Musical Chairs at NDDC, By Dele Agekameh


Early last week, news of the reconstitution of the governing board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, was afloat in the news media. The news was received with markedly different reactions from various quarters, as has been the trend with appointments of members of the board of the commission. Dr Pius Odubu and Bernard Okumagba were appointed as Chairman and Managing Director respectively, alongside 14 others. The new board relieves the interim management team under Prof. Nelson Brambaifa, which was installed in January, after dissolution of the previous board.

Although the modalities for the appointment and dissolution of the board of the commission is a matter of trite law contained in the NDDC ACT of 2000 (as amended), there is always uproar and dissatisfaction whenever appointments are made, or dissolutions of the board are effected, by a sitting president. Besides the side comments and raised eyebrows about the new appointments, the NDDC has generally been soaked in controversies of all kinds since its establishment by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2000.

By law, the tenure of every member of the governing board, save for ex-officio members, is a minimum term of four years and a maximum of eight years, based on the discretion of the president. Appointments to the board are also subject to senate confirmation. Since inception, the commission has had 11 Managing Directors, which includes at least 2 persons (Ibim Semenitari in 2016 and Prof. Brambaifa in January this year) who served in an acting capacity for over five months. Considering that anyone of them could have served eight straight years, irrespective of the occupant of Aso Rock, speaks to the instability visited on the commission by politics.

Most of the scramble for appointments through the years have been centred on four key positions: the Chairman’s role and three executive roles – that of the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Executive Director for Projects, and Executive Director for Finance and Administration. While the appointment of the chairman is subject to a rotation formula embedded in section 4 of the NDDC Act (as amended), the appointments of the three executives and the rest of the board is not subject to such requirement.

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The appointments of chairmen of the board have largely followed the rotation stipulated by law, except in the appointment made by President Muhammadu Buhari last week – much to the chagrin of stakeholders, who fear that a bad precedent is being set. Not too much noise is being heard from Delta state, which has produced the all-important office of the Managing Director, even though its turn in the statutory rotation for the chairman’s role has been taken by Edo State’s Odubu.

In practice, apart from an expectation in many quarters for a similar rotation formula to apply to the three executive positions, stakeholders from the Niger Delta region expect to make contributions or nominations about who their state reps should be on the board of the commission. Last week, the governors of the Niger Delta expressed their dissatisfaction with the new board constituted, particularly on the issue of the seeming disregard of section 4 of the NDDC Act (as amended) and they have signalled their desire to meet with the president about possible dissolution of the board.

Even though their fears appear to be valid, based on the provisions of that Act, there is a belief amongst observers that there is a much more selfish element to their individual concerns. Sadly enough, there are much graver problems at the NDDC than the apparently illegal appointment of the board. Whilst the governors are pre-occupied with protecting the precious rotation formula in the NDDC, there are matters that should also occupy their minds in their meetings about the commission.

It is shocking to note, that more than 60 years after the Willink Minority Commission Report in 1958, the massive underdevelopment of the Niger Delta is still a reality today. That report, amongst other vital recommendations, laid the groundwork for the creation of the predecessors to the NDDC, including the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Commission, OMPADEC, established in 1992 by the Ibrahim Babangida military regime.

Like its predecessors, the NDDC has struggled under the weight of multiple divergent interests and the politicisation of its leadership structure for many years. Despite being the strongest body to have emerged from the regional experiment that began in 1960, in an attempt to accord the Niger Delta its due, many believe the NDDC has severely underachieved. Between late or incomplete allocations, mismanagement of funds, regulatory capture by opposing interests and the perennial tinkering with the management of the commission, the NDDC has never found sure footing.

The major problem with the commission, as with most in Nigeria, is the ultra-politicisation of its processes. In a country where politics is a zero sum game that is tempered by stark corruption, the politically flavoured appointments at the NDDC have led to supremacy tussles that have nearly crippled the commission. The installation of governing boards containing many clashing interests that cannot work together is a consequence of appointing politicians into even the most sensitive roles in the commission. Of all the past Managing Directors of the commission, only one or two, like Timi Alaibe and Chibuzor Ugwoha, were technocrats and core professionals.

A robust organisation with a commitment to its goals strives to have a stable team on ground to fashion out a blueprint or masterplan which will endure along the way to the promised land. At the NDDC, there is neither a team nor a master plan that has endured for more than three to four years at a time, if ever there was. Even when technically sound hands were brought in, the politicians did what they do best, by raising distractions and crying wolf unjustifiably until the negative energy generated forced the ‘obstacle’ out of office.

While the bad eggs in the NDDC were fighting to outdo each other through misappropriations and the indiscriminate award of contracts for projects that have mostly been abandoned, fishing communities were losing their livelihood through oil spills, and the common Niger Delta indigene continued to live in poverty. The penury opened common  people to influences that landed them into militancy by some vested interests. Even the creation of an entire ministry has not seen any marked difference in the impact of the allocations to the region from multiple sources.

The problem of the Niger Delta now is not so much lack of allocation as it is the ineptitude of some of those that managed the resources. Although there are shining examples amongst the rotten bunch, it is a struggle to navigate through the treacherous rivers of corrupt egos, fed by creeks of otherwise valid ethnic entitlement. There is a need to get capable hands into sensitive positions at the NDDC, and in the wider Niger Delta Region, and insulate them from the polluting and bothersome influence of politics. There is an equally important need for stable leadership in the core operations of the NDDC. Somewhere in the NDDC, there exists a masterplan that needs to be upgraded and passed on in a steady succession, uninterrupted by outside influence.

If the NDDC were a business concern, the game of musical chairs in its executive positions would be the symptom of an inherent problem with one or more aspects of its operations. Even though some lobbying is expected for key positions in a commission of NDDC’s nature, Niger Delta governors have to agree with Aso Rock to prioritise competence in appointments into key areas of management in the commission. Although the law seems to have been sidestepped in this case, it is an excellent opportunity to have frank discussions about the things that matter.

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