To douse the tension and agitation in the Niger Delta region, and also comply with the law, following the continued imposition of an illegal interim management/sole administrator contraption in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) since October 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari, on June 24, 2021 gave a firm promise to inaugurate the NDDC Board upon receipt of the Commission’s forensic audit report in July. However, since receiving the forensic audit report on September 2, 2021, the President is yet to keep to his promise to inaugurate the NDDC Board, and continues to run the Commission in breach of the law, to the consternation of stakeholders, writes Nseobong Okon-Ekong
President Muhammadu Buhari promised the nation on the 24th day of June 2021, while receiving the Ijaw National Congress (INC) at the State House in Abuja that the NDDC Board would be inaugurated as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted.
The President said: ‘‘Based on the mismanagement that had previously bedeviled the NDDC, a forensic audit was set up and the result is expected by the end of July, 2021. I want to assure you that as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted, the NDDC Board will be inaugurated.”
But two days later, on Saturday, June 26, 2021, apparently in doubt of the President’s promise, Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), the militant group which violently shut down the nation’s oil production in June 2016, published a release on its website and threatened to unleash ‘Operation Humble’, which it said would bring “down target oil installations capable of humbling the economy into permanent recession.” It said: “This mission is also targeted at political actors collaborating with the Nigerian government to undermine interest of the Niger Delta people.” Its 10-point demand included the inauguration of the substantive board of NDDC.
The group said the action was necessary to “remind this failed government that we have exhausted the very last iota of patience.” It vowed: “We shall spare no oil installation within our range of strategic targets for destruction in the coming days and we bet the Nigerian government will be humbled to return to the drawing board and chart an all-inclusive course by the time we are done with our action plan.”
In a swift response one day after the NDA threat, President Muhammadu Buhari re-assured the NDA of his promise to inaugurate the Board of NDDC on submission of the forensic audit report in July, and therefore declared as unnecessary the threat.
According to a statement signed by the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity Femi Adesina, it was “curious that the threat was coming less than 48 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari met with the leadership of the Niger Delta and Ijaw National Congress (INC), at the Presidential Villa, and the germane issues had been responded to, especially call for restructuring of the Federation, and the inauguration of a Board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).”
Curiously, in the six and a half year regime of the Buhari presidency the NDDC has been run by a substantive board for only two years, 2016 to 2018. The Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba led Board of NDDC was appointed by President Buhari in July 2016 barely one month after the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) blew up Chevron’s oil wells in Delta state, lowering the nation’s daily oil production to 1.4 million barrels from 2.2 million barrels.
The report of the forensic audit of NDDC has since been submitted by Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to President Buhari on September 2, 2021. More than two months after submission of the forensic audit report, there is increasing tension in the Niger Delta region over the delay in inaugurating members of the board of the Commission. In fact the Ijaw National Congress (INC) had earlier cautioned in a statement issued on September 10, 2021 that “any further delay in the inauguration of the NDDC board is a clear betrayal of trust and display of State insensitivity on ljaw nation and Niger Delta region.”
Also, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, as was widely reported in the media promised to ensure that the Board came on stream before the end of June this year. That promise which was postponed to end of July to enable the conclusion of the Commission’s forensic audit, after which the Board will be inaugurated still has not been fulfilled more than two months after the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs submitted the forensic audit report to President Buhari through the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, on September 2, 2021. Little wonder that the tension in the region has reached fever pitch.
Already, across the length and breadth of the Niger Delta region there are unending calls, demands and peaceful agitations of youths, men and women, political and traditional leaders and civil society organisations that the inauguration of the board of NDDC will promote and sustain peace, equity and fairness, transparency and accountability, good governance and rapid development and transformation of the Niger Delta Region, and douse the tension of militancy as well as curtail the menace of insecurity in the region.
According to prominent Niger Delta groups, the non-inauguration of the board negates a promise by the President to inaugurate the board after the forensic audit.
The groups that have expressed their dismay include Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF); the Ijaw National Congress (INC), the Urhobo Progressives Union (UPU), the Ikwerre People’s Congress (IPC) Worldwide, Isoko Development Union (IDU), the Movement for the Survival of Izon Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta (MOSIEND). They have warned against further delay of the NDDC board inauguration.
PANDEF’s spokesperson Ken Robinson, described Buhari’s silence as worrisome, saying the President had “watched like an unconcerned spectator” all the shameful drama going on in the NDDC. He said the President’s indifferent stance conveyed the general attitude of the Federal Government towards issues of the region. Robinson said ”PANDEF and other stakeholders in the region have continued to underscore the fact that the prolonged non-constitution of the board of the NDDC is affecting issues of the Niger Delta, particularly developmental issues.
“Perhaps, there are people in the presidency who are benefiting in terms of inducement from the illegal and illegitimate processes that have been going on in the NDDC for about two years now. So, Niger Delta people are worried at the indifference of the president towards setting up the board and proper management of the NDDC and left it in the hands of one man.”
The umbrella body for Ijaw nation worldwide, the Ijaw National Congress (INC), said the silence of the Federal Government was just another way of playing on the sensitivity and sensibility of the people of the Niger Delta. INC President Prof Benjamin Okaba urged the government to act fast to avoid unpleasant consequences the delay might trigger.
The IPC said it was disturbing that the NDDC was being run like a private enterprise without adherence to the Act establishing the commission. IPC Chairman Livingstone Wechie, recalled that in 2019, the President promised to follow the Act in inaugurating the NDDC board immediately after the conclusion and submission of the forensic audit report which had been submitted since September 2, 2021. Wechie said: “IPC as a critical stakeholder in the region believes that the President has not lived up to his pledge and commitment and this is very disappointing to say the least.”
MOSIEND described the delay in the inauguration of the NDDC board as unacceptable. Its National President Kennedy Tonjo-West said the Federal Government had no excuse for not inaugurating the board.
Curiously, whereas the North East Development Commission (NEDC) has been allowed to function with its duly constituted Board in place in line with its NEDC Act thereby ensuring proper Corporate Governance, accountability, checks and balances and fair representation of its Constituent states, the NDDC on the other hand has been run arbitrarily in the last 2 years by Interim committees/sole administrator in breach of the NDDC Act even after President Buhari had appointed a Board for the NDDC which was duly confirmed by the Nigerian Senate on November 5, 2019, but was asked to be on standby for inauguration after the forensic audit.
Now that the forensic audit report has been submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari since September 2, 2021, the President should do well to heed the call of Niger Delta leaders and other stakeholders, comply with the law setting up NDDC, and also fulfill his own promise of June 24, 2021, and inaugurate the board to manage the Commission for the benefit of the people of 9 (nine) Niger Delta states.