The gloves are off in the Niger Delta region following what the authentic stakeholders perceive to be a deliberate red herring by the federal government to unecessarily delay the inauguration of the Niger Delta Development Commission Board despite the eventual submission and acceptance of the forensic audit report by President Muhammadu Buhari. Nseobong Okon-Ekong reviews what appears to be an unmistakable condemnation, and call to action, by Niger Deltans and the pan-Ijaw Congress, on President Buhari, over the continued delay in inaugurating the NDDC Board, and the impending challenges it may pose to the volatile region, where tension has reached fever pitch
The big masquerade, the umbrella body of the Ijaw nation, worldwide, Ijaw National Congress (INC), has finally stepped into the ring, to condemn, in unmistakable terms, the Federal Government’s obvious delay in inaugurating the substantive board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), more than one week after the submission of the forensic audit report of the commission.
In what has turned out to be a game of endless turns by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio and Aso Rock, the Buhari government had routinely assured Niger Deltans that as soon as the forensic audit report is “submitted and accepted” it will inaugurate the NDDC Board which had been screened and approved by the Nigerian Senate since November of 2019.
On Friday, September 10, 2021, in Yenagoa, Professor Benjamin Okaba, President of Ijaw National Congress (INC) roared, the Niger Delta region reiteratedfor the umpteenth time, the stance of the authentic stakeholders in the region . The Ijaw nation boasts of the nation’s most dreaded militants High Chief Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo) Niger Delta Avengers and Asari Dokubo, who have since retreated to their shells based on the assurances and promises of the Federal Government through the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
According to Professor Okaba, INC demands the urgent inauguration of the NDDC Board, because “any further delay in the inauguration of the NDDC board is a clear betrayal of trust and display of State insensitivity on ljaw nation and Niger Delta region.”
It will be recalled that on the 24th day of June 2021, while receiving the Ijaw National Congress at the State House in Abuja, President Buhari said that the NDDC Board would be inaugurated as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted.
The president said: ‘‘Based on the mismanagement that had previously bedeviled the NDDC, a forensic audit was set up and the result is expected by the end of July, 2021. I want to assure you that as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted, the NDDC Board will be inaugurated.”
The President of Ijaw National Congress (INC), Professor Benjamin Okaba, in the widely publicised statement in Yenagoa on Friday, September 10, wondered why President Buhari “till date has not said anything about the report and the inauguration of the substantive board.”
Not done, Benjamin Okaba, a Professor of Sociology and former Provost of Oleh campus of Delta State University, noted on behalf of INC that “the complexities and superfluousity that trailed the said Audit process, in addition to the diversionary comments of Mr Malami have left us with more worries and suspicion of the true intentions of the exercise.”
One of such complexities and superfluousity in the NDDC forensic audit report as pointed out by other Niger Delta stakeholders is the queer recommendations on the reduction in size of NDDC Board and making membership of the Board part-time.
According to Vanguard for Transparent Leadership and Democracy, VATLAD, in a statement by the national president, Mr Emmanuel Igbini, “it is incumbent on us, as patriots and indigenes of the Niger Delta region, to remind President Buhari and Nigerians that by virtue of section 2(3) of the NDDC Act, 2000, those positions of Governing Board of the Commission (NDDC) that our people of Niger Delta Region rightly demanded in year 2000 be placed on part-time are already on part-time and, therefore, need no further placing on part-time.”
“Furthermore, it’s important to remind Nigerians that of the 19-member substantive Governing Board of NDDC confirmed by the Nigerian Senate, (on November 5, 2019) 16 are on part-time; only three of them, the Managing Director/CEO; Executive Director, Finance and Administration; and Executive Director, Projects; are on full-time, and rightly so. It was deliberate to differentiate them from the other 16 members on part-time that the NDDC Act, 2000 under section 12, classify them as members of NDDC Management Committee with responsibility to carry out the day-to-day administration of the Commission.”
