The NDDC needs a substantive board to entrench culture of transparency

For the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) it has been a tale of scandals, following the inability of President Muhammadu Buhari to constitute a substantive governing board to run its affairs. While there is no clear information about the forensic audit that was supposed to have been conducted on the activities of the previous management, an interim board without any clear mandate or authority, as we keep warning on this page, is a recipe for unwholesome practices as available reports now indicate.

On Tuesday, the National Assembly passed a resolution to investigate an allegation of N40 billion fraud against the Interim Management Committee (IMC). “While President Buhari’s action of setting up an IMC and the forensic audit may have been conceived to forestall the financial recklessness of the commission and reposition it for fast-tracking of the development of the region”, said the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Navy, Senator Thompson Sekibo, the IMC “has been more bedeviled with the same financial misuse, misapplication, misappropriation or outright fraud in the management of the funds of the commission.” He added: “Within the last three months, the commission has spent over N40 billion without recourse to established processes of fund disbursements, which has opened up further suspicion among stakeholders of the Niger Delta Region.”

Given recent developments, we are not surprised by this scandal and we hope the National Assembly will get to the root of it and identify culprits who should be brought to justice. Meanwhile, the story of the NDDC has been rather unfortunate. A month after the Senate confirmed the 15 nominees he sent for confirmation as NDDC board members last year, the president deferred to the minister of Niger Delta, Mr Godswill Akpabio, who had named the IMC in a curious move. The chairperson of that committee has since been removed and replaced, following another scandal.

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 NDDC 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 sometime ago when he said “The Niger Delta we see today is an area of poor infrastructure; a few schools and hospitals.” He merely echoed what other stakeholders have been saying for years. Indeed, the report of the presidential committee on project execution covering the period between 2005 and 2011 revealed the extent of rot in NDDC. The report monitored a total of 609 projects spread across three states – Cross River, Edo and Rivers.

However, the current problem is foisted on NDDC by the president. The act establishing the commission leaves no room for a situation that empowers a few people who report to the Niger Delta Minister 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 of a minister. Besides, operating outside the law to impose an interim board with elastic mandate cannot be a way of instilling accountability in NDDC. The president must rectify this situation without any further delay.