Niger Delta Elders’ Forum has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to display equity by inaugurating the board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as he has done for North East Development Commission (NEDC), in compliance with the NDDC Act, fulfil his own promise of June 24, 2021, and thereby ensure proper corporate governance, accountability, and probity, in the management of the Commission for the benefit of the nine constituent states.
According to National President of the group, Chief Tonye Ogbogbula, “whereas the President Buhari government complies with the North East Development Commission (NEDC) enabling Act and expeditiously inaugurated a representative board comprising members from its North East six constituent states since inception in 2017, it conversely permitted a subterfuge forensic audit of NDDC (which lasted for over two years) as a guise to delay the inauguration of NDDC substantive board that guarantees equitable representation, rather authorizing illegal interim management committees/sole administrator contraptions, which have been administering the Commission in breach of NDDC Act.”
The group also noted that more than five months after President Buhari has received the report of the forensic audit of NDDC which he ordered in October 2019 and promised that on its completion he will inaugurate the substantive board, President Buhari is yet to fulfil his promise to inaugurate NDDC board after submission of forensic audit report.
Recall that on June 24, 2021, when Ijaw National Congress visited President Buhari in Aso Rock he unequivocally promised the nation that he will inaugurate the NDDC board upon receipt of the audit report.
The President said: ‘‘Based on the mismanagement that had previously bedeviled the NDDC, a forensic audit was set up and the result is expected by the end of July, 2021. I want to assure you that as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted, the NDDC Board will be inaugurated.”
The report of the forensic audit of NDDC was submitted by Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to President Buhari since September 2, 2021. More than five months after submission of the forensic audit report, there is increasing tension in the Niger Delta region over the delay in inaugurating members of the board of the Commission.
According to Ogbogbula, this is rather a strange pattern by a regime that touts adherence to rule of law as its mantra, noting that “in the six and a half year tenure of the Buhari Presidency, NDDC has operated with a substantive Board for only two years, 2016 to 2018.”
Niger Delta Elders’ Forum revealed that North East Development Commission (NEDC) which was established in 2017 is modeled after the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which was setup in 2000. Both are interventionist Commissions established by Acts of parliament to manage the regions of the country adversely affected by exploration of natural resources or extraneous factors like conflicts and insurgency.
The group insisted that the enabling Acts establishing NDDC and NEDC state clearly that they should be governed by substantive Boards nominated by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and approved by the Senate.
Ogbogbula noted that the NEDC which has a governing Board in place has been reaping the fruits of its stability occasioned by a governing board which guarantees full representation of all constituent states. He listed some of the benefits to include the inauguration, last year, of the construction of 500 units of mass housing estate in Gombe state being constructed by NEDC; NEDC flag-off of the construction of 500 mass housing units in Dungal, Bauchi state, in September 2021; construction of 300 housing units in Yola South LGA, Adamawa state; construction of housing units in Mafa LGA, Borno state, and 500 housing units in six towns of Yobe state, amongst others.
The group regretted that “conversely, in the Niger Delta region, the NDDC has not initiated and completed any project since October 2019 when the illegal interim management committees/ sole administrator contraptions were imposed on the region, yet they have administered a combined 2019 and 2020 budgets of N799 Billion approved by the National Assembly”
The group rather noted that “the Senate probe of NDDC in June/July 2020 revealed the unending infractions in the Commission since October 2019 without due process and no projects to show for the huge amount expended. The report and resolutions of the Senate on the financial recklessness of the NDDC Interim Management Committee (IMC), which was adopted unanimously detailed the humongous illegalities that have been going on at the NDDC and laid out fraudulent and questionable payments of over N81.5 billion by the Interim Management Committee, a clear mismanagement of the resources of the NDDC.”
Niger Delta Elders’ Forum stated that the angst, agitations and pleas of the Niger Delta leaders and stakeholders “capture the frustrations of a people denied of their rights of effective representation in a commission funded by their patrimony.”
Already, across the length and breadth of the Niger Delta region there are unending calls, demands and peaceful agitations of youths, men and women, political and traditional leaders and civil society organisations that the inauguration of the board of NDDC will ensure compliance with the NDDC Act, promote and sustain peace, equity and fairness, transparency and accountability, good governance and rapid development and transformation of the Niger Delta Region for the benefit of the nine constituent states.
Chief Ogbogbula restated that now that the Forensic audit report has been submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari since September 2, 2021, the President should do well to heed the call of the Niger Delta leaders and other stakeholders, comply with the law setting up NDDC, and also fulfill his own promise of June 24, 2021, and inaugurate the board to manage the Commission for the benefit of the people of the nine constituent states.