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PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN: BEFORE THE APPOINTMENT OF NEW NDDC BOARD

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As the people of the Niger Delta await the constitution of a new board for Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, we stakeholders in Nigeria Delta Region call on President Goodluck Jonathan to appoint persons with good track record, technocrats not political nominees and are committed to the development of the long-neglected region. This call becomes necessary following intense lobbying for appointment into the board of the commission. All previous Boards have not lived up to expectation except the short-lived Board under Pastor P. Z. Aginighan, a technocrat par excellence. A sound NDDC board is strategic to the proper management of human and material resources which would translate to the development of the region. President Jonathan should therefore shun lobbyists and political considerations to avoid the mistakes of the past which robbed the nation of the needed development.

Less than two months to the dissolution of the current board and management of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a heightened but discrete lobby for top jobs in the interventionist agency has commenced among stakeholders. Already, some governors in the oil-rich region who enjoy robust relationship with the presidency are engaged in what a source described as “zero-sum game” over juicy slots in the NDDC. But lobbying stakeholders may have to contend with a hurdle. President Goodluck Jonathan, who is said to be “sniffing for a fresh team” has vowed that the next NDDC board and management will be manned by only competent and qualified persons, just as he has insisted on insulating the interventionist agency from partisan politics. The governing board of the commission was reconstituted in November 2011 by President Jonathan following the exit of the Mr Chibuzor Ugwuoha-led management team, which was sacked as a result of irreconcilable differences among the top management shots, on September 13, 2011. Sacked alongside the erstwhile board was Air Vice-Marshall Larry Koinyan, who was chairman, as well as most state representatives.

In place of the previous board, Dr Tarilah Tebepah from Bayelsa State was appointed as new chairman of the commission. Others are Dr Christian Oboh (Rivers, managing director), Mr L. E. J. Konboye (Delta, executive director, finance and administration), Mr Edikan Eshett (Akwa Ibom, executive director, projects), Mr Edward Orubo (Bayelsa, member), Dr Ibitamuno Aminigo (Rivers, member), Chief Solomon Ogba (Delta, member), and Ima Obong Johnson (Akwa Ibom, member). The list also includes Mr Peter Ezeobi (Imo, member), Dominic Edem (Cross River, member), Mr. Aloy Nwagboso (Abia, member), Mr. Omogbemi Oladele (Ondo, member) and Mr Osahon Imaru (Edo, member). Other members of the commission who are from the non-oil mineral producing states are Senator Garba Lado (north-west, member), Rima Kwewum (north-east, member), and Senator Tunde Ogbeha (north-central, member). Joe Jakpa also made the list as a nominee by the oil majors to represent their collective interest in the commission.

The appointments of the current team are subject to renewal by Jonathan, even though the initial mandate was to complete the four-year tenure of the Ugwuoha-led management, which expires in September. By this, and barring any unforeseen circumstance, Cross River State is expected to fill the position of the NDDC chairman from September this year. For the position of the MD, Akwa Ibom appears set to clinch the position, going by production quota of the oil-producing states, except Rivers which is about running out its term through Oboh. But the most contentious positions are those of the executive director (projects) and executive director (finance and administration) currently occupied by Akwa Ibom and Delta respectively. Current ED (F&A) Konboye from Delta, who was nominated by a serving minister, is struggling to retain his job. In the ensuing intrigues, the fates of certain state representatives on the governing board of the NDDC are uncertain. The NDDC appointments are usually made by the president in accordance with Section 2(1) of the NDDC Act of 2000, which provides for the establishment of the governing board, comprising a chairman, one person each from the Niger Delta member states, three persons to represent the non-mineral producing states, one representative of the oil-producing companies in the Niger Delta nominated by the oil producing companies, one person each to represent the federal ministries of finance and environment, the managing director of the commission, and two executive directors.

If the Board is dissolve as expected in September 2013 we call on the Federal Government to take precaution in the choice of new appointees, if the commission is to succeed. “We implore Mr. President to carry out serious search for capable and credible persons who will put the interest of the people of the region first in all their considerations. We are of the belief that there will transformation of the region’s economy and societies, if this is done without any form of politics”. It is regrettable that Niger Deltans saddled with the responsibility of improving the social and environmental conditions of the region and alleviate poverty chose to aggravate the scourge for the ordinary Niger Delta people. We suggested that anyone wishing to be appointed as the new managing director or member of the board of the commission should come up with and defend a proposal to that effect.

This, it stated would ensure that a person who displays competence is given the shot. Reasons being the regular controversy in Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, has no doubt remained a matter of concern to those who have the interest of the Niger Delta region at heart. We the indigenes of the region feel that the only visible development or agent of transformation that the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo bequeathed to the people of an area that produces no less than 84 percent of the nation’s accumulated wealth is the NDDC. The composition of the commission having representatives from the west, the north, federal parastatal and non oil producing areas besides those from the region, was an idea contrived to die at birth. Many Niger Delta critics particularly those who are NDDC apologists have always argued that the commission is often starved of funds. Some however argue that even with the “little” that has been released to the commission, the necessary impact has not been felt many years after it was established.

