Buhari: Void the suspect $15 billion NDDC rail project

It was with feelings of deep hurt that many Nigerian received news of the recent twist in the fortunes of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), featuring a tiff between the Chairman of the Board of Directors Lauretta Onochie, and the Managing Director Samuel Ogbuku. The bone of contention is the signing by the Managing […]

The post Buhari: Void the suspect $15 billion NDDC rail project
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It was with feelings of deep hurt that many Nigerian received news of the recent twist in the fortunes of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), featuring a tiff between the Chairman of the Board of Directors Lauretta Onochie, and the Managing Director Samuel Ogbuku. The bone of contention is the signing by the Managing Director of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), between the agency and a US based firm – Atlanta Global Resources Inc., for a futuristic $15 billion rail project, which is planned to link the capital cities of the nine NDDC states. The Chairman Onochie is claiming that the entire transaction was without the full involvement of the board of directors, while the Managing Director Ogbuku reportedly asserts that he has the official mandate to execute the transaction even without the direct endorsement and supervision of the board of directors. And the fight goes on, gathering more steam and supporters by the day.

The situation has assumed a wider dimension with several groups pitching tent with one party or the other in the tussle over the MOU. For instance the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), which is easily the most vocal group in the region, has even endorsed the initiative of the NDDC management, with the argument that such will improve the fortunes of the region. This is even as the Chairman of the board has earlier gone public through a press statement, with her reservations over the merit of the initiative and the reported isolation of the board from the transaction. Yet there are questions that need to be addressed, ranging from the merit of the project, to the modalities that are now the subject of the infighting raging in the agency.

With respect to the merit of the project, the main question here is what utility it offers the region at this time of its development, as in consideration of any venture, the maxim to follow is whether the end justifies the means. The NDDC was established in the year 2,000 for the purpose of fast tracking the development of the Niger Delta region and was assigned an omnibus and rather unwieldy agenda for the mission. This rather unwieldy agenda of the agency manifested in it dipping its hands into many pies as the proverbial jack of all trades, and ended up as a master of none. In pursuit of attending to numerous areas of development, the Commission found itself creating room for perennial in-house contests for relevance and monopoly of the gravy pot. Sleaze and open, daylight robbery were the order of the day as its officials competed with each other to loot the common patrimony of the citizenry.

Matters came to a head when the outgoing administration of President Muhamadu Buhari launched a forensic audit in 2019 to cover the period 2001 to 2019, being the entire life of the agency as at then. Such was to ascertain the state of affairs pursuant to initiating any reforms in the agency. At the end of the audit in 2021, it was established that as many as 13,000 projects for which contracts were awarded were abandoned after the contractors and consultants along with conniving staff of the agency had received various sums of money. It is easily recalled that the President had ordered the outright termination of 1,300 contracts and promised Nigerians in November 2022, that as many as were complicit in the daylight robbery of the agency’s finances, would be penalized. That promise had not been fulfilled when the President inaugurated the new board and management on January 4, 2023.

Hence, in any ordinary context what Nigerians are expecting the new leadership to do was to conclude the presidential initiative of restoring the corporate integrity of the establishment by addressing themselves to the 13,000 abandoned projects through tracking the culprits and returning them to complete the abandoned projects, or recovering the missing funds. That means that the new leadership had its job cut out for it, even before being inaugurated. That such an enterprise has not been undertaken constitutes an instance of failed leadership.

For the purpose of clarification, the abandoned 13,000 projects comprise roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, town halls, reclamation schemes and canals, as well as several other facilities that would have changed the narrative of the region. Hence, while the management may be considering the prospects of linking the NDDC states with a railway network in the future, the matter of the abandoned 13,000 projects is a case of low hanging grapes that should have been concluded, if not for the avarice of the unscrupulous contractors, consultants and corrupted staff of the agency who collaborated to rob the region of such facilities, that would have taken the region to a baseline context in developmental experience. Such should have preceded any exotic scheme as the planned railway seems to be. Hence, the new leadership should as a matter of bounden duty address itself to the issue of the unfinished business of the forensic audit before delving into any fresh matter.

To add insult to injury is therefore the new twist whereby the board of directors and by extension the entire organization is now divided between the Chairman and the Managing Director, over a likely future railway contract which is presently being smuggled in under the subterfuge of an MOU. For this is the unmistaken direction which the issues surrounding the MOU are pointing to.

And this is where the question of whether any lessons have been learnt from the past life of the agency comes in. The history of the NDDC is replete with tales of the in-house clashes which often start between the board Chairman and the Managing Director, from where it percolates down to the other levels of authority and service delivery. And in each particular instance the result is the vitiation of the organisation’s corporate integrity.

The tendency of unending infighting in the agency which usually starts with the Chairman and the Managing Director before percolating down to lower levels point to a structural weakness in the establishment which needs to be addressed, if the NDDC shall ever fulfil its mandate. And this is the task waiting for the new administration, if it shall get the best from the region.

The issue in all of the instances of turbulence in the NDDC has been the breach of the law defining the powers of the Chairman and the Managing Director. Given the interstate composition of the agency, it was intended that no single officer should exercise more powers than is allowed him or her by law. By the same reason the argument of Onochie which she has backed with the provisions of the NDDC Act be looked into and if valid, allowed to prevail. No sacred cows should be allowed in the agency any more. Hence the rail project should be cancelled for now as a bad apple, that is polluting the agency’s recovery under the new leadership.

The post Buhari: Void the suspect $15 billion NDDC rail projectappeared first on Daily Trust.

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