Niger Delta Governors on Thursday were absent at the commissioning of the headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, over rows with the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio.
The governors of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers had during a meeting in Port Harcourt on Monday, decried the non-constitution of the board of the commission.
They advised President Mohammadu Buhari that in the absence of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), funds for the commission beyond the payment of salaries should be put in an escrow account until he constitutes the board.
Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa who is the chairman of the governor’s forum described as worrisome the running of the NDDC in over a year by an Interim Caretaker Committee, and now, an interim administrator.
According to him, this situation does not augur well for the people of the Niger Delta as an opportunity for all States to be represented as they ought to be represented in the board of the NDDC does not exist.
“So, it means that the NDDC is actually run in such a matter that it is actually not truly beneficial to our people, because there is no stakeholders input in the running of the affairs of the NDDC.
“We do know that there is a forensic audit taking place and if that is the reason the board has not been constituted, our advise 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 a such a way it will be visibly accountable in the best interest of the peoples of the Niger Delta.”
The governors demanded that whenever the board of the NDDC is constituted, the advisory council must be called upon to place its role to ensure there are check and balance in such a matter that the States will truly have value for money expended by the NDDC.
“A situation where we begin to have emergency projects that possibly will not last three to six months is not right, we don’t feel happy about it and we are urging Mr President to ensure that if the board is not going to be immediately constituted, then funds for the NDDC beyond the payment of salaries should be put on hold until he constitutes the board and the board can now run the finances of the NDDC as per the law creating the NDDC.
“We feel already short-changed as a people in the Niger Delta and we believe that we do not wish to see this kind of situation continue going forward into the future because our people feel the pains, we do not want a situation where there is an abuse of processes, neither should we have a situation where we have abuse of funds.
“We believe that it is best for both the country, for the states of the Niger Delta and for the people of the Niger Delta when the due process is followed by the reconstitution of the board and also in reconstituting the board, that the reconstituted funds should come in and have funds to spend as per the law.”
But in a swift reaction, Akpabio said that a new board of management for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) would be constituted after the on-going forensic audit of the commission is concluded.
He also declared that the governors have not right to issue instructions to the president on how the money meant for the commission should be spent According to reports.
He said: “I’m not aware that the governors are the ones that give a directive to the president. So if you are saying that the South-South governors just finished their meeting and gave directives to the president not to release funds, I want to let you know that we have pleaded with the governors, even when I was a governor to ensure that local government have elected executives. Some governors for eight years use caretaker committees to run local government and the federal government has not denied them their funds.”
The minister explained that he was not against the constitution of a board for the NDDC. He, however, added that it was being delayed by the on-going forensic audit of the NDDC which he said had reached an advanced stage and would be concluded in no distant time.
“We are not against the reconstitution of the board for the NDDC but if for 19 years NDDC board has been on, they could not produce an edifice of this nature, they could not use mere N16 million to connect the rented head office at 167 Aba road to the national grid one would think that sometimes the constitution of the board is not necessary”.
“We are saying that there is a need to be a board for the NDDC nobody is against a board but let us finish the forensic audit. And boards have various interests. In a few months, the forensic audit will be over and a board will be definitely constituted for the NDDC, I don’t see a problem there, it doesn’t need governors calling on the President to do so. Rather I plead with the governors to ensure they carry out local government elections,” he added.
Commissioning the project on Thursday, President Muhammadu Buhari said that the inauguration of the new headquarters building marks an important milestone in his administration’s effort to reposition the Commission for the overall development of the Niger Delta region.
Buhari who spoke at the virtual commissioning of the new headquarters complex at the Marine Base, Port Harcourt, observed that the new headquarters building was initiated by the defunct Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC, in 1996.
He said: “In 2015, as part of my administration’s objectives, we started a holistic reform of the NDDC for greater service delivery for the people of the region. To achieve this goal, I reassigned the supervision of the NDDC to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs for administrative efficiency.
“Second, was the appointment of Forensic Auditors to review the operations of the NDDC from inception to 2019 to ensure that appropriations made to the NDDC are commensurate with what is on ground.”
The President commended the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, for providing the required leadership that saw to the completion of the office complex, noting that money spent on rent would now be saved and deployed to other areas of needs to the region.
Buhari said: “I commend the management and staff of the NDDC for staying on course and keying into the development agenda of my administration. I am particularly pleased to note the cordial relationship between the NDDC and the National Assembly and hope that this relationship will be strengthened for the benefits of the people of the Niger Delta region.”
Speaking earlier, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, said that he was the first minister to visit the new headquarters when it was under construction.
He noted that for over 15 years the old headquarters on Aba Road was not connected to the national grid and thanked the President for making it possible for this anomaly to be halted.
Akpabio declared: “The President deserves a big reward for showing love to the people of the Niger Delta. I also thank the Interim Administrator and the former Managing Directors of the NDDC for their efforts to see to the completion of the new headquarters.”
In his welcome address, the NDDC Interim Administrator, Mr Efiong Akwa, commended President Buhari, the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs and members of the defunct Interim Management Committee for a job well done.
The NDDC Chief Executive Officer thanked the President for reassigning NDDC to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, stating that the office complex stood as a monument to what Niger Delta people stood for, as “a people who are strong and resolute.”
“It is noteworthy to observe that President Buhari, in a demonstration of the remarkable political will, initiated three major policies that impacted positively on the speedy completion of this project.”