By Jimitota Onoyume
PASTOR Power Ziakede Aginighan rose through the ranks in the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. He was the only staff of the Commission that had so far served as Acting Executive Director Finance and Administration, Acting Managing/Chief Executive Officer and later substantive Executive Director Finance and Administration.
In this interview, he looks at the proposal to merge the NDDC with the Niger Delta Ministry, the ongoing amnesty programme and its long term implication for the region, his premature retirement from the Commission as a Director and other sundry matters.
You were on the board of the Commission that was recently dissolved by President Goodluck Jonathan. What was your experience with the NDDC ?
Well! First I thank God for the opportunity to serve in various capacities in the Commission. I was the acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration in the second Board of the Commission. And I worked in collaboration with other members of the team to ensure there was harmony. I played the role of a team builder and a peace broker throughout the tenure of the second Board.
Later I became acting MD and during the period, I implemented the new organogram of the Commission, deploying the staff to their positions of best fit.
The Commission had spent so much money in a repositioning programme that was undertaken by a world class consulting firm but the benefit of that repositioning was not felt until I took over. I ensured all departments in the organogram became functional.
Within the period, I was able to change the perception of stakeholders particularly the governors of the nine member States of the Commission. Some of them had seen the NDDC as being engaged in suffocating competition with them. I preached the gospel of cooperation, partnership and collaboration.
I took this gospel to all the nine governors when I acted as MD. During the visits, I also inspected projects and encouraged contractors to go to their various sites to work. I tried to present a better image of the NDDC to the people of the region.
As Executive Director Finance and Administration, I recognised that as the man who was in charge of the finances in particular, I ensured that the rules governing disbursement of funds were adhered to. I did not compromise on fiscal discipline. This was why when I observed that there were some jobs being awarded without budgetary provisions. I declined paying for them and that indeed was a whistle blowing initiative. I safeguarded the resources of the people of the region.
You were retired prematurely as reported in the newspapers…
(Cuts in) The government had the option of giving me opportunity to complete my remaining years of service in other establishments if my continued service in NDDC was no longer desirable. Since I started work 9th August 1982, I would have made 35 years of service on August 9, 2017.
A recent rule said if you have reached the rank of Director and have been there for eight years, you have to retire. Again, I was promoted a Director on 1st March 2009; I would have made the 8years as a Director by 1st March 2017.
Having been born on the 9th of January 1959, I would be 60 years old on 9th January 2019. The earliest of these three dates is 1st March, 2017. But my retirement was based on a circular that was issued by a former head of service. That circular is quite contentious because it said that career public officers that wish to take up tenured appointment should retire from the service to take up the political appointment.
It also said that those who refused to retire should vacate the office either at the end of their term or at the attainment of the mandatory retirement date whichever is earlier. My retirement was made effective from the 6th August, 2009 when I took up appointment as EDFA relying on the said circular.
I accepted the retirement but I was not satisfied with the basis for it. I took it in good faith as I was not denied any retirement benefit. Besides, after serving the NDDC in various top management positions in which no other staff has served in the past four years, it is proper that I take a bow. I will join the crusade against the application of that circular as it is inconsistent with the Constitution of Nigeria, the Public Service Rules and the Conditions of Service of Federal agencies like the NDDC that are established by law.
Debate on whether to merge the NDDC with the Niger Delta Ministry has been on, what is your comment on this?
When I was been screened by the Senate for my confirmation as EDFA ,I made it very clear that NDDC has not been funded according to the law. What we are saying is that the NDDC should be well funded according to the law and be well managed. Let the Niger Delta Ministry come up with sound projects and programmes and attract additional funds to the region.
If the Niger Delta Ministry is made to swallow NDDC as a parastatal, then we will only have one budget line which may not be enough for development of the region.
The proposal to bring NDDC under the Niger Delta Ministry as a parastatal of the Ministry is uncalled for. It only underscores a lack of understanding of the background of the establishment of the institutions. The Niger Delta Ministry is a creation of an executive fiat that can be withdrawn at will. The NDDC is a creation of an Act of the National Assembly. This means that the structure of the Commission cannot be tampered with in any form without recourse to the National Assembly.
As acting MD of the Commission, you were part of driving the peace process in the region. Now there is amnesty programme for ex militants. Any word on this?
The peace we have in the Niger Delta needs to be sustained. The amnesty programme is a monumental success, particularly in the area of laying down arms and giving respite to the oil industry to operate.
To sustain its development, issues in the region must be given attention. The oil bearing communities should be made to enjoy the comfort of modern civilization, good roads, electricity and so on.
The Niger Delta Development Commission and the Niger Delta Ministry, the oil companies, governments etc all must work in synergy to ensure that the Niger Delta Regional Development master plan is implemented.
At the moment, you see NDDC and Niger Delta ministry advertising almost the same projects. The government should coordinate this aspect of the operations of the two institutions to avoid duplications and waste so that we don’t have three water projects in one community by three different government agencies.