NDDC: Sack Onochie, Ogbuku, S’South elders tell Buhari, Tinubu

South-South elders have appealled to President Muhammadu Buhari, to immediately sack the chairperson of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Mrs. Lauretta Onochie and the Managing Director, Mr. Samuel Ogbuku, for engaging in a public show of shame barely five months after assuming office over corruption-related issues.

The elders also urged the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to as a matter of urgency, revert the NDDC to the structure of the defunct Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC, by scrapping the offices of the two executive directors and appointing an executive chairman to function alongside state representatives with clearly defined responsibilities.

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In an open letter to outgoing President Buhari and President-elect, Tinubu, entitled, “Time to Restructure NDDC, Sack Onochie, Ogbuku,” the elders noted the present structure of the interventionist agency was defective from inception, and had fuelled internal wrangling, power tussle and corruption among members of the Board, rendering the commission ineffective.

Egocentrism among appointees into successive Boards of the NDDC since its inception had resulted in perennial internal squabbles and power tussles between either the chairperson of the Board and the managing director, or amongst the MD, Executive Director, Finance and Accounts, EDFA, or Executive Director, Projects, EDP.

But operating like pirates in power and cutting corners as they battle for prime seats on the looting train, the current managing director and the Board’s chairperson engaged in scandalous exposes and hurling of brickbats within a short span after assuming office, scoring a new low and nauseating narrative of the Commission.

NDDC Managing Director, Mr. Samuel Ogbuku

Sadly, the battle is all about who will control and loot the resources of the interventionist agency and not how to develop the pauperized oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta,” they said.

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The letter dated May 23, 2023, and signed by Chief Jolomi Ande and Dr. Benedict Akparanta, Chairman and Secretary-General respectively of the Forum, described recent allegations of breach of financial regulations and counter allegations between Ogbuku and Onochie at the National Assembly as sordid.

They elders expressed shock that the two top officials of the NDDC have scored a new low and nauseating narrative for the Commission within a short period of assuming office.

The letter said: “On Friday, May 19, 2023, the MD, Samuel Ogbuku and chairperson of the Board, Lauretta Onochie, had a dirty fight at the National Assembly, engaging in sordid exchanges at the Senate Committee investigative hearing on unauthorized spending of the 2021 and 2022 budget of the Commission without approval by the National Assembly.

While Ogbuku reportedly accused Onochie of over stepping her bounds by desperately seeking to be a signatory to NDDC’s accounts, she alleged, among others, that Ogboku and the Commission’s management were operating 367 bank accounts all in foreign exchange (FOREX) in breach of the Treasury Single Account, TSA, policy of the Federal Government, an initiative which requires the operation of a unified structure of Government bank accounts in a single account or a set of linked accounts for all Government payments and receipts.

Onochie had further accused Ogbuku of increasing the monthly imprest for his office from N4billion to N10billion, a disclosure that has triggered shock and angst across the Niger Delta. It is pertinent to note that in response to Onochie’s expose on the operation of multiple bank accounts, the EDFA, Mr. Charles  Airhiavere who represented Ogbuku at the session, admitted to the operation of four bank accounts.

Mr President, a few weeks earlier, the NDDC chairperson had publicly disowned a $15 billion memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the management of the Commission and Atlanta Global Resources Inc., a US-based firm. The deal, which was reportedly signed on April 18, 2023, is for the construction of a mega rail line that would connect the nine states of the Niger Delta region.

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Interestingly, Onoche dismissed the signing of the MOU as not only suspect but dubious, alleging that, “The “US company”, Atlanta Global Resources Inc., has no expertise nor experience in any form of construction, let alone Railway construction. This company is a Management and Export Consulting Firm without known notable Directors.

To be sure, the MOU signed for the proposed rail line is a big scam. The NDDC management claims no contract has been signed, but they are more interested in the consultancy for the rail project and feasibility studies from which they will rake in millions of US Dollars into their pockets. We shall not be fooled this time around.

Unfortunately, the National Assembly is also hands in glove with them in this heist at the NDDC, collecting huge sums in kickbacks from funds accruing to the agency.”

The South-south elders alleged that presently, contractors are being compelled to cough out 30 percent as kick-back before payments are made for contracts already completed and duly certified for payment, while massively awarding “emergency jobs” to line their pockets, just as hosting seminars in Lagos have also become another channel of milking funds instead of holding such events within the Niger Delta, wasting humongous resources which could be used to provide boreholes and primary health care facilities in some communities in the region.

As we write you this letter, Mr President, the oil producing communities are not benefitting from the Commission and their patience is waning. Engaging in sleazy deals perpetrated in flagrant disregard for statutory regulations is not in tandem with the change mantra of this administration, particularly, your anti-corruption crusade.

We, therefore, urge you to act fast and salvage the NDDC before it is bled into coma. And the first step is to immediately relive Mrs Onochie and Mr Ogbuku, as well as any other Board member found to have acted in breach of the law, of their appointments and replace them with humane, matured, God-fearing, and conscientious individual genuinely committed to the development of the Niger Delta.

This will lift the people from despair, rekindle hope and create a conducive atmosphere for the President-elect, His Excellency, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, to actualise his electioneering campaign promise of economic revival using oil and gas in the Niger Delta as a plank.

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But for him to succeed, he has to take an immediate and drastic surgical measure on the present faulty structure of the NDDC and correct the anomalies to place the Commission on the right path to enthroning peace and development in the Niger Delta.”

The elders lamented that barely five months after the inauguration of the current NDDC Board, there was a swift atmospheric and emotional drift of oil producing communities from joy to disappointment and distress , triggered by the fact that being a man with global acclaim for impeccable character and integrity, some of President Buhari’s appointees on the commission’s Board obviously lacked unblemished record of public service, good conscience and character to hold and administer huge financial resources in trust for the infrastructural development and improvement of the lives of the people in the region.

Ostensibly, Mr. President may have been misguided into approving the nominees without due diligence and necessary background checks by the relevant security agencies, amidst desperate lobbies by their sponsors.

Reports indicated that while names of members of the current Board were forwarded to the Department of State Service, DSS, headquarters for background checks on their suitability for appointment, the Senate hurriedly conducted a wishy-washy screening at Committee level and confirmed their appointment without waiting for a security report from the DSS. What was the motivation?

And it is now glaring from unfolding developments at the commission that if the Senate had allowed the DSS, to conduct a diligent background check on the chairperson, managing director and others before confirming the nomination, their character and suitability for the offices they currently occupy would have been placed under intense scrutiny and the emerging show of shame between the chairperson, Mrs. Onochie and MD, Chief Samuel Ogbuku would have been avoided.

Unfortunately, hapless inhabitants of oil bearing communities are now being dressed with the toga of a people who are uncoordinated, disunited and anti-development; engaging in financial malfeasance whenever they are entrusted with public funds for the development of their region.

Out-going President Muhammadu Buhari

The NDDC should revert to the structure of the defunct OMPADEC, with an executive chairman, secretary and the State representatives driving the process with clearly defined responsibilities, and the oil producing communities directing benefitting from funds accruing to the Commission.

The present structure of the NDDC with a non executive chairman of the Board, MD, two executive directors and State representatives had not worked from inception and it is time for it to be jettisoned in the interest of the Niger Delta people. 

The panacea to enduring peace and stability in the Niger Delta is the immediate restructuring of the NDDC to chart a new roadmap for development of oil bearing and other communities in the region. And this time around, we shall not relent in our efforts at reclaiming the NDDC for it to be refocused for the benefit of our people.”

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