Taking it further, Niger Delta Progressive Network (NDPN) through its Chairman, Kaniye Amakiri and Secretary, Asuquo Inyang noted that “It is apposite to remind us that the North East Development Commission Act is patterned after the NDDC Act, with board membership drawn from each state of the North East Region as well one member each from each of other geopolitical regions in Nigeria together with other stakeholder representations. Similarly, all Board members aside from the Managing Director and the 3 Executive Directors are on part time basis in line with the North East Development Commission Act which was patterned after the NDDC Act. It is sad that while the North East Development Commission has been allowed to function with its duly constituted Board in place ensuring proper Corporate Governance, accountability, checks and balances and fair representation of its Constituent states, the NDDC has been run arbitrarily in the last two years by Interim committees/sole administrator in breach of the NDDC Act even after the President Buhari had appointed a Board for the NDDC which was duly confirmed by the Nigerian Senate on November 5, 2019. That confirmed Board was asked to be on standby for inauguration after the forensic audit.
NDPN therefore alerted Niger Deltans in particular and Nigerians in general that the “unsolicited recommendation to reduce the size of the NDDC Board is a red herring by Akpabio to attempt to initiate a long process of a needless amendment of the NDDC Act to give him more time to continue his hijacking of the Commission and its funds using illegal sole administrator/interim committees in breach of the NDDC Act.”
In the submission of Bassey Ime Idongesit, on behalf of Niger Delta Justice Forum, Uyo, “The recommendation of the report that board membership of the commission should be on part time basis in order to reduce costs should be ignored because it demonstrates clearly that the auditors did not even bother to read the Act setting up the Commission and they conveniently refused to question the thousands of people that management has surreptitiously employed in the last two years without recourse to due process.”
Lending its professional weight to the adherence of the law setting up NDDC, South East South South Professionals of Nigeria (SESSPN), an advocacy group for the advancement of the two regions enjoined the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio to facilitate “the immediate inauguration of the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission whose members have since been screened by the National Assembly.” This, according to the group, “is the safeguard provided by the enabling Law to check all the anomalies that have bedeviled the Commission these past few years and was only worsened by the illegal contraptions called Interim Management or Sole Administratorship which are prone to abuse.”
The SESSPN demand was contained in a letter to the Minister, jointly signed by its President, Hannibal Uwaifo Esq. and Publicity Secretary, Collins Steve Ugwu, in which it further urged the Minister to ensure that all those indicted in the recently submitted report of the forensic audit of the NDDC should be swiftly named, shamed, and every stolen loot recovered.
In no unmistakable terms therefore, the Ijaw National Congress wondered “why Mr President till date has not said anything about the report and the inauguration of the substantive board, over two years into the life of his 2nd Term despite public concerns and condemnation on the implications of managing the NDDC as a private estate for this long.”
Overall, the INC stated that it “considers it as a huge integrity test and task on Mr President to immediately submit the Forensic report, undiluted to the corridors of public domain with the guarantee of free and easy access by anyone that cares, in line with the Freedom of Information Act.”
The Ijaw National Congress, going forward, did not forget to admonish the federal government to “stop the practice of using the NDDC as a political patronage agency which is controlled and managed from Abuja instead of by the people of the Niger Delta region. The NDDC going forward must be accountable to the people it was created to serve and not those in positions of authority in Aso Rock.”
Niger Deltans therefore expect President Buhari to comply with the NDDC Act and fulfill his promise by inaugurating the Governing Board of the Commission to ensure accountability, checks and balances, probity and equitable representation of the nine constituent states of the Niger Delta Region.
Any further delay in the inauguration of the NDDC board is a clear betrayal of trust and display of State insensitivity on ljaw nation and Niger Delta region. After 16 months of postponement and rigmarole, the Hon Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio has finally submitted the long overdue report of the Forensic Audit. Why has Mr President till date not said anything about the report and the inauguration of the substantive board, over two years into the life of his Second Term?