By NBF News
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The committee was inaugurated last week with former Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Steve Oronsanye, appointed as chairman. Other members of the 8-man committee are Lagos-based lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, B. O. N. Oti, representative of the Bureau for Public Procurement, Senator Bassey Ewa Henshaw, Mrs. Koripama-Agari, Alhaji Mohammed Ibrahim and Raymond Brown, who will serve as secretary.

The committee's terms of reference include evaluating the roles and relationship of the board, management and staff of the commission as well as the procurement practices of the commission and its compliance with the laid down rules and regulations of the Public Procurement Act.

It is also expected to look into the institutionalisation of the orientation of the rank and file of the commission while putting into proper perspective fund management and compliance or otherwise of the commission with the public service rules and extant civil service rules and regulations. At the inauguration of the committee, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, was unequivocal and unsparing in his outright condemnation of the internal wrangling in the commission saying, 'There are allegations of irregularities in the management of the resources of the commission and these are parts of what the presidential committee should look into with a view to finding solutions to them.' He also implored the committee to look into the complaints of improper implementation of projects and arbitrary award of contracts

Indeed, the award of contracts is one of the key ingredients of the NDDC imbroglio. The Public Procurement Act makes it clear that the MD/CEO is the head of the Tenders Board while heads of departments are automatic members. This, in effect, means that Chibuzor Ugwoha as MD of the commission has the power to award contracts worth N250 million and below. Contracts between N250 million and N1 billion have to go to the ministerial tenders board while only the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) can award contracts above N1bn.

This law had been in existence two years before Ugwoha became MD, but the board, in active connivance with the management of the NDDC did not agree to this apparently. Pastor Power Aginighan as executive director, Finance and Administration and Essioek Etteh, executive director, Projects would not want to be a party to this. In their reckoning, the NDDC Operation Manual of 2002 was what they needed to operate. It is in a bid to correct this anomaly that the duo, who had been in the NDDC for years with Aginighan even appointed as acting managing director during the transition process that brought Ugwuoha into office, has been at daggers drawn with the younger Ugwoha. When the crisis started to snowball, a memo from the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), asserted that every project, no matter the amount of pressure, must be taken up by the Tenders Board of the Commission.

The memo stated, 'You are also reminded on the need to quickly review the Authorisation Manual of the Commission so that all actions taken by the Commission in contract award are in line with extant laws and regulations. It was also observed that the Authorisation Manual of the Commission is not in conformity with extant laws, especially the Procurement Act 2007. Meanwhile, all procurements and contract procedures in the Commission must be strictly in accordance with the Procurement Act 2007. You are therefore required to take necessary action to put right what has been done wrong, otherwise, government may be constrained to take more stringent measures against any official of the Commission that violates all extant rules and regulations.'

Despite this, the cabal within the NDDC did not balk. Another hot-button issue was about the signatories to the commission's account. Prior to Ugwoha's appointment, the MD and EDP signed signature 'A' while the EDFA signed signature 'B.' Signature 'A' being for the accounting officer while 'B' was for the confirming officer. The implication of this is that money can be withdrawn without Ugwoha's knowledge. He insisted on being signature 'B' while the EDFA and EDP should sign for category 'A', in line with the Public Procurement Act 2007.

Aginighan and Etteh would not accept this and therefore petitioned the Chairman of the Governing Board, AVM Larry Koinyan, alleging that 'If urgent action is not taken, we may not have the capacity to pay outstanding obligations of the Commission within the next few days before we go on recess. We may not be able to manage the tension this will create in our already volatile Niger Delta region.'

These, among other issues, are the major factors militating against the smooth running of the commission for the past two years. The overbearing influence of Elder Godsday Orubebe, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, on the agency, and his surreptitious moves to bring it under his under his control is also well documented. Orubebe does not hide his disdain for Ugwoha. A case in point was when the minister appeared before the Senate Committee on Niger Delta over the proposed Niger Delta Coastal road project. Instead of concentrating on the matter he came to present, Orubebebe spent half of the time lampooning Ugwuoha.

According to him, 'The Federal Government is six months behind schedule on this project because of the activities of one man and some other persons.' The one man is Ugwoha. He even told the Committee to 'look critically into the matter and punish anyone found guilty severely…because of the activities of one man and some persons who have stalled development in the region'.

A political scientist in Akwa Ibom State opines that the work of the committee is cut out for it. 'They only need to look at the argument of both sides and see that Ugwuoha is just being victimised because he is a younger man that this cabal feels too big to defer to. Did he appoint himself? Instead of waging a war against the young man, let them take the war to the doorsteps of the president. After all, the President is also a Niger Deltan and if Ugwoha wasn't good enough, he would assent to his appointment. Let us wait and see how oronsanye will handle this.'