Our attention has been drawn to an article published in The Guardian of Sunday, December 8 2019 titled ‘NDDC: Board Crisis, Power Play Cripple Agency’ and written by one
Kelvin Ebiri who goes by the title ‘South-South Bureau Chief.’
Ordinarily, we would not have reacted to the issues raised in the said article, given the politicking that has attended the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) since the list of board nominees was presented by President Buhari and confirmed by the Senate on November 5, but we are alarmed at the false claims made in that article, which can threaten the fragile peace in the Niger Delta region.
In trying to explain the crises in the NDDC, Mr Ebiri wrote: “The genesis of the current crisis plaguing the interventionist agency that was established to address the dire developmental needs of the Niger Delta, as well as oil-producing states, lies in the alleged flawed manner, which the new board members were appointed, particularly in the case of the chairman, Dr. Pius Odubu (Edo) and Bernard Okumagba (Delta) as managing director.”
He takes the argument further: “On the position of a managing director, NDDC Act stipulates that the persons must be indigenes of oil-producing areas, and the slot is to be occupied sequentially starting with member-states of the commission with the highest production quantum of oil. Owing to the fact that Akwa Ibom State, which is the presently the highest oil-producing state just vacated the position, and the position of the chairman ought to go to Delta State, which is the second-largest oil-producing, it follows that Rivers State ought to produce the next managing director being the third producer of oil based on current data obtained from the Department of Petroleum Resources.”
It is clear that Mr Ebiri is acting out a script, because the NDDC Act 2000 is very clear on the on the appointment of Board Members. It is obvious that the usurpers in the IMC are trying to sell a false narrative to justify their agenda to remain at the NDDC.
Nothing can be more revealing than the statements credited to the acting managing director of the interim management committee Ms Joi Nunieh, who decided to throw herself into the succession politics, contrary to what we were made to believe is a temporary role for her committee. The Guardian quoted Nunieh as justifying her position thus: “In reaction to the Senate stance, Nunieh, who said that the NDDC Act was clear on the matter of the Commission’s chairmanship, emphasised that after Cross River State, Delta State was supposed to produce the chairman of the NDDC board. ‘If the Act says that after Cross River State, Delta State should produce the chairman, why would anyone say no?’ ”
What is apparent is that Nunieh’s comment and Ebiri’s analysis have one source and one objective, which is to sell the story that it is Rivers State’s turn to produce the MD, and strangely, labour to convince the public that the nomination of the MD of NDDC from Delta State is misplaced. This is the most ludicrous argument anyone can make.
The NDDC Act states clearly that the MD position was to commence with the state with the highest production then, as at 2001, which was Delta State, and rotate subsequently. This is why Delta State produced the first MD in the person of Engr Godwin Omene. That rotation came full circle with the position going from Delta to Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom State in the last four substantive boards. Now is the turn of Delta State to produce the MD. So where did Ebiri and Nunieh get their fictional conclusion that Rivers state should get the MD position ?
It is pertinent at this point to remind Mr President and Nigerians in general of the reports and agreements that predated the constitution of the new board, several of which were published in Nigerian newspapers. In The Vanguard of June 14, 2019, the paper reports under the headline: ‘NDDC BOARD: It’s Delta’s turn to produce Chairman, Managing Director, stakeholders insist,’ that “A coalition of activists and stakeholders drawn from the nine states that make up the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, yesterday insisted that it was the turn of Delta State to produce both the Chairman and Managing Director of the next Board of the commission.” The report stated further that: “While condemning in strong terms the report credited to one Chief Perekeme Kpodoh from Bayelsa State faulting the claim of Delta State to the two positions, the stakeholders took a swipe at Kpodoh, saying there was contradiction in his ( Kpodoh) statement acknowledging that it was actually the turn of Delta State to produce the occupants of both positions. To this end, they called on President Muhammadu Buhari to follow due process and the law to let Delta State produce the occupants of both offices as enshrined in the NDDC Act 2000 in order to promote equity, fairness and justice and sustain the current peace in the region.”
It is incontrovertible that Delta State is entitled to both positions, and it was the state’s prerogative to choose whichever of the two it wanted. This is what the stakeholders did in choosing the position of MD since both may not be allowed because of governance issues. Having chosen to take the MD position, this was communicated to the presidency on which basis a Delta State nominee was presented for the position.
Following from Delta State’s preference for the MD position, the chairmanship was ceded and Edo State, being the next in line was asked to nominate someone for the position and did so. This was the settled position that produced the current board members, which the President presented to the Senate and who were subsequently confirmed. Everything was done in accordance with law, equity, due process and in line with good governance principles.
Therefore, the attempted false interpretation of the law as canvassed by Nunieh is fraudulent, dubious and quite unfortunate.
Unfortunately, too, this is something we have seen whenever an interim MD is foisted on the NDDC outside the system. It happened in 2015 when Ibim Semenitari of Rivers State was appointed and campaigners were raising false narratives to perpetuate her stay, until President Buhari appointed and promptly swore in a new board, with Nsima Ekere from Akwa Ibom state as MD. It happened this year when campaigners from Bayelsa State pushed to make the position of the acting MD Prof Nelson Brambaifa substantive. But when the facts were presented, that also crumbled and the President’ nominated the new board in line with law. Now, that there is another delay in inaugurating the board, the acting MD Nunieh is presenting her own false narratives in order to perpetuate her stay in office.
The Niger Delta region has undergone too many ethnic and interstate conflicts that we do not need another on our hands because of the inordinate ambitions of social climbers in the corridors of power who show no regard for law and due process.
We will not sit by and allow anyone usurp the legal and logical order. We urge President Buhari to inaugurate the new NDDC board without further delay to stem these latter-day revisionists of facts and due process.
Comrade Seiyefa Opuowei
Convener, Niger Delta Peoples Assembly