Civil society organisation, the Niger Delta Peoples Forum has condemned the reported meeting between the NDDC Sole Administrator, Effiong Akwa, with the Governor of Imo State,  Hope Uzodinma, to sign an MOU.

According to the National Chairman, Boma Ebiakpo, “Nothing could be more diversionary and an affront on the people of the Niger Delta region from an illegal Sole Administratorship which is not fully representative of the nine constituent states, and which has carried on without due process, an abuse of the NDDC Act which the people have had to endure for over two years.”

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At a time that Niger Delta leaders, South-South Governors’ Forum (SSGF), youths, women, traditional rulers, civil society organisations, and other stakeholders have consistently demanded that President Buhari should comply with the law, and end the illegal sole administratorship at NDDC, Effiong Akwa has embarked on another antic  to try and divert attention and continue the illegality of administering NDDC’s funds.

In alarming stories in the media that are at variance with the mood of the region, entitled “NDDC Partners Imo State Govt to complete projects, signs MOU,” and “Uzodinma moves to complete abandoned NDDC roads in Imo,” as reported in The Guardian of April 27, 2022, NDDC and Imo State Government have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), as part of a partnership to facilitate the completion of key projects in the state. 

According to the Sole Administrator of the NDDC, Efiong Akwa, the Commission will “synergise and partner with the governments of the Niger Delta to ensure the commission’s road projects are completed.”  Nothing could be more diversionary and an affront on the people of the Niger Delta region from an illegal Sole Administratorship which is not fully representative of the nine constituent states, and which has carried on without due process, an abuse of the NDDC Act which the people have had to endure for over two years.

Having failed in his earlier plan at the beginning of the year when he surreptitiously met with a joint session of the National Assembly committees on Niger Delta Affairs, apparently to attempt to embark upon another cycle of illegality preparatory to consider an NDDC 2021 budget (which is yet to be transmitted to the National Assembly by President Buhari) to be defended by an illegal sole administrator contraption that is alien to the NDDC Act, the law governing the operations of the Commission, Effiong Akwa is now seeking to divert attention from the legitimate demands of Niger Deltans who demand an end to the illegal sole administratorship and inauguration of the substantive Board in accordance with the NDDC Act.

In what is certain to cause outrage in the Niger Delta region that is already agitated over the delay in inaugurating a substantive board, in compliance with the law to ensure proper corporate governance, and fair representation of the nine constituent states, this latest gambit of an MOU with a state government is a gamble taken too far.

 The NDDC Act which explicitly states how the Commission is to be governed is clear on the process. The NDDC Act stipulates that the Board and management (comprising the MD and two EDs) shall be appointed by the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, subject to the confirmation of the Senate.

 But in the past two years, the Commission has been administered in breach of the law through illegal interim managements/sole administrator contraptions administering a total of N799 Billion approved budgets by the National Assembly for the 2019 and 2020 financial years. The 2020 Financial year for NDDC’s budget as approved by the National Assembly expired on March 31, 2022. So, how does the illegal sole administrator intend to fund the capital projects in his so-called MOU with the Imo State government when there is no National Assembly approved budgets for the NDDC for the 2021 and 2022 financial years?

Rather than continue the illegality of administering NDDC with a sole administrator contraption that is not known to the NDDC Act, we urge President Buhari to halt the ongoing charade at NDDC, abide by the law and inaugurate a substantive governing board for NDDC to ensure proper corporate governance, checks and balances, probity, accountability, and equitable representation of the nine constituent states that have endured two years of the Commission being run like a personal fiefdom.

 We wish to draw the attention of President Buhari to an editorial by a national Newspaper (not vanguard) on Wednesday, January 12, 2022, titled “THE MERRY-GO-ROUND IN NDDC.” According to the paper, “The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is becoming an object of jokes among critical stakeholders. Almost six months after the submission of the report of its much-touted forensic report, the federal government has not been able to implement any of the recommendations or appoint a substantive board to allow the commission function effectively as stipulated by law. All that Nigerians are regaled with are tales and empty presidential threats while the Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio continues to run the commission with some nebulous interim management committees that are unknown to law.”

 We urge President Buhari to resist attempts by certain officials in his government to goad him into further acts of illegality in administering NDDC by not acquiescing to this latest diversionary act to further administer the funds of the Commission and should therefore end the illegal interim sole administratorship at NDDC and inaugurate the substantive Board of the Commission in accordance with the law.

The President will also be keeping to his promise 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.

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, the President is yet to fulfill his own promise. The Ijaw National Congress (INC) has described the delay in inaugurating the NDDC Board as “a clear betrayal of trust and display of State insensitivity on ljaw nation and Niger Delta region.”

We therefore align with other Niger Delta authentic stakeholders to reject in its entirety the reported MOU between the Sole Administrator of NDDC and the Imo State government by which the illegal sole administrator seeks to continue to illegally administer the funds that accrue monthly to NDDC when the sole administrator position is unknown to the law setting up NDDC.

Presently, the illegal NDDC Sole Administrator singularly acts as the Managing Director, the Executive Director of Finance and Administration, and Executive Director of Projects, with no checks and balances, proper corporate governance, and probity in administering the Commission. 

To the detriment of the entire region, these illegal interim contraptions/sole administrator contraptions have been fleecing the NDDC of its funds in the last two years.

As pointed out by no less a person than the President of Ijaw National Congress (INC), Professor Benjamin Okaba, in an interview with a national daily on October 17, 2021, there has been unceasing irregularities and lack of due process in NDDC since October 2019 when the illegal interim management/sole administrator contraptions have been in place, administering a combined two-year budget of N799 Billion for 2019 and 2020, as approved by the National Assembly. 

Prof. Okaba pointed out that  “we are not particularly happy about the silence on the over N600bn payments made for emergency contracts; the over 1,000 persons who were allegedly employed in the NDDC between January and July, 2020 without due process. We are also aware that the 2020 budget was passed in December 2020 and N400bn was voted for the NDDC but the commission had spent over N190bn before the budget was passed. So, what happened to the Procurement Act?” 

We therefore urge President Buhari to halt the ongoing breach of the law governing the operation of the commission, the unfortunate disregard for the rule of law, and hearken to the unending calls, demands and peaceful agitations of youths, men and women, political and traditional leaders and civil society organisations for the inauguration of the board of NDDC. This will ensure compliance with the NDDC Act, promote and sustain peace, equity and fairness, transparency and accountability, good governance and rapid development and transformation of the Niger Delta Region.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.