By Victor Ajiromanus
NATIONAL President of Vanguard for Transparent Leadership and Democracy, VATLAD, Comrade Igbini Odafe Emmanuel, in this interview, speaks on the implications of plans to recompose the board of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, saying it would undermine the powers of the Senate. He particularly said that equity and justice demand that Delta State be allowed to serve its tenure having produced the recently confirmed Managing Director of the commission. Emmanuel, whose platform promotes good governance and environmental rights, also speaks on other issues concerning the leadership of the commission.
What is your reaction to the statement that President Muhammadu Buhari plans to recompose the Board of NDDC?
The statement disappointed Nigerians, particularly those of us who are compatriots from the rich oil and gas producing states of the Niger Delta Region. First, if true, it sadly portrays President Buhari as being inconsistent with his decisions. Second, and very worrisome, it gives the impression that he is deliberately undermining the Senate on matters the Senate has constitutional powers over like the screening and confirmation of Board of NDDC.
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Don’t forget that the Senate had only few weeks ago carefully screened and confirmed members of this Board nominated by President Buhari. This is in addition to the fact that the Senate being aware of the looming crisis as a result of the inauguration of a parallel group called the 3-man Interim Management Committee for NDDC, directed that the confirmed members of the Board resume duty immediately and further stated its objection to the Interim Management Committee.
These steps taken by the Senate are to ensure peace reigns. This is commendable of the Senate and within its constitutional powers and functions as stipulated in Section 4 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as amended, to make law for peace and order of the federation and any part thereof. In essence what is the implication of this? The implication is that whenever the Senate of Nigeria or that of any constitutional democratic country of the world takes such decision on any issue of national importance, it must be taken very seriously and unconditionally executed by the President of the country because disregarding such is viewed as undermining the legislature and has serious consequences. This is the reason I am very worried that President Buhari is being misled now. I know that President Buhari means well for the people of our Niger Delta region as he consistently did when he was the Minister of Petroleum and Head of State.
It is for this reason in 2015 and 2019 I advised him to retain the position of Petroleum Minister. I am also worried that those who are now misleading him on this matter are determined to destroy the cordial relationship now existing between him and the 9th National Assembly because they benefit most in crisis between both arms of government. We should remember also that Nigerians have continued to condemn this 9th National Assembly as mere rubber stamp and appendage of President Buhari which dares not object to any action taken by him even when he is wrong. Will it therefore be fair for anyone to mislead President Buhari in order to add more insult on our legislators? No. These legislators deserve respect from our President.
Are you aware that the reason for the plan to recompose this Board is because Ondo State government is vehemently opposing the composition of this Board, claiming it is its turn to produce the Managing Director, not Delta State?
I am not yet aware of this because my friend, Mr. Femi Adesina, did not state any reason in the statement he issued on this matter. But if this is the reason, then Ondo State Government is getting it wrong and misleading Mr. President. It is rightly the turn of Delta State as one of the major oil and gas producing states for over six decades now.
The positions of Managing Director and the two Executive Directors of NDDC have been the exclusive preserve of the four major oil and gas producing member-states of NDDC, right from inception, and rightly so. But the NDDC Act states that the positions of Chairman and MD of the Board shall be rotated among the oil-producing states in alphabetical order and based on quantum of oil production, this makes it the turn of Delta state to produce Chairman while Ondo State produces the Managing Director.
This is not exactly the correct and holistic interpretation of the NDDC Act. Ondo State Government is deliberately giving section 12 of the NDDC Act a very narrow and isolated interpretation in order to achieve its agenda. I say this with due respect. Don’t forget that the outgoing governor of Bayelsa State who started this whole protest against President Buhari’s nomination of members for this Board was reported to be demanding that it is the turn of his Bayelsa State to produce the Managing Director of NDDC.
He never at anytime demanded that it is the turn of Ondo State or any of the other four low-oil producing states. In the same vein, Senator Ita Enang, a senior Aide to President Buhari also only demanded that his Akwa Ibom State be allowed to produce any of the two Executive Directors of NDDC being one of the major oil and gas producing states. He never made a case for Ondo State to produce the Managing Director or Executive Director. No governor of the four high oil-producing states did same and won’t do it because they know that the positions of Managing Director and Executive Directors of NDDC are the exclusive preserve of their four major oil and gas producing states of the Commission.
Why do you think Presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan never appointed indigenes of Ondo or any of the other four low-oil producing States as Managing Directors or Executive Directors?
Since 2015, has President Buhari appointed any indigene of Ondo and the four low-oil producing states as Managing Directors or Executive Directors whether substantive or in interim capacity? No? It is simply because they all know that it will be wrong, unjustifiable and capable of creating crisis in the core Niger Delta region which has the four high oil and gas producing states.
