Cletus Abasi Fabian
Ours is a country where the powerful and the privilege arm-twist the rule of law for personal aggrandisement. The convenience of the moment appears to be the narrow interest of highly placed individuals regardless of how the overriding interest of the collective is undermined. Renewed controversies sparked off by the directive purportedly from the new Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Umana Okon Umana, regarding personnel audit of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) raises a number of issues bordering on due process and the rule of law. it should be instructive that the NDDC since its establishment has struggled to fulfil its mandate due to the strangle hold on its administrative and operational functions. Consequently, the Commission has been bedevilled by corruption and failure to live up to the objective for which it was set up as well as in meeting the expectations of stakeholders across communities in the Niger Delta. It is indeed regrettable that an intervention agency established by an Act of Parliament with a clear statutory mandate to facilitate the even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta region has never been allowed to operate at optimal interests because of constant interruptions by various vested interests determined not to let it function.
The Governing and Managerial structure of NDDC is expressly stated in Section 2 of the NDDC (Establishment) Act No 6 of 2000, to wit: “There is hereby established for the Commission a governing Board (the Board) which shall consist of a Chairman…”. The Act establishing NDDC provides that composition of NDDC Board should comprise of “representatives of the 9 Niger Delta States, the Federal Ministries of Finance & Environment, Oil Companies’ representative, a Managing Director and 2 Executive Directors” who must be appointees of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Specifically, Section 8 of the Act provides that the Board shall have power to: (a) manage and supervise affairs of the Commission; (b) make rules and regulations for carrying out the functions of the Commission; (c) enter and inspect premises, projects and such places as may be necessary for the purposes of carrying out its functions under this Act; (d) pay the staff of the Commission such remuneration and allowances as appropriate; (e) enter into such contracts as may be necessary or expedient for the discharge of its functions and ensure the efficient performance of the functions of the Commission; (f) do such other things as are necessary and expedient for the efficient performance of the functions of the Commission.
Furthermore, Section 10 of the Act provides amongst others for the framework for the mandates and spheres of authority of a Management Committee saddled with the administration of the Commission thus: a) the “Chairman who shall be the Managing Director, two Executive Directors, the Directors responsible for the Directorates established under Section 9 of the Act and “such number of other members as may be determined from time to time by the Board”. (b) the “Chairman responsible to the Board for the general administration of the Commission”. Under Secton12 of the Act, there shall be for the Commission, a Managing Director, and two Executive Directors. Section 10 also specifically provides that “the Managing Director shall, subject to the general direction of the Board and be responsible” for (a) “the day to day administration of the Commission”; (b) keeping the books and Proper records of the proceedings of the Board” (c) “the administration of the secretariat of the Board, and ‘the general direction and control of all other employees of the Commission.”
The commutative effect of the Sections of the Act referred to subsequently and in relation to Section 7 (3) which provides that “the Commission shall be subject to the direction, control or supervision in the performance of its functions under this Act by the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” attest to the independence of the NDDC as an intervention agency intended to operate without undue interference from any appointee of the President and Commander-in-Chief who is not so mandated by the Act or otherwise directed by Mr. President. By the above reproduced sections of the Act, it is also abundantly clear that the governing, managerial and administrative structures of the NDDC are creation of the law establishing the Commission which can neither be usurped nor set aside by any appointee of Mr. President including the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs through a unilateral directive or by the exercise of any function on account of the directive of the Minister.
Unfortunately, since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office, the Commission has been administered by interregnum management under successive sole administrators without a statutory governing board in place as required by the Act establishing the NDDC. It is pertinent to emphasised that the NDDC has been in existence for 7 years before the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was created by Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2008. The subsisting law establishing the NDDC ascribes no role or function for the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs with regards to the administrative and managerial affairs of NDDC. Notwithstanding that the President and Commander-in-Chief can delegate the Minister to carry out specific supervisory role as, for instance, became expedient with the Forensic Audit ordered by Mr. President in 2019, this would not automatically negate the imperative of rule of law and administrative framework of the NDDC as envisaged by the enabling Act.
As it has turned our regrettably, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs under the leadership of Minister Umana Okon Umana appears to have misinterpreted the August 22, 2019 letter from President Buhari directing former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio to exercise supervisory roles in NDDC as an open check to annex the Commission and usurp the powers of the management team headed by the Interim Administrator. Indeed by the posturing of actors in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, it is evident that the failure of President Buhari to constitute the legitimate statutory governing board for the NDDC is deliberately instigated. It is now obvious that the unending season of interregnum in NDDC is orchestrated by individuals with vested interest and who are patently consumed by the inordinate urge to annex the NDDC and subsume the administrative and managerial functions of the Commission under their Control at the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. What is expected of the Minister of Niger Delta in line with the August 22 2019 letter from the president is to request the MD/CEO, whose power is currently being exercised by the interim administrator, to set machinery in motion for the purposes of personnel audit if indeed necessary. Such exercise is clearly within his statutory administrative function of the MD/CEO under the Act establishing the NDDC and such responsibility can neither ne commandeer or delegated otherwise by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
For the avoidance of doubt, the day to day running of the Commission is statutorily vested on the MD/CEO of the Commission as provided for under Section 12 (2). The Presidential directive to former Minister Godswill Akpabio did not cede day to day running of the Commission to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs which is the wrong impression of Personnel Audit directed by present Minister Umana Okon Umana tends to suggest. It is important to reiterate that the power of supervision contemplated by the Presidential Directive is limited to matters of policy and general direction and does not confer any authority to micro managing the affairs of the Commission or a complete takeover of the day to day running of the Commission as we are currently witnessing. While it a common knowledge that a Presidential Directive cannot amend a law enacted by the National Assembly, the motive of staff audit soon after a Forensic Audit undertook holistic assessment of the affairs of NDDC appears wrongheaded, misplaced and laced with ulterior motives. It also baffles that personnel audit is being surreptitiously contemplated when the findings of an elaborate Audit Report is yet to be made public. It is trite in procedure that report of an important exercise such as the Forensic Audit is followed with a review committee which will come up with a White Paper detailing recommendations to be implemented. The pertinent poser therefore is why another personnel audit so soon when the report of the Forensic Audit is yet to be implemented?
To urgently address the anomaly and save the NDDC from being rendered completely comatose, President Buhari must exercise his statutory duty under Section 2 (2) (a) of the NDDC Act by constituting a Governing Board for the Commission. Fulfilment of this important constitutional mandate by Mr. President without further delay will put an end to the cacophony of illegalities, meddlesomeness and manipulation that have become the order of the day in NDDC with the absence of statutory governing board. It should be instructive that in March 2022, the Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) to desist from subsuming the NDDC under any ministry including the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. The court also granted perpetual injunction restraining the AGF from further subjecting the NDDC under interim management or sole administrator. The reason adduced for the delay in constituting the governing board was the Forensic Audit exercise ordered by the President. Since the Forensic Audit has long been concluded and report submitted to the President, there should be no further delay in constituting the board as required by law. The time for Mr. President to act is now and save the NDDC from threatening conspiracy of tiny individuals who appear to be more interested in preserving their interest rather than the interest of the collective stakeholders of the Niger Delta.
Cletus Abasi Fabian writes from Warri Delta State