It is not for nothing that this column will treat the same subject in two successive outings. However, featuring the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in two successive editions of this column—the first being last week and the next happening in this current outing, is justified by the simple fact of a significant development in the affairs of the beleaguered agency. In a development that features a concerted onslaught to restore sanity in the agency, two recent developments have dovetailed to usher in an end-game for the charade of a dispensation of leadership in the agency, being the unlawful office of Sole Administrator.
Firstly was an anticipated volte face by the Senate, whose President Ahmad Lawan mooted its inclination to deny the NDDC any further budget approvals until there is a restoration of the statutory board of directors for the agency, which had been in suspended animation since 2019. This was the thrust of last week’s article on this space.
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This time, a Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa Bayelsa State, last week nullified the same office of the Sole Administrator for NDDC. In its ruling, the court directed the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice to stop placing the NDDC under any ministry including the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. The court also granted a perpetual injunction restraining the AGF from further constituting an interim or sole ‘administratorship’ or board except a statutory one, to run the affairs of the Commission.
The orders were made following a motion ex-parte dated December 10th 2021 and filed by an activist, Odighonin Adienbo, on behalf of a coalition of stake holders comprising the Wailing Women of Niger Delta (WWND), the Integrity Friends for Truth and Peace Initiative (IFTPI), along with some individuals. The trial judge also ordered that an audit of the finances of the agency in respect of the operations of the Interim Management Committees from the days of Professor Nelson Brambaifa to the present Sole Administrator, be carried out. By pegging its time frame on the tenure of Professor Nelson Brambaifa in 2019, the ruling was apparently referring to the onset of distortion in the leadership processes of the agency, which is traced to the aftermath of the inelegant termination of the tenure of the last, formally appointed board of directors of which Nsima Ekere was the Managing Director. To press home the import of the ruling, the trial judge also asked the parties to return to the court on Tuesday April 5th 2022, (barely a forthnight away) for report of service, compliance and hearing.
Needless to refer to the foregoing ruling as a landmark dispensation, in respect of the trending sordid turn of developments in the agency as it is being run presently, in flagrant breach of extant statutory regulations, driven by impunity. For hardly can a better resolution for the situation be envisaged, as the court order provides a definitive response to the matter.
Nevertheless, considering that the on-going charade in the agency had defied serial efforts to be resolved, it is now left to be seen, what outcome will trail this ruling. The questions here include the following. Will the AG comply or appeal in order to retain the status quo of incontinence in the agency? Just as well, will the leadership community of the Niger Delta move up towards exploiting the promise and prospects offered by the ruling to facilitate a game change in the fortunes of the Commission and their region? Answers to these questions are as suggestive of likely future developments, as can be.
It is on record that the long beleaguered agency had since its inception in 2001 been a sick child, with its managers placing more premium on mismanaging it than pursuing its statutory mandate. However developments in the agency took a dramatic turn for the worse in 2019 when it had imposed on it like an incubus, a regime of unlawful Interim Management Committees and eventually a Sole Administrator. The most significant aspect of the 2019 coup de’tat of sorts in the NDDC was that it was at the instance of President Muhamadu Buhari, who in response to a protest by the NDDC state governors over what they saw as incongruities in the agency, promised to conduct a forensic audit of the agency, before taking any remediation action. However, while the forensic audit was concluded two years after in August 2021, the President wittingly or otherwise, enmeshed himself in a web of intrigues over fulfilling his promise to the region, by not appointing a substantive board for the agency.
Hence if the lessons of NDDC history are anything to go by, it may be unduly presumptuous to expect the AG not to appeal the ruling since it has in principle, upset the apple cart of perks and perquisites which vested interests in the largesse of the agency had been feeding fat on. Hence there needs to be a resolve by the Niger Delta leadership community to prepare for a prolonged trench war in the courts, pursuant to claiming back the reign of rectitude in the NDDC, and by implication a better deal for the region.
For if with the cumulative effect of the Senate’s volte face and the Yenagoa Court ruling, the NDDC charade is not resolved in this instance, it will remain in the terrain of conjecture, when another opportunity like this will come.