Why Buhari Should Listen to Niger Delta Elders, Obey the Law and Inaugurate NDDC Board

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The authentic and true representatives of the Niger Delta people such as Pan Niger Delta Forum, Ijaw National Congress, Urhobo Progressive Union, Ijaw Youth Council, Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities, amongst others, have been consistent in their unceasing calls on President Buhari in the past two years, to abide by the law establishing the  Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and inaugurate the governing Board of the Commission, writes Nseobong Okon-Ekong 

On October 4, 2021 the South-south Governors Forum spoke again when they rose from an emergency meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers state capital and joined in the call on President Buhari to comply with the law setting up NDDC and inaugurate the Board of the Commission which has, sadly, been arbitrarily run in the past two years by the illegal contraptions of interim management committees/sole administrator.

With the widespread rejection of the illegal contraptions of interim management/sole administrator at NDDC by well-meaning stakeholders reaching a crescendo, any further delay by the Federal Government to inaugurate the NDDC Board could trigger more avoidable disruptive agitations, reminiscent of the 2016 crisis, by a people who may have been waiting for momentum from their leaders.

When, for the umpteenth time this year, the South-south Governors of the Niger Delta region spoke again, and urged President Muhammadu Buhari “to uphold the law establishing Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by appropriately constituting its governing board,” it remarkably showed their frustration with the Federal Government which has turned a deaf ear to the lawful demands of critical stakeholders and the people of the region.

Speaking after their meeting in Government House, Port Harcourt, Rivers state capital on Monday, October 4, 2021, the Chairman of the South-south Governors forum, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State was reiterating the demands that the South-south Governors had made, on behalf of the people, in March and April of this year on the vexed issue of abiding by the NDDC Act, and inaugurating a Governing Board for the Commission to guarantee effective representation of the Niger Delta constituent states.

Earlier in the year, the Governors of the South-south states, speaking the minds of the agitated and deprived people of the oil-rich Niger Delta region had stated clearly that the current Sole Administrator/ interim contraptions in NDDC does not comply with the NDDC Act which requires representation of the constituent states.

The South-south governors who have consistently decried the running of NDDC contrary to the enabling law setting up the Commission had also pointed out that it does not augur well for the people of the Niger Delta as opportunity for all states to be represented as they ought to be represented in the board of the NDDC does not exist.

Again in April, speaking on behalf of the South-south Governors’ Forum in his capacity as its Chairman, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State stated unequivocally that “the governors of the South-south region are totally embarrassed that after several months the Federal Government has not been able to constitute the board of the NDDC. As governors we have spoken. What is going on at the moment is not the best for our region, it is not the best for the oil producing states.”

Accompanied by Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, Governor Okowa who spoke to newsmen at Oleh, Isoko South Local Government Area stated that “in the first instance, you have Sole Administrator that is unknown to law. When we have a full board, the full board has representation from each state and people are able to speak for their states and ensure that there is justice and equity in the distribution of amenities and facilities.

Continuing, he said, “I think the time has come for the presidency to listen to the South-South governors and all of us from the oil producing states to please quickly inaugurate the board because we are suffering from it. We believe that as at today, the funds of that agency is not being managed equitably and it is not being managed in such a way that we can truly say that are accountable.”

Restating the restiveness now pervading the entire Niger Delta region due to the ongoing illegality at NDDC, Governor Okowa, on behalf of the South-south Governors’ Forum had warned that “we are currently being fooled; we are not happy about it and when our people do agitate, we believe that they are doing so in the right direction.”

The restiveness in the Niger Delta region was re-echoed by the Deputy Governor of Delta State, Barrister Kingsley Otuaro in June this year, when he represented the Governor to receive the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, in Delta state, and equally accompanied the Minister to the creeks of Gbaramatu Kingdom for consultative meetings with ex-warlord, Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo) traditional rulers, and other stakeholders including the leadership of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), following threats by Tompolo and other militants to disrupt oil production activities in the Niger Delta region, to press home their demand for the inauguration of the Board of NDDC.

The Deputy Governor of Delta State reminded Senator Akpabio of the urgent need to ensure that a Governing Board for NDDC was put in place to forestall a re-occurence of the crisis that rocked the Niger Delta region in 2016. In a string of attacks in the first half of 2016, members of the militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers shut down all Chevron’s onshore activities. These attacks pushed the country’s oil output to its lowest level in decades reducing the number of barrels produced per day from 2.2m to 1.4m as well as hitting the nation’s economy, which led to a full-blown crisis as the economy slipped into a recession that year.

Senator Akpabio, as was widely reported in the media promised to ensure that the Board came on stream before the end of June this year. That promise which was postponed to end of July to enable the conclusion of the Commission’s forensic audit, after which the Board will be inaugurated still has not been fulfilled more than one month after the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs submitted the forensic audit report to President Buhari through the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, on September 2, 2021. Little wonder that the tension in the region has reached fever pitch.

Recall also that other critical stakeholders such as the umbrella body of the Ijaw nation, worldwide, Ijaw National Congress (INC) recently also cautioned in a statement issued on September 10, 2021 that “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.” This followed the promise of President Buhari on the 24th day of June 2021, while receiving the Ijaw National Congress at the State House in Abuja 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 report of the forensic audit of NDDC was submitted by Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to President Buhari since September 2, 2021. More than one month after submission of the forensic audit report, there is increasing tension in the Niger Delta region over the delay in inaugurating members of the board of the Commission.

Already, across the length and breadth of the Niger Delta region there are unending calls, demands and peaceful agitations of youths, men and women, political and traditional leaders and civil society organisations that the inauguration of the board of NDDC will promote and sustain peace, equity and fairness, transparency and accountability, good governance and rapid development and transformation of the Niger Delta Region, and douse the tension of militancy as well as curtail the menace of insecurity in the region.

Curiously, whereas the North East Development Commission (NEDC) has been allowed to function with its duly constituted Board in place in line with its NEDC Act thereby ensuring proper Corporate Governance, accountability, checks and balances and fair representation of its Constituent states, the NDDC on the other hand has been run arbitrarily in the last 2 years by Interim committees/sole administrator in breach of the NDDC Act even after President Buhari had appointed a Board for the NDDC which was duly confirmed by the Nigerian Senate on November 5, 2019, but was asked to be on standby for inauguration after the forensic audit.

It is important to recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had in exercise of his constitutional powers forwarded to the Senate for confirmation, the appointment of a 16 – member board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) via a letter dated 18th October, 2019, personally signed by him.

The President’s letter read: “In accordance with the provision of Section 2(2)(a) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) (Establishment) Act, 2000, I write to forward, for confirmation by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the under listed nominees for appointment into the NDDC board, to occupy the positions indicated against their names.” President Buhari, in the letter, expressed hope that “the Senate will consider and confirm the nominees in the usual expeditious manner”.

Accordingly, the written request, which was read on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 by its President, Dr Ahmad Lawan, was given expeditious consideration by the upper legislative chamber, which directed its Standing Committee on Niger Delta, to screen all the nominees and report back within a week. The Senate screened and confirmed the appointments of 15 out of the 16 nominees on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, based on the report tabled before it by the Committee on Niger Delta. The inauguration of that Board has been put on hold for two years.

Now that the forensic audit report has been submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari since September 2, 2021, the President should do well to heed the call of the South-south Governors’ Forum and other stakeholders, comply with the law setting up NDDC, and also fulfill his own promise of June 24, 2021, and inaugurate the board to manage the commission for the benefit of the people of nine Niger Delta states.