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All we are saying is …

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Editorial

 

It was a reminder of sorts when protesters led by the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Worldwide dramatically blocked the Mbiama section of the East-West Road to demand that the Federal Government should constitute and inaugurate a substantive board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

They had also sealed the agency’s new headquarters in Rivers State following the expiration of an ultimatum issued in April. The group had threatened to disrupt socio-economic activities in the region if President Muhammadu Buhari failed to meet their demand.

Ex-militant Government Ekpemupolo known as Tompolo gave a June 30th ultimatum, and it took that for the minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio, to succumb, at least In theory.

The group’s resort to unlawful conduct is unacceptable. It reflects the group’s desperation as well as the government’s intransigence.  IYC President Peter Timothy Igbifa was quoted as saying, “What we are struggling for is beyond an individual. It is a collective interest of our region. We need a board and we need it now.”

In December 2020, President Buhari had further complicated matters at the agency by appointing an interim administrator to run it. Effiong Akwa, who had been the agency’s acting executive director, finance and administration, was “to assume headship till completion of the forensic audit,” according to the government.

The commission’s acting managing director, Prof. Daniel Pondei, was removed, the government explained, as “a result of plethora of litigation and a restraining order issued… against the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC by a Federal High Court in Abuja.”

President Buhari had earlier “extended the tenure of the Professor Keme Pondei-led Interim Management Committee… from May 1 to December 31, 2020,” according to a statement by his spokesman, adding, “The extension is to cover the period of the forensic audit of the NDDC.”

It is ironic that President Buhari’s move to deal with the agency’s failure by ordering a forensic audit of its operations from 2001 to 2019 has been complicated by twists and turns encouraged by the president himself.

Curiously, President Buhari had ordered the audit after approving a new governing board for the agency in August 2019, subject to Senate confirmation, without waiting for the Senate to confirm the board. Perhaps it would have been more logical to have waited for Senate confirmation of the board, and then ordered the audit under the new board.

By the time the Senate eventually confirmed the new governing board, the

Minister Akpabio had further complicated things by setting up an interim management team to oversee a forensic audit of the agency.

Another complication arose when the Senate declared that it would not recognise the interim management committee in processing the 2019/2020 budget proposals of the agency. The upper chamber also ordered its Committee on Niger Delta to interact only with the NDDC board it had confirmed.

Strangely, after the Senate confirmation, rather than inaugurate the board he had initially approved, President Buhari did a somersault.  In December 2019, his spokesman said he had approved that the NDDC board “be recomposed and inaugurated after the forensic audit of the organisation.”  He also directed that the agency’s interim management team “shall be in place till the forensic audit is completed.”

How long will it take to complete the forensic audit of the NDDC? The exercise was reported to have started in April 2020.  The Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved a contract of N318 million for engagement of a lead consultant for the audit. With allegations of continued corruption at the agency, the interim administrator and the supervising Minister of Niger Delta Affairs are faced with credibility challenges.

It is abnormal that the NDDC is still run by an interim administrator. This arrangement is not the same as having a lawfully appointed and approved board for the commission, with the implications for transparency and accountability.  NDDC needs to return to normalcy.



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