NDDC: Why board inauguration conundrum may linger

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Nigerians may wait a little longer for the inauguration of the new board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by President Muhammadu Buhari, following an existing precedent and complexity of intrigues by stakeholders in the oil-rich region

Despite the pressure from several quarters being mounted on President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, there are indications that it might take a while before the president heeds the call. This is even as the delay in the inauguration of the board has continued to complicate issues in the commission given the protests that trailed the constitution of the new board by the president. A section of the stakeholders in the region had accused the president of violating the NDDC Act with the appointments. Incidentally, the nominees who presented themselves to the Senate for screening were all cleared. But they still have more hurdles to cross.

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For instance, while they were undergoing the Senate screening and confirmation process, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, had on October 29, this year, inaugurated a three-man Interim Management Committee to run the NDDC. Members of the committee are Dr. Gbene Joi Nunieh as the new Acting Managing Director; Dr. Cairo Ojougboh as the Acting Executive Director, Projects; and Chief Ibanga Bassey Etang as the Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration. The mandate of the committee is to help create an “enabling environment” for the forensic audit of the NDDC, which was earlier announced by the President. The Minister didn’t announce when members of the committee are expected to complete their assignment. By implication, they could be there for as long as those who appointed them desire.

Many stakeholders, including serving lawmakers, have been critical of the development. But things came to a head last Thursday, when the Senate declared that it would only relate with the board it has confirmed and not the interim committee on issues pertaining to the NDDC. Senate President Ahmed Lawan made the declaration in response to a point of order raised by Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe after he (Lawan) had laid the 2020 budget of the commission sent by the president before the senators.

Coming under Order 43 of the Senate Standing Rules, Abaribe had said: “We just heard from you (Senate President) the communication from Mr President which relates to the presentation of the NDDC’s budget for approval. Of course, what it will mean is that the budget will go to the relevant committee of Appropriation and the NDDC Committee and some persons will come to defend the budget.

“Having regard to the fact that this Senate has confirmed members of the board of the NDDC and they are yet to resume office, I fear that we may run into a problem of delayed budget again since nobody will come to defend this budget. So, to prevent a delayed budget for the NDDC that is helping the region for development, it would be better for us to prevent this issue from coming and let the needful be done.”

Lawan sustained Abaribe’s point of order and urged the executive to do the right thing by inaugurating the board.

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“As far as we are concerned, this Senate knows that we have confirmed the request of Mr. President for the board membership of the NDDC and we have communicated that and the next logical thing to do by law is for the appointments of the members of the board to take immediate effect.

“I believe that the executive arm of government will attend to that quickly so that we have the right people to come and defend the appropriation request of Mr. President,” he said.

Nevertheless, it is commonplace to see President Buhari act aloof when put under pressure in matters of this nature. He simply allows the issue to thrash itself. Many instances abound but the most recent was the insistence of the Nigeria Labour Congress for the inauguration of a former leader, Frank Kokori as the Chairman of the Board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

Buhari had initially announced the appointment of Kokori as NSITF board chairman. However, the Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, refused to inaugurate the board. He was later to announce the constitution of a board for the NSITF to be headed by Mr Austin Enejamo-Isire while Kokori was asked to go and head the Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS) Ilorin, Kwara State. The development infuriated the labour community in the country. In solidarity with Kokori, who is their former leader, they vowed to resist it. And they deployed all possible antics to force the inauguration of Kokori, including picketing the minister’s house, but failed. At the peak of the crisis, the Presidency threw its weight behind Ngige.

In a statement, Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, had explained that, “all actions taken by the Minister of Labour and Employment towards the resuscitation and repositioning of this ailing agency, including the Administrative Panel of Inquiry into the affairs of NSITF and the suspension of the inauguration of the board in 2018, were part of the special work plan approved for the Honourable Minister by Mr. President.”

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A similar scenario appears to be evolving in the case of the NDDC. Akpabio had while inaugurating the interim management committee said the president approved the appointments. Meanwhile, the presidency is yet to respond to the clamour for the inauguration of the board, suggesting that Buhari is not unaware of conundrum in the NDDC. His position would surely be known in the days ahead despite his dignified silence presently.

But apart from projections on Buhari’s next move, there is a school of thought that sees the quagmire as a creation of some political forces in the Niger Delta to feather their nests and as such would want the status quo to remain. “There is no complication. This type of situation is why Nigeria cannot move forward. What is happening in NDDC is that some forces just felt that if Buhari inaugurates this board, there are certain things that some people from the region had done that will be revealed. That is just the secret; there is nothing more than that,” said foremost Niger Delta activist and the Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group, Comrade Joseph Evah in an interview with The Guardian.

Evah argued that inaugurating the board would not hamper the work of the forensic auditors the president would appoint, stressing that some people were deceiving the president by campaigning against the inauguration of the board for their selfish reasons.

“Some people will just go and deceive the president because of their selfish interests. If not so, where have you heard that the president of a country will announce names of people to be screened by the Senate and somebody among the nominees will be picked out to go and form an interim committee by another appointee of the president. A woman among the board members was appointed as a member of the interim committee constituted by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. The woman did not submit herself to be screened by the Senate to be on the board of NDDC. Now, she has been appointed to be the head of the interim committee. Where have you seen it happen? You can now know that they are all calculating to cover up all the rubbish they have done in NDDC through their boys over the years. That is what they are doing. But the president don’t see it as an insult,” he stated.

He, however, insisted that the Niger Delta people should not be blamed for the imbroglio in NDDC, saying: “This is not the issue of Niger Delta people. That is why when the oil companies start crying foul that there is insecurity in the Niger Delta, they know that they caused it. Let me ask you, ‘Is it what the oil companies are doing in the Niger Delta that they are doing in Libya?’

“Now, the president knows very well that what is happening is wrong. The president knows very well that if he allows this type of thing to continue, it will come back to haunt not just the region but the entire country and so could order those behind it to stop. But he hasn’t done that. So, we are only begging the Almighty God to open the third eye of the president because the people who are going to advise him are only talking about their personal agenda. And the president is supposed to say, ‘no, what you are doing is wrong; stop it.’

“Let me give you an example. When Buhari was taking over from Jonathan in 2015, some people advised him that the amnesty period should end in one year and he made a statement to that effect. But along the line, he felt that if the trainings and other activities of the programme have not been completed, why would the programme end. So, he reversed himself. So, it is only the God Almighty we are praying to open the third eye of the president to see that all these manipulations would not help the Niger Delta and the country. Some people just want to call the Niger Delta people a bad name to hang us; they want to say we are fighting ourselves.”

Evah inferred that if Buhari fails to act fast, NDDC would be starved of funds to function. “Money will not go to the commission and there will be crisis. With the crisis, nothing will happen in the Niger Delta through the NDDC for the remaining years of the Buhari administration. That is their calculation. And the president’s excuse will be, ‘I have a lot of problems, if they cannot solve their problems, let them suffer.’ But the buck stops at his table. So, he should call a spade a spade to save the situation for posterity sake. I believe that God will give him the wisdom and he will do what is right.

“To the politicians behind this conundrum, we are telling them to remember that their children’s children belong to the Niger Delta. If because of their political interests they want to hurt the region, their children will also come and face it.

“Now, we have the North East Development Commission. The Southeast, Southwest and other zones in the country are talking about having their own development commissions. So, the rest of the zones are calculating; they want something like the NDDC while our people because of their greed, arrogance and ego are causing problems for the region. It is so annoying.”

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