South-south governors rose from a meeting in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State on Monday night, decrying the management structure of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
They argued that running the NDDC by Interim Management Committees and Interim Administrator in the past one year was not only an aberration, but had resulted in shortchanging the Niger Delta.
They, therefore, advised President Muhammadu Buhari to, in the absence of a substantive board for the commission, put all NDDC funds, except those meant for salaries and imprests, in an escrow account.
But, Niger Delta Affairs Minister Godswill Akpabio, said most South-south governors run local government areas in their states with caretaker committees and therefore, lacked the moral rectitude to advise Buhari on how the NDDC should be managed.
Akpabio said the governors should first conduct council elections before insisting that the President must inaugurate the board of the commission.
The governors, under the aegis of South-south Governors’ Forum, had also restated their demand for an upward review of the provision of 2.5 percent as Host Community Trust Fund in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to 10 percent.
Chairman of the forum , Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, read the positions of the governors after the meeting that held at Rivers State Government House.
A statement by Kelvin Ebiri, Special Assistant on Media to Governor Nyesom Wike, quoted Okowa as saying that the appointment of either an IMC or Interim Administrator for the NDDC was not in the best interest of the South-south.
He said: “This situation does not augur well for the people of the Niger Delta as an opportunity for all states to be represented as they ought to be represented in the board of the NDDC does not exist.
“It means that the NDDC is actually run in such a manner that it is actually not truly beneficial to our people, because there is no stakeholders input in the running of the affairs of the NDDC.
“We do know that there is a forensic audit taking place and if for that reason the board has not been constituted, our advice is that monies being sent to the NDDC should be put in an escrow account until a board is constituted and then, proper processes are followed in the expenditure of the money in such a way it will be visibly accountable in the best interest of the peoples of the Niger Delta.”
The governor said they agreed that after the constitution of the board, the advisory council must be called upon to play its role and ensure checks and balances to guarantee value for money expended by the NDDC.
His words: “A situation where we begin to have emergency projects that possibly will not last three to six months is not right, we don’t feel happy about it and we are urging Mr. President to ensure that if the board is not going to be immediately constituted, then funds for the NDDC beyond the payment of salaries should be put on hold until he constitutes the board and the board can now run the finances of the commission as per the law creating the NDDC.
“We feel already short-changed as a people in the Niger Delta and we believe that we do not wish to see this kind of situation continue going forward into the future, because our people feel the pains.
“We do not want a situation where there is an abuse of processes, neither should we have a situation where we have abuse of funds.
“We believe that it is best for both the country, for the states of the Niger Delta and for the people of the Niger Delta when the due process is followed by the reconstitution of the board and also in reconstituting the board, that the reconstituted funds should come in and have funds to spend as per the law.
“We also took up the issue of the PIB, the Petroleum Industry Bill which is already before the House and having compared notes with ourselves, we are of the view that while we welcome the Host Community Trust Fund, we do believe that the 2.5 percent that is appropriated in that bill for the purpose of host community fund is inadequate .
“We have discussed with our people and collectively as leaders of the people in our various states and as leaders standing in on behalf of our people, we urge that the National Assembly should increase the provision in the host community fund from 2.5 percent to 10 percent in the best interest of our communities, in the best interest of our nation.”
The governors expressed the belief that if the communities felt satisfied with the provision of funds for them in the PIB, they would more likely become watchdog on behalf of the federal government, the states and oil companies.”
Wike, Governor Godwin Obaseki (Edo State); Governor Douye Diri (Bayelsa) and the Deputy Governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Mr. Moses Ekpo, were present at the meeting.
But, Akpabio told a news conference to herald the formal inauguration of the new NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt, that it was illogical for the same governors, who demanded a forensic audit of the intervention agency, to flay the appointment of interim managements or sole administrator for the same body.
Besides, Akpabio argued that it was abnormal for governors, who belong to an opposition party (Peoples Democratic Party), to dictate to a President in a ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
He therefore, advised them to be patient till the conclusion of the audit before the inauguration of the board.
Akpabio said what the interim managements of the NDDC had achieved in a year, boards of 19 years could not accomplish them.
His words: “I am not aware that the governors are the ones that give directives to the President. I want to let you know that the federal government has appealed to the governors to ensure that local governments have elected representatives.
“Some governors for eight years used caretaker committees to run local governments and the federal government did not deny them funds. So, we are not against the formation of a board for NDDC.
“But, if in 19 years, an NDDC board as you call it could not produce an edifice of this nature, could not even use mere N150m to connect the rented office to the national grid, that will tell you that sometimes, the constitution of boards have misplaced priorities.
“We are saying that there is going to be a board for the NDDC. Nobody is against the board. But, let us finish with the forensic audit. Boards have various interests. If I am a contractor and I nominate someone into the board, don’t you think that person will not cooperate with the forensic auditors?”
“In a few months, the forensic audit will be over and the board will definitely be inaugurated. I will rather plead with the governors to ensure that they carry out local government elections. Most of the South-south states are PDP. So where is the opposition?
“How can the opposition give instructions and directives to the President who is not in the same party with them and president has a clear vision of what he wants to do?. What he is doing is producing results.
“It is not going to be easy for them to take power because of the performance of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“We agree with them and we are on the same page. The South-south governors are the ones who even requested a forensic audit. So, my appeal to them is to allow the audit to end and then the board will be inaugurated.”