President Muhammadu Buhari may bow to pressure and reverse the newly constituted board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) due to the widespread resentment and demonstrations across the nine states of the oil producing states in the country.
It was alleged that politics was the only consideration used in selecting members of the new Board and this runs contrary to the provisions of the NDDC Act.
Besides, the new board was “hurriedly put together” without the input of the governors of the oil bearing states.
As governors of the Niger Delta states, the law setting up the NDDC provides that they should be consulted on the composition of the NDDC Board.
Sunday Independent gathered that governors of the oil producing states are scheduled to meet with the President this week to resolve the vexed issue.
President Muhammadu Buhari had recently approved a 16-man new board of the NDDC, with Dr. Pius Odubu from Edo State as the chairman.
A statement signed by the Permanent Secretary (General Services Office), office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Olusegun Adekunle, on behalf of the SGF, however, said that the appointment was subject to the confirmation of the Senate.
Among the board members are Bernard Okumagba from Delta State, who will serve as Managing Director; and Otobong Ndem from Akwa Ibom, who was appointed as the Executive Director, Projects.
Others are Maxwell Okoh from Bayelsa State; Jones Erue from Delta State; Victor Ekhatar from Edo State; Joy Nunieh from Rivers State; Nwogu Nwogu from Abia State; Theodore Allison from Bayelsa State; Victor Antai from Akwa Ibom State; Maurice Effiwatt from Cross River State; Olugbenga Elema from Ondo State; Uchegbu Kyrian from Imo State; and Aisha Muhammed from Kano State representing North-West area on the board.
From Adamawa State, President Buhari appointed Ardo Zubairu to represent the North-East; while Badmus Mutalib was appointed from Lagos State to represent the South-West region on the NDDC board.
Ondo State has been vehement against the composition and has urged President Buhari to appoint an indigene as the next Managing Director of the NDDC.
A top government official from the state, who does not want his name in print, argued that as the fifth largest oil-producing community in Nigeria, Ondo State deserves to produce the next NDDC MD.
He said the other oil-producing states, such as Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa, had had the opportunity of producing the Managing Director, Executive Director of Finance and Administration and Executive Director, Projects of the NDDC.
“The first Board of the NDDC (2001-2004) had Godwin Omene and Emmanuel Agwariavwodo, both from Delta State; Chief Timi Alaibe, from Bayelsa; as well as Udoh Mboso and Ukot, both from Akwa Ibom State.
“Second board (2005-2009) had Chief Timi Alaibe from Bayelsa as the MD; Chief P.Z Aginigha from Delta as the EDFA; and Beniah Ojurn from Rivers as the EDP.
“The third board (2009-2011) had Mr. Uguwoha from Rivers as MD; Chief P.Z. Aginigha from Delta as the EDFA; and Etteh from Akwa-Ibom as the EDP.
“Still, the third board (2011-2013) had Dr Christian Oboh from Rivers as the MD; Mr Lambert Konboye from Delta as the EDFA; while Edikan Eshiet Eshiet from Akwa Ibom was the EDP.
“If the NDDC Act can be strictly followed in the appointment of the board chairmen, why can’t they obey same Act in the appointment of the Managing Director and Executive Directors for the commission?” he queried.
According to the official, “Under Part 1, Section 4 of the Establishment of the NDDC Board, the office of the Chairman shall rotate amongst the member states of the Commission in the following alphabetical order: Abia State, Akwa Ibom State, Bayelsa State, Cross River State, Delta State, Edo State, Imo State, Ondo State and Rivers State.
“Ondo State has never produced the Managing Director since inception. It is now the turn of Ondo State and not Delta State as presently proposed. It is also the turn of Delta State to produce the Chairman and not Edo State. It is a battle royale because Ondo State will not agree and allow the present nomination to be confirmed by the Senate.
“The present manipulation was done by the APC Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege. The President cannot forward their names to the Senate for confirmation because it will be thrown out. If they use their political might to get the nominees confirmed, we will go to court to challenge it”, the official boasted.
Sunday Independent was also reliably informed that the incumbent Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, requested for the transfer of the NDDC from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
President Buhari had in his October 1, 2019 national day broadcast said “The recent redeployment of the Niger Delta Development Commission from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs underscores our commitment to enhance the living standards of our communities in the Niger Delta, through coordinated and appropriate programmes.”
Sunday Independent gathered that less than 24 hours after his swearing-in as the Minister, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio wrote a letter to the President on August 22, 2019, requesting for the supervision of the NDDC and that it should be transferred to his ministry.
The letter has reference number MNDA/PRD/114/S.I/T/119.
His request was granted via another letter (reference number SH/COS/81/A/1900) by the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, on September 2, 2019.
Contrary to insinuations that Akpabio is behind the delay in the confirmation of the new board because he was not instrumental to the nomination by the President, it was learnt that Otobong Ndem from Akwa Ibom, who was appointed as the Executive Director, Projects, is his candidate.
Another board member, Victor Antai, a former Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in Akwa Ibom State, was also brought on board by Akpabio.
Though efforts to get the Minister proved abortive before going to press, one of his media aides said the Minister is handicapped as well concerning the confirmation of the nominees by the Senate.
