By Itohowo Ekong

It is no longer news that the Interim Management Committee (IMC), the Managing Director and Executive Director, Projects have been mired in litigations with the litigators seeking reliefs that the IMC be disbanded and its key players relieved of their engagements in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). We recall a restraining order issued recently against the Interim Management Committee of NDDC by a Federal High Court in Abuja. It was clear that the Federal Government had been driven to the brink of a dilemma and so needed to do something , taking cognizance that we are in a democracy where the Rule of Law is expectedly cardinal.

And so the people of the Niger Delta must be thankful to Mr. President for the prompt action which has translated into the timely appointment of an Interim Administrator for the NDDC. This action lies within the constitutional provision of Mr. President and so the right to exercise it in appointing an interim administrator is legally valid, proactive, reasonable and logical. As it is often said, nature abhors vacuum. It would have been irresponsible on the part of government to defy the court order or fail to take action to protect NDDC as an Agency of government.

But there is something we must infer from the action(s) of Mr. President. It is his concern for the Niger Delta region and the concerted effort he is making to reposition the region in terms of accelerated development. We could see this in his institution of a Forensic Audit aimed at re-engineering NDDC for optimal development that would impact the region and its people. It is trite knowledge that the agency has not justified its existence more than twenty years after its founding. It is also an open secret that NDDC has for long been a cesspool for corruption as many are wont to call it an “ATM” for corrupt public officials. Owing to this, the agency has failed woefully in accomplishing the goals for which it was set up. Mr. President, having received reports of these concerns, decided to institute a Forensic Audit to rejig and reposition the agency. This could only have come from a president who has the interest of the region at heart.

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Mr. President’s interest for the region is further expressed in the expedient action of conceding that the budget for payment for the forensic audit be drawn from the budget of the Presidency, since the National Assembly has tactically delayed the passage of NDDC’s budget for 2020, ostensibly to frustrate the forensic audit. The well meaning action of Mr. President has rescued the forensic audit from the concerted conspiracy of vested interest who do not wish the exercise to see the light of the day . Of course their determine effort is still being seen in the relentless war they are waging against the IMC, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and other inimical actions which have brought the region to this cul-de-sac. But Mr. President is undaunted and determined to upscale development in the region. It is why he is persevering with the Forensic Audit despite the relentless blackmail. I salute the perceptiveness of Mr. President in noticing the sincerity and altruism of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and refusing to succumb to the duious and mischievous calls for his removal. Mr. President’s actions are again expressive of his commitment for the development of the Niger Delta region.

There is an instructive matter I must draw the attention of Niger Deltans and indeed stakeholders of the region to. All the nine States that make up the Niger Delta region have representatives in the National Assembly yet the budget of NDDC that is expected to facilitate development in the region has been foot dragging within their purview without passage. I am yet to be aware of any representative from the region who has risen to the occasion to ask questions on why the passage of the budget is still in abeyance. These representatives were elected to speak for and protect the region. If a matter of a budget that is expected to facilitate the development of the region is handled with such levity, one does not know what else that would be taken seriously. Whereas I can wager a bet that the 2020 Budget of North East Development Commission had long been passed. The tepid action on the part of Legislators from the Niger Delta region from every rational perspective constitutes a vote of no confidence on them. They have failed the people of the region.

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There is also another matter that should be addressed to ensure a peaceful Niger Delta region. The appointment of Mr. Effiong Okon Akwa is on an interim basis and he is to manage the activities of the NDDC until the Forensic Audit is completed. The insinuation that Senator Akpabio deliberately schemed and skewed the process to foist another Akwa Ibom man on NDDC is preposterous. With the plethora of court cases, there was need for an exigent action to stem any vaccum or create a lacuna. The disagreement and reservations in some States in the Niger Delta region that pretend to be more Niger Delta than others is uncalled for and a recipe for disunity in the region. The Niger Delta is a collective heritage and Akwa Ibom is an integral part of the region. Attempting to treat Akwa Ibom as a fringe State in the Niger Delta, is injurious to the sensibilities of the people of the State, especially when we admit into context the fact that Akwa Ibom State is one of the largest oil producing States in Nigeria. Akwa Ibom State must therefore be treated as a critical stakeholder, equal partners, not one whose interest is half- heartedly considered and tolerated.

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There is no gainsaying the fact that the appointment of Effiong Akwa who comes from an oil producing area would ensure that the Commission’s activities nay the Commission itself, are not brought to a standstill as envisaged in the court’s suspension of the IMC, the Managing Director and Executive Director, Projects. The appointment which is well intentioned is an assurance of uninterrupted activities in the Commission. There is therefore a need for a clarion call for all stakeholders to support the Interim Administration rather than cast aspersions and dissenting voices.

As Niger Deltans, we must be conscious of the imperative of peace as a sine-qua-non for development. We must also be aware that the beginning of militancy which gave rise to a chaotic atmosphere in the region led to the expansion of Lagos State as many people had to relocate from the region to Lagos. The loss of the Niger Delta became the gain of Lagos. Who knew of Lekki and other emerging estates in Lagos before the beginning of militancy? This is no time for war but a time for concerted plans to upscale development in the Niger Delta region. And this we can only achieve if all stakeholders in the region close ranks and extend their full support to the Interim Administration of NDDC and the supervising ministry. It is time for all groups in the Niger Delta region who mean well for the region to come into a productive coalition in the interest of the region.

Itohowo Ekong writes from Lagos