President Muhammadu Buhari, Thursday, officially inaugurated Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Headquarters Complex worth the N16 billion in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Buhari who inaugurated the complex virtually commended the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio for facilitating the completion of the complex, pleading with the people to bear with the government until the forensic report is ready for implementation.
In his speech, Akpabio said the completion of the 13-floor building shows the focus and determination of the commission.
He recalled that the building which started in 1996 witnessed a slow pace of work until 2019 when President Muhammadu Buhari committed to its completion.
The Minister commended the President for approving the desire by his ministry and the commission’s management to ensure its completion where successive administrations have failed to realise the same since the days of OMPADEC. Apart from the over N300 million yearly rent, the commission was paying for the rented headquarters office in Port Harcourt,
“What many didn’t know was that for over 15 years, that office was not connected to the national grid. So the purchase of diesel also became a racket, so you understand why completing the permanent headquarters was not the focus for so long,” the Minister said.
Other stakeholders who attended the epoch-making ceremony included Imo Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma who represented the NDDC governors; Alhaji Mai Mala Buni, Yobe State governor; Mr Effiong Akwa, Interim Administrator of NDDC; Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP Delta North), chairman of NDDC in the Senate; and Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff, Chairman of Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Council, among others.
Meanwhile, the six governors of South-South Region did not attend the inauguration of the complex.
This may not be unconnected with the war of words between Senator Akpabio and the governors.
Recall that the governors of the South-South States had on Monday, March 8, called on President Muhammadu 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.
The Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike; the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki; Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Douye Diri and the Governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Emmanuel Udom.
South-South Governors’ Demand
Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum and Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa made this assertion at the end of the forum’s meeting which held at the Government House, Port Harcourt on Monday night.
Governor Okowa 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 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 is 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.”
He stressed that the demands of the governors have been made based on the interest of Nigeria, the States and more importantly in the interest of various communities of the Niger Delta.
Reacting, Senator Akpabio warned the Governors to desist from issuing directives to President Muhammadu Buhari on how to run the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as they have no powers to indulge in such an act.
Akpabio in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Tuesday, March 9, to prepare the ground for Thursday virtual inauguration of the NDDC permanent headquarters project, said South-South Governors should rather focus on purging selves of governance misconducts in their respective states, particularly on unlawful preference for caretakers administrations in Local Governments (LGs)or imposition of loyalists when they allow council elections.
The minister was reacting to Monday night’s resolutions in Port Harcourt by the South-South Governors Forum demanding that the President prevails on NDDC to pay only staff salaries and preserves incoming funds in an escrow account pending appointment of a substantive board.
Akpabio said, “I am not aware that governors now have powers to give directives to the President, but I think they have more critical issues to fix in the region. Federal Government told governors to allow democracy in LGs and stop the narrative of operating caretakers in the councils.
“In many of the states, councils are left without democratically elected LGs for several months. But even when they now say we want to conduct elections, somebody will sit in a room and write names of his choice as Chairman and councillors, but they have not been denied funds by FG.
“I am ready to have a board for NDDC by tomorrow, but let’s finish with the forensic audit first, then we can have aboard, but it would not be business as usual. We brought a forensic audit and even the governors supported it because we said NDDC has not worked.
“So we want to know why it hasn’t work to be able to do things differently. The forensic audit will be out in a few months. From what we know already, we will need some policy and legal amendments to have the change we want.
“So the governors should not be issuing directives to the President. They should carry out proper council elections. Today, NDDC does not have a balance sheet you can take to the World Bank to access funds. When the right thing is done, more money will come. A board will definitely be appointed.”
Specifically, President Buhari in the letter sought the Senate’s confirmation for Dr Pius Odubu, former Edo state deputy governor as chairman of the NDDC, Chief Bernard Okumagba as Managing Director and 14 others as members of its board.
The president’s letter read: “In accordance with the provision of Section 2(2)(a) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) (Establishment) Act, 2000, I write to forward, for confirmation by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the under listed nominees for appointment into the NDDC board, to occupy the positions indicated against their names.”
Buhari, in the letter, expressed hope that “the Senate will consider and confirm the nominees in the usual expeditious manner.”
He had in the exercise of one of his constitutional powers, forwarded to the Senate for confirmation appointments of a 16–member board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) via a letter dated October 18, 2019.
Accordingly, the written request, which was read on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, October 22, 2019, by its President, Ahmad Lawan was given expeditious consideration by the upper legislative chamber, which directed its standing committee on NDDC, to carry out screening exercise on all the nominees and report back within a week. Confirmation of Buhari’s nominees
The Senate’s standing committee headed by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP Delta North), carried out the screening exercise on 15 out of the 16 nominees on Thursday, October 31, 2019, upon which the Senate confirmed their appointments on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, based on the report tabled before it by the committee. However, the Confirmed Board is yet to be inaugurated.