Etim Etim argues that the interventionist agency is better managed by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs

In announcing the findings of its probe into the activities of the interim management of the NDDC, the Senate made a number of recommendations to the federal government. Although these are non-binding resolutions, I am sure that the Buhari administration will carefully review and consider their relevance to good governance in the commission. I have come to respect this president the more for his knack for methodical deliberations before taking important decisions. I will therefore wish to add my voice to the debate on one of the Senate’s most controversial suggestions: return the NDDC to the office of the SGF. The lawmakers believe that the Office of the SGF will supervise the agency more effectively than the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. This is not correct based on our experience since the creation of the Commission and factual evidence.

The NDDC has since inception been supervised by the Office of the SGF until late last year when the President directed that it be moved to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. This directive was further emphasized in the President’s address to the nation on October 1. Although the government did not explain the rationale for the order, it is obvious that the OSGF is too overburdened, unwieldy and unsuitable for the role. The OSGF is in control of over 30 agencies and departments, ranging from the Cabinet Office to Ecological Fund. It coordinates the work of over 46 Ministries, Ministers and the Head of Service of the Federation. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SGF himself is saddled with the overwhelming responsibility of driving the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19. It is therefore unthinkable that the Senate would consider the OSGF capable of taking on additional workload in the name of NDDC.

The fact that the commission has been underperforming on its mandate and riddled with issues of gross mismanagement and misconduct in the past is not a noble testimony to how well it was supervised by the OSGF. The forensic audit might not have been necessary if the NDDC had been well managed and supervised by the OSGF. We cannot continue to do the same thing in the same manner and expect a different outcome. This is the point the Senate has missed. Besides, the uniqueness of the agency as an interventionist agency in a troubled corner of the country presupposes that its managers and supervisors should have an acute understanding of the problems of the region. Furthermore, the functions of the ministry complement the mandate of the commission. All considered, the president was very right in sending the NDDC to the Ministry last year. I therefore respectfully request the President to leave the NDDC where it is in the Ministry. It is logical and administratively and functionally more efficient that way. The senators obviously did not think through the implications of their recommendations.

I know that some of the lawmakers have been mentioned for having partaken in the ‘NDDC feasts’ in the past. Many of them have been contractors, consultants or sponsors of contractors of the NDDC. A few other senators are nursing governorship ambitions in 2023 and are hoping to raise campaign funding from the commission in accordance with traditions. On the other hand, the zeal with which Senator Godswill Akpabio is pursuing the forensic audit exercise has certainly unsettled those who were enmeshed in unethical practices in the commission. We can therefore deduce that the senators just want to deflect the focus of further searchlight from themselves by seeking to move the agency from the ministry. But the forensic audit is not an initiative of Senator Akpabio. The governors of the nine NDDC states and other stakeholders recommended it to the president. The audit is therefore a federal government project. The senate’s recommendation is therefore an unnecessary meddlesomeness, just in line with their activities. In the last few weeks, the Senate has tried to stick their nose in virtually every function of the executive, from appointment and sack of service chiefs to employment of artisans. Nigerians are therefore not totally surprised this time around.

President Buhari should reject this recommendation. I should recall that the senators have approached this NDDC matter with considerable dubiousness. First, they had announced, without any shred of evidence but with all the sensationalism available, that N40 billion was missing from the accounts of the commission. The false allegation embarrassed the Buhari administration and shocked the nation. But after months of investigations and millions of naira spent on it, the Senate’s probe committee did not utter a word on the issue of the missing money, instead the senators chose to preoccupy themselves with administrative issues. It is obvious that these lawmakers have deeper interest in the commission; the more reason the government should not truncate the forensic audit, no matter the pressure.

I accept the argument that NDDC needs enhanced supervisory control; and good enough, its enabling law has enough provision for that. The Presidential Monitoring Committee which was inaugurated early this year is mandated by the NDDC Act to not only to monitor the management of the funds allocated to the commission and implementation of its projects, but also to access the accounts and other records of the commission. There is also the Presidential Advisory Committee made up of all the governors of the NDDC states. The act empowers them to monitor the activities of the agency. These bodies are capable of further strengthening the command over the commission. The future of the NDDC lies in a complete overhaul of its operations and processes, in addition to the retraining and reorientation of the workforce. I hope that the president will not let the people of the Niger Delta down. I commend President Buhari for his commitment to leaving an enduring legacy in our region.

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