He is a voice in Ogoni land and indeed in the Niger Delta. He has been involved in the struggle for better life in the region. He has been president of MOSOP-the Movement for Survival of Ogoni People-and is a seasoned lawyer. As former chairman of NEITI, Ledum Mitee knows what it means to be a non-executive chairman of a federal government agency and it was with all of this experiences that he spoke with TNN on the lingering crisis in the NDDC.
He told OFONIME UMANAH that The Presidency was to blame for sending someone whose earlier nomination to another agency of the federal government attracted so much uproar, to an interventionist agency as the NDDC. He does not want the face-off between the board and the management to affect delivery of results by the key players.
Here are excerpts of the interview:
I guess you’ve been following up what’s going on in the NDDC. How do you react to recent developments in the commission as a senior lawyer and major stakeholder in the region?
Let me first preface my response by saying that people of the Niger Delta should not be distracted from the real issues. I call it fight between a group of politicians because the ultimate thing is, is the NDDC living up to its expectations to the people?
What are we supposed to get and what are we getting? For me, those are the basic things. I don’t know whether there’s any place that anybody can point to, at least, that this is one project that NDDC has done in recent times. I have not seen it because that is the fundamental thing. In the past, at least, we had some level of activity that you can say, ‘well, there is this road there, there is this small something they are doing here’ and all that. No one can point it, at least that I have seen. What has happened? All we hear is that this one wants to be signatory to the account and the other one is signing MoU and they are quarrelling. All of us, if we are not careful, we would be hoodwinked into focusing on those battles, instead of whether these people are living up to expectations.
Having said that, the NDDC itself is a creation of law. That we all know and I always say that the provisions of the law setting it up are very clear. Section 7 of that Act, Sub Section 3 clearly states that the commission shall, in carrying out its work, is subject to the direction control and supervision of the president in the performance of its function. In other words, all the activities are subject to the control, supervision and direction of the president. So if the president is directing and controlling, what is the direction or control or supervision that is still given to these people? So the thing is clear; meaning if you are the chairman of the board, you are not the chief executive, so far as the law is concerned. I have been chairman of NEITI and for the purposes of that work, I was just out there to chair the board and that was what we were supposed to do. I did not say that I am going to carry out the day to day functions of the commission and I think that is what we should get clear.
Section 12 clearly talks about what the managing director is supposed to do with that and I think, he is the CEO of the commission. So I do not see why we should go into all these issues. Is it to make sure that the NDDC carries out its functions? Is the fight over that? Or the fight is over signing of cheques? Cheques for what? Which jobs? So that’s why I do not feel that we should allow them to hoodwink us to watch the fight over who gets what.
This is the first time that this government is even pretending to have a board after a very long time. This government has completely been running the NDDC almost illegally without a board. From administrator, interim administrator, all those sort of things. They told us that there would be a forensic audit which outcome we have not seen. If there were infractions, no one has been punished. We had all those sort of things. Those are the issues for me, not who is to sign cheque; cheque for what? What work have they done? In the past, you can see, NDDC is doing this in one village, it’s doing this in that place- it’s doing this in that place. Now, we have not seen nothing that you can point to and say, this is what NDDC is doing and then, you now have all those issues that they say they are fighting over.
I will like a conversation about what jobs they are doing, not who has power to sign cheque and all that. They are diverting our attention and we want to see the forensic audit report and get people who committed infractions punished, according to law.
Now, there is a board and they are fighting instead of working. So how do we end this?
Have I told you Section 7, sub section 3, that the person who directs what happens to the NDDC, is the president? In fact, the law setting it up makes the NDDC an agency of The Presidency. So the presidency is where the problem is; the buck stops with them. They also have the powers. I’ve always been saying that the corruption in this country is federally driven and so it must be controlled from that level. EFCC is controlled by the federal government, police is controlled by the federal government. Any of those agencies that can check these fraud are controlled by the Federal Government, why are they silent? Why are they not doing things? So the people are disempowered completely and the presidency takes full responsibility as far as I am concerned about what is happening and they should sort the rot.
