It is unfortunate that some people has turned the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission into an unending circus for his self-aggrandisement.
Early in the year, the presidency had said that the audit report will be presented at the end of this year, 2020, for which reason it extended the tenure of the illegal Interim Management Committee. However, less than a month to the scheduled conclusion of the audit, which has so far taken over a year, the Minister in charge of Niger Delta affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio has nominated and got the presidency’s approval of Mr Effiong Okon of Akwa as Interim sole administrator instead of the proper structure of a Governing Board as required by the NDDC Act.
The announcement of Mr Akwa, which was made on the night of Sunday, December 13, 2020, to replace the Interim Management Committee, has rightly been called another imposition by Niger Delta stakeholders. This is, because, like the equally illegal IMC, the position of Interim Administrator is not known to the law setting up the NDDC. Mr Akwa himself is a member of the IMC, having been appointed in August as Acting Executive Director Finance and Administration. He had served as SA Finance to Mr Bassey Dan-Abia while he was MD of the NDDC between 2013 and 2015. Dan-Abia was nominated for that job by Akpabio as Akwa Ibom State governor between 2007 and 2015.
Niger Delta groups have consistently said that the forensic audit is simply a smokescreen for the minister to micromanage the NDDC. Several NGOs raised the alarm weeks ago that Akwa was being prepared by Akpabio to take over from the IMC as sole administrator under the guise of supervising the unending forensic audit. The anger of Niger Deltans is that the forensic audit, an otherwise regular activity in any institution, is an excuse to disregard the NDDC Act and run the Commission through interim managements. Even those who initially gave him and the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration the benefit of the doubt on the audit have now seen the questionable agenda and are calling for the return to compliance with the NDDC Act.
The hijack of the NDDC started with the manipulation of the appointment of the IMC into office in October 2019, after the president had announced his nominees for the NDDC Governing Board in August and sent the names to the Senate for confirmation. The Board members were subsequently screened and confirmed by the Senate on November 5, 2019. Since then, the powers-that-be have through subterfuge delayed the inauguration of the NDDC Governing Board as duly stipulated in the NDDC Act. Their strategy has been to use the excuse of the external audit of the NDDC, stretched through a lengthy process of twists and turns to justify the continued illegal stay of the IMC and now an interim sole administrator.
Initially, the IMC was sold as an aberration to last between three and six months, which was between October 2019 and March 2020. But, strangely, they got the president to approve an extension in April for the IMC to remain till December this year. Now, with the terminal date at hand, they are using the smokescreen of the audit to put in place an administrator instead of the proper governance structure of a Governing Board as provided for in the NDDC Act.
The Niger Delta region is the economic life wire of the country, with the oil and gas industry, which is located in the Niger Delta states, contributing over 90 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings. Yet, the people of these oil-bearing states of the Niger Delta have a massive infrastructure deficit, suffer from oil spills and other ecological disasters that are unremedied, and generally do not enjoy the expected benefits of being hosts to the oil and gas industry, with poverty and unemployment very high.
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was established in 2000 by an Act of the National Assembly, with a mandate to spur the development of the nine oil producing states that it covers. These are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers States. Sadly, rather than help solve the problem of underdevelopment, the government seems to have compounded them, by not allowing for the proper functioning of the agency.
Under the Buhari Administration we are beginning to see a pattern where the NDDC has been reduced to a source of slush funds to fund various schemes and activities outside of its legitimate mandate because of the undue attention on the agency, by the same government officials who cry to the rooftops about corruption. Perhaps, this is why the administration appears to be comfortable with this adhoc interim arrangement where the management is not accountable to the people of the Niger Delta region.
For instance at the recent National Assembly probe of corruption against the Interim Management Committee between May and July this year, the NDDC account statement with the CBN indicated that the agency paid out about half a billion naira to buy face masks and hand sanitisers for the Nigeria Police, an independent government agency that not only has a robust budget but also has a ministry of its own! Even the president’s lukewarm reaction to that investigation and the general behaviour of the IMC, in the view of many Niger Deltans pointed to a deliberate pattern of the administration in condoning illegality for its own selfish interests, which is why the government prefers to have the adhoc arrangement of an interim management committee and now an interim administrator clearly in breach of the NDDC Act, which provides for a Governing Board.
There is a pattern of illegalities instituted by the current administration to undermine accountability at the NDDC in a way that no other federal agency has been so treated in the last five and a half years of the Buhari government. In the 15-year history of the NDDC, prior to Buhari’s coming in 2015, an interim appointment had never been made outside of the law, even when the Governing Boards were dissolved. In line with the provisions of the NDDC Act, when the Board is dissolved, the next most senior Civil servant in the NDDC establishment takes over as MD in acting capacity until a new Board is constituted, in line with the NDDC Act. Buhari refused to follow this requirement, and instead introduced an illegal succession tradition, which Akpabio has exploited to the hilt.
In August 2019 there was hope that his second term will be different when the president nominated a 16-man Governing Board in line with the law, and sent their names to the Senate which screened and confirmed them. However, strangely, he asked that the board be put on hold and okayed an Illegal Interim Management, on the excuse of conducting a forensic audit of the agency.
As many experts and statesmen have stated over the last several months, the excuse of a forensic audit is no ground to abrogate the law governing an institution. External audits, the kind the Federal Government says it is doing at the NDDC, are done regularly in many Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) but their managements are not set aside for interim leadership. Both the NNPC and NPA have been so audited, yet interim management committees or administrators were not appointed to run these federal organisations. So there must be a more sinister reason for this action.
The NDDC law is clear on how people should be appointed into its Governing Board and provides for broad representation across the nine constituent states, yet, the president who is sworn to defend and uphold the law, has committed the illegality of unilaterally suspending the law for an interim arrangement that is not responsible to Akpabio.
In comparison, the North East Development Commission, which was established after Buhari became president, is operating normally with all its governance institutions in place. NEDC is being run by a Board representing the various states as provided for in its Establishment Act, while NDDC, which has a provision for broad representation, is being run by just one person. The NEDC is being managed from the presidency without meddlesome interference of a minister and signifying the importance placed on it. However, President Buhari downgraded the value he places on the NDDC by taking it from the presidency and handing it over to a minister with vested corrupt interest in the agency.
Source: The Sun