The needless war at NDDC, By Yemi Adebowale

The mission of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is to offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the region and facilitate its rapid/sustainable development into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful. Unfortunately, both the Board and the Management of this intervention agency (since creation in 2000) have been struggling to actualise this mission, largely because of ineptitude, corruption, greed and selfishness.

The NDDC had been without a board for about four years. Then came a new board and management for the agency in January this year. Lauretta Onochie emerged as Board Chairman. Samuel Ogboku was picked as Managing Director/CEO. I thought it was a new dawn that would result in a difference in the agency in particular and the Niger Delta in general. Back then, I assumed that the new Board would work harmoniously with the Management to achieve the objectives of setting up the NDDC. Regrettably, just four months after inauguration, the Board and Management have already started dancing naked in public. Onochie and Ogboku are holding each other by the jugular and look set to stall activities in the agency with in-fighting.

When the story of a Federal High Court (Warri) ruling emerged on May 9, restraining Onochie from performing any Executive function in the NDDC, as well as getting involved in daily administration of the agency, I just laughed. It was Ogboku evidently fighting back using his cronies. One of them went to court, seeking an interpretation of the NDDC Act, 2000 and other relevant statutes and documents relating to the running of the commission.

In the judgment, Justice Okon Abang voided all executive actions taken by Onochie since she assumed office on January 4, 2023. Abang also nullified the appointment of 18 aides made by the NDDC board Chairman. The judge held that after due consideration of the relevant provisions of the NDDC Act, 2000 and other documents, it was established that Onochie’s appointment as the chairman of the board on a part-time basis is to oversee and preside over the meetings of the board.

Abang ruled that the managing director is “statutorily empowered by the NDDC act to perform and wield the executive functions, powers and day-to-day running and management of the commission to the exclusion of other members of the board of the NDDC including the 2nd defendant (Onochie) herein.

“That all actions of the 2nd defendant, including but not limited to the appointment of her personal aides, carried out in the exercise of Executive functions and powers in the Niger Delta Development Commission since her assumption of duty on the 4th day of January 2023 are ultra vires and therefore null and void and of no effect whatsoever.

“That the 2nd defendant (Onochie) is restrained from carrying out and/or exercising any Executive function and powers in the NDDC; the 2nd defendant is further restrained from interfering with the 3rd defendant’s (Ogboku) executive functions, powers and day-to-day running and management of Niger Delta Development Commission the 1st defendant herein.”

No doubt, with this ruling, the war that will hinder the NDDC from actualising the dreams of those who set it up has started, less than five months into the tenure of Onochie and Ogboku.

The other day, Ogboku signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a $15 billion railway line meant to traverse the entire Niger Delta and Onochie went berserk. She argued that the MoU between a US firm, Atlanta Global Resources Inc. and the NDDC was signed without her knowledge and without the authorisation of the board.

Describing it as “shady”, Onochie in a statement she personally signed, characterised the deal as “illegal”. She argued that by the act establishing the NDDC, it is the Chairman of the Board that is solely vested with the power to sign MoUs with any organisation.

Onochie said: “Part II of the NDDC Act, Section 8, sub sections (a) and (e), among other provisions, specifically state inter Alia; ‘the board shall have power to manage and supervise affairs of the commission as well as enter into such contracts as may be necessary or expedient for the discharge of its functions and ensure the efficient performance of the functions of the commission.”

“The Federal Executive Council, having recognised the importance of infrastructure in the Niger Delta region had awarded the contract for the same project in 2021 at the sum of $11.7 billion.

“It is shocking that after the FEC, the highest ruling body in the country, had done this, that anyone would be signing an MoU on behalf of the NDDC and the federal government for the same project in 2023 without due process nor approval by the FEC in the twilight of the Buhari administration.”

Onochie adds: “However, old habits die hard. And some individuals (within and without the commission) still retain the retrogressive mindset that has held the commission down for the past 22 years. We cannot remain on the old dubious path.”

For me, Onochie got it all wrong. No contract for the construction of any railway line was signed by the NDDC management. What was signed was just an MoU at a PPP summit in Lagos. Besides, the Management does not need the approval of the Board to sign an MoU. This was well explained by Ogboku’s men after Onochie’s flareup. She should just go and read the explanation properly.

Ogboku explained: “The foundational process may have been misconstrued by some persons to mean that the NDDC had signed an EPC contract. All we signed at the PPP summit was a basic MoU to commence the preliminary processes of feasibility and viability of the rail project. It did not include any agreement on details.

“The US firm came recommended by a reliable US financial institution, especially for the deployment of US-produced locomotives. The management is also not unaware of the federal government’s contract of 2021 for rail line construction. The proposed network covered by the MoU is on a different alignment.

“What we signed on April 25 is simply the opening phase that will determine how far we will go, but it definitely showcases how interested the international partners are in tapping into the Niger Delta region.

“The NDDC appreciates the need to be seen to be accountable and transparent as it collaborates with its stakeholders in the arduous task of developing the Niger Delta. To give effect to this, we decided to use the PPP model to provide alternative sources of funding for key development projects and programmes.”

My dear Onochie, this is explicit. The truth that must be told is that NDDC’s new Board Chairman wants to operate like an Executive Chairman. This is not the way to go if Onochie truly loves the Niger Delta. Ogboku is responsible for the day-to-day running of the NDDC. He can sign an MoU. When it comes to awarding contracts, he would have to get the approval of the Board. That press statement signed by the NDDC Chairman on the train MoU was absolutely unnecessary. Onochie, please focus on actualising the dreams of NDDC’s founders.

The NDDC must work for the people of the Niger Delta. It must provide relief and sustainable development to reshape the destiny of this region. The task ahead is indeed enormous for this new NDDC Board and Management. This is not the time to start fighting over power and MoU. The new team must quickly update the Niger Delta Development Plan and implement ventures that will add value to the lives of the people. They must work towards restoring hope to the people of this region.

As for Ogboku, he must speedily learn the politics of working with a Board. In this regard, I will suggest that he should talk to the guru, Timi Alaibe, the former Managing Director of the NDDC.

Source: First published by Thisday Newspaper

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