The President of Ijaw National Congress (INC), the umbrella body of Ijaws worldwide, Professor Benjamin Okaba, has urged all the concerned Ministers of the Federal Government (Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami; and Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio) to obey the directive of Hon. Justice Isa Dashen of the Federal High Court, sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, and also “impress it upon the President to immediately put a substantive board in place for the NDDC.” According to him, “the illegality (in NDDC) is not helping the interventionist agency created to tackle developmental challenges ravaging the region.”
A March 14, 2022, order of the Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State granted a perpetual injunction restraining the AGF from further constituting an interim or sole administratorship to run the affairs of the commission. The court further said: “That leave is hereby granted to the applicant to seek an order of this Honourable Court directing the respondent to dissolve the current sole administrator-ship structure used to run the affairs of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).”
Professor Okaba, who spoke as chairman in honour of freedom fighter, Ebikabowei Victor-Ben, also known as General Boyloaf on the occasion of the Boyloaf Annual Lecture, Launch of the Boyloaf Foundation and 50th birthday celebration, in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, over the weekend noted that Akpabio who was once quoted as saying that, “the appointment of the sole administrator to man the NDDC was backed by court order should display the necessary integrity and due diligence to reverse his earlier action, now that the same legal institution has ordered otherwise.”
The INC President described the current aberration at NDDC as “despicable shenanigans where the government has been appointing Interim Managements and Sole Administrators to superintendent over the affairs of the commission without a substantive board since 2019, contrary to the law establishing the NDDC.”
According to him, it is on record that the government had promised to inaugurate a substantive board after the conduct of forensic audit of the commission, but this has not happened since September 2, 2021 when the report of the forensic audit was officially submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari. “The NDDC is being run like the personal estate of a cabal to the detriment of the development of the Niger Delta. This is not only provocative but also indecent.”
Professor Okaba also stated that the recent order of the Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa ordering the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to desist from subsuming the NDDC under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is a “welcome development in the direction of discontinuing the hijacking of the commission by individuals for their selfish interest, unbridled personal aggrandizement and advancement of their political relevance.”
According to him, it is also “gratifying that the Federal High Court also granted a perpetual injunction restraining the AGF and Minister of Justice, who on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, officially received the forensic audit report from the Minister of Niger Delta, from further constituting an interim body or sole administratorship to run the affairs of the NDDC.”
Already, across the length and breadth of the Niger Delta region there are unending calls, demands and peaceful agitations of youths, men and women, political and traditional leaders and civil society organisations that the illegality of administering the Commission through the Sole Administrator contraption should stop and the Board should be inaugurated in line with the NDDC Act to promote and sustain peace, equity and fairness, transparency and accountability, good governance and rapid development and transformation of the Niger Delta Region, and douse the tension of militancy as well as curtail the menace of insecurity in the region.
The delay in inaugurating the board of NDDC negates a promise by the President to inaugurate the board after the forensic audit. President Buhari promised the nation on the 24th day of June 2021, while receiving the leadership of Ijaw National Congress (INC) at the State House in Abuja that the NDDC Board would be inaugurated as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted.
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.”
Regrettably, the report of the forensic audit of NDDC has since been submitted by Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to President Buhari on September 2, 2021, but eight months after submission of the forensic audit report, there is increasing tension in the Niger Delta region over the delay in inaugurating members of the board of the Commission. In fact the Ijaw National Congress (INC) had earlier cautioned in a statement that “any further delay in the inauguration of the NDDC board is a clear betrayal of trust and display of State insensitivity on ljaw nation and Niger Delta region.”
The pan Ijaw group followed this up in a statement signed by Professor Benjamin Okaba, titled “Evil Against The Niger Delta: Enough Is Enough, Mr President” in which it cautioned that if President Buhari does not take “prompt action and the indigenous cross-cultural and multi-ethnic feelings of discontentment assume critical mass and become kinetic, we can do nothing to hold things back,”
Okaba further stated that the INC is “fed up with the lackluster approach of the President to the outlined issues” of “the continued delay of the inauguration of a substantive board for the NDDC” which he described as “an inexplicable aberration that defies logical reasoning and is infuriating the region and the continued existence of the grossly illegal vehicle of Interim Administration at the NDDC.”
President Muhammadu Buhari should therefore, hearken to the demands of authentic Niger Delta stakeholders, obey the pronouncement of a court of competent jurisdiction, comply with the law, and end the illegal sole administratorship at the NDDC, inaugurate the NDDC Governing Board in line with the NDDC Act to represent the nine constituent states, and thereby ensure proper corporate governance, accountability, transparency, and probity in managing the Commission.