…Says N-Delta govs may have abdicated role in Commission
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta
Deputy National Secretary of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the umbrella body for monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger Delta, Mr Ken Robinson, speaks on issues in the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
Specifically, Robinson asks why governors of the region have not been playing or allowed to play their lawful role in the running of the NDDC.
“The NDDC Act provides that there shall a Niger Delta Development Advisory Committee referred to as ‘the Advisory Committee’ which shall consist of the governors of member-states of the Commission, and two other persons as may be determined, from time to time, by the President,” he says in this interview.
“The Advisory Committee is charged with the responsibility of advising the Board and monitoring the activities of the Commission, with a view to achieving the objectives of the Commission. But the question is, has this been happening?”
What is PANDEF position on the standoff in NDDC, where an Interim Management Committee is in charge and the Board screened and approved by the Senate is technically disbanded and not inaugurated?
PANDEF supports the order for a forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission by President Muhammadu Buhari. This position was reached at the end of the Forum’s National Leadership Retreat held at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State in October last year.
We, however, further requested that the names of all beneficiaries of contracts of the Commission during the period under review should also be made public, so that the people of the Niger Delta and Nigerians as whole would know those who have contributed to the problem of critical infrastructure in the region.
We also asked that the probe should be extended to all national and regional interventionist agencies in the country, like PTDF. PANDEF’s backing of the probe of the NDDC was informed by the appalling and rather vexing state of infrastructure in the region, and the Commission’s failure to fast-track the development of the region.
The NDDC has been characterized by non-performance, poor management of resources and reckless perversion of its set objectives. The region is littered with abandoned projects; huge amounts of money are said to have been released to people for contracts that were never executed. The forensic audit should, therefore, be holistic; there should be no sacred cows. Anyone found wanting, should be made to bear the consequences of his or her actions or in actions.
Has PANDEF any objection to President Buhari’s stance that the Board is going to be reconstituted?
PANDEF has no particular interest in who becomes Board Chairman, member or Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, provided decisions are made in line with exact provisions of the law establishing the Commission. Ourshared concerns are the socio-economic issues of poverty, youth unemployment,the dire state of infrastructure and environmental challenges facing the region. And the inefficiencies and improprieties of the interventionist agencies that were established to address the decades of neglect and underdevelopment of the region, which is largely due to government’s indifference to the development of the region. Recall that in 2016, unrelenting attacks by aggrieved youths on Nigeria’s strategic oil and gas installations, the bulk of which are located in the coastal states of the Niger Delta region, snowballed into yet another crisis in the volatile region.
At the peak of the crisis, oil production was drastically reduced from about 2.3 barrels per day to mere 800,000 barrels per day (bpd); in view of the economic ramifications of the situation, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari employed various strategies to arrest the situation. None of the strategies – including the option of force through the deployment of troops and militarization of the region – was effective enough to douse the tension in the Niger Delta.
It was at that point that PANDEF, under the able leadership of Chief (Dr.) Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, the National Leader of the people of the South-South geo-political zone, stepped into the fray to calm tempers in the region through various engagements with critical stakeholders. The intervention of PANDEF convinced the armed agitators to halt attacks on oil and gas facilities to give room for dialogue.
The relative peace that ensued yielded the expected result for the Federal Government as Nigeria’s revenue earning capacity from oil and gas was restored, and it has been sustained. The oil production benchmark for the 2020 National Budget is kept at 2.18million barrels per day.
Unfortunately, in spite of the gains arising from the subsisting relative peace in the Niger Delta, the Nigerian government has not reciprocated the gesture of the region by addressing the genuine demands of the Niger Delta people as encapsulated in the 16-Point Demand that was presented by PANDEF to the Federal Government on November 1, 2016.
So far, has PANDEF any axe to grind with the Minister of Niger Delta, Obong Akpabio,in his handling of NDDC and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs?
We do not have any axe to grind with the Honourable Minister of Niger DeltaAffairs, former Governor Godswill Akpabio, in his handling of the Ministry and the NDDC, or any other matter, at the moment. And we should not, because having been a governor of one of the states in the region for eight years, we assume the Honourable Minister sufficiently understands the peculiarities and challenges of the region, and thus will act accordingly.
