By  Topa  Ajayi

 

Mr Benard Okumagba, MD, NDDC designate.

Once again, the controversies surrounding appointments into the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has come to the fore. In times past, appointments have been met with arguments and counter arguments by both supporters and dissenters. Several interest groups from competing oil producing Niger Delta States have weighed in on the issue with the sole intent of pulling their weights to sway the presidency to swing the pendulum of representation of the board to their side.

Recently, following the exit of the board members led by Senator Victor Ndoma Egba (Cross  River) as chairman and Nsima Ekere (Akwa Ibom) as Managing Director, the board of the  commission was reconstituted with the key positions of Chairman and Managing Director going the way of Edo and Delta States respectively.

Following these appointments, there have been several outcries. Ethnic groups, politicians and individuals have lent their respective voices to the conversation. Pressure groups from different ethnic distributions within the Niger Delta region unsurprisingly, have emerged, as usual, crying foul and marginalization.

The arguments bother principally on the legality of the appointments, particularly to the office of the Chairman and the Managing Director. In relation to the Chairman, the argument is that the current appointment only operates to disrupt an existing order of things. The basis of the argument being that it is not the turn of Edo State to  produce a Chairman of the Board taking into consideration the fact that the provisions of section  4 of the NDDC Act clearly stipulates that the chairmanship of the board shall be in alphabetical order of the member states.

So far, from inception the board has had seven Chairmen in the following sequence: Onyema Ugochukwu (Abia State) 2001 – 2005 ; Sam Edem (Akwa Ibom State) 2005 – 2007 ;  Dan Abia (Akwa Ibom State) 2007 – 2009; Larry Koinyan (Bayelsa) 2009 – 2011 ; Tanfa Tebepah (Bayelsa) 2011 – 2013 ; Bassey Henshaw (Cross River) 2013 -2015 and Victor Ndoma Egba (Cross River) 2016 – 2019 .

The above appointments reveal a strict adherence to the spirit and intent of the Act as it relates to the office of the Chairman of the board of the Commission.

Taking into consideration the history of the appointments of the chairmanship of the board so far, it perhaps justifies the position taken by some that in line with the Act, Delta State should produce the next chairman of the board after Cross River. But far beyond that, we must all realize that laws are made for man and not man for the law.

While I should not be seen to be justifying a deviation from the statutory rotational formula in alphabetical order, it is however necessary to state that it may be justifiable under the doctrine of necessity, taking into consideration the present circumstance.

While the appointment of the chairman of the board from inception seems to have followed strictly the provisions of the law, the same cannot be said of the office of the Managing Director to the Commission.

Quite worrisome to note is the fact that the Commission that has existed for just nineteen (19)  years has had fourteen (14) Managing Directors both in acting and substantive capacity, making  an average of fifteen months period for each Managing Director.

These large numbers of Managing Directors over this period of nineteen (19) years have been shared among the following states: Akwa Ibom (2) , Bayelsa (4) , Delta (3) , Edo (1) and Rivers (4) .

The Niger Delta Development Commission was established to drive meaningful economic advancement, peace and infrastructural development to the oil producing region thereby addressing the recurrent menace of hostility and militancy in the Niger Delta region occasioned by the feeling of deprivation despite the massive economic contribution of the region to the country’s revenue generation.

These grievances were further exacerbated by pollution and all manner of environmental degradation fostered on the Niger Delta communities as a result of oil exploration activities. The Commission was timely established to preserve and protect the region which was fast becoming a flashpoint and heading towards a precipice due to activities of militants.

The intention of the makers of the NDDC Act in putting in place the rotational mechanism is to foster a sense of belonging and fair participation amongst the several oil producing states and to oust the feeling of marginalization by any of the stake holders. But this intention seem to have been defeated by the scramble for the office of Managing Director by the political elites which has  in turn resulted in the large turn-over of Managing Directors with the resultant effect of a distortion in  the development of the region.

Evidently, the NDDC Act by Section 12 evinces the Managing Director of the Commission to be a technocrat, who can inject seriousness, focus and professionalism in handling its affairs effectively as an intermediate organ.

The Managing Director is the engine room of the commission that should drive its mandate of development. As an unstable engine cannot and will ultimately delay, if not truncate an arrival to destination so has the frequent change of the Chief Executive affected the anticipated development of the region.

The appointment to the office of the Managing Director should not be political and certainly not a means of compensating cronies and well wishers. In other words, political sentiments and considerations should be eschewed when such appointments are being considered. The individual’s capacity, competence, integrity and professionalism should be the hallmark of such appointments rather than sentiments.

