By NBF News

For some months now, uneasy calm has pervaded the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). This is because of the ongoing bickering among three top officials of the interventionist agency. Specifically, at the centre of the war of attrition are the Managing Director/CEO, Mr. Chibuzor Ugwoha, and two executive directors.

They are Executive Director, Projects (EDP), Arc. Esoetok Etteh and the ED (Finance & Admin.), Mr. P.Z. Aginighan. Each of them has mounted strident campaigns of calumny against the other. Both camps have also petitioned the presidency through the office of the Secretary of the Government of the Federation (SGF) and the chairman of the commission, Vice Admiral Larry Koinyan, each stating its position on the face-off.

On his part, the MD/CEO has accused the two directors of gross insubordination, and of repeatedly taking steps to undermine his office. Pointedly, he alleged that the two directors had on many occasions side-stepped due process and other relevant provisions of the Procurement Act 2007 in the award of contracts running to billions of naira. He also accused them of authorizing payments without his knowledge and consent.

Mr. Ugwoha, who was appointed the boss of the Commission in August, 2009, has also petitioned some banks where the agency has huge funds, warning them on the consequences of honouring cheques issued by the two directors. He wants a change in the signatories of the Commission's accounts with the banks to reflect, in his words, 'the new change in management'. The MD had acknowledged canceling several contracts totaling N6.9bn reportedly awarded 'illegally' by the two directors.

But the two executive directors have also leveled allegations of their own against the MD. Among other things, they allege that the MD awarded billions of naira worth of contracts, contrary to the Authorization Manual put in place by the erstwhile board of the commission.

The Authorization Manual has become a contentious document believed to have aided large-scale fraud in the Commission. The MD wants it scrapped, and replaced with the Public Procurement Act 2007. In some of their recent petitions, the two directors described the MD of running an 'inept, corrupt and ineffective' administration. In all, the two warring groups remain relentless in their allegations. There are also speculations that a former boss of the commission may be fuelling the present crisis.

We have carefully weighed the arguments and string of allegations of both sides in the dispute. Essentially, they revolve around transparency, insubordination, greed, insensitivity to the larger interests of the Niger Delta region that the protagonists are meant to serve, and lack of due process and transparency. All of these can lead to high-level corruption, which sadly remains the bane of many government institutions, especially those set up to fast track development and empower the people. The NDDC is a very important interventionist agency. Unfortunately, personality clashes have been allowed to defeat the lofty objectives for which the agency was set up.

We are in support of the peace efforts initiated recently by President Goodluck Jonathan, through the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), to resolve the disagreement. In the letter asking the trio to sheath their swords, the SGF noted that the crisis was a result of the refusal of the members of the management team to follow due process in the award of contracts.

We cannot agree any less. The appropriate thing, therefore, should be for those found guilty of flouting this basic rule to face maximum punishment. All contract awards should be in compliance with the Public Procurement Act 2007. If the management of the commission had given its Tenders Board a free hand in the award of contracts, perhaps, this present needless bickering would have been avoided. The three top officials and the Board should take urgent steps to put right what has been gone wrong.

Otherwise, it might become inevitable for government to take decisive action to sanitize the commission. This step may not be what any of these officials want. But, it may be a last resort if they continue to allow their personal interests to override the larger interest of the Niger Delta people. The MD/CEO should be given free hand to run the affairs of the agency as stipulated in the Act setting it up. He, in turn, should not use his position to stifle dissent. There should be the spirit of give and take among the three bickering officials. Altogether, the amnesty deal which the Federal Government entered into with some of the militant leaders, last year, may be imperiled if the current bickering does not stop.

The development efforts in the Niger Delta region can only proceed unhindered in a harmonious environment. Let there be peaceful co-existence among those that manage the funds and the policy direction of the agency.