Niger Delta and the 'war' in NDDC

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Semiu Okanlawon

Last week, an advertorial in one of the national dailies accused the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Mr. Chibuzor Ugwoha, of unilaterally awarding contracts to the tune of N5.9bn without having recourse to the management team of the commission.

Apparently, the aim of that publication was to draw public attention to what was presented as the sleaze going on in the agency established by the Federal Government as part of the efforts to accelerate development in the Niger Delta. But then, that was just a tip of the iceberg as indications have shown that the problem of the commission transcends that allegation. It is about a structural problem in the commission which has already attracted the attention of the Federal Government.

Last week, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, apparently worried by the degenerating state of affairs especially among the top echelon of the commission, wrote to the management team asking them to comply with the due process in all their dealings to avoid the wrath of the government.

Adherence to the due process, indeed, is at the heart of the matter. The commission‘s managing director had accused two executive directors of the commission -Mr. Power Aghinighan (Finance and Administration) and Mr. Esoetok Etteh (Projects) of engaging in actions that amounted to undermining his authorities and at the same time, violating the due process.

According to Ugwoha, in a letter addressed to the office of the SGF, the allegation that he awarded contracts without the knowledge of the board was a calculated move to incite some stakeholders against him since according to him all members of the management were present during the decision to approve the said contracts. The allegation, he further alleged, were borne out of his decision to cancel some payments to contractors allegedly made by one of the directors without his approval.

As the chief accounting officer of the commission, Ugwoha had argued that, no contracts or payments should be made, without his approval.

Indeed, before the SGF‘s intervention, the frequency of memos from the management team of the commission had reached such an alarming degree that it was becoming obvious that the centre could no longer hold.

By the end of last year, it was obvious that the managing director and the executive director (Finance and administration) were on a collision course.

What seemed to have brought the controversy to its peak was when, through a memo dated December 14, 2009, the Executive Director, Finance and Administration reported the managing director to the chairman, Governing Board of the commission accusing Ugwoha of failure to comply with a directive on the subject of the change of the signatories to the bank accounts of the commission.

In the memo, the ED, F& A had stated, ”Unfortunately, the managing director did not present the matter to the management for discussion as advised. He rather submitted his own memo to the 1st board meeting which took place from 8 to 10 September 2009. The Board resolved that until a management memo is presented for its consideration, the status quo should remain.

”The import of the board resolution is that the commission should operate the signature mandate approved and used by the 1st and 2nd Governing Boards in line with the powers of the board under section 13(3) of the NDDC Act 2000.

”The existing mandate contained in the Authorisation Manual is as follows: Category A: Chairman, Managing Director and Executive Director, Projects; Category B: Executive Director, Finance and Supply, Deputy Director or Assistant Director, Finance and Supply; Signature Combination: Any A and any B can sign without limit, provided that any cheque above N5million should be countersigned by the Executive Director, Finance and Administration.”

The memo then went further to accuse the managing director of obtaining signature cards from the Central Bank of Nigeria and completed them with what it called ”strange and unapproved mandate” listed as Category B: Managing Director/CEO and Category A: Executive Director, Finance and Administration and Executive Director, Projects and indicating in signature combination that any A must sign with B.

Replying to the memo to the chairman of the Governing Board, the commission boss had informed the chairman that the two executive directors had hidden under the cover of the first mandate to perpetrate acts that amounted to undermining his authorities and subverting the due process.

In his reply which was dated December 15, 2009, he had written, ”You would recall that I recently held discussions with you wherein I expressed reservations about the issue of breach of due process by the signatories to the subject memo under reference.

”Specifically, the EDFA and EDP, in breach of due process and without my knowledge and consent as the MD/CEO signed and made payments in excess of over N800 million from the commission‘s account.

”It has come to my knowledge that the EDP single-handedly awarded contracts with total value in excess of N3.6bn in breach of due process and even without my knowledge and or consent as the MD/CEO.”

Of course, the months have not gone without a disturbing traffic of memos either to or from Abuja as the warring parties move to get the ears of the Federal Government.

In a letter dated May 10 and addressed to the office of the SGF, the NDDC boss had listed about six contracts and payments which were allegedly made by the ED, Projects without his knowledge.

Both parties have been laying claim to documents which they say back up their actions. While the executive directors point to provisions of the NDDC Authorisation Manual of 2002, which was amended, Ugwoha had relied on the provisions of the Procurement Act 2007 which, as corroborated by the office of the SGF, supersedes any other provisions guiding the operations of the commission.

When Secretary to the Government of the Federation, eacted last week, it was with a seeming anger over the unending internal wrangling which is believed to have been hampering the operations of the commission and setting back the work of the Federal Government in the Niger Delta.

Through the letter, our correspondent learnt that the warring parties had earlier been summoned to Abuja where they met a committee under the chairmanship of the Permanent Secretary (General Services Office) to resolve the disputes.

The SGF‘s letter stated, ”At the end of the meeting, it became clear that the source of the disagreement was the refusal of members of the management team to follow due process in the award of contracts as captured in the Procurement Act, 2007.

”It was also observed that the Authorisation Manual of the commission is not in conformity with extant laws especially the Procurement Act 2007. There is, therefore, the need to ensure that the manual is brought in conformity with all extant laws especially the Procurement Act 2007. Meanwhile, all procurement and contract procedures in the commission must be strictly in accordance with the Procurement Act 2007.

”The purpose of this letter therefore is to remind you on the need to ensure that every project, no matter the amount of pressure, must be taken up by the Tenders Board of the commission. You are also reminded on the need to quickly review the Authorisation Manual of the commission so that all actions taken by the commission in contract award are in line with extant laws and regulations.”

Our correspondent also learnt that at the heart of the crisis are ethnic considerations as there are external forces that keep fanning the embers of disunity from various stakeholders among the member states of the NDDC.

While Ugwoha is an Ikwere from Rivers State, Etteh is from Akwa Ibom, while Aghinighan is from Delta. Aghinighan served as acting managing director before the inauguration of a new board under the chairmanship of Air-Vice Marshal Larry Koinyan.

With the ongoing rumpus, there are indications that the works of the commission which involve life-changing projects for the common people of the region may have to take the back seat for now as those who take major decisions of the commission are busy with their battle of supremacy.


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