For some weeks now, protest in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta region, over the appointment of a new sole administrator for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has gradually risen to a very disturbing level. Many observers feel the crisis emanating from this intervention agency might engulf the region if left unchecked.
When the wailing of citizens in the oil-producing areas rose to a crescendo, government created a development agency to ameliorate the pains of degradation suffered by those in the Niger-Delta area. From the days it was called The Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) till now that it is called the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), it is rather saddening that all efforts to draw out remarkable benefits from oil to the people in the Niger Delta area have defied every strategy and solution.
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has been anything but a development agency. Officials of the agency, over the years, have shown more interest in theatrics, embezzlement and corruption than garnering any form of benefits to the area that produces over 90 per cent of Nigeria’s oil. The Niger-Delta area of Nigeria remains one of the most underdeveloped oil settlement in the world.
Just before two weeks ago, chaos took over after the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the commission was swept out and a sole administrator appointed. Youths of the area have been up in arms since December all through the new year period, vociferously protesting and destroying public property to express their displeasure towards the appointment of a sole administrator. It was total mayhem during the yuletide as major roads, especially those coming into Ijaw areas or Rivers and Bayelsa were blocked for hours causing massive gridlock and discomfort to travellers coming in and out of the area.
Regrettably, the battle is not only left for young people on the street, even the elites are part and parcel of the war. The people have hinged their position on the fact that the law setting up NDDC has been ignored. In the words of Eric Omare, the immediate past president of Ijaw Youth Council: the provisions of Part 1; Section 5; Subsection 3 of NDDC Act, which states, inter alia, that “where a vacancy occurs in the membership of the Board, it shall be filled by the appointment of a successor to hold office for the remainder of the term of office of his predecessor, so however, that the successor shall represent the same interest and shall be appointed by the President subject to the confirmation of the Senate.”
President Muhammadu Buhari agrees with this too as he has repeatedly said that the forensic audit should be completed before the inauguration of the board. The Senate which screened the board’s nominees, civil society groups and all those who wish to see good governance and propriety in the NDDC seem to have all queued behind the idea.
However, these protesters are not familiar with such patience and they seem to have other issues at the back of their minds. Their point of grievance as captured by Omare is that given the previous role of the current Sole Administrator, Effiong Akwa in the NDDC as Special Assistant on Finance to a former MD (Bassey Dan-Abia), he cannot transparently supervise a credible forensic audit that begins from NDDC’s inception to 2019. In his explanation, that period also covers the period of the Dan-Abia’s regime in NDDC (2013-2015), when Mr Effiong Akwa was very active in the system, so Akwa, clearly cannot be the right person to supervise the forensic audit of the NDDC.
Just two weeks ago, a legal dimension was added to the conflict with a suit filed before the Abuja division of the Federal High Court seeking to void the appointment.
In the suit, the plaintiff, Patriotic Youth Organization of Nigeria is specifically urging the court to declare the appointment of Effiong Akwa as a sole Administrator of the NDDC as illegal, void and null and of no effect.
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The suit has the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and Mr Effiong Okon Akwa as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th defendants respectively.
With the ongoing suit, one had expected that the agitating Ijaws would allow the proceedings to go on in peace and final judgment should be respected, or they would at least channel displeasure to the appropriate bodies for sanction rather than taking laws into their hands.
Regrettably, that has not been the case. Just two days ago, with the case still pending in court, there was a huge protest in Port Harcourt as Ijaw youth ransacked and shutdown NDDC head office in the city. The erroneous consensus among the rioters is that the Niger-Delta Minister, Godswill Akpabio influenced the dismissal of the management committee constituted by many Ijaw sons only to replace them with his kinsman as sole administrator.
It is indeed a great irony that an instrument created to bring development to an area that is regarded as the cash cow of the country has become an instrument of discord, generating bitterness, corruption, rancour and even death. The big question now is- can these curses from oil and its related agencies eventually transit back to blessing for the suffering masses?
Nevertheless, it would have been somewhat bearable if the people had gained from impactful developmental activities of such agencies as NDDC, while they tackle issues like oil spillage and explosions with Shell and other oil multinationals. The Niger-Deltans have agitated severally on the failure of Shell and other oil multinationals to carry out proper clean-up that meet global environmental best practices. Unfortunately, the onslaught is from all fronts.
We cannot expunge the fact that oil has brought great benefits to Nigeria with the National Bureau of Statistics, revealing that Nigeria’s crude oil production from 1961 to 2014 generated well over N118.4 trillion. There is however a need to recognize that these benefits have also come with many negative effects that must be tackled. The cost of those pains is quite heavy on the country, with the oil-producing areas bearing the heaviest part of the burden.
There is, therefore, a need for a collaborative effort between the federal and the state governments, as well as all CSOs and NGOs towards putting measures in place to remediate the situation and put smiles on the faces of Nigerians, particularly those in the Niger Delta.
Faith Omo Ohioze