President Muhammadu Buhari has since returned to the country after a 10-day private visit to the United Kingdom – a visit that was not so private as he actually worked from London, signing bills into law and attending to official matters. While he was away, the Senate screened and approved his nominees for the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Now that the president is back at his desk, Nigerians expect that he will do the needful by inaugurating the board of the commission to bring to an end the confusion that has reigned these past one month or so with the existence of an interim management committee that was set up in controversial circumstances. While the need may arise for an interim management committee in the absence of a substantive board, which may be brought about by unforeseen circumstances and for a specified period, the fact that a board has been appointed and is actually waiting to be put in place makes the existence of any temporary arrangement superfluous. President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, said this much on the day the upper chamber of the federal legislature approved the NDDC board.
President Buhari must inaugurate the board he has appointed, which has Pius Odubu and Bernard Okumagba as chairman and managing director/ chief executive officer, respectively. The board cannot continue to wait indefinitely for the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to make up his mind on when his interim management committee should end its tenure.
From the look of things, the interim committee is not in a hurry to round off its activities and leave. The manner in which it is going around the Niger Delta to secure endorsements from so-called stake holders leaves no one in doubt about its long-term agenda. Members of the committee would not be doing so if they had it at the back of their minds the fact that a substantive board is waiting to be inaugurated to perform the functions assigned it by law.
It has not been explained up till now why Gbene Joi Nuneih, the acting managing director of the commission, was not available for the Senate screening when the other 15 members of the new board attended the exercise and their nomination was duly approved. For all we know, her action may be a grand scheme to delay inauguration of the new board. It is instructive that at the time of writing this article, there is no word as to when she will present herself for screening by the Senate for appointment into the new board.
One of the reasons President Buhari enjoys so much goodwill from Nigerians, which actually contributed to his emergence as the country’s president is his unrivalled integrity and strict insistence on due process. He followed due process by nominating a board to run the affairs of NDDC, just as he did shortly after he first assumed office in 2015. The Senate has done its part. The ball has now been played back into his court to complete what he started.
At the meeting with governors of Niger Delta states where he hinted at ordering a forensic audit of the activities of NDDC from inception, President Buhari lamented the fact that what may pass for the physical development of the region is not commensurate with the huge sums that exist on record as having been spent on the region. No other person understands the enormity of the task before the new board of the commission better than he does. It is expected that he will pass his desire for a new momentum and new sense of commitment to the real development of the Niger Delta region to the new board at inauguration.
There is work to be done at NDDC. The sad stories of unbridled and free-for-all corruption evidenced by the hundreds of abandoned projects that litter the entire Niger Delta landscape suggest a compelling need for the commission to start on a clean slate, with a properly and legally constituted board leading the change. With the Senate-approved board still in limbo, no meaningful development can be carried out by the commission.
The continuous neglect of the Niger Delta, despite the trillions of naira that have been sunk into the region through the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and NDDC, has unfortunately been masterminded by people from the region who have been the ones heading those agencies since their establishment. It is time for us in the Niger Delta to have a new understanding of the fact that our development rests squarely on our shoulders.
We cannot to continue to blame the rest of the country for the abject poverty and underdevelopment that our people have suffered as consequences of the oil exploration and production activities that go on in our communities. The Obasanjo administration did what no administration before it thought of doing by creating those two institutions and putting them in our hands as instruments for our development.
Odubu and Okumagba, both indigenes of the Niger Delta, know quite well that the lot has fallen on them to redeem the image of the people of the region by demonstrating that they can carry their destinies in their hands. They must device a new means of designing projects to meet the specific needs of people in the various communities, and not the common practice of foisting on the people projects that have more political significance than need, which in the end turn out to be white elephants.
There have been stories of efforts by beneficiaries of the stealing that took place in NDDC in the past years working to frustrate the impending probe of the commission. If the audit is to have any meaning and achieve its desired objective, President Buhari will do well not to include politicians in the exercise. An exercise of this magnitude and importance should be handled by reputable audit firms with proven track record of performance. That would be the only way to achieve a complete break with the past and make NDDC performs its role optimally.
Green is a businessman, wrote from Port Harcourt.