Recently, the national leadership of the Host Communities of Nigeria, HOSTCON, and other stakeholders from the 10 oil producing communities in the country held a meeting where they advocated the dissolution of the Interim Management Committee running the Niger Delta Development Commission where humongous corruption has been reported. In this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, Monday Whiskey, national director, media and publicity of HOSTCON, advocated the swearing-in of the proposed Pius Odubu-led board which had been screened and cleared by the National Assembly
In the past few weeks, the Niger Delta Development Commission had been in the news for the very wrong reason of outlandish sleaze running into over N80 billion. What is your take on this ugly development?
As a critical stakeholder in the Niger Delta project, from the very beginning, the leadership of the Host communities of Nigeria, HOSTCON, producing oil and gas, had been very blunt enough to tell the government that the greatest problem that will befall NDDC, was to allow NDDC to be under the management of an interested party, Chief Godswill Akpabio who is the minister of the Niger Delta Affairs. When we raised those issues in November 2019, some persons within the system concluded that we were out to fight Akpabio. We do not have a personal hatred or problem with Godswill Akpabio, but we insist that the leadership of the NDDC as an interventionist agency, should be domiciled in the presidency.
Like it was in the beginning, it should remain there because as we speak, the North-East Development Commission is in the presidency. So there is no reason to have removed the NDDC from the presidency and give it to the Niger Delta Ministry. And true to our fear, we have been vindicated because if between January and June this year N81 billion suddenly flew out of the accounts of the agency; we all know what N81 billion is. So, my candid opinion is to re-echo that the president, in his wisdom, should urgently return the NDDC to the presidency. That is one.
Secondly, we have never seen in this country before where Nigerians were duly nominated, screened by the National Assembly and waiting for inauguration; such a board that has not been inaugurated, to be dissolved. So, my plea is to remove us from this quagmire; the president should kindly inaugurate the Pius Odubu-led NDDC board that was duly screened, confirmed by the National Assembly. Once that is done, this illegal IMC would have been shoved aside and a thorough investigation be carried out.
From day one, we have insisted that any forensic audit of the NDDC must be daring, and must be very, very thorough. But here we are. You have just succeeded in giving yam to a goat; and of course, no matter how benevolent that goat is, he would eat the yam. That is where we are now. So, I have a great pain; the pain is NDDC should be allowed to carry out its responsibility of intervening in the development deficit that is visible everywhere in the Niger Delta.
Don’t you think the problem with the NDDC is the manner appointments into the board are made whereby people were appointed just for political patronage rather than looking out for persons with selfish agenda to pursue?
I am speaking from experience. In 1999/2000, I was appointed as the first media consultant to the senate committee on Niger Delta under the leadership of late Senator Fred Brume. We went round the Niger Delta States; we made consultations with the governors. From that year 2000 to date, I make bold to say that there is no board of the NDDC that has been so careless, that has wasted the people’s money, like this IMC of six months. The previous boards; you still go to places and see a lot of visible projects. I agree that some were abandoned because of political engineering.
But when the president ordered a forensic audit of the agency, the group, where I am the national director of media and publicity, Host Communities of Nigeria, we threw our weight behind that forensic audit. We said every contractor that had taken NDDC money knowingly and unknowingly go back to site or get arrested. Professor Itse Sagay in his wisdom, has raised very critical issues. But the question is do we allow illegalities to continue? Boards are appointed by the government, are responsive to the government, but here is an IMC appointed by a minister turning the place into; how do you describe this one? Do you call it financial recklessness or you call it outright robbery?
What is happening now, in a normal world, some persons should not just be arrested they should be in an underground cell because we have never seen this type before when a human being in his right sense of reasoning, will just decide that …There was a case in point; one of the items they claimed they spent on – over N840 million paid to a media house. As what?
So, the question is I still think very strongly that the Board is more representative than a three-member kangaroo IMC. A board that had been screened, confirmed by the senate, answerable to the president of this country cannot be as reckless. Even if they want to be reckless, they cannot be. But this time around, you look at the pedigree of the people appointed into this board that we are advocating for its inauguration. Pius Odubu from Edo State was former deputy governor for eight years, a former member of House of Reps for eight years; he has a very credible record. The managing director of that board that was not inaugurated, Bernard Okumagba is a world-class trained chartered accountant. He was the commissioner for economic planning in Delta State. He became commissioner for finance. He was never found wanting. So, these are well-tested people that are being brought on board. But forces of darkness are hovering around because they are afraid these persons are out to do justice to development and infrastructural advancement of this region.
We do not have a personal hatred or problem with Godswill Akpabio, but we insist that the leadership of the NDDC as an interventionist agency, should be domiciled in the presidency.
But our prayer is that the president should overcome those forces of darkness; inaugurate this board. We have been running round a ditch. It’s better to fall into the ditch and look for how to come out. Now they have fallen into the ditch, they cannot come out. So, those who are left who are still running, the board that had been screened, confirmed, should be sworn in. Forensic audit will take place supervised by that very constitutionally recognized board. What is happening now is that this illegality is begetting illegality. You can see the arrogance with which this three-member IMC are working. The former acting MD was almost kidnapped from his house; the IG is now saying he was not aware. The commissioner of police said he was not aware. Are these ones Cameroonian police and not Nigerian police?”
Don’t you think the presidency had no qualms in dissolving the board because of the controversy that trailed it’s composition with some persons contending that the appointments did not follow the constitutional order of succession?
These are well-tested people that are being brought on board. But forces of darkness are hovering around because they are afraid these persons are out to do justice to development and infrastructural advancement of this region.