I have noticed that each time a new management assumes duty at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), torrents of smear campaigns, fabricated stories and fake allegations would be unleashed against the interventionist agency in the social media.
In February 2022, a similar series of articles were written against the former management and, as a stakeholder, I had to do some rebuttals against the publications. Just this week, another fake and an obviously fabricated news item, headlined “NDDC Chairperson aborts N25 billion payment as FG sets to domicile the Commission at SGF Office,’’ was published in an obscure online platform, “Sahara Weekly.’’
The story, credited to an unnamed source, made two spurious allegations: that there was an attempt in the Commission to pay N25 billion to a state government in the South East and that Hon. Lauretta Onochie would be confirmed as the Executive Chairman in a letter from the Office of the SGF.
It is obvious that the writer of this false story does not know the basic working of a statutory commission like the NDDC and its procurement process. Before a huge payment is made by the NDDC (and indeed any other government agency), such payments must be approved by the Management, Board, Supervising Minister of the agency and the Federal Executive Council. In addition, the Public Procurement Act has also stipulated stringent conditions that would have to be met before such an amount of money is moved from the coffers of a government agency. I can confirm that no request for such payment has ever been considered by NDDC since the new Board was inaugurated on January 5, 2023 – just three weeks ago.
I can recall that the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, had in his speech during the inauguration of the new Board, admonished them to follow extant public procurement laws, guidelines and rules in all their procurements. The advice also ran through many of the papers delivered at the retreat for the new Board held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, last week. In fact, the first formal meeting of the Board only happened yesterday, several days after the false allegations were published. Clearly, this is just a piece of invented tale designed to damage NDDC.
On the issue of the new Chairman assuming executive function, I can confirm that this is not under any contemplation. The NDDC Act 2000 clearly states that the Chairman of the Board does not have executive status. The law specifies that the Board is made up of three executives: The Managing Director and two Executive Directors (for Projects and Finance & Administration). In fact, previous chairmen of NDDC: Chief Onyema Ugochukwu (a distinguished journalist from Abia State); the late Ambassador Sam Edem (a fine public servant from Akwa Ibom) and Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN (an erudite lawyer and legislator from Cross River) all served on part-time basis. At no time did they ever crave executive responsibilities. It is therefore ludicrous to expect that the Buhari administration, renowned for sticking to due process and rule of law, would issue a letter to controvert a law that has been in operation for close to a quarter of a century. The Chairman of NDDC could only assume executive roles if the law is amended. But that has not happened; and I do not even expect that Madam Onochie, the new Chairman of the Commission, would lend herself for a role that would cause rift and disharmony in the Commission.
I can discern that the ‘’Sahara Weekly’’ story is conjured to create a semblance of a rift within the Board and give an impression of an inchoate infighting in the system. My initial suspicion is that it was planted by those who lost out in the appointment, and would rather bring down the commission since they did not succeed. This was the same kind of publications that were churned out soon after the President ordered a forensic audit into the Commission in 2019. There were palpably fears among certain elements that the audit exercise was a witch-hunt. I wrote several articles trying to calm frayed nerves. I am happy to note that finally, the audit exercise has been concluded, and no witch was ever hunted or found.
The new Board and management are fully settled into their duties now, and they are fully aware of the responsibilities on their shoulders, and most of all, the laws of the land. I recently visited the Headquarters of the Commission and I could sense an aura of calm and confidence among the staffers. There is a strong feeling that NDDC is cutting a new path to achieve its set goals.
Etim is a journalist and influential stakeholder in the Niger Delta