By David Diai
The Management Board of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC has been dissolved by the Governor of Delta State.
The dissolution of the DESOPADEC Board was contained in a statement issued and signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Hon. Barrister Festus Ovie Agas, who also thanked the members of the former Board for their services to the State and wished them successes in their future endeavour.
This dissolution of the Oritsua Kpogho led DESOPADEC Board has come in the wake of some very vocal and intense agitation by certain host Oil producing communities in the state, which commenced in the last weeks of the immediate past administration, when former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan had smuggled in an amended DESOPADEC Bill and allegedly attempted to browbeat the Delta House of Assembly to pass it into law.
That Uduaghan Amended Bill had however met stiff resistance from many of the host communities who were angered by the new clauses inserted into the Bill, to the effect that each host community would now have their own separate Development Commissions, as opposed to the former arrangement where Commissioners from all the host communities had been appointed into a central Management Board.
The emotions expressed by the agitators against the Uduaghan Bill ranged from the allegation that former Governor Uduaghan wanted to cover his alleged misappropriation of the funds accruing to the Development Commission over the years, by now replicating the DESOPADEC Structure in host communities, to the accusation that the former Governor wanted to avoid paying contractors who had done jobs for the Commission by dismantling the main board, since contractors would now have to apply to the boards in their respective host communities, where the specific assets and liabilities of the old board would have been transferred.
There were also some host communities, who supported the Uduaghan Bill especially since they enjoyed high production levels and so would have more direct funds from the expected Federal allocation, and yet there was even another group of supposedly sponsored agitators, who claimed that Governor Uduaghan was wickedly attempting to deny the in-coming Okowa administration access to the DESOPADEC statutory funds, as the monies would now have to be paid directly to the host communities instead of State government, and the amended Bill was yet another expression of the widely believed age long no-love-lost relationship between Uduaghan and Okowa.
The vehemence of the protestations, coupled with wide spread speculations that the in-coming Okowa administration had already perfected its own completely different set of amendments to the amended DESOPADEC Bill, compelled the Rt. Hon. Peter Onwusanya led Delta House of Assembly to shelve the passage of the Uduaghan DESOPADEC Bill until its tenure elapsed.
The Okowa administration, following its swearing-in on May 29, 2015, had immediately forwarded the Amended DESOPADEC Bill to the newly inaugurated Rt. Hon. Monday Igbuya led Delta State House of Assembly and provoked another round of protests, this time from a particular host community which claimed, amongst other grievances, that the new administration was trying to deny them the opportunity to produce the rotational head of the Commission now that it was their turn to do so.
Explaining the newly amended DESOPADEC Bill, Governor Okowa had said that the decision to amend the laws of the Development Commission was to make it more effective and productive in delivering on its mandate, especially now that the financial situation of the country had made it necessary for prudent and judicious utilization of resources.
The Delta Governor, who made the disclosure when he hosted the state chapter of the Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil & Gas (HOSTCOM) led by Dr. Peter Egedegbe on July 1, 2015, in Asaba, said: “We are not repealing the old law. It is not a new bill. The amendment we are proposing is to structure DESOPADEC in line with the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) model. I proposed that there should be a Managing Director and Executive Directors to run the day to day affairs of the Commission while there will be Commissioners who will be on part time basis and representing different ethnic nationalities,” the governor had affirmed.
Governor Okowa, who assured members of HOSTCOM that there will be no changes in the rotational leadership of the DESOPADEC, said: “This is democracy and I am not expecting that the amendment bill will come out exactly as we proposed it. There will be public hearing and people will make their contributions. I don’t believe in forcing the hands of the Legislators,” he had assured.
The public hearings are expected to commence in the second week in July according to the Delta Assembly, after which there will be further reading of the amended Bill before passage.
Deltans and DESOPADEC watchers will recall that the pioneer Board of the Commission had been constituted in the last days of the then Governor Ibori administration in 2007, following a directive by then President Olusegun Obasanjo that all Oil Producing states should set up Development agencies, to receive a statutory 50% of the 13% derivation allocation from the Federal Government, in accordance with a speedily passed law by the national assembly to that effect, in the twilight of the Obasanjo administration.
