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NDDC Board: Why Mr. President Must Get it Right!

By Kabiru Johnson

At this time that the nation is yet to come to terms with the scandalous Oduahgate and the purchase of two armored cars for the cost of $1.6 million, the Jonathan administration can ill afford another scandal which the handling of the appointment of the new Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) board portends. President Goodluck Jonathan is expected any moment from now to announce a new board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The board is coming in at a time there are concerns over abandoned or failing Federal Government projects in the region. It's high time the minders of the Jonathan presidency appreciate that the issue of corruption is taking quite a toll on the image of the administration and might become an albatross in the run-up to 2015.

The up-coming appointment of a new board for the NDDC is an opportunity by Mr. President to inject “a breath of fresh air” in its perception by ensuring that a clean break from the past characterized by wanton looting and corruption of the agency.

One clear fact that is missed by the presidency is that with the huge resources of the NDDC which is in the neighborhood of N250 billion annually, the agency can take some pressure off the federal government's amnesty programme and the constant friction in the Niger-Delta region if we have in place a professionally-run and managed NDDC.

It will be recalled that President Goodluck Jonathan had in July set up the seven-man Steve Oronsaye Committee to audit contracts awarded by the NDDC. The committee was also charged to examine other transactions and activities that hindered the activities of the NDDC. It was also directed to look into the problems that hindered the operations of the NNDC and generated several concerns among stakeholders.

The Terms of Reference of the Committee were as follows: To assess and evaluate a sample of some NDDC Projects ; evaluate the contractor's prequalification process in the Commission; evaluate the roles and relationship of the Board, Management and Staff of the Commission; evaluate the procurement practices of the Commission and its compliance to the letter and spirit of the Public Procurement Act; evaluate the institutionalization of the orientation of all personnel of the Commission at all levels, in order to inform and manage expectations and evaluate fund management of the Commission.

The Steve Oronsaye Committee set up to probe the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has described the agency as “acutely crises-ridden,” and has recommended “immediate intervention” to reverse the decay in the commission. 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).

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. A sound NDDC board is strategic to the proper management of human and material resources which would translate to the development of the region. 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.

Barring any unforeseen circumstance, Cross River State is expected to fill the position of the NDDC chairman while the position of the MD will go to Akwa Ibom. The MD position appears the most contentious position. It is already being alleged that President Goodluck Jonathan may soon announce the board of the Niger Delta Commission, NDDC, with Bassey Dan Abia, a former acting Chairman of the commission, as the substantive Managing Director. Abia is said to have been picked by the governor and presented to the Presidency given his background as a lawyer and someone who had once served on the board of the NDDC before it was disbanded by Jonathan. Some Niger Delta groups have kicked against it, faulting the governor for putting forth Abia's name, having been part of the discredited board sacked by Jonathan.

One of the groups, Niger Delta Alliance, NDA, in a strong petition forwarded to President Jonathan, warned that they would resist Abia's appointment with open protest and make it impossible for him to assume the headship of the commission given his link with the past leadership that mismanaged the agency.

NDA said in the petition jointly signed by its Chairman, Dr. Allen Chua Anga and Secretary, Orok Didi Pius that Abia had lost the locus to serve as the MD of the commission having been earlier sent packing by the President over the misconduct of the former board. “We therefore humbly request that Mr. President be circumspect in the choice of the new management and board of Niger Delta Development Commission to avoid the recurring painfully unproductive service delivery of the past, where people like Barr Bassey Dan Abia served us,” NDA warned.