Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Governing Board has no special or executive powers, a former board chairman Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) said yesterday.
“The law does not have any powers attributed to the chairman,” he said amid reports of tension between the incumbent board chair, Mrs. Lauretta Onochie and Managing Director, Dr. Samuel Ogbuku.
Ndoma-Egba, who spoke in an interview at the weekend, said the law establishing the NDDC specified the powers of the board and the management.
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He explained that the board is saddled with the responsibility of providing the policy direction, which the management implements.
Ndoma-Egba said: “Ordinarily, there shouldn’t be a problem because the powers are clearly defined. But you see, the problem is about the control of funds.
“The various laws – Fiscal Responsibility Act, and even the NDDC Act – make the chief executive officer the accounting officer, and in some cases, liability for infractions of those laws are personal to the chief executive.”
He said the chief executive officer could not spend outside the budget, which must be approved by the board.
He said: “So, all you need do is to exercise the powers that have been given to you in a very creative way that will check the board without necessarily impeding the running of the commission.
“The chairman is not an executive chairman; so, you cannot say as chairman, I have decreed A, B, C or D. You need the approval of the board.
“So, I think that what is confusing is a misapplication of the law establishing the NDDC or it hasn’t been properly read.
“The law does not have any powers attributed to the chairman. The powers of the chairman are the powers of the board and when we started, the first thing the board did was to donate their powers to me as chairman, to act in urgent cases.
“But you always came back to the board for them to ratify what you had done. So as chairman, you don’t have any special powers. The powers of the chairman are coterminous with the powers of the board.
“It is the managing director that for instance, is named as the chief accounting officer and by virtue of the extant laws, he is personally liable for the infraction of those laws.”
Regretting that the NDDC had not been allowed to grow, Ndoma-Egba said: “By now, apart from the law, we should have had an established tradition, because NDDC was established in the year 2000. That is long enough for certain things to be the tradition.
“But there is no board of NDDC that has survived its full term. So, those traditions haven’t been established, and then there is too much outside interference.”
He recalled that in 2006, then President Olusegun Obasanjo launched an elaborate regional development Master Plan, generated by Niger Delta stakeholders, state governments, oil companies, development partners and oil-producing communities.
He, however, lamented that the plan, envisaged to last for 15 years, was abandoned, leaving the region without a roadmap and wondered how the entire Niger Delta region could be developed without a plan.
Ndoma-Egba said: “The starting point was to either revalidate the initial masterplan which had a 15-year life span and had expired, or get a new master plan. So, we were in the process of developing that master plan.
“We were already talking with the government of Sao Tome, for them to deploy their excess internet capacity to the Niger Delta region because all the trunks that are coming from America and Europe meet in Sao Tome before they are distributed to different parts of Africa.
“Sao Tome is an Island nation with about 200,000 people, but the capacity they have is far more than what we have in Nigeria with 220 million people.
“So, we were in talks with them; in fact, they were willing to even give us their excess capacity plus their telecommunication companies. But it was at that point that the board was abruptly dissolved. We had already gotten approval in principle.”
He said the NDDC board under his leadership recognised that oil is a finite resource and that with time funding would become an issue.
He said: “We came up with the idea of a Niger Delta Development Bank and we got approval in principle, from the then Acting President, Yemi Osibanjo.
“We worked on the bank, a development bank that will take over all the mega projects so that their sustainability doesn’t depend on who was on the board.”