Credible sources from Ondo State also had it that it was responsible for the transfer of the former Minister of State, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Festus Keyamo, to the Ministry of Labour.
“When the cabinet was constituted, we discovered that the NDDC board and the Ministry were dominated by Urohobo people, we protested to the President that we want our son from Ondo State as the Minister of State, and the President graciously listened to us and made the necessary change.
“How can you have Bernard Okumagba, an Urhobo man as the Managing Director of the NDDC and at the same time have Festus Keyamo, another Urhobo man as the Minister of State in the Ministry that will supervise the NDDC? That does not reflect a federal character. That was the reason why Senator Tayo Alasoadura who is from Ondo State was asked to swap position with Keyamo, said our source.
Mixed reactions by Niger Delta stakeholders have been trailing the composition of the NDDC board.
While governors of Niger Delta states expressed reservations, other stakeholders, including Urhobo and Ijaw youths, hailed President Muhammdu Buhari for taking a wise decision.
Isoko and Ndokwa leaders in Delta State, who rejected the composition of the board, vent their anger on President Buhari and Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, stressing that the appointments violated the principles of inclusiveness.
Noting that two Delta State indigenes-Okumagba, an Urhobo, and Prophet Erue Jones, an Isoko-are on the new board, they maintained that Ndokwa was marginalised.
The paramount ruler of Seimbiri Kingdom and former President of Traditional Ruler of Oil-Producing Communities, Pere Charles Ayemi-Botu; President, Isoko Monitoring Group, Comrade Sabestine Agbefe, and the Vice President General, Ndokwa Neku Union, Chief Tony Uti, said the appointments were in bad faith.
Pere Botu, who complained that Delta State was not given the board chairman, said the appointments violated the rotational principle.
He added: “By the law setting up NDDC, the Chairman is supposed to be for Delta State. The Chairman rotates in alphabetic order among all the states.
First was Abia, then Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, and Cross River. Now that it is supposed to be for Delta State, it has gone to Edo.”
The monarch added: “The President doesn’t have listening ears. So, I don’t expect any change from him. But, the fact is that letter ‘D’ comes before ‘E.’ So, Delta state should have got the chairmanship. This is very sad and a bad precedent.”
A lawyer and leader of Ndokwa nation, Chief Henry Uti, said: “I am very disappointed with the Federal Government because it has failed to uphold the policy of he who gives, receives.”
He added: “For over 60 years, Agip has been operating in our land. Except for Professor Eric Opiah, who is a former Chairman of OMPADEC, Ndokwa nation has not had any appointment in any agency for the development of oil communities.”
Uti said: “The appointments are very unfair, to say the least. It is unfair for the Urhobo to produce the Managing Director of the NDDC for a second time when other ethnic groups are yet to get any position, just because the Deputy Senate President is an Urhobo.
“Giving the Commissioner to Isoko is also unfair to the Ndokwa. Ndokwa deserves the position. Isoko deserves the MD because Urhobo and Itsekiri have had executive positions as MD, Executive Director, Project.”
“Ijaws have been Executive Directors, Finance and Administration, and Itsekiri have been EDP, even though Tuoyo Omatsuli did not complete his tenure. An Urhobo, Samuel Adjogbe, completed that position.”
The President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Chief Legborsi Pyagbara, said there is nothing to celebrate in the new appointments.
He said: “The frequent changes by the Federal Government of the persons at the helm of affairs in NDDC do not allow for stability and consistency in policy making. The Federal Government is simply using NDDC to play politics and not for technical delivery of projects. The NDDC’s Act is also no longer being strictly adhered to.
“How can NDDC make a difference in the Niger Delta, when the competent helmsmen, who ought to push for the development of the region and empowerment of the people are frequently being changed?”
The MOSOP leader urged President Buhari to enhance consistency and stability in NDDC, instead of using the interventionist agency to play politics.
However, the Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom, Chief Ayiri Emami, differed, saying that the President put round pegs in round holes.
He said the new board would live to expectation, unlike the past board that failed to develop the region.
Emami added: “The new board should focus on all ongoing projects so that it doesn’t end the way of the last board, which did not represent what President Buhari stands for.
Echoing Emami, an activist from Rivers State, Success Jack, applauded President Buhari for taking a courageous decision. He also called for the investigation of the dissolved board headed by Brambaifa.
Hailing the president, Urhobo and Ijaw youths urged stakeholders in the region to support the new board to achieve its mandate.
The Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) and the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), in statements, said the new helmsmen would perform to expectation.
The UPU President-General, Olorogun Moses Taiga, in a statement by his Media Assistant, Kenneth Young, urged the ethnic nationalities in the region to cooperate with the board, eschew rivalry and shun politics of distractions.
He described Okumagba as a patriot and experienced administrator who will not disappoint the region.
Taiga added: “”Bernard was raised in the Urhobo tradition of truth, equity, courage, integrity, liberation and passion for excellence. The UPU and the entire Urhobo nation are praying for him to succeed in office, and we will give him all the support.”
A leader of IYC, Eric Omare, a lawyer, charged Okumagba to tackle the infrastructural deficit in the Niger Delta.
He said: “The new NDDC management must keep politics aside and face the developmental challenges of the Niger Delta region. We call on all stakeholders in the region to give the new board the required support to achieve their mandate.”