All is not well at the Niger Delta Development Commission. A can of worms on alleged suspicious financial deals are opening and the commission’s chairman, Lauretta Onochie is already accusing the management team led by Dr Sam Ogbuku of going against the laws in recent transactions.
It is actually not the first time that the chairman and the management team would be in loggerheads. A few weeks after the new board came in, Onochie had made moves to become of the signatories to NDDC accounts.
TNN learnt that the face-off lasted for a while until the matter was resolved. The Act establishing the commission does not allow the chairman to be a signatory to the commission’s accounts, neither does it allow the chairman to be involved in the day to day running of its affairs.
It is not exactly clear how the issue was resolved. But TNN learnt that since the coming of the new board, there has been a cold war between the chairman and the MD.
The recent altercation arose as a result of the $15 billion MOU signed between the MD and a US firm for the construction of a mega rail project across the Niger Delta, from Lagos to Calabar. It was learnt that the board did not meet to approve the deal before the dotted lines were signed in Lagos.
Our findings show that the company was founded in 1989. It’s line of business includes providing business consulting services on a contract and fee basis and is represented in Nigeria by Tony D. Akpele.
It was further learnt that two former governors may have been associated with the MOU deal which has already been declared a nullity by Onochie.
In a shocking statement on Friday, Onochie said the MD and the management team had no such powers to sign an MOU on behalf of the NDDC without the approval of the board.
Onochie said: “ My attention and the entire Board’s have been drawn to a publication in some National dailies of the purported signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between a US firm, “Atlanta Global Resources Inc.” and the NDDC, whose Board I chair, for the “construction of a mega rail project across the Niger Delta, from Lagos to Calabar.” This was done without my knowledge and without the authorisation nor consent of the Board.
“Everything about this shady “MOU” is illegal due to the following reasons:
(a) By the act establishing the NDDC(Act No 6, of 2000), it is the Chairman of the board that is solely vested with the power to sign MOUs with any organisation.
Part II of the NDDC Act, Section 8, sub sections (a) and (e), among other provisions, specifically state inter Alia;
The Board shall have power to:-
(a)manage and supervise affairs of the Commission,…
(e)enter into such contracts as may be necessary or expedient for the discharge of its functions and ensure the efficient performance of the functions of the Commission.
And the Supplementary provision of the Act as relating to the Board (Section 4, sub-section 1) clearly retains the Seal of the Commission in the Office of the Chairman.
(b) The “US company”, Atlanta Global Resources Inc., has no expertise nor experience in any form of construction, let alone, Railway construction. This company is a Management and Export Consulting Firm is without known notable Directors.
“Thus, the signing of an MOU to the tune of $15 billion(USD) with such an organisation is not only suspect but dubious.
“(c) The Federal Executive Council (FEC), having recognised the importance of infrastructure in the Niger Delta region had awarded the Contract for the same project in 2021 at the sum of $11.7 billion for the construction of a Mega railway from Lagos to Sagamu, Sagamu to Ijebu-Ode, Ijebu-Ode to Ore, Ore to Benin City, Benin-City to Sapele, Sapele to Warri, Warri to Yenogoa, Yenegoa to Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt to Aba, Aba to Uyo, Uyo to Calabar, Calabar to Akamkpa and to Ikom, Obudu Ranch with branch lines from Benin-City to Agbor, Ogwashi-Uku, Asaba, Onitsha and Onitsha Bridge and then Port Harcourt to Onne Deep Sea Port.
“It is shocking that after the FEC, the highest ruling body in the country, had done this, that anyone would be signing an MOU on behalf of the NDDC and the Federal Government of Nigeria for the same project in 2023 without due process nor approval by the FEC in the twilight of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
“The same clumsy, shady and hazy transactions of the past in NDDC, that had bedevilled and stultified identifiable progress in the past, was rested with the “Forensic Audit” and the Inauguration of a New Board, with the Sanitisation of the Commission as its mantra. However, old habits die hard. And some individuals (within and without the Commission) still retain the retrogressive mindset that has held the Commission down for the past 22 years. We cannot remain in the old dubious path.
“The Present Board is set on Transparency, Equity, Justice and Equality, and ready to midwife and embrace other policies and programmes that would uplift and improve the lives of the good people of Niger Delta. With dilligence, perseverance, persistence and commitment, this Vision would come to pass.
“We, therefore, call on all our partners and stakeholders in this quest – CBN (TSA), The Ministry of Niger Delta, The National Assembly, Our nine States’ Governors (Advisory Board), Our Traditional rulers, Youth Population, etc., to take note.
“NDDC has not and could not have signed an MOU, worth $15 billion (USD) without the Board and FEC’s approval.
“The so-called MOU signed with Atlanta Global Resources Inc. “AGRI”, is hereby disowned by the Board and declared null and void.
TNN spoke with a former special adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on corruption, Mr Okoi Obono-Obla, a lawyer, who reacted to the development. He said “from the point of the law, the management has no power to enter into a contract without the approval and consent of the board. So the purported MOU is ultra vires the power of the management. It is illegal ab initio.
“It is confounding that in this era of due process, the management of NDCC will be so brazen as to purport to enter such an MOU involving a staggering $15 billion without the consent and approval of the board. Also, this contract to build a railway is a priority because almost all the nine States that make up the Niger Delta have been comprehensively and adequately covered by the railway policy of the Federal government. I smell a rat.
He expressed the suspicion that those behind the purported MOU may have got into it as a way of getting funds out of the commission for corrupt purposes.
That is a short and rational deduction from the path they have followed; otherwise, why would they not present such a proposal before the board? “This is inconceivable, outrageous, scandalous, and unacceptable. It shows and demonstrates how frivolous the managers of the commission are. They have not learned lessons from theaters that had corruption that has dogged the commission for the past two decades and rendered it comatose.”
When TNN reached the commission’s image maker, Dr Ibitoye Abosede, he said he was out of the country but admitted that he was aware of the chairman’s letter disassociating the board from the MOU., He also said a statement was coming from the commission shortly.