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NDDC … putting new wine in new skin

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Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio (second left); Interim Administrator, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Mr. Efiong Akwa (left); Acting Chairman, National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, Mr. Ekpo Nta (second right) and Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Matthew Urhoghide (right), during a three-day Strategic Capacity Building Workshop/Retreat for directors of the commission in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in its determined efforts to reposition, and recreate its image, assembled stakeholders from the nine states that make up the region in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State and brainstormed on how to restore people’s confidence in the commission. INEMESIT AKPAN-NSOH was there.

Since the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000, its existence has been characterised by stories of woes.

Indeed, successive administrations of the intervention agency have always been submerged in one allegation or the other, ranging from non-performance to corruption; abandonment of projects, and poor oversight functions.

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The agency has also been plagued by perennial lack of funds, or the non- release of same (a national malaise), which has led to delay in the passage of the commission’s budget by National Assembly.

Contactors also given these as reasons for the non-completion of roads, boreholes, schools and other projects, which would have made the mandate of the founding fathers of the commission realisable.

To correct these anomalies, the new leadership of the commission, led by the interim administrator, Mr. Effiong Akwa, and the supervising minister, Senator Godswill Akpabio, decided to hold a retreat.

At the two-day event, which theme was, “Collaborating, Planning and Re-strategising for a better Niger Delta Region,” key stakeholders in the zone were on hand to fashion out ways to provide a pathway and roadmap to achieve the much-needed development in the region, reposition the commission, and generally chart the way forward for the outfit.

Akpabio, while addressing stakeholders said that a strong collaboration with the region’s stakeholders would provide the needed roadmap for the success stories expected from the NDDC.

The meeting, the minister noted, was meant to challenge NDDC to interrogate and define, as well as prescribe a viable and formidable pathway towards facilitating the sustainable development of the region. “Twenty years after the establishment of the NDDC, I believe our discussions ought to have been on the soullessness achieved, and how we can strengthen it to achieve more for Niger Delta and our people.

“Sadly, we are still here. Sixty-five years later, we are still looking for a better strategy to usher in the kind of development that sustains our people’s livelihoods and fulfills our shared dream of a better Niger Delta region.

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“Permit me to state that this is a family meeting called to realistically rub minds and to find ways in which we can help the commission fulfill the vision of offering a lasting solution to the socio-economic defections of the region as well as its mission to facilitate the rapid and sustainable development of the region into an area that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful,” he said.

While admitting that, “corruption is one of the greatest problems of the Nigerian society, it also finds its devastating effects in all sectors of the polity, including the NDDC…” Akpabio, however, expressed optimism that that the presence of NDDC’s principal officers at the meeting will lead to “a stronger commitment to restore collaboration among stakeholders, in fashioning a common roadmap to development. I am glad that members of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta are here, as well as members of the House Committee on NDDC. There are also representatives of the state government of the region, and representatives of oil companies,” the minister said.

The former governor of Akwa Ibom State identified “lack of proper consultation and engagement with communities and state governments” as one of the factors responsible for the legion of abandoned projects across the region.

He said the ugly development has engendered and aggravated mistrust and lack of buy-in into projects initiated and executed by the commission.

Also, conflicts in the communities, arising from those who were not consulted before projects were awarded in their localities has also contributed to the abandonment of projects, projects being poorly executed, as well as the vandalisation of completed projects.

Akpabio drew attention to the Niger Delta Regional Development Masterplan, which was activated in 2005, and expired in 2020, noting that, “there should be discussions on renewing the plan with policies of the 17 SDG Goals incorporated into the new plan. It would also be healthy for the commission to consider adopting some, or all of the 10 principles of the United Nations Global Compact for carrying out business.”

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In his submission, the Minister of State, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Omotayo Alasoadura, described as commendable, renewed efforts at repositioning NDDC.

He said the drive was aimed at reawakening and renewing the commission to take its rightful place in line with its mandate, as enunciated by its founding fathers.

“I am delighted because this retreat is the second of two-clear manifestations of an emerging new NDDC,” he said.

The two clear manifestations, he further explained, include the commissioning of a new headquarters of the NDDC in Port Harcourt by President Buhari, and the retreat for rubbing minds with a vast array of stakeholders on collaboration and re-strategising for a better region.

“These two events, coming back to back hold enormous promise for the Niger Delta people and all who have stakes in the development of the region. They also have the potential to boost the service delivery capacities of the NDDC, and change the existing narrative.

According to the minister of state, it was heartwarming that the NDDC, as part of its strategic planning, was rubbing minds with traditional rulers, civil society groups, and the leadership of the National Assembly to fashion out ways of delivering its mandate more effectively.

Without a doubt, bringing in youth leaders, traditional rulers, civil society organisations from the Niger Delta region, indicated the commission’s resolve to further its collaborative agenda aimed at erasing previous notions that stakeholders were not adequately represented.

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The National President of the Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria (TROMPCON), and the Paramount Ruler of Ibeno in Akwa Ibom State, Owong Effiong Archianga, advised the NDDC Monitoring Committee to factor in traditional rulers in projects executed in their domains.

“In fact, they should be consulted when projects are to be executed in their areas,” he stressed.

He said future NDDC budgets should focus on youth employment and not empowerment so as to create a better future for teeming young graduates in the area.

The Chairman, Abia State Traditional Rulers Council, Eze Joseph Owabeke, supported the need for the commission to continually engage stakeholders at the local level to be able to get their buy-in and ensure that they participate in projects’ monitoring in their area.

The National President of Host Communities Organisation in Nigeria (HOSTCOM), Dr. Benjamin Tamiararebi commended the NDDC for organising the stakeholders’ engagement, noting that the meeting was long overdue.

Dr. Greg Ezeilo, an expert in budget and public finance management, who spoke on the topic, “Effective Budget Presentation, Implementation and Monitoring Strategies,” explained that budgeting was a tool for planning and controlling the nation’s resources, noting that a good budget would essentially provide the right information, fiscal transparency, be realistic and flexible, as well as demonstrate accountability and transparency.

“Budget should align closely with the goals of the government; it should be planned, and strictly monitored. Most important, budget monitoring should be encouraged,” he said.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on NDDC, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, said that there was a stronger need for stakeholders to close ranks to move the zone forward.

He commended the NDDC’s interim administration for realising the need for cooperation between the National Assembly, and the commission.

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Corroborating, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on NDDC, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, said that the cordial relationship between the NDDC and the House made the success so far recorded in the process of amending the NDDC Act.

He commended the interim administrator of the agency, Mr. Akwa for the progress the commission has so far recorded, describing him as the best choice this government had made.

“I am very proud of you and the National Assembly is proud of what you are doing. We give you all the support you need.”

Tunji-Ojo expressed support for the review of the Niger Delta Masterplan, adding that the NDDC should also think of generating income for the commission.

“We need to harness all available funds to execute NDDC projects,” he added.

Akwa, in his remarks said the retreat was in furtherance of his belief that consultations with stakeholders and collaboration would help the commission achieve its repositioning goals.

“We are here today to work towards the creation of commonalities among stakeholders for the speedy development of the Niger Delta region. The NDDC is born again. Contrary to its distasteful past ways, the core of our new personnel is in continuous consultation and collaboration with stakeholders to co-create commonalities for the effective development of the Niger Delta,” he said.

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