Trouble As Onochie Clash With NDDC Over $15 Billion Mega Rail Project

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The Chairperson of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Board, Lauretta Onochie, is on a war path with the management of the Commission over a $15bn mega rail project. reports that the NDDC management and a US-based firm, Atlanta Global Resources Inc., signed a $15 billion Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the construction of the rail project.

The deal, which was signed on Tuesday, is for the construction of a mega rail line that would connect the nine states of the Niger Delta region.

In a statement on Friday, Onochie disowned the MOU signed by the two parties, saying that agreement was signed without the authorisation or consent of the NDDC board.

Onochie said the management team had no power to sign an MOU on behalf of the NDDC without the approval of the board, stressing that the deal is “clumsy and shady”.

She stated that the board is set on Transparency, Equity, Justice, and Equality, and is ready to midwife and embrace other policies and programmes that would uplift and improve the lives of the good people of the Niger Delta.

She said: “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 authorisation or 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, 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) 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 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 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 on 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 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.

“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.”

NDDC Reacts

In a statement signed by its Director of Corporate Affairs, Ibitoye Abosede, the NDDC said the MoU was only for the preliminary processes of the proposed rail project.

The commission said it is aware that the approval of the National Assembly must be obtained before undertaking such a project, adding that the MoU did not include “any agreement on the details”.

NDDC said some persons may have misconstrued the foundational process to mean that the commission has signed the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contract.

It said: “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.

“They are swarming in droves. This indicates that we are looking at a bright and prosperous Niger Delta from the prism of the PPP.”

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