Fresh facts have emerged as to why the presidency is delaying the reconstitution of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Findings by LEADERSHIP revealed that a supremacy battle between the Senate leadership and some ministers in the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari is largely responsible for the delay in the appointment of new helmsmen for the agency saddled with the infrastructural development of the oil-rich belt.
The delay by the presidency to set up a board to manage the main development agency in the Niger Delta had generated fresh tension in the region, with stakeholders in the region flaying the federal government over what they termed lackadaisical attitude in handling important matter and developmental issues concerning the citizens.
It was gathered that divergent positions by Senate leadership and some influential cabinet members from the Niger Delta had made it difficult for the presidency to take decision on the crucial matter.
While the agency is currently being managed by a sole administrator, Effiong Akwa, various stakeholders in the region, including ex-militants led by Chief Government Ekpemukpolo, alias Tompolo, have protested and rejected the management of the agency by a sole administrator.
They insisted on the appointment of a substantive management and board as a panacea for peace and in consonance with the law establishing the agency.
Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has been under fire over his perceived reluctance to have a board in place.
In his response to the June 2021 ultimatum by the Tompolo-led group, Akpabio had pleaded for time to inaugurate a new board in July.
LEADERSHIP, however, learnt that the plan by the presidency to inaugurate the new board is being truncated by sharp disagreement between Senate leadership and some ministers from the region.
Specifically, it was learnt that Senate President Ahmed Lawan and his deputy, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, are insisting that the management and board appointed by the presidency and screened as well as confirmed by the Senate on October 30, 2019 be inaugurated by the Presidency.
The Senate had confirmed a former deputy governor of Edo State, Dr Pius Odubu, as chairman and a former commissioner for Finance in Delta State, Bernard Okumagba, as managing director.
Others screened and confirmed by the Senate in 2019 were Maxwell Oko from Bayelsa State, as executive director, Finance and Administration, and Otobong Edem, as executive director, Projects.
Similarly, Aisa Murtala Muhammed from Kano State was to represent the North West, while Ardo Zubairu from Adamawa State was appointed as a representative of the North East. Ambassador Abdullahi Bage from Nasarawa State was to represent the North Central geopolitical zone.
The presidential memo was, however, silent on the nominee for the South West on the board.
The Senate also confirmed the representatives of the oil producing states to include Theodore Allison (Bayelsa); Victor Antai (Akwa Ibom); Maurice Ettiwatt (Cross River); Olugbenga Elema (Ondo); Hon. Uchegbu Chidiebere Kyriam (Imo); Prophet John Erue (Delta); Chief Victor Ekhator (Edo) and Nwogu Nwogu (Abia).
A letter by President Muhammadu Buhari, dated October 18, 2019 titled, “Confirmation of the Appointment of the Board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)”, was received on October 22, 2019 by the office of the Senate president.
The inauguration of the board was suspended in 2019 by President Buhari, ostensibly to pave way for an unfettered forensic audit of the activities of the commission.
It was gathered that Lawan and Omo-Agege are vehement in their advice to the presidency that any attempt to appoint another board would be tantamount to ridicule and embarrassment of the National Assembly.
The Senate leadership is said to be leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the Obudu-led board sail through in the presidency.
The minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, who nominated Maxwell Oko as executive director, Finance and Administration, in the yet to be inaugurated board is said to be on the same page with Lawan and Omo-Agege.
Omo-Agege who nominated Okumagba as managing director of NDDC is said to being arm-twisted to accept the position of chairman for the commission for Delta State by the ministers.
The Ijaw group in Delta State is also craving to upstage Obudu to produce the chairman in the envisaged new board while the Urhobo and other stakeholders are insisting on Bernard Okumagba as managing director to represent Delta State in the management of the commission.
On the other hand, Akpabio, minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, are said to be mounting intense pressures on the presidency to discard the Obudu-led board.
The ministers, it was learnt, are angry that their interest is not sufficiently protected in the Obudu-led board.
LEADERSHIP gathered that they are working on a new list of nominees which has been forwarded to the presidency for consideration.
An impeccable source told this paper that the presidency is in a dilemma over the matter.
The source who did not want his name in print said, “The presidency is desirous of early reconstitution of the NDDC board but it’s somehow confused. The Senate is insisting on the Obudu board screened and confirmed since 2019. The Senate is pleading with the presidency to save it from monumental embarrassment and ridicule that the jettison of the Obudu team, which the presidency sent to it for screening and confirmation in 2019, will cause.
“The Senate president and his deputy do not mince words that any attempt by the presidency to succumb to the dictates of the ministers with a view to presenting fresh presidential nominees for appointment into the board of NDDC will embarrass and ridicule the National Assembly. The senate leadership is therefore, pleading and lobbying the presidency to save it from embarrassment by inaugurating the Obudu-led board of 2019.
“The Senate implored the presidency to consider that it has always been its willing tool and it should at least inaugurate this NDDC board sent to it that was screened and confirmed in order to salvage its dwindling image in the public domain.
“The ministers of Niger Delta origin in the cabinet, especially Akpabio, Amaechi and Keyamo, who are highly influential in the presidency are working round the clock to sabotage Lawan and Omo-Agege, nay the Senate, by ensuring that the presidency considers fresh nominees form them and forward same to the National Assembly for reconsideration and confirmation for appointment into the board of NDDC.
“The way forward depends on the psyche and courage of the presidency, as the Senate leadership and the cabinet ministers are relentless. The heat from the National Assembly and the ministers is on the presidency. The presidency has the final and ultimate say in this matter and it’s hoped that it’s going to do the needful soonest in the overall in interest of the Niger Delta”.
When contacted on the phone, spokesman to the Senate president, Ola Awoniyi, declined comment.
Awoniyi simply said, “I had no briefing on that. I am not even aware of what you are saying.”
The deputy’s Senate president’s spokesman, Yomi Odunuga, could not be reached for his comment.
Chairman of the Senate committee on Niger Delta, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (Delta North), ignored persistent calls to his mobile phone. He also did not respond to a message sent to his mobile phone on the issue.
Akpabio’s media aide, Jackson Udom, in a telephone interview with LEADERSHIP said, “I don’t know anything about that. It’s within the purview of the presidency to decide on the issue concerning the NDDC board.”
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