By Tonye Ogbogbula
The submissions made by Mr Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari on the Niger Delta Development Commission in an article published on Friday, February 4, 2022, in some Nigerian news media exposes the administration’s continued disdain for the Niger Delta people.
In the article, a vacuous commentary bereft of substance, Adesina offered nothing new on why President Buhari is yet to inaugurate a board for the NDDC over the past two years. Rather, he mouthed the same empty statements on forensic audit under which guise the NDDC has been hijacked by a cabal in the last 2 years.
According to Mr Adesina, “a forensic audit was necessary. Some powerful forces mounted robust resistance, but they didn’t reckon with the iron will of the President. The audit was done, and a report submitted.”
The truth is that nobody was against the conduct of a forensic audit in the NDDC. The issue was that everybody agreed that the NDDC Act should be complied with in the Governance of the Commission during the period of the forensic audit. It was illegal to have contraptions of interim management committees / sole administrator to begin to administer the NDDC and arbitrarily utilise the monthly sums due to the NDDC.
All that was needed was for the Federal Government to appoint a credible forensic auditor to conduct the forensic audit of the NDDC, like the Federal Government did in the NNPC, while having a Governing Board in place for the Commission in line with the law. No other part of this country has been so badly treated in such a manner where the forensic audit of its development Commission becomes a basis for setting aside the law setting up the Commission, which provides for a Governing Board to ensure fairness, inclusion and representation of the nine constituent states in the region.
Institutions such as the NNPC, NPA and others are audited regularly, including forensic audits. However, their governing Laws were not set aside and their Governing Boards were not put on hold. The North East Development Commission is operating in line with its Governing Act with a Governing Board and duly constituted Management in place. However, in the case of the Niger Delta, the NDDC Act is being breached / flouted for illegal interim contraptions / sole administrator to operate and administer its funds arbitrarily!
The Federal Government weaponed the excuse of the conduct of a forensic audit on the NDDC’s past operations to delay the inauguration of a board for the Commission since November 2019.
After initially committing to conclude the forensic audit in three months, the goal post was shifted severally until the report was finally submitted in September 2021 (after 2 years), yet no action has been taken to inaugurate a Governing Board for the Commission in compliance with the NDDC Act.
On the 24th of June 2021, while receiving the leadership of the Ijaw National Congress in Aso Rock, Abuja, President Buhari promised that the NDDC Board will be inaugurated once the forensic audit report was submitted.
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.” That report has been submitted to the President since five months ago, on September 2, 2021. However the President is yet to fulfil his promise – the NDDC Board is yet to be inaugurated.
The question to ask Mr Adesina and the government is, what is the excuse for not inaugurating the board after the delays of over two years?
In the last two and a half years, under the cover of conducting a forensic audit, the huge funds due to the NDDC has been frittered and this period has witnessed some of the most brazen incidences of corruption, fraud, financial recklessness, extra-budgetary spending and gross mismanagement of several billions of naira, with very little to show for it.
Need we also recall the Senate probe of NDDC Interim Management Committee (IMC) in June/July of 2020 which revealed how the IMC blew N81.5 billion in just a couple of months on fictitious contracts, frivolities, and in breach of extant financial and public procurement laws. The Senate therefore recommended 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.
While Adesina rightly stated that it is “inexorable that it (inauguration of a board) would come,” he engages in using propaganda and half-truths to mask the failure of Government.
It is even more disgusting to hear a presidential spokesman reduce the serious issues of governance failure at the NDDC to spurious statements such as “Order is better than speed, and we will get there” in the board inauguration as if the government does not understand its duty to comply with the Law at all times. Niger Deltans have continued to condemn the continued desecration of the NDDC Act, which makes clear provisions for the appointment of its management / Governing Board.
Under the NDDC Act, each of the nine constituent states has a representative on the board. In addition, there is a representative of oil producing companies, all of whom are part time directors. The executive management has a Managing Director and two Executive Directors, who are the only full-time members of the Governing Board.