As critical stakeholders of the region, PANDEF is committed to working with both elected and appointed public office holders from the region to better the lot of our people. We will have issues with anyone that fails to deliver on the mandate of his or her office to the region, particularly those occupying offices with strategic relevance to the development of the region.
It must be appreciated that the peace and development of the region is paramount,and that the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs has critical role to play in this regard. It was for this reason that increased budgetary funding for the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, and interventionist agencies in the region like the NDDC and the Presidential Amnesty Programme, was one of the issues in the 16-Point Demand PANDEF presented to the Federal Government on November 1,2016.
What agenda will PANDEF set for the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and NDDC this New Year?
The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs needs to adopt a more coordinated approach in tackling the security and development issues in the Niger Delta; work in synergy with all critical stakeholders in the region, and create opportunities for broad public engagements to engender public confidence.
The people of the Niger Delta want to see less of politics and primordial interests, they want to see greater commitment to the delivery of the dividends to democracy, and the commencement of processes to fast-track the socio-economic development and transformation of the region.
Both the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the NDDC should give greater attention to the development and empowerment of ordinary Niger Deltans, especially rural women and youths, to check the growing rate of youth delinquency.
The indiscriminate award of contracts and wastage at the NDDC should stop. The priority of the NDDC should be on completing existing projects rather than starting new ones. And most importantly, we want to see concrete efforts at addressing the dire state of infrastructure across the region, particularly roads this year. We want to see the commencement of work at the various sections of the East-West Road, and other critical roads in the region.
How do you expect the Presidency and Senate to resolve the seeming row over the right leadership for NDDC…Interim Management or Approved Board at the moment?
There should have been no squabbles over the right leadership for NDDC, in the first place. It became an issue because of conflicting interests among top officials of government. How else would one describe what unfolded? However, the President’s statement that the Board would be recomposed and inaugurated after the forensic audit seems to have doused tension.
The worrisome part in all of this is that it further reveals the patronizing attitude of the government in handling the affairs of the NDDC and other development agencies in the Niger Delta region. However, if this whole brouhaha was about correcting the ills of the past, and repositioning the NDDC for greater service delivery, then good. But if this is another exercise to witch-hunt perceived political opponents and intractable allies, then it would be unfortunate
Sincerely speaking, based on the laws guiding NDDC, is there anything wrong with the composition of the Board that the President said will be reconstituted?
We are not aware of the reasons for which the President said the Board would be recomposed. But we know there are varied opinions on this subject matter in the region. As PANDEF’s interest is the unity, peace and sustainable development of the region, and the consequential improvement of the socio-economic livelihood of the people of the region, we remain committed to fostering these ideals and, conscious of the very unique challenges of the region, we are detached on issues like this.
However, the NDDC Act states that the office of the Chairman shall rotate amongst member-states of the Commission in alphabetical order starting from A to Z. Accordingly, the NDDC Board chairmanship position has been held by Abia State, Akwa Ibom State,Bayelsa State,and Cross-River State, in that order since its establishment. The states yet to occupy that office are Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers. But another section of the Act provides that the appointment of the Managing Director, and the two Executive Directors of the Commission, who shall be indigenes of oil producing areas shall start with the member-states of the Commission with the highest production quantum of oil and shall rotate amongst member-states in the order of production.
The President, therefore, needs to be properly guided and ensure strict compliance with the NDDC Act in resolving the matters relating to the Commission, in the best interest of the region. While we implore for understanding and mutual respect from the people of the region; it is instructive that we remain mindful of issues that would divide us, and not create situations that would be detrimental to the peace and progress of the region.
What is wrong or right with the current structure?
It is true that the NDDC Act does not provide for an Interim Management Committee,but this is not the first Interim Management of the Commission. The President has said the Board would be recomposed, and that the Dr. Joi Nunieh led Interim Management Committee would be in place until the forensic audit is completed.
We would, therefore , further appeal to the various interests within and outside the region on this matter to give peace a chance, and allow the forensic audit to take place in a conducive atmosphere. We cannot continue to dwell on the argument of what is wrong or right. It is people of the region that bear the brunt of these political disagreements.