The former Minister, Akpabio, moved the NDDC from the presidency to the Niger Delta Ministry where he was in control. Now, the NDDC is under the supervision of the Ministry of the Niger Delta, no more under the presidency. Do you think this contributes to the problem in the NDDC?
Well, I’m not sure that moving the NDDC to Niger Delta Ministry or anything changes the law; the law still says that the president controls the work, supervises everything they are doing. That is where the supervision, control and direction of the work of the NDDC is done by the president. So whether you locate it in Niger Delta Ministry, or under anything, it’s still the president that controls it. So that is the point I am making and so, that’s where we should deal with it- that this organization that is supposed to take care of at least things that would help this region, has not done anything. Is it not the president or The Presidency- whatever, I don’t know the difference between them- that appoints interim managers of NDDC, interim MD, interim administration and then towards the eve of the administration, you now set up a board. Why didn’t he set up a board since?
Now, let’s look at some of the trajectory of some of the people that they put there. You see, the board that is supposed to be an interventionist agency, you are considering those you want to give jobs, as if it was job for the boys. The first proposal that the president did with the current chairman, was to put her in INEC. But there was uproar. Then he pulled her from there to NDDC. Of course, what did you expect? You see, when you get an agency that is supposed to deal with issues of the livelihood of people that have been so impoverished and you leave it in the hands of politicians as if it is job for the boys, what do you expect? And then you do nothing about it.
I hear that the NDDC master plan has expired and right now, it just appears there is no plan that the NDDC is working with, for the development of the region.
Clearly, it’s a waste of resource to have even thought of a master plan and I feel a little bit scandalized, that some of us thought it made sense; so we participated in that process of trying to do a master plan. Though, I know that during the presentation of that master plan, they showed that this is where the Niger Delta was, there was a chart they showed that this is where it is supposed to be, if the projected funds were injected into the NDDC. From then till now, funds more than that have been injected into the NDDC but we’ve seen nothing. So it is all a scandal that has become the NDDC and it’s a shame that at least even certain persons who saw one road here, one bridge there in the past about NDDC, cannot boast of anything for the past eight years. So which plan are they doing? I don’t even understand what has happened. Several reports have come out.
When I was in NEITI, we did a report and identified several contracts that money was paid and nothing has happened. There are depth of report that shows that this place is a beehive of corruption but nothing has happened. Why is it that nothing happened? When you have issues like that and there is no accountability, then that is what happening. I am saying as someone who has put the better part of my adult life in agitation for the betterment of this region, that what we fought for has become an engine of fraud against the people. Many people are dying and if not that it could have been life and death matter, some of us would have just given up on talking about this issue. But each day that they do not perform, someone is dying as a result of avoidable illnesses caused by, maybe pollution, by bad water and lack of amenities supply that is happening.
So if you were to see the Chairman of the Board of NDDC face-to-face, what will you be telling her concerning development in that region, vis-a-vis the expectations of the people.
If I see both and chairperson and the MD, I would say they should get back to work and stop deceiving us with their so-called fight. They should go to work. We want to see results, not about who will sign cheque or not. I am not impressed.
Can you just set an agenda for the board? What is you least expectation in the next six months from the board?
Well. I don’t know which board, whether it’s this same board that we are going to keep till the next dispensation, I don’t know. But clearly, the people of the Niger Delta that conceived of those ideas of having an intervention agency are not impressed.
So, within the next six months, what I expect them to do, number one, we want to see the results of the forensic audit and any infractions punished according to law.
Two, let the communities themselves decide what their priorities are in terms of projects and you work bottom-up instead of sitting down in the board room there, and each person will now say put this one for me, put that one for me, and calls that budget. I don’t think that is the way to go, as if the people have no say, they have no priority, or as if they lack nothing, or as if you know everything about the people.