Following calls for the sacking of the Interim Management Committee(IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission by a coalition of stakeholders under the auspices of the Niger Delta Accountability and Development Coalition, NDADC, an advocacy group has urged restrain, saying that continuous bickering would not help the interest of the Niger Delta region.
The group known as Transparency In Petroleum Exploration and Development Initiative (TIPEDI), an Oil and Gas Industry Watchdog urged an amicable resolution of the lingering row between the relevant committees of the National Assembly and the Interim Management Committee, IMC of the NDDC on the one hand as well as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio and the relevant committee of the National Assembly on the other hand .
The TIPEDI said this has become necessary as the continuous row between the National Assembly and the NDDC’ IMC is capable of having serious negative effects not only on the Commission but on the hapless people of the Niger-Delta who have suffered neglect for many years.
Recall that Prof K.D. Pondei, the acting managing director of the NDDC was recently fingered in an illegal determination,and approval to himself a staggering N51m monthly allowance for “guest house imprest” and “project visit” at a time when president Muhammadu Buhari had imposed a lockdown to prevent the spread of the dreaded COVID-19.
Equally worrisome is the fact that the acting managing director’s action amounts to a serious ethical breach and violation of the law as the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission(RMAFC) is the only body statutorily empowered by law to determine and fix remuneration for all public office holders. Besides, the whopping monthly N51m allowance which Pondei approved for himself indicates that the acting MD of NDDC earns far more in excess remuneration than President Buhari whose yearly salary and allowances as determined and fixed by the RMAFC is N14m.
Recall that Buhari had ordered a lock-down in line with the advise of the NCDC(Nigeria centre for Disease Control) to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many directors at the NDDC are therefore miffed at this unfolding scandal, expressing shock why any person would tend to behave in such a manner that is less than honorable and ethical. According to them, this is because at that time, nobody truly embarked on project inspection or monitoring at the NDDC.
Recall also that Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike had similarly imposed a restriction on movements within Rivers state during the lock-down in a bid to stem the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 virus. It would also be recalled that during that period, inter-state travels in and outside of Rivers State were prohibited by the State government, fueling concerns as to which project was then monitored by Pondei.
However, in a statement earlier issued from Yenagoa, Bayelsa State by TIPEDI, the organization’s National Coordinator, Chief Nathan Egba, said some legislators deliberately orchestrated the present conflict between the Prof. Keme Pondei- led management of the NDDC and the National Assembly as a means of blackmailing the Commission to bow to some demands as well as derail completion of the forensic audit.
Chief Egba, a former Commissioner in Bayelsa State said “over the years, succeeding managements of the NDDC have come under the same kind of pressures and blackmail, with several managements capitulating.
“In the process a lot of funds meant for developing the Niger Delta area and improving the people’s lives have ended up in the pockets of few individuals to the detriment of the general population,” he said.
He also submitted that it is necessary to state at this point that the Legislators as representatives of the people should rather cooperate with the NDDC to address the reasons behind their relatively poor performance over the years, which has been attributed to the National Assembly’s slow and disruptive budget passing process.
According to Chief Egba: “We in TIPEDI agree with the NDDC’s submission that over the years the National Assembly applies three clear steps by which it stifles the NDDC’s operations; namely through replacing the Commission’s budget proposals with the Legislators own projects.
“Other ways include delay in the passage of the budget till very late in the year and when the budget is finally passed, demands by Legislators for upfront payments for their projects, most of which are usually left abandoned anyway.”
But in its own submission, the coalition group, the Niger Delta Accountability and Development Coalition, NDADC which called on President Muhammadu Buhari to scrap the Interim Management Committee, IMC of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC while calling for the inauguration of the Governing Board of the Commission as prescribed by the NDDC Act detailed several cases of infractions currently on-going at the NDDC.
The coalition group in a statement issued by its National Coordinator, Comrade Johnson Epia continues to insist that the composition of the IMC is in contravention of the NDDC Act.
“We wish to restate that the NDDC Act does not recognize any form of Interim Management Committee or indeed any other form of Management in whatever manner or by whatever name called except as strictly prescribed in the NDDC Act, 2000, as amended, particularly sections 2 and 10 of the Act, which are the Governing Board and Management Committee and whose members must be nominated to the Senate for screening and confirmation by the President of Nigeria.
“The NDDC Act provides for the president to nominate a Chairman, Managing Director, Two Executive Directors and one person who shall be an indigene of an oil-producing area to represent each of the following member States, that is Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers states, and three persons to represent each of the non-oil mineral producing geo-political zones. Other members are a representative of Oil producing companies in the Niger- Delta nominated by the Oil producing companies; one person to represent the Federal Ministry of Finance; and one person to represent the Federal Ministry of Environment. By the provisions of the NDDC Act, they shall be appointed for a fixed term of four years in the first instance subject to the confirmation of the Senate.
