NDDC: ‘Sudden death’ for Interim Management Committee?

Against the backdrop of the unending twists and turns in the fortunes or otherwise of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) looms the question of when its present narrative of a perennially sick yet prodigal child will end?

In amplification the question reads, when will the tales of high level official playout of intrigues by government officials over exploiting its resources, peter out into meaningful and judicious administration of same – in line with legality, equity, social justice and rectitude. It would seem that every passing day brings for good or bad, one instance of interesting development or the other.

The latest in the series of twists in NDDC’s fortunes may be the threat of sudden death for the three-man Interim Management Committee (IMC), who were installed rather surreptitiously by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio, to run the establishment in place of the statutorily established and Senate confirmed new board of directors for the agency.

At the last count the Senate has reportedly placed on hold further considerations of the 2019/2020 budget of the NDDC over questions of who – between the IMC and the newly confirmed board for the agency, will defend the package in the National Assembly.

President Muhamadu Buhari had presented the designated NDDC budget package to the National Assembly last week Tuesday. Following the reading of the President’s letter accompanying the budget at plenary by Senate President Ahmed Lawan, the Senate Minority Leader Enyinnaya Abaribe came up under Order 43 (Point of Order) to raise the question of who between the legal, statutory board and the Akpabio installed IMC, will defend the budget before the respective committees of the National Assembly.

Abaribe made reference to the confirmation by the Senate of a new board for the NDDC which was yet to be inaugurated by the President, leaving a lacuna for the continued, controversial continuation in office by the IMC, with respect to overseeing the affairs of the NDDC.  As he noted, the NDDC IMC will not be accepted by the legislature, as legitimate enough to defend the agency’s budget.

According to him,” Because this August body (Senate), having confirmed the board of the NDDC, will not countenance any illegal contraption coming in front of us to say they are representing the NDDC”… “So to prevent a delayed budget for the NDDC, that is helping the region for development, it would be better for us to prevent this issue from coming and let the needful be done.”

In his response, the Senate President Lawan upheld Abaribe’s point of order. According to Lawan, “Because you have come under Order 43, this motion is not subject to debate, but let me sustain your point of order”. With this response, Lawan urged the executive arm to proceed with the provisions of the law and inaugurate the confirmed board members of NDDC.

Interestingly this latest stand by the Senate on the NDDC nevertheless  remains subject to the proclivities of the executive arm to put things right in the agency, which for now is firmly tied to the apron strings of Godswill Akpabio, who is not in the least of circumstances, ready to have his sway over the agency, vitiated. This is even as his control of it had not gone down well with not a few stakeholders in the region as well as other observers.

On the flip side is the hope that the wait for the President to intervene in the affairs of the agency at this time will not be prolonged, especially in the light of fears over the actualisation of another delayed budget for the agency, with more that salutary impact on the development of the region.

With this development from the Senate, the expected responses from Akpabio and the Presidency enjoy heightened public interest, over whether they will obey the law and inaugurate the confirmed NDDC board, or ride rough shod over it in another characteristic playout of impunity. This contention remains valid given Akpabio’s disposition of infallibility with respect to the IMC, as he endeavours at every point and with every opportunity to justify it, along with the merit of his intervention.

For instance, while addressing reporters recently, Akpabio had announced that under the auspices of the IMC, the NDDC’s abandoned projects have been revived with work on all the hitherto abandoned sites across the region, now in full swing. This is just as according to him, the forensic audit of the agency as ordered by the President, was not only on course, but was unearthing series of past infractions in the agency’s operations.

Not a few observers meanwhile note that apparently lost on Akpabio and his co-travelers, may be the fact that the IMC came in from the cold without any legal delineation of their mandate, hence have been operating in breach of legality as a conquering force just in the manner of the legendary Spanish Conquistadors, who were used by Spain during its colonisation ventures, to subdue Latin American countries of Mexico, Peru, and others.

Who knows whether after their conquest of the NDDC for Akpabio, the IMC   may also face the post-tenure challenge of having their activities in office placed under scrutiny, may be in the form of another forensic audit on them? What if the new board comes into office and faults the operations of the IMC. Talk indeed of the African proverb which advise against pinching pieces of a meal one is designated to eat as of right.

This is why the way forward remains the cessation of the present sordid drama of grandstanding by any party especially Godswill Akpabio and his IMC over the fortunes of the NDDC. He had introduced the IMC even as a stranger to the country’s laws and under questionable circumstances. The fact that he could have obtained approval from the President for the IMC does not vitiate its illegality, as laws in Nigeria are not made and unmade by the President. The members were disposed to act as answerable only to him, even with defiance to the Senate.

But now that Ahmed Lawal’s gavel as the President of the Senate may have struck to define the ‘nunc dimitis’ of the IMC, the die seems to be cast. For it is either the IMC goes down, or the NDDC foregoes its 2019/2020 budget. So says the Senate.

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