By Tonye Ogbogbula
Amity between the President Muhammadu Buhari government and the people of Nigeria who he governs is based on trust which is earned from promises made and promises kept. One of such promises by President Buhari to the nation was made on June 24, 2021 when, receiving the leadership of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), he unequivocally committed to inaugurate the NDDC Board upon the receipt of the Commission’s Forensic Audit report, which report has been submitted to him since September 2, 2021.
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.”
Not only has the President not fulfilled his promise eight months after, which prompted the Ijaw National Congress (INC) to describe the delay in the inauguration of the NDDC Board as a “clear betrayal of trust and display of state insensitivity on Ijaw nation and Niger Delta region,” it further negates this government’s touted commitment to the rule of law.
Sadly, for a government that prides itself for adherence to rule of law, President Buhari’s Government conversely continues to administer the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in flagrant violation of the NDDC Act. As a Commission established in 2000 by an Act of Parliament, the ongoing national embarrassment at NDDC should be of grave concern to President Buhari about his legacy when he leaves office in 2023 and thereby persuade him to put an end to the illegality of further administering NDDC with a Sole Administrator that is not known to the law setting-up the Commission.
While receiving Governors of the constituent states that make-up NDDC in Aso Rock on October 17, 2019, President Buhari said that “I try to follow the Act setting up these institutions especially the NDDC.”
However the reverse has been the case. Since the inauguration of the Buhari Presidency on May 29, 2015, it has serially violated the law setting up NDDC by consistently choosing to administer the Commission through illegal interim managements and sole administrator contraptions that are alien to the law setting up NDDC. In the seven-year tenure of President Buhari, NDDC has only been administered by a substantive Board for two years, between November 2016 and January 2019 when Senator Victor Ndom-Egba was Chairman while Nsima Ekere was the Managing Director.
There is a pattern of illegalities instituted by the current administration to undermine accountability at the NDDC in a way that no other federal agency has been so treated in the last seven years of the Buhari Presidency. 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 with Dan Abia as Managing Director, and appointed Ibim Semenitari as Sole Administrator, a position she held illegally for over one year. The illegality in NDDC continued in January 2019 when President Buhari dissoved 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 the Buhari Presidency ended the illegal Brambaifa interim management team and then, in accordance with the law establishing NDDC forwarded the list of nominees for a 16-member Board to the Senate for confirmation, and then dutifully appointed the most senior civil servant at that time in NDDC, Mrs. Akwaghagha Enyia, as Acting Managing Director pending the Senate confirmation of the President’s nominees as NDDC Board members, which list he forwarded to the Senate on October 18, 2019.
But unfortunately again President Buhari relapsed to its recourse to illegality in administering NDDC, because as the Senate dutifully screened and confirmed the nominees of President Buhari as Board and Management of NDDC on November 5, 2019, this same government has since embarked on another spree of interim managements/sole administrator contraptions, while the Board confirmed by the Senate has been on hold since November 2019.
Since October 2019 this government has appointed two illegal interim management teams led by Joi Nunieh and Professor Keme Pondei, respectively, and presently the Commission is illegally led by a Sole Administrator, Effiong Akwa.
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 two and half 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.
Under the illegal interim managements/sole administrator contraptions, the combined two-year budgets 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 without due process; 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 fictitious 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 November 2021 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 that “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?”
Also, earlier in the year, the media was awash with the doubly-restated scandal involving the illegal sole administrator contraption in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). According to some national newspapers, and many online platforms, in a story entitled “NDDC: IYC Alleges Illegal N20bn Payment To Ghost Contractors Over Phantom Job,” published on February 18, 2022, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) alleged that illegal N20bn payment was made to ghost contractors over phantom jobs.
In the reports, IYC alleged that the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, “in connivance with some persons, paid the sum of N20 billion to ghost contractors for phony distilling contracts purportedly awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).”
The council further alleged that “information at its disposal showed that the signatures of a former acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Professor Nelson Brambaifa, and the commission’s former executive director (projects), Samuel Ajogbe, were allegedly forged to carry out the sleazy process.”
A spokesman for the IYC, Ebilade Ekerefe, who spoke in Yenagoa alleged that the “phantom NDDC contractors were paid in tranches of between N300 million and N400 million in the last three months, amounting to N20 billion.” He urged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to launch an investigation into the alleged huge payment to the ghost contractors.
He said, “They should investigate the financial transaction of the commission in the months under review. We have also discovered that out of the N20billion paid out illegally by the NDDC, 60 per cent is going to Abuja through the Bureau de Change while he (Akpabio) has failed to pay the genuine contractors that have finished the projects awarded by the commission.”
The Buhari administration, by its numerous illegal actions in the NDDC in the last two and half years has been de-marketing the APC in the Niger Delta region. In an article, “NDDC: Buhari’s Legacy of Illegality and Contempt,” by Godspower Tamunosusi, published in a national daily on December 13, 2021 and in many other national newspapers, he stated that “Niger Deltans are very upset with the disdainful manner the region has been treated.” He also noted that there is increasing anger against the APC in the Niger Delta region “as a result of the very poor, biased, illegal and provocative actions of the Federal Government in the handling of matters concerning the NDDC and the Niger Delta region.”
Also, earlier in the year, The Niger Delta Rescue Movement (NDRM) vowed not to back the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2023 elections following the delay of President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate a substantive board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The spokesman of NRDM, Jonathan Okwa, who disclosed this after its meeting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State said following the prolonged delay of President Buhari to give the Niger Delta people what is rightfully theirs, in accordance with the law, the NDDC Act, the group would ensure the mobilisation of the people of Niger Delta region to vote against the APC in the 2023 presidential and general elections if the board is not inaugurated.
Against the relentless legitimate demands of stakeholders, it is in President Buhari’s best interest to keep good legacy by abiding to the law establishing NDDC. An Ijaw group, the Ijaw Interest Advocates (IIA), also known as Izanzan Intellectual Camp, in a statement signed by its leader, Arerebo Salaco Yerinmene Snr had earlier advised that “The Presidency and the President’s family should remember to keep good legacies even after office. The government’s flagrant disobedience of the laws guiding the establishment of an agency created to develop an impoverished region is unacceptable. We are again appealing to President Buhari to save the Niger Delta Development Commission by inaugurating the substantive board.”
President Buhari can no longer pretend that the unholy alliances amongst some serving and recently disengaged principal officers of the Federal Government to ignite uncontrollable crisis is not known to it. President Buhari must now rise to the occasion to save the Niger Delta region from the sorry state of those who have deliberately decided to exacerbate the palpable tension in the region. He should therefore 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.
Chief Tonye Ogbogbula is National President, Niger Delta Elders’ Forum