Tension is rising in the Niger Delta over alleged surreptitious moves to extend the tenure of the current sole administration of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) beyond Wednesday, March 31, 2021.
Groups kicking against the secret drive are the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Worldwide, Urhobo Progressives Union (UPU), Pan Niger-Delta Forum (PANDEF), and the Movement for the Survival of the Izon Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta (MOSIEND).
Like the governors of the Southsouth, the groups are insisting on the inauguration of an NDDC board by President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday, April 1, in accordance with the Act setting up the intervention agency.
The IYC, PANDEF, and UPU said that anything short of that would amount to an aberration, which would be resisted by Niger Delta people.
A former governor and Senator representing Bayelsa West in the National Assembly, Seriake Dickson, also added his voice to the immediate constitution of a board to run the affairs of the NDDC as provided for by the law.
Niger Delta Affairs Minister Godswill Akpabio, who is being accused of spearheading the extension of the tenure of the sole administration headed by Effiong Akwa, had insisted on the completion of the forensic audit of the NDDC.
During their March 8 meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, the Southsouth Governors’ Forum (SGF) chaired by Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State also advised that apart from payment of workers’ salaries, NDDC funds should be reserved in an escrow account, pending the inauguration of the board.
To register their displeasure with the continued management of the NDDC through the sole administration, the governors stayed away from the inauguration of the commission’s permanent headquarters in Port Harcourt by the President on March 11.
One of the governors, Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State later called on Buhari to invoke the laws of the land governing the NDDC.
Udom, through his Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Iniobong Ememobong, said since NDDC was a creation of the law, the President should apply the constitution in the best interest of the Niger Delta and its people.
“’The NDDC is a federal institution, which is a creation of the law. The President swore to abide by and protect the constitution and the law. It is in the best interest of the region and country, for the President to activate the spirit and letters of the extant laws,” he said.
Dickson, who commended Akpabio and Buhari for completing the permanent headquarters of NDDC, said the minister’s next task was for him to consult stakeholders and guide the President correctly in constituting the NDDC board as soon as possible
Dickson said Niger Delta people needed a functional NDDC board to clear the mess in the commission. He called on the President to follow the NDDC Act in the composition of the board, adding that Bayelsa should produce the managing director.
The IYC Worldwide said it would no longer allow the ongoing aberration and leadership confusion in NDDC to continue in the name of forensic audit.
Its President, Peter Igbifa, who said the IYC Wordwide and the Niger Delta were anxiously expecting an end to the sole administration of NDDC March 31, called on Buhari to nominate and inaugurate a board that would take over from Akwa April 1.
He said: “We were all happy when this forensic audit started in February 2020 because we believed that it would sanitise the NDDC and give the commission a new beginning to actualise its mandate in the Niger Delta region.
“At a point, our leadership insisted on the dissolution of the IMC and the inauguration of a substantive board, but instead of constituting a new board, a sole administration headed by Effiong Akwa was put in place to run the affairs of the commission, with the singular action to conclude the audit and hand over to a substantive board while expending the 2020 budget tenured to March 31, 2021.
“March 31st is a few weeks ahead and we believe it is time the President set up a board for the commission, knowing fully well that the board members would be subjected to an official inauguration before the handover date, which is April 1, 2021. We are calling on the President to nominate the board now and inaugurate its members before April 1.
“The IYC and other stakeholders in the region want to see a published forensic audit and a newly nominated board for the commission.
“We repeat that audit is not in perpetuity. It has a terminal date and we believe that it is about time it ended.
“We won’t allow any politician or group to ride a roughshod with the resources of the commission and mess with the NDDC Act for their selfish political interest forthwith. The time to end the aberration in NDDC is March 31, 2021.
“We want to reiterate that we won’t tolerate the ongoing moves to extend the tenure of the current leadership aberration of the NDDC beyond March 31. Therefore, we are calling on the President to inaugurate a board that will take over the administration of the NDDC from April 1, in line with the Act establishing the commission”.
Ijaw communities under the auspices of MOSIEND said they would join all the stakeholders in the region, including the governors to block any surreptitious plan to extend the tenure of Akwa-led management.
National President of MOSIEND, Kennedy Tonjo-West said the plan to extend Akwa’s tenure didn’t come as a surprise.
Tonjo-West said: “About 17 months down the line, what has the forensic audit amounted to, as it concerns developmental needs of the region? Recall that Akpabio assured the Niger Delta people and indeed, Nigerians that no contract would be awarded and that no contractors would be paid pending the conclusion of the forensic audit.
“One year, five months for a six-month audit, what did we get? We have issues of misappropriation, kleptomania, fleecing of the commission’s treasury and gross underdevelopment in the region.
“MOSIEND is in total agreement with the governors that one day should not be added to the expiration date. If Akwa is efficient and must do a comeback; let him be nominated as a board member.
“The governors should stand their ground this time round and not to disappoint the masses. The governors are members of the Advisory board and have a strong say, hence they should do what is expected of them.
UPU also urged President Buhari to listen to the clamour for the constitution of a substantive board for NDDC by the people of the Niger Delta. The group accused Akpabio of serving the interests of elements inimical to the development of the region.
The UPU President, Olorogun Moses Taiga said: “Anything short of constituting a substantive board is unjust and provocative.”
Taiga, who spoke through the group’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Abel Oshevire, described the forensic audit as a ploy to stall the constitution of a substantive board.
PANDEF’s Spokesman, Mr. Ken Robinson, said the NDDC had been reduced to a “political playground with the President as an uninterested spectator”.
He urged Akpabio to remember that as a former governor, he was expected to be “sensitive to the complexities and sensibilities of the Niger-Delta people.”
Robinson noted that on many occasions Akpabio reiterated that a new board would be emplaced on April 1, stressing that PANDEF and other stakeholders were watching and hoping that a substantive board would be in place.
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