What is Good for NEDC is Good for the NDDC

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Whereas the President Muhammadu Buhari government complies with the North East Development Commission enabling Act and expeditiously inaugurated a representative board comprising members from its six North East constituent states since inception, it has conversely used a subterfuge two-year forensic audit of NDDC to deny the Niger Delta region an NDDC substantive board that gurantees equitable representation, rather authorizing illegal interim management committees/sole administrator contraptions, even after President Buhari appointed a Board which was confirmed by the Senate in November 2019, writes Nseobong Okon-Ekong

More than one month after President Buhari has received and accepted the report of the forensic audit of NDDC which he ordered in October 2019 and promised that on its completion he will inaugurate the substantive board which he had already nominated and which the Senate confirmed in November 2019, the Buhari Presidency has been unusually quiet, not keeping to its promise to inaugurate NDDC board after submission of forensic audit report.

This is rather a strange pattern by a regime that touts adherence to rule of law as its mantra. In fact, in the six and a half year tenure of the Buhari Presidency, NDDC has operated with a substantive Board for only two years, 2016 to 2018

Yet, unknown to unsuspecting Niger Deltans, North East Development Commission (NEDC) which was established in 2017 is modeled after the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which was setup in 2000. And for good reason. These are interventionist commissions established by acts of parliament to manage the regions of the country adversely affected by exploration of natural resources or extraneous factors like conflicts and insurgency.

The enabling Acts establishing NDDC and NEDC state clearly that they should be governed by substantive Boards nominated by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and approved by the Senate.

NDDC covers the entire South-south states (Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Rivers), two South-East states (Abia, Imo) and one South-West state (Ondo), while NEDC covers the six North East states (Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Yobe, Taraba), respectively.

In the NDDC (Establishment etc) Act 2000, No. 6, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, in Part 1, Section 2(1) it states that the Commission will be governed by a Board, which shall consist of a Chairman; a representative for each of the nine constituent states; a representative, each from each from North West, North East, and North Central zones; one representative of oil producing companies; one representative of Federal Ministry of Finance; one representative of Federal Ministry of Environment; one Managing Director; and two Executive Directors. Only the Managing Director and the two Executive Directors are full-time as members of the management team, while the other Board members are on part-time basis.

In the NEDC (Establishment) Act 2017, Act No.7, Part 1, Section 2(1) states that the Commission shall be governed by a Board consisting of a Chairman; a Managing Director; three Executive Directors, one from each member state not being represented by the Chairman or MD to ensure representation of each constituent state; a representative for each of the six geo-political zones, including North East zone; a representative of Federal Ministry of Finance; a representative of Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning.

The NEDC which has a governing Board in place has been reaping the fruits of its stability occasioned by a governing board which guarantees full representation of all constituent states.

So, on October 7, 2021 Governor Muhammadu Yahaya of Gombe state inaugurated the construction of 500 units of mass housing estate in the state being constructed by NEDC. Also in September this year the NEDC had also flagged-off the construction of 500 mass housing units in Dungal, Bauchi state. Other similar projects across the North East in the past three months include 300 housing units in Yola South LGA, Adamawa state, housing units in Mafa LGA, Borno state, and 500 housing units in six towns of Yobe state.

At each flag-off event, representatives of the constituent states were visibly present, evidence of their representation to ensure equitable distribution of projects and amenities to the constituent states.

Groups, youths, traditional institutions and civil society organisations alike are applauding the North East Development Commission (NEDC) for ensuring that all constituent states are equitably represented in the developmental projects.

Conversely, in the Niger Delta region, the NDDC has not initiated and completed any project since October 2019 when the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio and the Federal Government imposed illegal interim management committees/ sole administrator contraptions, yet the Senate probe of NDDC in June/July 2020 revealed the unending infractions in the Commission since October 2019 without due process and no projects to show for the huge amount expended.

The report and resolutions of the Senate on the financial recklessness of the NDDC Interim Management Committee (IMC), which was adopted unanimously detailed the humongous scam that has been going on at the NDDC and laid out fraudulent and questionable payments of over N81.5 billion by the Interim Management Committee, a clear mismanagement of the resources of the NDDC.

Overall, in the last two years, under the guise of conducting forensic audit, the illegal interim management committees/sole administrator contraptions promoted by the Minister of the Niger Delta, Chief Godswill Akpabio have been utilising the huge funds which have been coming into the Commission with no meaningful infrastructural projects in the region to show for it. Yet, these last two years (October 2019 till date) have witnessed some of the most brazen incidences of alleged corruption, fraud, financial recklessness, extra-budgetary spending and gross mismanagement of over N400 billion which have come into the NDDC during the period, with nothing meaningful to show for it.

The angst, agitations and pleas of the Niger Delta leaders – the South-South Governors Forum, Ijaw National Congress (INC), Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), South East South South Professionals Forum (SESSPF) etc capture the frustrations of a people denied of their rights of effective representation in a commission funded by their patrimony.

The Buhari Presidency stated that it needed to conclude a hyped forensic audit before inaugurating a substantive board that the President had duly nominated in August 2019, sent to the Senate for confirmation in October 2019, and which the Senate duly confirmed on November 5, 2019. Yet this same government did not suspend the boards of NNPC, NPA, CBN, when these federal agencies were also audited.

More curious though is that more than one month after the submission of the NDDC forensic audit report to the President, he has yet to make good his promise of June 24 when Ijaw National Congress visited him in Aso Rock wherein he unequivocally promised the nation that he will inaugurate the NDDC board upon receipt of the audit report.

Recall also that critical stakeholders such as the umbrella body of the Ijaw nation worldwide, Ijaw National Congress (INC) recently also cautioned in a statement issued on September 10, 2021 that “any further delay in the inauguration of the NDDC board is a clear betrayal of trust and display of State insensitivity on ljaw nation and Niger Delta region.” This followed the promise of President Buhari on the 24th day of June 2021, while receiving the Ijaw National Congress at the State House in Abuja that the NDDC Board would be inaugurated as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted.

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.”

The report of the forensic audit of NDDC was submitted by Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to President Buhari since September 2, 2021. More than one month after submission of the forensic audit report, there is increasing tension in the Niger Delta region over the delay in inaugurating members of the board of the Commission.

Restating the restiveness now pervading the entire Niger Delta Region due to the ongoing illegality at NDDC, Governor Okowa, on behalf of the South-South Governors’ Forum had warned that “we are currently being fooled; we are not happy about it and when our people do agitate, we believe that they are doing so in the right direction.”

Already, across the length and breadth of the Niger Delta region there are unending calls, demands and peaceful agitations of youths, men and women, political and traditional leaders and civil society organisations that the inauguration of the board of NDDC will promote and sustain peace, equity and fairness, transparency and accountability, good governance and rapid development and transformation of the Niger Delta Region, and douse the tension of militancy as well as curtail the menace of insecurity in the region.

The loudly stated positions of Niger Delta leaders capture the mood of the Niger Delta people, and may signal an indication of a new series of avoidable disruptive agitations akin to the 2016 disruptions which the country can ill-afford presently.

Now that the Forensic audit report has been submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari since September 2, 2021, the President should do well to heed the call of the Niger Delta leaders and other stakeholders, comply with the law setting up NDDC, and also fulfill his own promise of June 24, 2021, and inaugurate the board to manage the Commission for the benefit of the people of 9 (nine) Niger Delta states.