By Nsoyo Offong
The delay in the constitution of a substantive Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) can be likened to a time bomb ticking to detonate. This is due to the volatility of the Niger Delta region as occasioned by long time neglect of it’s people by successive federal government administrations.
Judging from the avalanche of protests by aggrieved youths and agitations by elders and leaders of of thought from the Niger Delta region, it is our thinking that the endless waiting for a substantive Board portends grave danger that may worsen the negative feeling of neglect and alienation by the Niger Deltans towards the federal government.
For instance, the several pronouncement by President Mohammadu Buhari and the Minster of Niger Delta, on a possible constitution of a Board for the NDDC has become most contentious. This is in spite of the several assurances given to the leadership of Ijaw National Congress ( INC) Pan Niger Delta Forum ( PANDEF), Ijaw Youths Council ( IYC) and the Ex Millitant leaders.
It is worthy of note that the Act of Parliament that enabled the existence of the NDDC, did not make provision for an Interim Management Board or Sole Administrator. The continous stay of the Interim Administrator in office is therefore an aberation and invitation to an avoidable crisis in the Niger Delta.
Since the resignation of the former Managing Director of the Commission, Obong Nsima Ekere in 2019, NDDC has witnessed five Interim Administrators within a space of about three years. The five interim administrators include: Professor Nelson Brambaifa, Mrs Joi Nuene, Dr Akwakangha, Professor Pondei Kemebradikumo and Mr Effiong Akwa. The reason for the delay in constituting a legally backed up board for the NDDC against all odds remains a difficult puzzle for the federal government to answer.
Senator Akpabio had promised on several occasions that if the Forensic Audit commissioned by President Buhari to unravell the endemic corruption in the NDDC is completed that a formal Board will be inaugurated. Two months after the submission of the report, the presidency has been silent, thereby causing brewing unrest in the region as youth groups and associations in the region are already spoiling for a show down with the government in the weeks ahead.
Some of the questions pundits are asking are: will the Federal Government prefer a fresh unrest in the region rather than inaugurate a substantive board for the commission? What does it take the central government of Nigeria to put in place a board as required by the existing laws of the land? What do the proponents of the delay stand to gain? Is there any secrete agenda behind the procrastination in setting up a substantive board that the public is yet to know?
The Present Interim Administrator, is neither awarding fresh contracts or making outstanding payments owed contractors apart from paying staff salaries even when the commission is collecting a huge amount of money monthly from the Federation Account. What happens to the balance of the money after payment of salaries?
It is speculated that the delay in the inauguration may have been perpertrated by the Minster of Niger Delta and his accomplices to enable him sustain his grip on the commission’s finances. The Minister is reported to have drawn up a monthly settlement plan to key stakeholders in the region and some influential persons in the government of the day to protect his continous grip on the finances of the commission.
Nevertheless, the Minister has also been accused of imputing some hidden and selfish clauses in the audit report targeted to benefit him.
The question is who is benefiting from the continous delay in the constitution of a Board for the commission. The Niger Delta region has become the worst for it occasioned by the greed of a few individuals who split what comes into the commission monthly.
To save the region from an impending implosion, this is the time for President Buhari to step out and take a decision that will preserve the country’s economy.
An outbreak of crisis in the region will invariably affect oil exploration activities in the region.
If it is not for selfish interests there are unanswered questions why Senator Akpabio is insisting on retaining the Interim Administrator, Mr Effiong Akwa in the new board. Mr Akwa started out in NDDC as the Special Assistant ( Finance) to former MD, Mr Dan Abia, after the former Acting Executive Director Finance and Administration, Mr Ibanga Etang died at the pick of the Covid 19 pandemic. It is quite unfortunate that Senator Akpabio who is a lawyer by profession, who is supposed to be a custodian of the law, is dwelling in contraption of same.
Last year, Mr Efiong Akwa was appointed the Acting Executive Director Finance and Administration, Soon after Professor Pondei was removed as the Managing Director of the Commission. In the last Interim Management Committee (IMC) Efiong Akwa was made the Sole Administrator and he had already served for almost one year.
To save Nigeria from another round of economic morass, President buhari should as a matter of urgency establish a substantive Board for the NDDC without further delay. If he does not, he could be considered as an accomplice. Those who are fuelling the embers of crisis in the Niger Delta by encouraging delay in setting up a substantive Board should be held responsible for any eventually.
Elders and leaders of the Niger Delta region should avoid the temptation of dancing to the tune of selfish individuals who are bent on trading with the development of the region. The NDDC is not for sale. All that is most important to the peace and development of the Niger Delta region and economic well-being of Nigeria at the moment is the urgent constitution of a substantive Board of the NDDC.