· Chairman disowns $15bn rail contract
· Nothing illegal with contract award – Board
· Onochie desperate to be Executive Chair – Stakeholders
By Sarah NEGEDU and Godfrey AKON
The simmering struggle between the Board and the Management of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, for the control of the agency’s funds, finally blew open, weekend, when Ms. Lauretta Onochie, chairperson of the NDDC Board, disowned a $15 billion memorandum of understanding, MoU.
The MoU was signed, last week, in Lagos between the management of the commission and a US-Based firm, Atlanta Global Resources Inc., for the construction of a mega rail line that would connect the nine states of the Niger Delta region.
Ms. Onochie in a statement said the NDDC management lacked the powers to sign the MoU without the Board’s approval, describing it as “Shady”.
Her statement reads: “My attention and the entire Board’s 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 I chair, for the “construction of a mega rail project across the Niger Delta, from Lagos to Calabar”. This was done without my knowledge and without the authorization, nor consent of the Board. 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.
“(b) 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 is without known notable Directors.
“Thus, the signing of an MOU to the tune of $15 billion(USD) with such an organisation is not only suspect but dubious.
“(c) The Federal Executive Council (FEC), having recognised the importance of infrastructure in the Niger Delta region had awarded the Contract for the same project in 2021 at the sum of $11.7 billion for the construction of a Mega railway from Lagos to Sagamu, Sagamu to Ijebu-Ode, Ijebu-Ode to Ore, Ore to Benin City, Benin-City to Sapele, Sapele to Warri, Warri to Yenogoa, Yenegoa to Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt to Aba, Aba to Uyo, Uyo to Calabar, Calabar to Akamkpa and to Ikom, Obudu Ranch with branch lines from Benin-City to Agbor, Ogwashi-Uku, Asaba, Onitsha and Onitsha Bridge and then Port Harcourt to Onne Deep Sea Port.
“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, 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. We cannot remain in the old dubious path.
“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. With dilligence, perseverance, persistence and commitment, this Vision would come to pass.
“We, therefore, call on all our partners and stakeholders in this quest – CBN (TSA), The Ministry of Niger Delta, The National Assembly, Our nine States’ Governors (Advisory Board), Our Traditional rulers, Youth Population, etc., to take note.
“NDDC has not and could not have signed an MOU, worth $15 billion (USD) without the Board and FEC’s approval.
“The so-called MOU signed with Atlanta Global Resources Inc. “AGRI”, is hereby disowned by the Board and declared null and void.
But in a swift reaction, Dr. Ibitoye Abosede, Director, Corporate Affairs of the NDDC management, said the MoU was only for the preliminary processes of the proposed rail project.
He added that some persons may have misconstrued the foundational process to mean that the commission has signed the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract.
Abosede pointed out that the MoU did not include “any agreement on the details”.
“What we signed on April 25 is simply the opening phase that will determine how far we will go, but it definitely showcases how interested the international partners are in tapping into the Niger Delta region,” adding that the commission is not aware that the approval of the National Assembly must be obtained before undertaking such a project.
According to an NDDC insider, this is just the latest tussle in the bitter battle to control the purse strings of the Commission.
“Ms. Onochie’s desperation to transform herself into an executive chairman is the real problem. She is fighting them because the NDDC management resisted her. Everybody knows this and it is not good for the commission. The president needs to intervene immediately before things escalate further and impair the work of the commission,” the source who wished not to be named said.