So, this is not about Delta State producing the Managing Director now, it is about justice for the four high oil-producing states. If Ondo State becomes a high oil producer tomorrow, I will be the first person to demand that it also enjoys the right to produce the Managing Director and Executive Directors but for now, no, because it is a low oil- producer reportedly producing less than percent. When interpreting laws, it is sometimes required that we go beyond giving lateral meanings to the laws, hence we apply other rules of interpretation like the mischief. The essence is to try to correctly deconstruct the minds of the elders, leaders and people of the high producing oil and gas states who agreed to the establishment of NDDC. This matter has so far been correctly determined by all four Nigerian Presidents, including President Buhari before now. By provision of section 10 of the NDDC Act, the positions of Managing Director and two Executive Directors of NDDC constitute the leadership of the very critical management committee of the NDDC that is lawfully charged with carrying out the day-to-day administration of the Commission while the Governing Board operates on part-time basis.
In essence, the management committee of NDDC is the heart and soul of the Commission. How then do you put this management committee in the hands of States that collectively contribute less than 10% of oil production? Have you read the latest interview by Senator Alasoaduwa, now Minister of State of Niger Delta Affairs, saying he has ensured that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs’ 2020 Budget takes care of massive infrastructure development in his home state, Ondo, including Araromi-Lekki-Akodo Expressway, Deep-Sea Port and Olokola Free Trade Zone? If his Ondo State alone gets this, what will be left for the high oil-producing states? How much is Ondo State contributing to Niger Delta to deserve all this? Is this equity and justice? It simply tells us what agenda they have by pursuing the position of Managing Director in addition.
Separation of the management committee from the Governing Board
Why did our leaders and the National Assembly agree to separate the management committee from the Governing Board? Sections 2 and 10 of the NDDC Act clearly separate both. Why do we think the Board is made part-time while the Management Committee is full-time with powers and functions to administer the Commission on day-to-day basis?
I was involved in this struggle for the creation of NDDC. It was never conceived and never agreed that the four major oil-producing states suffer far less environmental hazards as a result.
If the positions of Chairman, Managing Director and two Executive Directors of the Commission were to be by elections by delegates nominated from each of the 9-member states of NDDC, does Ondo state expect to be given equal number of delegates as Delta State, Rivers, Bayelsa or Akwa Ibom State? Certainly not. Do all states of the federation who are members of APC have equal number of delegates? Have we forgotten so soon, the struggles, the sacrifices, and the deaths as a result of agitations by our states, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom which led to the establishment of OMPADEC, NDDC and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs? Which of these non-core Niger Delta and low-oil producing states led and sponsored the agitations for resource control? Should these major oil-producing states be rewarded now with ingratitude for allowing the politicisation of the true meaning of the Niger Delta in the establishment of NDDC in order to accommodate the low oil-producing states to benefit? Was it wrong that our leaders, elders and people who allowed that the position of chairmanship of NDDC be rotated among all member-states irrespective of individual contribution of the states to oil and gas production? Is this the reason Ondo State is now laying claim to equal right to produce the Managing Director and Executive Directors of NDDC?
What is your advice to President Buhari?
He should stick to this Board as confirmed by the Senate. Doing so will be equity and justice for the overriding good and progress of the Niger Delta region. I am convinced that he knows he has very competent and trusted hands in this present Board of NDDC to urgently get the job of sanitising and repositioning the NDDC done to achieve its set goals. Fixing the Niger Delta Region will be a major achievement for him the same way his commitment to fixing the North-East and other parts of the North. We are very lucky now that he has the support and approval of the Senate concerning this Board unlike in other cases.
What is your reaction to his decision to appoint Interim Management Committee and to allow it oversee the affairs of NDDC till completion of the forensic audit before the Board is inaugurated?
Again, I know that President Buhari means well but some people are bent on misleading him. We don’t need another interim management besides the fact that it is against the spirit of NDDC which the then National Assembly under the leadership of late Senate President Okadigbo and Speaker Ghali Na Abba fought hard to protect from unnecessary manipulations and politics from the Presidency and state governments. This is the reason they vehemently opposed then President Obasanjo who asked to be allowed to appoint members of the Board without recourse to the National Assembly.
Sections 2(2a) and 12(c) of the NDDC Act give Senate power to confirm members of the Board and Managing Director for the Commission. As for the forensic auditing, Section 18(2) of the NDDC Act provides that the Board of NDDC shall have power to ensure annual auditing of the Commission by external auditors appointed by the Auditor General of the Federation.
I have no doubt that his decision to direct forensic auditing of NDDC is also in line with his commitment to peace, progress and development of Niger Delta region but he must not allow the same unpatriotic politicians and elites who looted OMPADEC, NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and our states to hide under the cover of this forensic auditing to mislead him to act against inaugurating the Board. He should simply inaugurate the Board and ensure strict monitoring of its activities and management of funds released to it. He should also urgently set up a Presidential Monitoring Committee made of Nigerians of proven integrity and patriotism to monitor the projects and management of funds of the Commission.