The salient issues that all stakeholders of the Niger Delta have consistently demanded, and which the President had promised and made commitments on are: (1) To make public the entire report of the forensic audit, which he received on September 2, 2021; and (2) To end the illegal Interim Management / sole administratorship at the NDDC and inaugurate the Board of the Commission, in compliance with the law, and which promise he made to the nation on June 24, 2021 when he received the leadership of Ijaw National Congress (INC) in Aso Rock, Abuja.
President Buhari’s silence on his commitment to make public the entire report of the forensic audit, and also inaugurate the NDDC Board in accordance with the law, and in fulfilment of his own promise of June 24, 2021, is of grave concern to Niger Deltans as it indicates a continued disregard by this government for the region as well as unwillingness to submit to transparency in administering the NDDC.
The point has been made by Niger Delta stakeholders, and needs to be restated, that President Buhari needs to redeem himself now that the Forensic audit report has been submitted to him since September 2, 2021. The President should do well to heed the call of Niger Delta leaders, governors, youths, women, traditional rulers, civil society organisations, 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 the nine Niger Delta States
According to Godspower Tamunosusi, in an article published in ThisDay Newspaper of December 17, 2021, “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.”
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 Muhammadu 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.”
The NDDC Act has no provision for the ongoing illegality in the Commission’s administration. The NDDC Act only provides that the Board and Management of the NDDC at any point in time should follow the provisions of the law which states that the Board and management is to be appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate. In effect, nobody is supposed to begin to administer the NDDC and utilise the huge funds accruing to it on a monthly basis without passing through this legal requirement as stipulated in the NDDC Act. To the detriment of the entire region, the illegal interim contraptions/sole administrator have been used to fleece the NDDC of its funds in the last two years.
The Federal Government’s illegal actions in the NDDC in the last two years in breach of the NDDC Act has been de-marketing the APC and the Federal Government. Niger Deltans are very upset with the disdainful manner the region has been treated. There is increasing anger against the Federal Government and the APC in the Niger Delta region as a result of the very poor, biased and illegal actions of the Federal Government in the handling of these matters in the Niger Delta region.
The situation currently in NDDC which has subsisted for over two years is that we have an illegal sole administrator who is both Managing Director, Executive Director of Finance, and Executive Director Projects, in clear breach of NDDC Act which ensures separation of these duties to ensure checks and balances.
The continued administration of the NDDC by Interim management committee / sole administrator is illegal because the NDDC Act has no provision for this as the NDDC Act only provides that the Board and Management of the NDDC at any point in time should follow the provisions of the law which states that the Board and management is to be appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate. In effect, nobody is supposed to begin to administer the NDDC and utilise the huge funds accruing to it on a monthly basis without passing through this legal requirement as stipulated in the NDDC Act.
To the detriment of the entire region illegal interim contraptions/sole administrator have been used to fleece the NDDC of its funds in the last two years.
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, billions have been paid out for questionable “emergency contracts; over 1,000 persons have been allegedly employed in the NDDC between January and July, 2020 without due process; the 2020 budget was passed in December 2020 and N400bn was voted for the NDDC but the commission had spent over N190bn before the budget was passed, thereby violating the Procurement Act.”
President Buhari should be concerned about the disdain of the Niger Delta people over the manner he has handled the NDDC, most especially administering the Commission with illegal interim management/sole administrator contraptions for four and a half years in his six and a half year in office, and therefore needs to end the ongoing illegality in NDDC if he is to be remembered for good in the Niger Delta.
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 two years by Interim committees/sole administrator in breach of the NDDC Act.
In summary, Niger Deltans demand the following:
1. Ending the illegal Interim Management/sole administratorship at the NDDC.
2. Inauguration of the NDDC Governing Board in line with the NDDC Act to represent the nine constituent states.
3. Publication of the Forensic Audit report for all Nigerians to see. (The report cannot be hidden because it is supposed to be a public document)
4. Prosecution of any indicted persons.
Chief Tonye Ogbogbula is National President, Niger Delta Elders’ Forum
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