…President writes Senate, says board to be re-composed
…Niger Delta stakeholders differ on Buhari’s new letter to Senate
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Henry Umoru, Sam Oyadongha, Jimitota Onoyume, Egufe Yafugborhi, Harris Emmanuel, Chioma Onuegbu and Ozioruvwa Aliu
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has reversed himself on the appointment of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, saying that the Senate should wait for him for a new list of board members that he would send for screening and confirmation.
Meanwhile, Niger Delta States, were divided, yesterday, on President Buhari latest letter to the Senate to reconstitute the NDDC board.
Buhari latest letter
In a letter to the Senate by President Buhari and read by the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan on the floor of the Senate yesterday, it was stated that the earlier confirmed board members by the Senate should be put on hold, pending the conclusion of work by the Interim Management Committee that is carrying out a forensic audit of the commission.
The letter from the President was dated December 27, 2019 and received January 11, 2020.
The letter read: “I write to intimate the Senate of the development concerning the appointment of the board of NDDC. The Senate may wish to note that after the dissolution of the board of NDDC, an interim management team was set up to manage the affairs of the commission before a new board was composed and sent for Senate confirmation.
“The Senate is invited to note that while the process of composition and senate confirmation of the appointment of the board was on-going.
“I had directed that the forensic audit of the commission be carried out which is being overseen by the constituted interim management team.
“Based in this and in order to allow for uninterrupted process of forensic investigation , the board appointment confirmed by the Senate has to be put on hold.
“This is to allow the interim team continue to manage the commission pending the outcome of the forensic audit.
“Thereafter, a new board of the commission will be re-composed for the confirmation by the Senate.”
The senate had last year, screened and confirmed NDDC board members, namely Bernard Okumagba from Delta State, as Managing Director; Otobong Ndem from Akwa Ibom, as Executive Director, Projects and Maxwell Oko from Bayelsa as Executive Director, Finance and Administration
Others are Prophet Jones Erue, Delta State Representative; Chief Victor Ekhatar to represent Edo State; Dr. Joy Yimebe Nunieh, Rivers State; Nwogu Nwogu, Abia State; Theodore Allison, Bayelsa State; Victor Antai, Akwa Ibom State; Maurice Effiwatt, Cross River State; Olugbenga Edema, Ondo State; Uchegbu Kyrian, Imo State; and Aisha Muhammed from Kano State representing North-West area on the board.
Meanwhile, while some Niger Delta stakeholders picked holes with the letter, which was sent without names, claiming there was a previous letter that the Senate had screened and cleared the appointees, others said the president was performing his constitutional duty.
Former President, Movement for Survival of Ogoni People, Ledum Mitee, said: “I think this is another attempt to play politics with the fate of development of the Niger Delta region.
“Apart from seeking to divert attention from the serious issues of neglect of the region’s development under this regime, the said letter adds practically nothing to the important issues at stake with the NDDC.
“Why the secrecy about the composition of the expected new Board? What has happened to the earlier one sent and already screened by the senate?
‘‘What the law requires is for the President to send names of persons to be constituted into the board to the Senate for screening and confirmation, which he had earlier done, not to inform the Senate that he wants to reconstitute the board.’’
“More cogently is the question of what has happened to the much talked about “forensic audit? Has it been done and what is the outcome? What of the several sordid revelations that the public has been fed with about corrupt practices, have those been swept under the carpet, as usual?”
National Coordinator, South South Elder’s Forum and Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF’s Spokesman, Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, slightly differed: “Yes, previous presidential nominees were screened, but so long as they were not sworn in, they are not members of the board.
“The President has prerogative to appoint a board. Nothing wrong in alerting the Senate to that effect by asking NASS to reconstitute a new board, but If the President so says he wants to audit the place, let us see the outcome of the audit before a handover to a fresh board which we can then hold responsible for their actions and inactions.
“There must be new guidelines for how a new board should work and the audit should be able to recommend that new direction for how a new board to be appointed should operate,” he said.
Elder statesman and former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Idada Ikponmwen (retd), in Benin City, Edo State said, “The constitution gives him the power to operate the way he wants, but that is not to say it is all plus, plus.
“Nigerians have put their trust in him to run the executive arm of government forthrightly and not always changing.
“But even at that, he has the right to change his mind depending on the situation on ground. We cannot now say because he has sent the names and they have been cleared, he cannot change them. What he is doing as far as I am concerned is constitutional.
“Just like he used his power to remove the NDDC from the Presidency to the Ministry, he can also bring it back to the presidency. The constitution empowers him to do so. The law is not above the constitution,” Ikponmwen added.
However, National President, Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, CHURAC, Cleric Alaowei, countered, “The news that Buhari has sent a letter to the Senate for the reconstitution of the substantive board of the NDDC after the forensic audit, looks so dicey. For the fact that President Buhari has not mentioned any name in the letter has put us in suspense.
“We cannot expect less from the President, especially the requirements of the law. We hope that Mr President will comply with the enabling Act when reconstituting the substantive board.
” We will go back to the court if Mr President violates the provisions of the NDDC Establishment Act, 2000. Well we are waiting for the outcome. We reserve out comments for now,” he said.
Chief Thompson Okorotie, chairman of PANDEF Bayelsa State chapter and Secretary Bayelsa Elders Forum said, “It is not fair that the NDDC was left in the limbo this long. It is proper the commission starts to run, let them do things that will benefit the entire region.
“They should look at the people who will do the work fearlessly in such a way that this highly denied region is taken care of. Let them also ensure that the contractors implement their jobs so that the beneficiaries who are the ordinary people in the region can see the NDDC has changed.
Looking at small jobs
“I have observed that the commission is looking too much at small jobs that are being done by the oil companies. The NDDC should look at mega projects that will benefit a lot of communities at one stretch like major electricity projects so that the people can benefit. Not allowing local government councils and others to buy generators that will collapse and all that. They should also look at industrialisation of the zone and the completion of the East-West road by collaborating with the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs,” he said.
The village head of Iwuokpom in Akwa Ibom State and one of the largest oil producing areas in the country, Chief Sunday Akpanowong, urged the Senate to ensure there was due process in the reconstitution of NDDC Board.
The royal father said he believes that the President will be neutral in his decision.
He said, “All the same, I advise that the Senate should follow due process, they should ensure that local government areas in the Niger Delta that produce more oil are considered for executive positions of the NDDC board.
“Politicians did not always consider that in the past, because of man know man syndrome. So this time, let them follow the NDDC Act,” he advised.