“This is the constitutional provision duly followed by President Buhari who officially nominated members for the Governing Board and Management Committee vied a letter to the Senate dated 18th October 2019 and personally signed by him which was read on the floor of the Senate by the President of the Senate.
“As required by Section 2 (2a) of the NDDC Act, 2000 which President Buhari also specifically cited in his Letter to the Senate seeking the confirmation of the nominees therein, the Senate screened and confirmed the nominees the same way it confirmed other nominees for Appointments and is still confirming many others for other Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria and who immediately resumed their duties without any encumbrance. Why then is that of this Governing Board of NDDC different, which has been causing huge embarrassment to President Buhari, the Senate, and Nigeria, and creating avoidable tension in the Oil Producing States of Nigeria?,” the group asked.
The Coalition added: “The excuse by those who deliberately misled and ill-advised President Buhari to constitute an Interim Management Committee while keeping the confirmed Governing Board on hold, claiming that such illegal IMC is desirable to supervise the forensic auditing before the inauguration of the Governing Board, is not only faulty but appears a carefully planned agenda to ridicule President Buhari and the National Assembly.
“It has become the stock in trade of various groups to make spurious and dubious claims that those demanding the disbandment of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) are doing so because they are opposed to the forensic audit. This is a blatant lie because as civil society organizations we have demanded a comprehensive audit of the NDDC for several years. What has happened with the current situation is that the minister of the Niger Delta, Chief Godswill Akpabio latched onto the agitation for a Forensic Audit to create an IMC contraption that serves no particular purpose to the people of the region but his self-interest, and orchestrate propaganda that its job is to supervise the audit.
“There is no proper audit anywhere in the world by reputable auditors that need the supervision of the management, let alone an illegal management committee, else it loses its independence and credibility. No serious audit requires the management of the place to supervise it, except, of course, it is an audit with predetermined boundaries. The IMC is therefore no more than an interloper in the affairs of the NDDC, which is why Civil Society Organisations have been consistent in demanding that the NDDC be run by the Governing Board’”, the statement added.
The group wondered how the confirmed Governing Board can become an obstacle to the well-appreciated and welcomed-decision of President Buhari to engage reputable External Auditors to carry out a holistic forensic auditing of the Commission.
“Niger-Delta groups like the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) led by elders statesmen of the region, the Ijaw Youth Council, The Transparency and Accountability Advancement Group, Urhobo Nationality Progress Coalition, Isoko Nation Youth Congress, Oyom Movement, the Niger Delta Ijaw Development Resource Association, the Niger Delta Renaissance Coalition, Transparency, and Accountability Initiative, Act for Positive Transformation Initiative, and the Niger Delta Progress Group, among others across the length and breadth of the Niger Delta have made the point that the continued stay of the IMC is illegal and should be scrapped.
“The IMC contraption has created an unfortunate needless situation where at least four civil matters are challenging its legality in various courts across the country. At no time in the history of the NDDC has there been such bedlam as in the last seven months. All these are needless and it is time for the right thing to be done which is to respect the provisions of the NDDC Act and inaugurate its Governing Board without further delay. The All Progressives Congress should see it as a duty to ensure that it is not seen as running an inchoate administration, and more importantly one that does not respect the country’s laws.
“The administration breached this provision in appointing an IMC unknown to the Act. This is what has led to agitations by communities and groups in the Niger Delta. To remedy this situation, we call on President Buhari to scrap the IMC and re-establish the NDDC Act by inaugurating the Governing Board in line with the Law”, the Coalition further added in the statement.
The coalition further advised that this illegal IMC has great negative consequences if the continued lawlessness is allowed to persist. “The impact of lawlessness can be grave, even for a sovereign state as recent events have shown. According to the current Federal Government, Nigeria is today sadly battling with the case of the P & ID Multi-Billion Dollar Gas contract issue simply because due process was not adhered to and persons not legally recognized to sign such contracts on behalf of our country, manipulated the previous Government to be permitted to do so.
“Like the Ministry of Petroleum Resources which got us into the P & ID Contract mess, NDDC is an Agency of Federal Government that also deals with and enters into Agreements and Contracts, the reason President Buhari and the Senate must, therefore, hurry now to undo the mistake of imposing an illegal IMC on NDDC. It should simply inaugurate the approved Governing Board and Management Committee of NDDC to forestall a repeat of the grievous mistake made that landed our country in the current P & ID quagmire.”