The President may do well to inaugurate the substantive board
Apparently concerned by the level of corruption, opacity and the illegality that now define operations of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), South-South governors last week called on President Muhammadu Buhari to, in the absence of a substantive board for the commission, put all NDDC funds, except those meant for salaries and imprest, in an escrow account. "We do know that there is a forensic audit taking place and if for that reason the board has not been constituted, our advice is that monies being sent to the NDDC should be put in an escrow account until a board is constituted and then, proper processes are followed in the expenditure of the money in such a way it will be visibly accountable in the best interest of the peoples of the Niger Delta," the governors stated.
Not surprisingly, the minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio, who is at the centre of the crisis, has come out to oppose the position of the South-South governors which we wholeheartedly endorse. This needless problem started a month after the Senate confirmed the 15 nominees as NDDC board members almost two years ago. Before they could be sworn-in, the president deferred to Akpabio who has practically been running the commission under the pretext of a never-ending 'forensic audit'.
Unfortunately, it has been a tale of scandals at the NDDC, following the inability of President Buhari to constitute a substantive governing board to run its affairs as stipulated by law. That has created a situation in which the commission cannot fulfil its mandate. Lamenting that the federal government has changed the Interim Management Committee (IMC) twice before appointing an interim administrator in less than two years, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) says that the NDDC Act did not provide for an IMC or interim administrator. "What does the President's continued appointment of an interim committee and now interim sole administrator tell about his accountability and transparency and anti-corruption fight?" asked former President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ledum Mittee.
Established in 2000 by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, the NDDC was charged with facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region "that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful." The commission's mandate area is comprised of the nine oil producing states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers. Sadly, while the NDDC has a comprehensive master plan and hundreds of billions of naira have been spent over the past 19 years, there is little on ground to justify the investment.
Indeed, the report of the presidential committee on project execution covering the period between 2005 and 2011, is very revealing of the extent of rot in NDDC. The report monitored a total of 609 projects spread across three states - Cross River, Edo and Rivers. While there is no clear information about the forensic audit that was supposed to have been conducted on the activities of the previous management, an interim board without any clear mandate or authority, as we keep warning on this page, is a recipe for unwholesome practices as available reports now indicate.
If we must entrench a culture of transparency and accountability in the affairs of the commission, it is important to have a substantive board in place rather than leave it to the whims of an overbearing minister. Besides, operating outside the law to impose an interim board with elastic mandate is clearly unacceptable. If the president cannot constitute a board for the commission, he should accede to the request of the South-South governors by putting its funds in an escrow account.