Crisis in NDDC as Onochie disowns MD over $15bn rail contract, says it’s illegal

There is simmering crisis in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as the the board has disowned recent $15 billion memorandum of understanding reached between the commission’s management and a United States (US) based outfit for the construction of a coastal railway line.

Chairman of the NDDC governing board, 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

She noted that a similar contract had been approved by the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Executive Council, FEC in 2021, while expressing outrage at the audacity of the management in forging ahead with the same mindset of feasting on the collective patrimony of the region for its private interests

It was gathered that the assertion by the Onochie-led board follows weeks of alleged bickering in the NDDC that has seen the board and the management working at cross purposes alleged to be a silent war.

The peak of the crisis started last Tuesday 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 PPP committee Gbenga Edema absent

The highlight of the PPP summit was the disclosure of the signing of a $15 billion MOU between the NDDC and a US firm for the construction of the mega rail project.

Dismissing the PPP and the actions of the management, Onochie in a statement reads in parts; “My 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 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 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 organization

“Part II of the NDDC Act, Section 8, subsections (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) retains the Seal of the Commission in the Office of the Chairman”.

“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. Thus, the signing of an MOU to the tune of $15 billion(USD) with such an organization is not only suspect but dubious”.

“The Federal Executive Council (FEC), having recognized 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”.

She said; “It is shocking that after the FEC, the highest ruling body in the country, had done this, 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 bedeviled 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 programs that would uplift and improve the lives of the good people of Niger Delta. With diligence, 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 because 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. The statement declared

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