Back in 1958 when the colonial government after several efforts to salvage the impoverished Niger Delta region, set up the Henry Willinks Commission, it passionately appealed to the conscience of the local authorities to give the region a “special development attention”. The response of the Nigerian government had come years after the submission of Willinks Commission report in the form of Niger Delta Development Board, River Basin Development Board Authority, Presidential Task Force on Niger Delta, and of late, Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Authority, OMPADEC. All of these were monumental failures. In what appeared an act of appreciation for the overwhelming vote he garnered from the south-south in 1999 and 2003, Obasanjo set up the NDDC to complement the federal and state governments’ efforts to reposition the region. The vision of the new Commission was simple: “to offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta region”. And the mission was to “facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development…” of that part of the country. More than a decade after its establishment, NDDC is still grappling with indecision. Seemingly, the commission does not know what or deliberately not having the political will to do what it ought to do.

The problem of the NDDC has always been blamed on lack of regional master-plan, poor funding, project abandonment, internal leadership tussle and most potently, political interference. The pioneer board of the NDDC led by Onyema Ugochukwu as the chairman set up the path for the interventionist agency to thrive on its journey to making the region an El-Dorado. After that board, what later came up were boards that were torn apart by leadership crisis and corrupt practices. In the history of the Commission, stakeholders are of the view that it was only in Timi Alaibe’s tenure as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, that the NDDC devised an agenda for regional infrastructural development.

Alaibe’s leadership quality while he held sway in the Commission created no room for any form of internal squabbles and rancor as being witnessed in recent times. The Niger Delta catchment areas enjoyed almost equal dispensation of infrastructure baring any political interference in a given state. Things turned out worse in the Commission when Chibuzor Ugwuoha became the next MD of the Commission. He was a Rivers State candidate for the post. There were allegations of fraud under his management. The brief tenure was also riddled with serious power tussle. Expectations were that Ugwuoha would make good use of the master-plan that was drawn up by the Alaibe’s board to develop the region but that was not to be. Consequently, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered the dissolution of the board and a new one was constituted headed by Dr. Christian Oboh as the new MD. Oboh, also a Rivers choice is to complete the state’s slot of Ugwuoha’s tenure.

Many recall the order that was handed the new NDDC board by the Senate President, Senator David Mark, when he charged it to perform within the first six months of its inauguration or face severe sanction from the Parliament. There have been mixed reactions on whether NDDC under the current leadership has satisfied the mandate given to it by the nation’s senate. There is however insinuations of contract sums being inflated and projects awarded to the cronies of the top officials in the system. Some contractors who may not want their names to be mentioned in print alleged that things have gone so bad in the Commission that “jobs are awarded according to man know man”.

They further allege that relations of the top officials of the Commission are busy executing mega projects awarded them by their brothers. Only last March, the Presidential Monitoring Committee on the NDDC, severely indicted the Commission of some shoddy deals to the expense of the people of the Niger Delta. Chairman of that committee, Chief Isaac Jemide, said mismanagement of funds, abandonment of projects and poor execution of contracts featured prominently in the operations of the commission. Jemide further stated that out of 609 projects monitored by the committee, 285 were abandoned at various levels, 222 were completed, while 102 were on-going. The committee while presenting the report to President Jonathan in Abuja disclosed that the NDDC management refused to give concrete explanation on why some projects were abandoned and had not provided evidence of any attempt to recover the funds using appropriate government agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offenses Commission (ICPC).

He said the NDDC also failed to complete all Civic Centres, University Hostel Projects and all shoreline protection over an operational period of 12 years. The Jemide committee accused commission of engaging in unjustifiable introduction of astronomical variations on the contracts sums of most projects awarded by it over short periods of time, saying that some of the variations were effected prior to project commencement. Another grave concern raised by the committee was on the refusal of the commission to sanction incompetent contractors such as Messrs Fountain Construction Company Ltd handling the Eket-Ibeno road in Akwa Ibom state.

The Committee suggested that the federal government considers the implementation of the report, which it said, would assist in repositioning the commission to ensure the meaningful development in the region. What many Nigerians and indeed the Niger Deltans are more worried about is why the anti-graft agencies have decided to turn their search-light the other way when the commission stinks of corruption and brazen embezzlement of funds. Nevertheless, stakeholders have suggested that the major way of either reducing or ending financial fraud in the system is when the NDDC is brought back to the office of the President as it was the case before now.

It would be recalled that it was during the brief period of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua that the NDDC was taken to the office of the secretary to the federal government, SFG. It was observed that the then SFG, Alhaji Yayele Ahmed could not give sufficient supervision to the activities of the Commission hence it started to stink. “NDDC Act must strictly be followed when it comes to the appointment of the board of management”, said Dr. Lewis Akpogena. He continued that “NDDC should be brought back to the Presidency as it used to be in the Obasanjo years for effective monitoring”. A critic who pleaded anonymity had earlier insinuated that NDDC was one of the major sources of funds for the prosecution of every presidential campaign in Nigeria. It has thus been recommended that if President Jonathan is serious about the development of the Niger Delta, he should pay more attention to the activities of the Niger Delta Ministry and the NDDC.

With the Ministry and the Commission synergy, it is believed that the problem of the East/West Road should have been adequately tackled long ago, given that the two institutions should be capable of handling the project with relative ease. As an interventionist agency that has seen more funds than all the past agencies put together, NDDC has no business crying for lack of funds as it does all the times, analysts insist. It is when competent technocrats are appointed to hold the Management positions of Managing Director, Executive Directors (Finance & Administration and Projects) that are insulated from the politics of political godfathers/parties that nominated them that real development is birth for Niger Delta Region.

Written By Dr. Lewis Akpogena
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