By Sunny Ikhioya
THE statement from the Presidency announcing the nomination of new members to the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, hit those of us from the Warri region of Delta State like a thunderbolt.
In a press release by Prince Emma Okotie-Eboh, Chairman and Comrade Amaechi Ogbonna, Secretary, the Itsekiri Consultative Forum maintained that “constituting the board in the heat of political parties campaigns for the 2023 general elections would turn the NDDC into a cash cow for politicians and derail the commission from its core mandate.”
The fears are legitimate, considering what politicians have done with the commission in the past; it has refused to get off the ground since its establishment. According to NDDC, its mission is “to offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta Region and to facilitate the rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative, and politically peaceful.”
It is an onerous responsibility for those tasked with running the commission, and the rules for engagement and management are clearly stated in the NDDC Act. For example, it says: “There shall be for the commission a managing director and two executive directors, who shall be indigenes of oil producing areas, starting 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.”
Also, with regard to the Chairman, it says: “The office of the Chairman shall rotate amongst member states of the Commission in the following alphabetical order: Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers”.
The laws guiding the NDDC are quite clear, but the authorities in Abuja have consistently flouted it, going to the extent of appointing a sole administrator at a point in time. The Niger Delta Affairs Ministry, under Godswill Akpabio, did its best to take over the running of the commission but to no avail. Why is it so easy for the federal authorities to treat matters concerning the Niger Delta Development Commission with levity? It is because, the indigenous ethnic groups that make up the Niger Delta region are not united, especially as it concerns Delta State.
The All Progressives Congress, APC, presidential candidate, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, was in Delta State recently and in confirming his party’s governorship candidate, referred to him as candidate of Niger Delta State. I guess it is an attempt to stress the importance of Delta State in the Niger Delta region. The Warri area is significant to the development of the whole country but successive regimes have succeeded in causing rifts amongst the indigenous tribes, to the detriment of the overall development of the region.
The reactions generated by the nomination of persons into the NDDC board was expected and will continue to be so until ethnic groups in Warri of Delta State – Urhobo, Itsekiri, Ijaw, Isoko – decide to unite on a common goal that will benefit the whole region. It is clear that the divide and rule strategy of the federal authorities will continue to haunt them until the few saboteurs, sons of the region, decide to do a turnaround of their traitorous conducts.
The North now has the North-East Development Commission, NEDC; you will not see such things play out over there. Look at the NNPC; who do you see at the top management and directorship levels? Not one Niger Delta indigene; and that is why they are expending so much money on the security of government pipelines in the area.
If the indigenes are properly integrated as part owners of the projects, you will not hear of sabotage. Lauretta Onochie is a politician and a member of the APC. Unlike INEC, there is no law that says a politician cannot be appointed into the board of a federal establishment. In fact, doing so will be a compensation for services rendered to the party, and Lauretta is entitled to enjoy hers.
However, the question is: will she really put away party partisanship and run the NDDC according to the letters establishing it and to the foremost interests of the Niger Delta region, instead of using the funds as settlement for the Abuja boys and state governors of the region? It is no secret that NDDC funds have been used to settle politicians and for election purposes in the past; that is why several forensic audits carried out have come out with zero result.
If the Pandora box is opened, too many people will be found culpable. From her disposition and activities so far, Onochie appears to be a brave woman, but can she put politics and personal interest aside and do what is right for the NDDC? I am assuming that the various protests and petitions against her nomination, by interested persons of the Niger Delta region, will not see the light of day.
As it is, there is no clear representative from Delta State, and Onochie is not from an oil producing region. But in the Buhari regime, anything can happen as long as the pronouncements have been made. For once, we must decide that NDDC be run according to the purpose for which it was established, that is: specifically to ameliorate the deplorable conditions caused by oil drilling activities in the region and to be managed by representatives of the region in the states concerned.
Physical developments are not hidden and the people of the region, from what we can see, are satisfied with little things like roads, bridges and schools, scholarships, free health care, jobs for the boys and others. What we see on the ground here are open display of affluence or conspicuous consumption by board members and staff of the commission. This is not limited to NDDC, it is same with DESOPADEC and other government agencies minded by politicians. Whatever the situation, it is time for the NDDC to be properly managed and anyone that can run it to expected standard is welcome