The initial Board set up by the Ibori administration had been promptly dissolved by the newly inaugurated Rt. Hon. Olisa Imegwu led Delta House of Assembly, but following protestations and a one week ultimatum by the host communities, Governor Uduaghan was compelled to reconstitute the pioneer Board headed by Chief Wellington Okirika as Chairman and Chief Andi Osawota as secretary, on July 11, 2007.
But that pioneer Board had incurred the wrath of Governor Uduaghan and Deltans over what he described as the brazen extravagance, administrative ineptitude and extravagant financial recklessness and the general impression of the Commission as the very cesspool of massive corruption, which had defined its actions and transaction, and that lead to the appointment of Barr. Orezi Esievo as the Commissioner in charge of DESOPADEC, by the Governor, in 2009.
The 2006 Law establishing DESOPADEC was then amended in July 2010, in the wake of the expiration of the three year tenure of the pioneer board, following widespread speculations that there was a plot to extend the tenure of the old Board led by Chief Okirika by a couple of years, to accommodate the 2011 general elections and the emergence of a new administration.
A Care-taker Committee headed by Mr. Reginald Bayoko, then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance with Mr. Ede Oghoro, as Secretary, was appointed by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan to take over the affairs of the Commission, when the tenure of the Chief Wellington Okirika/Andi Osawota Board expired in July 2010.
Following the successful accomplishment of the 2011 general elections and the re-election of Governor Uduaghan for a second term, a new Management Board for DESOPADEC was appointed on August 11, 2011, exactly one year and one month, after they had been screened and cleared by the then Rt. Hon. Victor Ochei led Delta State House of Assembly, after their nomination by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan to House.
The composition of the new Board had Oritsua Kpogho – Chairman; Henry Offa; Joseph Ogeh; Michael Diden (Ejele); Johnson Boro; Rev.Chukwudi Eke; Barr. Benedicta Osakunih Izuegbu; Barr. Kingsley Otuaro and Dr. Peter Egedegbe, as members. The Secretary remained Sir Ede Oghoro, who was a career civil servant, and appointed by the government in accordance with the amended law establishing the Commission.
The Kpogho led DESOPADEC Board was however summarily dissolved by the Delta State House of Assembly, in September 2012, as a result of what it referred to as “Lack of Performance and Total inefficiency and understanding of Duties of the Commission.” The motion to dissolve the Board was moved by the Deputy Majority Leader Hon. (Prince) Johnson Erijo (Isoko South II), who cited section 12 of the 2006 Law establishing the Commission, and was endorsed by 26 members out of the 28 members of the House. The dissolution of the board was with immediate effect.
However, two months later and after some serious horse trading and brinkmanship by Governor Uduaghan, who had been away in Abuja to receive his national Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON, award, when the old Board was dissolved, the DESOPADEC Board was reconstituted in November 2012, with Oritsua Kpogho still as Chairman, but with three former members, Barr. Benedicta Osakunih Izuegbu, Dr. Peter Egedegbe and Mr. Johnson Boro, sacrificed as part of the reconciliation agreement.
They were replaced by Sir Kenny Okolugbo, representing Ndokwa ethnic nationality, Mr. Festus Utuama and Chief Christopher Obiuwevbi, both representing the Urhobo ethnic nationality.
The Oritsua Kpogho led DESOPADEC Board had served until the expiration of its three year mandate in July 2015, but there had been very strong indications that the Chairman, Mr. Kpogho had actually tendered his resignation immediately after the swearing-in of Governor Okowa.
Credible but unsubstantiated sources had posited that the DESOPADEC Board had been embroiled in an alleged shady but failed financial transaction initiated by former Governor Uduaghan and the supposed inability of Kpogho, as Chairman to drive the deal successfully, had drawn the anger of the former Governor and led him to allegedly sack Kpogho.
However, it was further hinted that Governor Okowa had intervened and entreated the former DESOPADEC Chairman to remain in office, although ceremonially, until his tenure expired, to avoid an unnecessary heating up of the polity over the issue and ensure a smooth transition when the time came.
Now that the DESOPADEC Board has finally been dissolved, the considered opinion of most observers is that the controversy which had dogged the Intervention agency since it was established in 2007, is not likely to end soon and though a new DESOPADEC will surely emerge after the Okowa amendments had been achieved, the new Board will equally attract its own share of controversies, no matter what structure or form the Commission takes and in-spite of the improvements that will expectedly attend the operations of DESOPADEC, just like the old Boards before it.