By virtue of section 12 of the Act, aside from the requirement that the Managing Director of the Commission shall be an indigene of oil producing areas and the rotation should start with member states of the Niger Delta with the highest production quantum of oil production, the Act also provides that appointee must be one with such qualification and experience as are appropriate for a person required to perform the functions of the office.

From the provisions of Section 12 (1) (c) of the Act, the President has the discretion to appoint persons to the office of the Managing Director as long as the appointee satisfies the requirement of the Act. In exercise of these powers, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed an indigene of Delta State as the Managing Director of the Commission in the person of Bernard Okumagba.

In my humble view, his appointment satisfies the requirement of the Act, taking into consideration  his pedigree as a technocrat and an excellent administrator who had served in various capacities in the banking sector and as Delta State Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget from  2007-2010 and Commissioner for Finance from 2010-2013.

Having appointed an indigene of Delta State as the Managing Director, the president must be commended for his statesmanship in the appointment of the Chairman of the Commission from another member state even though it is the turn of Delta State.  This decision has not in any way denied Delta State of an opportunity to produce a Chairman in the near future as their slot remains unfilled.

The efforts to politicize the appointments to the NDDC board has regrettably promoted the spirit of “pull him down (PHD)” over the years and this explains the large turnover of Chief Executive Officer of the Commission.

The politicization of the appointment is inimical to the growth and development of the region. It has succeeded in beclouding the very essence of the Commission and the problems facing the commission particularly in the key area of funding.

Most of the abandoned projects in the region have arisen out of lack of funds and not because the Managing Director came from a particular section of the Niger Delta.

In my view, rather than dissipate energy on ethnic, myopic and political differences, Niger Deltans should concentrate their efforts and resources in ensuring an amendment of the NDDC Act to provide for security of tenure for the office of the Managing Director just as is obtainable under the CBN Act.

It is this security of tenure that will drive the development of the region as the high turnout of Chief Executives of this intermediate organ has negatively affected its operations.

Let us refocus our energy towards strengthening the Commission rather than engage in mundane fighting that will further negatively impact on the advancement and development of the region.

It is common place that where institutions are stronger than personalities, the system works perfectly well. The number of Managing Directors (acting or substantial), out numbers that of those that have occupied the chairmanship position four times over because of the politics of greed and exclusion. This unfortunate scenario creates a very unhealthy environment for progress and infrastructural development. This ancient blackmail is not only nauseating but a ruthless recipe for chaos and reign of corruption.

Now is the time for these unrelenting power-brokers who have held the region down to relinquish their callous and compassionless position of regression so that the new can initiate a new order of progress, infrastructural development and a new Niger Delta devoid of misery, penury, under development, poverty and cruel rivalry.

The ideal thing should be for instance six chairmen to six Managing Directors. Most of the time a particular set of interest would lord-over the selection process over and above quality leadership traits and competence. The outcome of this vicious circle has always been stagnation and lots of motion without progressive advancements.

The order of things before now have been slow advancement and these seemingly powerful blocks must necessarily sponsor what may deceitfully look like a well co-ordinated resistance but the truth is that the “old ways of doing things” is desperately frightened of losing its strangulating grip over the development of the Niger Delta region.

Almost every important person including the well revered Oba of Benin have openly congratulated Mr. President for his well articulated choice of this new board. Every other dissenting voice must of necessity be regarded as representing a myopic few. The average Niger Deltan does not clamour for greedy wealth but yearns for the basic necessities of life which should generally make life more meaningful rather than an insignificant minority dwarfing the will and zeal of the majority to make progress.

It is extremely laughable to imagine that the APC members in Bayelsa State would take to the streets protesting Governor Dickson’s choice of commissioners and the Governor Dickson that is well known for standing his grounds would offer the slightest recognition to such a protest, not to even mention vehemently taking the stance of arm-twisting and blackmail. Such antics can only frighten lesser mortal not our formidable President.  Let it be said that President Buhari has made the perfect selection of the people that would redeem the Niger Delta region. The fear of the resultant massive improvement on the region is threatening and the results would be dismantling of the PDP in the region. The president is our hero by his style of leadership and the opposition is already losing sleep.

This is a clarion call on all Niger Deltans to come together and work together in unity and across political party lines to move the region forward. The most feasible way to make this possible is to abandon parochial and primordial sentiments and think positively in the interest of the larger majority. We must all support the new board by ensuring that each and every one of us in the Niger Delta region becomes a stake holder again.

There is no doubt that if this new board is given the opportunity to function, The Niger Delta region is going to experience an unprecedented advancement in all aspects of infrastructural developments, provisions of social amenities and the general well-being of Niger Deltans.

Topa Ajayi, is a Lagos based private legal practitioner.