As pressure mounts for the inauguration of the reconstituted board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), politics and power play by forces that be, have created an intriguing atmosphere.
Just as ethnic and youth groups domiciled in the Niger-Delta region have been calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to swiftly inaugurate the board with competent individuals to champion the affairs of the commission, some notable individuals have also begun lobbying to clinch the highest position in the agency.
One of such individuals is Cairo Ojougboh, a former director of projects at the NDDC.
The 62-year-old Delta State indigene, who is trained as a medical doctor, was appointed into the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC in October 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Ojougboh was very vocal when he held sway as director of Projects and his name filtered in the media when the commission was faced with several scandals and alleged corrupt practices.
Correspondent learnt that Mr Ojuogboh, described by many as one who is always ready to reap from where he did not sow, has been using former Governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sherrif and President Buhari’s nephew, Alhaji Mamman Daura to press his case. Not only that, he has also enlisted many top politicians in the ruling party to lobby his way to become the Chairman of the reconstituted NDDC board.
A source familiar with the latest happenings in the commission told this newspaper that Ojuogboh has been desperate about his plans to be the chairman of NDDC. He has been sighted almost everywhere in Abuja with Mr. Sheriff, and telling people who cares to listen that his friend is an in-law of the President.
Although Sheriff is a top politician from Borno State, who has served as a two-term governor and Senator under the umbrella of the Peoples Democratic Party, his closeness to Buhari remains a mystery to the people who hold the President in high integrity.
According to our source, Mr Ojuogboh who was a Special Adviser to the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim played dirty when both of them fell out.
Ojuogboh allegedly made available some vital documents to the law enforcement agents which Mr. Anyim, his former boss, is still battling with till now.
We reliable gathered that the former NDDC director’s association with Modu Sheriff, who recently declared interest to contest the All Progressives Congress (APC) chairmanship position, may not be unconnected to fulfilling his desires to emerge as the Chairman of the NDDC. According to our source, if this happens, Mr Sheriff will have access to cash to fund his campaign.
According to a report by the Peoples Gazette in December 2020, barely six months after Ojuogboh landed his federal appointment, he financed the speedy completion of a luxurious real estate located at Ihechukwu Madubuike Street, in the exquisite area of Guzape in Asokoro, Abuja.
If not for the letter written by Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, to all security agents, directing them to suspend all the financial fraud investigation against the interim management of NDDC until the completion of the ongoing forensic investigation, Dr. Ojuogboh would have been chilling in the EFCC or ICPC’s net.
With money to possibly throw around and the backing of political top shots, the major question is, will Cairo Ojuogboh succeed in becoming the Chairman of the reconstituted NDDC board?
Besides Ojuogboh, this newspaper gathered that among those lobbying for the NDDC top job are Emerho Otega and Bernard Edevwo, a candidate of the Deputy Senate President, among others.
Inauguration of the reconstituted NDDC board
While a specific date is yet to be picked for the inauguration of the reconstituted NDDC board, the Minister of Niger-Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, last week, said the process will be fast-tracked.
The Minister spoke after an emergency consultative visit to Oporoza, headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri, Southwest of Delta State.
The meeting was over the seven-day ultimatum issued by ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo).
Mr. Tompolo had given the federal government and Mr Akpabio seven days to inaugurate the reconstituted NDDC or witness the Niger Delta boil with activities of militants.
As a result, Akpabio arrived in Delta three days before the expiration of Tompolo’s ultimatum to inaugurate a substantive NDDC board.
“We had a robust discussion and consultation,” Akpabio said after the meeting.
“The meetings have been fruitful. The consensus of stakeholders is that there is a need for more representation in the NDDC and so a board needs to be constituted.
“I have also assured them that as soon as I get back, I will commence the process and fast-track the process.
“We have agreed that my office will fast-track the process of the constitution of the new board. We have also looked at what is affecting the region. The youths applauded, but they want to see more progress, more employment opportunities,” Akpabio said after the meeting.
Grievances of Niger-Delta Youths
The NDDC was created as a response to the demands of the Niger Delta, a populous area inhabited by vast minority ethnic groups.
Following the discovery and exploration of oil in the region, these ethnic groups, majorly Ijaw and Ogoni teamed up to form organizations to confront the Nigerian government and multinational oil companies.
They referenced their grievances to the extensive environmental degradation and pollution from oil activities that have occurred in the region since 1958.
These agitations birth the NDDC about two decades ago.
With the Niger-Delta region still largely underdeveloped, coupled with the build-up of environmental degradation, it begs to answer if the objectives for the creation of the NDDC have been met.
Following reports of corruption, with thousands of abandoned projects in the region, President Buhari ordered a forensic audit of the commission since its establishment.
Despite this, youths in the region have continued to beg Buhari to swiftly inaugurate the NDDC substantiative board to get activities running. According to them, the forensic audit should not mar development in the Niger Delta.
A letter by the Niger Delta Peoples Forum addressed to Buhari in April 2021, partly read:
“We call on the president to heed the counsel of stakeholders of the region who have demanded the speedy inauguration of a substantive Governing Board for the Commission and an immediate end to the appointment of illegal Interim Management since October 2019. It is inconceivable that under any guise the NDDC is being run by illegal Interim Sole Administrators for almost two years now.
“The minister has employed the mention of a so-called “forensic audit” of previous managements as a weapon to hijack the NDDC claiming, rather strangely, that a substantive Board should not be inaugurated for the NDDC in line with the NDDC Act until his so-called unending “forensic audit” of a previous period is concluded.
“Several groups, professionals and stakeholders have stated very clearly that there is no reason why the Governing Board of the NDDC should not be inaugurated to manage the affairs of the Commission while the audit of a previous period is on, as has been the standard practice in all other Government Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that have been audited.”
NDDC leadership controversy
In October 2019, President Buhari had written to the Senate for confirmation of the appointment of a 16 – member board of the NDDC.
The Senate screened and confirmed the appointments of 15 out of the 16 nominees on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, based on the report tabled before it by the Committee on Niger Delta. The inauguration, however, never came to pass.
Between that period and now, the Niger Delta Affairs Minister has appointed three different interim heads, which many stakeholders have argued is a visible breach of the NDDC Act.
The first to be appointed was Ms. Joi Nunieh, the second was Prof Daniel Pondei, and the current Interim Sole Administrator, Effiong Okon Akwa.