The turbulent wave that threatened to sink the ship of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, may have spent its force. The ship that appeared headed for the rocks is now sailing in calm waters. From all indications, it is set for re-positioning. In charting a new course for the foremost interventionist agency to begin to live up to its statutory mandate of developing the Niger Delta region, it is paramount to re-activate the relevant structures that will oil the wheels of development. Consequently, the hitherto 3-man Interim Management Committee, IMC, of the Commission was enlarged to 5 with Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei as the Acting Managing Director, replacing Gbene Dr Joi Nunieh. Chief Ibanga Etang and Dr Cairo Ojougboh retained their positions as Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration and Acting Executive Director, Projects, respectively. The team now includes Evang. Caroline Nagbo and Cecilia Akintomide as members.
With the carefully selected IMC members in place, the next task was to revive the dormant statutory bodies of the NDDC, namely; the Advisory Committee and the Presidential Monitoring Committee. On Wednesday, February 27, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the constitution of a 10-Man Presidential Monitoring Committee, PMC, in line with the provisions of Part V1, Section 21 of the NDDC Establishment Act.
The PMC, which is chaired by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, SenatorGodswill Akpabio, draws its members from various Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs. It is expected to focus on monitoring the operations and activities of the NDDC. According to the President, the Committee will have access to the books of account and other records of the Commission at all times, and submit periodic reports to his office. He said that the measures were put in place to reinforce transparency and accountability, as well as strengthen the governance framework required to improve service delivery. In a quick follow up, the President on Tuesday, March 10, inaugurated the NDDC Advisory Committee, comprising the nine Governors of the Niger Delta Region and the Ministers of Niger Delta Affairs and Environment in line with the provisions of the NDDC Establishment Act. Specifically, Part III, Section 11 (1) of the NDDC Act defines a clear role for the State governors as members of the Advisory Committee. It says: “There is hereby established for the Commission, a Niger-Delta Development Advisory Committee (in this Act referred to as “the Advisory Committee”) which shall consist of (a).
The Governors of the member states of the commission. (b) Two other persons as may be determined, from time to time by the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. 2. The Advisory committee shall be charged with the responsibility of advising the board, and monitoring the activities of the commission, with a view to achieving the objective of the commission.” President Buhari, while inaugurating the Advisory Committee, charged the members to discharge their assignments diligently and effectively, working closely with the relevant ministries, adding that he looked forward to seeing positive changes in the affairs of the NDDC. Justifying the decision to inaugurate the Committee ahead of the reconstitution of the NDDC Board, President Buhari said: ‘‘this is to enable us develop insights into the affairs of the Commission which will properly guide the governing board when reconstituted at the conclusion of the Forensic Audit exercise. The President told the committee members that the abuses of the past made it imperative to demand strict and diligent oversight, going forward. The Chairman of the Niger Delta Oil Producing States and Governor of Delta State, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, who spoke on behalf of the members of the Advisory Committee, underlined the roles of the Committee, noting that for sustainable development of the region, the NDDC must perform its duties in close collaboration with the states to avoid duplication of projects. He said: ‘‘We do not want to criticise what has happened in the NDDC for quite some time, but the fact is that the cooperation between the states and the NDDC has not been strengthened overtime and we have various cases of duplication of projects that are not properly planned.
‘‘But I believe that with the inauguration of this body we will be able to sit down, meet together, work in collaboration and supportively to bring greater developments to our people.” Evidently, reviving the Advisory Committee was long overdue because the NDDC must work with the governments of the Niger Delta states to ensure that they took ownership of its projects and programmes, as well as check the duplication of projects. Above all, the NDDC must also collaborate with other development agencies, such as the oil companies, international donor agencies and local governments across the Niger Delta region. It is expected that such partnership will make it easier for direct interface in project planning and implementation. Obviously, high profile partnerships hold the key to success for a region that is yearning for rapid development.
For the NDDC, this is a familiar territory because it had in the past joined forces with key stakeholders in confronting the enormous challenge of making a difference in the lives of the people in the remote communities of the Niger Delta. One such outstanding collaboration is in the construction of the 28-kilometre Ogbia-Nembe Road, which the NDDC executed in partnership with the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC. The N24 billion project, illustrates the kind of challenges in the Niger Delta. The road cuts through the swamps with ten bridges and 99 culverts. The terrain is such that four metres of clay soil had to be dug out and sand-filled to provide a base for the road. The mega project is a good example of what can be achieved through partnership. It demonstrates the gains of pulling resources together on specific projects for the people of the region. Clearly, the socio-economic transformation of the Niger Delta is too complex to be left for only one or two agencies of development. There is no disputing the fact that undoing the damage wrought by decades of neglect and injustice requires partnership and synergy. All stakeholders must be brought on board to tackle the challenge of rescuing the Niger Delta from the throes of underdevelopment. In any case, it makes sense to pull all resources together to address the injustice and inequality that have ruled the lives of the people in Nigeria’s oil basin. Sadly, many oil companies operating in the region appear unperturbed asthey literally create oasis of wealth in a desert of poverty. These truculent ones should emulate the NDDC/Shell partnership which serves as a model that could lip-frog the region into the modern era where the availability of basic infrastructure is taken for granted.
No effort should be spared in creating a Niger Delta that is investment friendly and capable of engendering economic prosperity. The burden of realising this cannot be borne by NDDC alone but must involve all stakeholders including the private sector. It was apparently a response to the need for coordination that the NDDC set up a clearing house called the Partners for Sustainable Development [PSD] Forum. This important organ brings together representatives of federal and state governments of oil-bearing states, youth and women leaders, traditional rulers as well as the organized private sector, civil society, the mass media and international development agencies such as the UNDP and the World Bank. Its main function is to ensure that the developmental activities in the Niger Delta by all stakeholders are synchronized. The PSD Forum is expected to strengthen the relationship between the NDDC and the governments of the Niger Delta, to make them partners and not competitors, recognizing that collaboration with critical stakeholders is necessary to fast track development in the region. This fact was re-echoed by the Cross River State Governor, Professor Ben Ayade, during one of the visits of the NDDC leadership at the Government House, Calabar. He stressed the importance of collaboration between the NDDC and the different levels of government in the development process. Governor Ayade declared: “We are not competitors. We are partners in progress and as such, all the states in the Niger Delta and the NDDC must work in harmony. It is always better to sit down and share thoughts.” However, in pushing for the development of the region, there is need for a viable Master Plan, which would provide the bearing for better coordination and faster delivery on projects that would make profound impact on the lives of the people. The 15-year Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan, which was launched in 2007, remained largely unimplemented even as it expires this year.
The Master Plan, which is generally applauded as a worthy compass for the development of the region, needs to be reviewed, updated and re-activated. There is no gainsaying that a comprehensive plan is necessary for any meaningful development to take place. No state can progress without a plan which will benchmark where we are going in the short, medium and long term. Hopefully, the resuscitation of the statutory organs of the NDDC will bring changes, especially as the new team at the Dappa Briye House, the NDDC headquarters, appears set to do things differently. In the words of the Acting MD: “the IMC is here to reposition NDDC and also to bring development to the Niger Delta region.”
For better results, the Prof Pondei-led management should set clear and measurable targets for the all stakeholders to accelerate the development of Nigeria’s oil-rich region. They should set benchmarks for each of the development partners. The NDDC, on its part, has a duty to strengthen the new attitude of cooperation and collaboration to create harmony with states and local governments in the region so that development efforts would not be too burdensome on it as an interventionist agency.