By Godspower Tamunosusi
For over two straight years now, since November 2019, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has been administered by interim managements not appointed according to the statutes establishing the federal agency. It is the longest breach of the law governing the operations of the commission and follows a pattern of disregard for the rule of law that should define the legacy of President Muhammadu Buhari.
President Muhammadu Buhati and his handlers have employed the jaded excuse of “reforming” to perpetuate what is seen as an administrative heist in directly appointing Interim Managements for the NDDC without following legal provisions. This wanton disregard for the NDDC Act indeed started when the government abandoned the laid down provisions for appointing the Governing Board, which is statutorily empowered to manage the NDDC. In all, the President has appointed five interim management/sole administrators since 2015 when he was sworn in as President.
In the 15-year history of the NDDC, prior to President Buhari’s coming in 2015, an interim appointment had never been made outside of the law, even when the Governing Boards were dissolved. Prior to Buhari’s coming to power in 2015, in the absence of a Board duly constituted in line with the NDDC Act, the most senior Civil servant in the NDDC took over as Managing Director in acting capacity for a brief period until a Board was constituted in line with the NDDC Act. The NDDC Act does not permit the appointment of any external persons from outside the Commission to act as Managing Director or Sole Administrator without compliance with the Act which requires nomination by the President and Confirmation by the Senate. This is the same requirement for Ministers of the Federal Republic. The Law does not permit for anyone to be appointed as Acting Minister in any Ministry. If there is no Minister in a Ministry, the most senior civil servant – i.e. the Permanent Secretary, holds forth until a Minister is appointed by the President and duly confirmed by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The orderly succession in NDDC was only breached in 2015 by the Buhari Administration when it dissolved the Bassey Henshaw-led Board and appointed Ibim Semenitari as SOLE ADMINISTRATOR, a position she held for over one year. The illegality in NDDC continued in January 2019 when President Buhari dissolved the two-year old Victor Ndoma-Egba-led Board and replaced the Board with an Interim Management team led by Professor Nelson Brambaifa. It was not until August of 2019 that President Buhari ended the illegal Brambaifa interim management team and then, in accordance with the law establishing NDDC, forwarded the list of nominees for its Board to the Senate for confirmation in October 2019 which the Senate confirmed in November 2019.
Unfortunately again, rather than inaugurate the Board, President Buhari put it on hold and relapsed to illegality in administering NDDC.
Since November 2019, this government has appointed two interim management teams led by Joi Nunieh and Professor Keme Pondei, respectively, and presently the Commission is led by an Interim Administrator, Effiong Akwa. This is unprecedented, illogical and vexatious. It is clear that under the Buhari presidency, the NDDC has been concessioned to a cabal to use as they please while the Niger Delta people wallow in neglect and poverty. Mr President, that is how the Niger Delta people see your actions after six years in power.
Unfortunately there has been unending irregularities and lack of due process in NDDC since October 2019 when the interim management/sole administrator contraptions have been administering the Commission in flagrant violation of the NDDC Establishment Act of 2000.
Under the illegal interim managements/sole administrator contraptions, the combined two-year budget for 2019 and 2020, as approved by the National Assembly was N799 Billion. Yet, as pointed out by Professor Benjamin Okaba, President of Ijaw National Congress (INC), under the interim management/sole administrator contraptions, “over N600bn payments have been made for emergency contracts; over 1,000 persons have been allegedly employed in the NDDC between January and July, 2020; the 2020 budget was passed in December and N400bn was voted for the NDDC but the commission had spent over N190bn before the budget was passed, thereby violating the Procurement Act.”
It is also important to recall the Senate probe of NDDC in June/July of 2020 which revealed how the NDDC Interim Management Committee (IMC) blew N81.5 billion in just a couple of months on contracts, frivolities, and in breach of extant financial and public procurement laws. The Senate therefore passed a resolution recommending that the IMC should refund the sum of N4.923 Billion to the Federation Account, and that the IMC should be disbanded, while the substantive board should be inaugurated to manage the Commission in accordance with the law.
At the recent protest by the Association of Contractors of the Niger Delta Development Commission (ACNDDC) who picketed the NDDC Head office in Port Harcourt, Chairman of ACNDDC, Joe Adia stated, “presently huge monies come into the Commission every month and the next thing we hear is that the money is finished. Who are you paying? Give us a record of the people you are paying. How can you pay N800 million each for so-called desilting jobs and yet contractors being owed N5 million you have refused to pay?”
What has happened at the NDDC under the President’s watch is clearly the capture of the commission by a cabal, who are deploying its resources to whatever pleases them.
