President Buhari should do the right thing by inaugurating the NDDC Board

In endorsing an investigation of the finances of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in a recent editorial, we warned that it should not be an excuse for some politicians, who themselves are not paragon of virtues, to derail having a substantive board in place. In addition, we said that an interim board without any clear mandate or authority is a recipe for unwholesome practices as we have seen over the years at the NDDC. Sadly, President Muhammadu Buhari has made a curious reversal that has further muddied the waters in an agency that has always been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

A month after the Senate confirmed the 15 nominees he sent for confirmation as NDDC board members, the president deferred to the Minister of Niger Delta, Mr Godswill Akpabio, who had named an interim management committee. “President Muhammadu Buhari has approved that the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) be recomposed and inaugurated after the forensic audit of the organization”, said presidential spokesman, Mr Femi Adesina, who added that “the Interim Management Team of the NDDC shall be in place till the forensic is completed, and that the supervision of the Commission shall remain under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.”

Established in 2000 by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, the NDDC was charged with facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region “that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.” The commission’s mandate area is comprised of the nine oil producing states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers. Sadly, while the NNDC has a comprehensive master plan and hundreds of billions of naira have been spent over the past 19 years, there is little on ground to justify the investment.

The dismal state of development in the Niger Delta was acknowledged by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo when he said that there was little evidence to justify the huge contribution of the Niger Delta to the development of Nigeria. “The Niger Delta we see today is an area of poor infrastructure; a few schools and hospitals. There are signboards of abandoned projects all over the place,” said Osinbajo who merely echoed what other stakeholders have been saying. Indeed, the report of the presidential committee on project execution covering between 2005 and 2011, was, to put it mildly, very unflattering. The report monitored a total of 609 projects spread across three states – Cross River, Edo and Rivers.

According to the committee chairman, Chief Isaac Jemide, of these 609 projects, 222 (36.5%) were completed, 102 (16.7%) were ongoing and 285 (46.8%) were abandoned at various levels of completion. Even worse, some of these projects were completely outside the statutory operational scope of the NDDC. Similarly, a report from the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) reveals that between 2007 and 2014, a whopping sum of N594 billion was remitted to NDDC, but could not account for how N7.4 billion allocated for grassroots development projects was spent, among others.

Given the foregoing, we understand the rot within the NDDC. But the act establishing the commission leaves no room for the current situation that empowers a few people to practically run it as sole administrators. If we must entrench a culture of transparency and accountability in the affairs of the commission, it is important to have a substantive board in place rather than leave it to the whims and caprices of a minister who is not known for probity. Operating outside the law to impose an interim board cannot be a way to instil accountability in NDDC. The president must rectify the situation without delay.