Ms Lauretta Onochie: “MoU between US firm NDDC shady…”
Despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s stated fight against corruption, it would appear that the country’s corruption crisis remains and may indeed be worsening.
The NDDC which was set up in 2000 to reverse the underdevelopment in the Niger Delta has unfortunately earned a deserved reputation of drainpipe on public resources. Ranging from overinflated contracts to unexecuted contracts and outright pillaging of its resources, the NDDC has woefully failed to deliver on its promise.
To remedy the situation President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered a forensic audit of the NDDC to find out where the rain started beating the interventionist agency before the constitution of its latest Board. The new Board seems to be asserting that it is no longer business as usual in the NDDC.
Recently, the Onochie led NDDC board disowned the $15billion memorandum of understanding (MoU) reached between the commission’s management and a United States based outfit for the construction of a coastal railway line. Chairman of the NDDC governing board, Ms Lauretta Onochie in a terse statement described the MoU as shady, illegal and of no effect saying that the management could not have signed such an agreement without the approval of the board.
Besides, noting that a similar contract had been approved by the Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Executive Council, FEC in 2021, Ms Onochie expressed outrage at the audacity of the management in forging ahead with the same mindset of feasting on the collective patrimony of the region.
The peak of the crisis was when the management led by the managing director, Dr Samuel Ogbuku held a PPP summit at Eko Hotel, Lagos with most of the board members including the chairman of the NDDC absent. At the PPP summit, NNDC Management disclosed that it had signed a $15 billion MOU with a US firm for the construction of the mega rail project. Dismissing the PPP and the actions of the management, Ms Onochie in a statement titled, “Re: $15Billion (USD) MOU BETWEEN NNDC AND A US FIRM FOR MEGA RAIL PROJECT: A REFUTTAL” said that her attention and the entire Board have been drawn to a publication in some National dailies of the purported signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between a US firm, “Atlanta Global Resources Inc.” and the NDDC, whose Board she chairs, for the “construction of a mega rail project across the Niger Delta, from Lagos to Calabar.”
She said that this was done without her knowledge and without the authorisation nor consent of the Board, adding that everything about this shady “MOU” is illegal due to the following reasons: “(a) By the act establishing the NDDC (Act No 6, of 2000), it is the Chairman of the board that is solely vested with the power to sign MOUs with any organisation. Part II of the NDDC Act, Section 8, sub sections (a) and (e), among other provisions, specifically state inter Alia; The Board shall have power to: –
“(a)manage and supervise affairs of the Commission… “(e)enter into such contracts as may be necessary or expedient for the discharge of its functions and ensure the efficient performance of the functions of the Commission. And the Supplementary provision of the Act as relating to the Board (Section 4, sub-section 1) clearly retains the Seal of the Commission in the Office of the Chairman.”
She alleged that the “US company”, Atlanta Global Resources Inc., has no expertise nor experience in any form of construction, let alone, railway construction, adding that the company is a management export consulting firm without known directors! In her view, the signing of an MoU of $15billion (USD) with such an organisation is suspect and dubious.
Onochie revealed that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had awarded a contract for the same project in 2021 at the sum of $11.7 billion for the construction of same Mega railway spanning through the length and breadth of the Niger Delta. “It is shocking that after the FEC, the highest ruling body in the country, had done this, that anyone would be signing an MOU on behalf of the NDDC and the Federal Government of Nigeria for the same project in 2023 without due process nor approval by the FEC in the twilight of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. “The same clumsy, shady and hazy transactions of the past in NDDC, that had bedevilled and stultified identifiable progress in the past, was rested with the ‘Forensic Audit’ and the inauguration of a new board, with the sanitisation of the commission as its mantra. However, it seems old habits die hard. And some individuals (within and without the Commission) still retain the retrogressive mindset that has held the Commission down for the past 22 years.”
She said the present board is set on transparency, equity, justice and equality, and ready to midwife and embrace other policies and programmes that would uplift and improve the lives of the good people of Niger Delta and that with diligence, perseverance, persistence and commitment, this vision would come to pass. Indeed, Lauretta Onochie Chairman, NDDC Governing BOARD and the board deserve the commendation of all well-meaning Nigerians for their role in stopping another rip off of the Niger Delta.
However, in their own statement, the management of NDDC (distinct) from the Board said, “We are not unaware of the Federal Government contract of 2021 for rail line construction, however, the proposed network covered by the MOU is on a different alignment.”
Whichever way one looks at this it does not look good. There is nothing that the management can say to justify its action when it failed to follow the due process. Should the management act without the Board? Corporate governance does not allow the management of NDDC or any government agency for that matter to run without the approval of the Board. This is one project that reeks of self interest and corruption!
Indeed, can the NDDC Management single handedly commit Nigeria and the people of Niger Delta to a 15 billion dollar commitment? Is this not the same mindset that has left the Niger Delta in poverty and penury despite the trillions pumped into the area as oil derivation!
This column frowns on corruption and will always be found on the right side when it comes to issues of this nature. Embarking on such gigantic project without the support of the Board showed that no lessons has been learned from the forensic audit of the NDDC which was necessitated by corruption that characterized previous managements and boards.
A lot of money has been wasted in Niger Delta as a result of corruption. While there is no accurate data it is believed that the Federal Government has channelled a conservative estimate of N3 trillion for the development of the region. Some sources put the figure as high as N15 trillion. Despite these astronomical sums the NDDC still claims to be owing contractors a whopping N2 trillion. Sadly, the commission, today, is once again mired in controversy and in issues bordering on impropriety to the chagrin of critical stakeholders in the region. This litany of woes includes allegations of abandoned projects, duplication of projects, contractors absconding after collecting billions of Naira as contract sum, diversion of funds, unbridled power tussle, nepotism, among other untoward tendencies.
While the incidence of militancy and oil theft seems to have abated due to some other extra measures by the Federal Government, especially the implementation of the Presidential Amnesty Programmes for repentant militants, crass impunity and abuse of office appear to have gained ascendancy in the management of the commission. Thankfully, the new Board appears to be willing to change the narrative. While hoping President Buhari wades in, one can only hope that the new Board can sustain the effort to clean up that prodigal agency and position it to give service to the people of the oil rich Niger Delta.
MAY NIGERIA REBOUND
Culled from Leadership Newspaper