ANAYO ONUKWUGHA captures the intrigues surrounding the altercation between the South-South governors and the minister of Niger Delta Affairs over the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Attendance at the recent commissioning of the headquarters building of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), located along the Eastern By-Pass, Marine Base, Port Harcourt, clearly showed that the governors of the Niger Delta states, especially those from the South-South geopolitical zone were not happy with on-goings at the interventionist agency.
Out of the nine governors, only Senator Hope Uzodinma of Imo State was present at the ceremony that was attended virtually by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The squabble over activities at the NDDC seems to have started when the governors, especially those from the South South states on March 8, 2021, called on the federal government to block the accounts of the commission until the constitution of its board.
The commission has been running on interim management committee (IMC) system with frequent change of the CEO since Nsima Ekere left in 2019 to contest the Akwa Ibom State governorship seat, which he lost to incumbent Governor Emmanuel Udom.
He has been replaced by the likes of Akwagaga, Nunieh, Pondei, as IMC bosses and now Effiong Akwa as sole administrator.
The governors, who are from Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, and Rivers States, urged the federal government to hold on to the bulk of the NDDC’s funds and only release what is sufficient for payment of salaries of staff, in the interim.
The meeting was attended by the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike; the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki; Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Douye Diri and the Deputy Governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Mr. Moses Ekpo, who represented Governor Emmanuel Udom, and Governor Okowa.
According to Delta State governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, who addressed newsmen after the meeting at Government House, Port Harcourt, it was worrisome that the NDDC has been ran by an interim caretaker committee, and now, an interim administrator for over a year.
Okowa said: “This situation does not augur well for the people of the Niger Delta as opportunity for all states to be represented as they ought to be represented in the board of the NDDC does not exist.
“So, it means that the NDDC is actually run in such a matter that it is actually not truly beneficial to our people, because there is no stakeholders’ input in the running of the affairs of the NDDC.
“We do know that there is a forensic audit taking place and if that reason the board has not been constituted, our advice is that monies being sent to the NDDC should be put in an escrow account until a board is constituted and then proper processes are followed in the expenditure of the money in such a way it will be visibly accountable in the best interest of the peoples of the Niger Delta.”
The governors demanded that whenever the board of the NDDC is constituted, the advisory council must be called upon to place its role to ensure there is check and balance in such a matter that the states will truly have value for money expended by the NDDC.
Not long after, the issue became intense as different associations joined the debate, taking different sides.
The Niger Delta Renaissance Coalition (NDRC), threw its weight behind the demands of the governors on the need for immediate inauguration of NDDC board in keeping with the law.
The group’s national chairman, Comrade Damian Nwikinaka, said the governors spoke their mind over the convoluted manipulations going on in the NDDC.
But it’s position was countered by another group, the Centre for Responsive Leadership and Transparency (CRLT) who lampooned the governors their call on President Buhari to inaugurate a substantive board for the NDDC.
The group’s executive director, Preye Dressmann, said the call by the governors was suspicious, considering that a forensic audit of the NDDC is yet to be completed.
However, the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, told the governors to desist from issuing directives to President Buhari on how to run the NDDC as they have no powers to indulge in such acts.
Akpabio, stated that the governors should rather focus on purging themselves of governance misconducts in their respective states, particularly on unlawful preference for caretakers administrations in local government councils or imposition of loyalists when they allow council elections.
The minister said: “I am not aware that governors now have powers to give directives to the President, but I think they have more critical issues to fix in the region. Federal Government told governors to allow democracy in LGs and stop the narrative of operating caretakers in the councils.
“In many of the states, councils are left without democratically elected LGs for several months. But even when they now say we want to conduct elections, somebody will sit in a room and write names of his choice as Chairman and councillors, but they have not been denied funds by FG.
“I am ready to have a board for NDDC by tomorrow, but let’s finish with the forensic audit first, then we can have aboard, but it would not be business as usual. We brought a forensic audit and even the governors supported it because we said NDDC has not worked.
“So we want to know why it hasn’t work to be able to do things differently. The forensic audit will be out in a few months. From what we know already, we will need some policy and legal amendments to have the change we want.
“So the governors should not be issuing directives to the President. They should carry out proper council elections. Today, NDDC does not have a balance sheet you can take to the World Bank to access funds. When the right thing is done, more money will come. A board will definitely be appointed.”
However, reacting to Akpabio’s statement, a prominent Niger Deltan, Senator Anietie Okon, admonished the minister to avoid conflicts with governors of the South South region over the NDDC.
He described Akpabio’s warning to the South South governors as mischievous and ill conceived and warned Akpabio to desist from misinterpreting South South governors’ advice to him, which he said, was in the overall interest of the region.
The former senator said: “I feel disappointed at Akpabio’s posturing that the South-South governors were in no position to issue directives to President Muhammadu Buhari on how to run the NDDC.
“Akpabio’s utterances, among other vituperations, paint the picture of a minister whose actions and inactions show absence of concern for the well-being of the Niger-Delta region.”
Okon also backed governors of the South South states for demanding an upward review of 2.5 per cent for the Host Community Trust Fund in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to 10 per cent in the interest of oil communities and the country.
He said: “They only made demands for the good of their states and the Niger Delta region regarding the efficient management of the NDDC where the development and prosperity of the region has derailed. The governors’ demand was properly expressed and it is justified.
“Unfortunately, the unity, peace and progress of our country hangs in disequilibrium, where governments of the federating units are forced to pick up the baton of responsibilities neglected by the federal government,” he said.