prince Tony Momoh, however, absolved Buhari of blame. He cited complaints by some governors from the Niger Delta over the imbalance in the appointment of the board that was dissolved, including how some oil-producing states dominated the leadership of the commission. Momoh concluded: “If Buhari has therefore examined the imbalance and realised the need for adjustment, the constitution gives him the power to do so.”
Meanwhile, the interim management committee yesterday said that following a tip-off, it discovered the components of a power station worth $34 million abandoned on the premises of the Nigerian Ports Authority in Port Harcourt since 2017. It said the equipment was meant for the NDDC sub-station in Ekparagwa and Ikot Epkene, Akwa Ibom state. In a statement, the executive director of projects, Cairo Ojougboh, promised that the committee would complete the initiative.