Niger Deltans are disillusioned and angry. A broad assemblage of prominent leaders of the Niger Delta, including statesmen, top lawyers, civil society organisations, sociopolitical groups and ethnic groups have condemned the continued occupation of the NDDC by these illegal managements yet the President has refused to do the right thing.
Senior lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana SAN, at a public function, spoke on the dangers of the Buhari administration flouting the law setting up NDDC. Speaking at a lecture to mark the third anniversary of the first term of Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu in Akure on February 27, 2020, Falana said the administration was flouting the law setting up the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by appointing an interim management committee for the Commission.
The rights activist noted that the administration’s actions on the NDDC where the law has been subverted leave the actions of the management contraptions in the Commission open to litigation. In Falana’s words: “The President in October 2019 appointed an interim committee. I am submitting here that there is no provision in the NDDC Act for an interim committee.”
Recently, Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, who is also Chairman of the South South Governors Forum, stated the unequivocal opposition of the constituent states to the continued illegal management of the NDDC.According to Okowa, “we have made our position clear as South-South governors. We have spoken about how we feel and it is very unfortunate that where we are at the moment, it ought not to be so. We have not had a proper board for over two years now and that is not right. Whatever situation the NDDC is operating with now is unknown to the law of this country”.
Okowa reiterated the position of Niger Deltans that NDDC states and oil producing communities, which by law ought to have representation on the board, have been deprived of their statutory representation due to the refusal/failure of the President to inaugurate the board of the Commission, in contravention of the NDDC Act. As Okowa noted: “No matter what is going on, there is a law and there is a need for the Federal Government to do what is right. The provision in the law ensures that there is equity and that no state is short-changed. States are now being deprived of opportunity of having their representative at the board because the various state representatives on the Board are supposed to ensure that the budget of the NDDC is run in the way it ought to be run, with what is due to each state getting to them. That has not been the situation for quite some time. That is why we have always complained. We were told by the Presidency that as soon as the forensic report was submitted, the board will be put in place.”
Indeed, while receiving a delegation of the Ijaw National Congress in Abuja in June this year, President Buhari had said that the Board will be inaugurated once the forensic audit report was submitted. He 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.” That report has been submitted to the president since September 2, 2021, yet he has failed to inaugurate the board.
The employment of deceit, propaganda and lies by the federal government in perpetuating the capture of the NDDC for selfish parochial interests is something for the Buhari legacy. When inaugurating the first Interim Management Committee (IMC) in October 2019, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio, said the committee would stay in office for six months to ‘supervise the forensic audit.’ That promise proved to be a lie when the IMC was left in place till December 2020 when the Presidency announced Mr Effiong Okon Akwa, as Interim Sole Administrator. In announcing the appointment, the Federal Government said Mr Akwa was “to assume headship till completion of the forensic audit.” That again has proven to be a lie as the so-called audit has been completed since August and Okon Akwa is still in office as sole administrator. In fact, in furtherance of that lie, Akpabio, who was under fire, had assured Niger Deltans that the board will be put in place by the end of July 2021. That, again, was not to be.
For many people in the Niger Delta, the failure of the President to follow the NDDC Act and inaugurate the board is indicative of his disdain not only for the rule of law but for the Niger Delta people. Indeed so. Many people feel that the trumpeted forensic audit exercise which took over two years to be concluded was an invalid excuse used to capture the NDDC, fleece it of its huge monthly receipts, and run it aground so that it cannot be of benefit to the people of Niger Delta unlike the case of the North East Development Commission (NEDC) which is being funded properly and allowed to operate with a legal board and management in place in line with the NEDC Act.
In tandem with the legitimate demands of stakeholders across the Niger Delta region, on November 13, 2021, the Conference of Presidents-General of Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities (CPGNDEN) met in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State and in the communique issued after its meeting called on President Buhari “to keep his promise and inaugurate a substantive board for NDDC following the submission of the forensic report, and in line with the law establishing the agency,” noting that the Niger Delta was in dire need of development which the absence of the board has so far stalled.
In the communique which was read by its President, Professor Benjamin Okaba, CPGNDEN also contended that the running of the NDDC by a sole administrator was contrary to the law establishing the Commission. Okaba who is also the President of Ijaw National Congress (INC) stated that “the general feeling is that the region has been auctioned off to one man to do with it as he pleases.”
As the Buhari administration winds down to its last full year in office, which is 2022, he has so far established a legacy of illegality in the manner it has handled the NDDC. The president needs to rethink this very grievous act if he is to be remembered for good in the Niger Delta. He should stop the illegalities and put in place the board of the NDDC now, in line with the NDDC Act and for the benefit of the people of the nine constituent states.
• Tamunosisi lives in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital