By Fred Itua, Abuja
When the National Assembly, despite former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s stiff opposition, established the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) at the commencement of the Fourth Republic, Nigerians had hoped that it would proffer answers to many years of underdevelopment of the oil-rich region.
About two decades after, it still appears to be a long walk to an uncertain freedom. From repeated accusations of financial impropriety, to sub-standard projects; undue interference by state governors and Federal Government’s ineptitude in handling the internal wrangling of the Commission, NDDC, according to stakeholders, has failed to live up to its mandate.
The ongoing unending drama, was birthed when President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Godswill Akpabio as Minister of Niger Delta. Through his Machiavellian maneuvering, the control of NDDC was ceded to Akpabio, who for about three years, toyed with the development of the region.
From the appointment of his cronies as managers of the Commission, to the questionable forensic audit, Akpabio, according to Niger Delta stakeholders, spearheaded the undoing of the Commission. For months, he had a running battle with the imprisoned Senate Committee chairman of NDDC, Peter Nwaboshi. Names submitted to the Senate for confirmation, were questionably withdrawn.
With a new sheriff in town, Umana Okon Umana as the substantive Minister of Niger Delta, and also supervising the NDDC, there may just be light at the end of the tunnel. Barely few months after he took over as Minister, President Buhari has forwarded names to the Senate for confirmation as members of the Board of the Commission.
According to the letter sent to the Senate by Buhari, his Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie was named as the substantive Chairman of the Board of NDDC.
The President’s letter which was read at plenary by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, also named 14 others as members of the Board.
The 14 members as contained in the letter are Dimgba Erugba (State Representative, Abia, South-East). Dr. M.M Willcox Wills (State Representative, Akwa Ibom, South -South), Elder Senator Dimaroe Daniya Bofa (State Representative, Bayelsa State, South -South), Hon. Orok Duke (State Representative, Cross River, South-South) and Dr. Pius Odudu , (State Representative, Edo State, South -South).
Others are Anthony Ekenne, (State Representative, Imo State, South-East), Gbenga Edema (State Representative, Ondo State, South – West),
Elekwachi Dimkpa (State Representative, Rivers State, South-South), Mohammed Kabir Abubakar, ( Zonal Representative, Nasarawa State, North-Central), Aule Ikoh Sadiq Sami (Zonal Representative, Kebbi State, North-West), Prof. Tahir Momoh (Zonal Representative, Adamawa State, North-East), Chief Samuel Ogbokwu, ( Managing Director for a term of two years to complete the term of his predecessor in office.
Bayelsa State, South-South),Major General Charles, Arhiavbere (Executive Director, Finance, Edo State, South-South) and Charles Ogunmola, Executive Director, Projects , Ondo State, South-West).
The letter as read by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan states: “Dear Distinguished Senate President, confirmation of appointments of Chairman and members of the Niger Delta Development Commission.
“In accordance with the provisions of Section 2(2)A of the NDDC Act, Cap N86, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
“I hereby present the under-listed 15 names of nominees as Chairman and members of the NDDC for confirmation by the Senate.
“While I hope the request would receive the usual expeditious consideration, and confirmation of the Senate, Please accept the Distinguished Senate President, the assurances of my highest consideration.”
Since the announcement of the new helmsmen, stakeholders and governors from the nine oil-producing states, have launched an offensive against the confirmation of the nominees.
Daily Sun has gathered that the team that drove the processes culminating in the emergence of the new NDDC Board, especially the chairman, managing director as well as the two executive director-designates, were led by the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Umana and his Justice counterpart, Abubakar Malami.
Daily Sun gathered that a good number of the nominees, particularly the management team, did not have the input of the governors from the oil producing region.
The source said the reason the governors were not carried along was for the “NDDC to be partially insulated from politics.”
Nevertheless, some of the nominations might have political hurdles to scale, as Nyesom Wike and Hope Uzodinnma, governors of Rivers and Imo states respectively, are said to be leading the coup to stop the two executive directors from being cleared and confirmed by the Senate.
It was learnt that while the Commission’s chairmanship nominee was directly put there by the President, Minister of State for petroleum resources, Timipre Sylva was behind the nomination of Ogbuku as Managing Director. Ogbuku was chief of staff to Sylva when he was governor of Bayelsa State.
In the case of the nominee for the position of executive director, finance and administration, retired General Airhiavbere, his service colleague, another retired Army General from the North, was said to have propped him.
According to the source, the President was “determined to discontinue the perception that the NDDC was a breeding ground for governorship aspirants and candidates.”
He said: “Looking at the history of the NDDC, it has always been a breeding ground for governorship aspirants and candidates. So, while Mr President personally chose the chairman with the MD going to Bayelsa for Sylva to recommend someone, Ogunmola’s nomination as executive director, projects in particular, was said to have been made possible because of his apolitical status.
“The only aspect where relevant governors became necessary was in the area of state representation on the Governing Board where recommendations from most of the governors scaled through.
“So, there came the thought that there must be someone who at least, would settle down and get the job done; and it was at that point Ogunmola was strongly recommended by someone with whom he had had a strong business and career relationship with certified records of performance.”
The official who pleaded not to be named, however, put the blame on the supervising minister. The official confided in a team of media men that the president relied on the recommendations of the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Umannah Okon Umannah, in his decision and ultimate nominations to the Senate.
“It’s quite unfortunate that the minister did not recommend persons from the mandate areas; it has been discovered to be so and this very bad. It paints Mr President in a very bad light and this is not good at all.
“As the minister in charge, he ought to have known that the law or Act will be followed to the letters by the Senate. But as it is, there are various options open to the president because although he has already been briefed, he can no longer withdraw the letter sent to the Senate.
“But the Ondo people protesting should know that they are merely aiding the efforts of the governors of Rivers and Imo states who have made strong cases individually against Ondo State. If the protests of the people succeed, they should know that the EDP position won’t remain in Ondo State,” he revealed.
For now, it is uncertain if plans by President Buhari to replace some of the nominees before the Senate confirms them will still play out. For now, it’s a fight to finish.