It would seem that the worrisome dispensation of sleaze, incongruities and patent illegality which had dominated the leadership structure of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), is yet to abate. The latest in the series of shenanigans is the new effort by the Presidency to induce the Nigerian Senate to overturn itself by considering without any justifiable cause, a fresh set of nominees for appointment to the Board of Directors of the NDDC.
This is even as the status of the nominees it had screened and approved for the same board since November 2019, lies in limbo. The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Umana Umana, announced last week that President Muhamadu Buhari has transmitted to the Senate, a fresh list of nominees for appointment as members of the forthcoming board.
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The issue now is what the Senate does with the new list. Shall the institution question the integrity of the list, and stand to be counted as an independent arm of government, or it will concede to oblige the Presidency as a rubber stamp appendage to the executive arm. Put succinctly, will the legislature simply turn down the new list or eat the humble pie and bow to the Presidency?
This contention stands in bold relief against the disturbing dalliance between the Senate and the Presidency over the affairs of the Niger Delta region and the NDDC. Although the issue now is the fresh list which the Senate is required to confirm for displacing the former list of nominees which the legislature had not only confirmed since November 2019. The Senate was eventually humiliated in an anticlimax when the President, acting in apparent collaboration with then Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio, (a former Senator himself), snubbed the legislature, suspended the appointment of the nominees and opted to operate the agency with a succession of interim administrators. It is an open secret that the run of the interim administrators marked perhaps the locust season for the establishment which only posterity may provide a clearer account of what happened then and otherwise. In fact, any talk about the reign of interim administrators in the agency must hold the tenure of the last of them – Effiong Akwa as the very ultimate in inanity. This column had on several instances raised alarm in respect of the portends of allowing one man rule over the affairs of the interventionist agency for Niger Delta development. The recent revelation by Umana Umana the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs that Effiong Akwa will account for as much as N300 billion worth of contracts that were awarded without due process is instructive.
Seen in context however, there are at least two out of many reasons why the Senate needs to view the new list of nominees with more than a pinch of salt. The first is that it is coming as an unwarranted replacement for the earlier considered and confirmed list of nominees. It is not yet before Nigerians, what weaknesses are associated with the earlier board members. There is already an argument that the President has powers to dictate who serves in his government, and can therefore replace anybody anyhow and anywhere. However, where this unlimited power relates with a resolution of the legislature is the issue here. Since its advent in 2019, the Ninth National Assembly has been viewed rightly or wrongly, with significant suspicion as a forum that could likely sell-out to the executive arm of government if circumstances permit. This consideration derives its origin from the peculiar political tendencies which ushered in the leadership of the Ninth National Assembly – with the ruling APC unrepentantly dictating its stake in who leads each of the chambers of the establishment.
Coupled with the foregoing have been the series of instances where the leadership community of the institution have demonstrated undue acquiescence to the Presidency, much to the disappointment of the wider cross-section of Nigerians. However while Nigerians do not subscribe to a perpetual fight between the arms of government, the Constitution also dictates the separation of powers between them as equal partners in progress of the country. The present state of affairs in respect of the NDDC Board is one topical case for the Senate to stand its ground and demand proper clarifications in respect of why the old nominees should be replaced by a fresh list. To do otherwise is to create and sustain a dispensation where by the functions of the Senate shall be reduced to manipulations through the whims and caprices of individuals, not national interest.
Another ground for the Senate to consider with discretion, not only the new list of nominees and any other matter about the NDDC, is the need to usher in a new regime of rectitude in the administration of the agency. It must stand as an indictment on the Ninth Senate that of all the anomalies that have swarmed the NDDC even under its watch, it is the replacement of one team of board nominees with another under irregular circumstances, that engages its attention.
The fact that the recent forensic audit exercise unearthed the benumbing reality that as many as 13,000 contracts were abandoned, points to the need for a clinical restructuring of thr agency. And this is where the concern of the Senate should go.