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Niger Delta Development Commission: A vision degraded

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Tennessee Valley Authority: Welsh Development Authority, Cardiff: Dutch Land Reclamation Authority Rotterdam: The Poster fathers of the NDDC.

The NDDC was a PDP platform issue but the concept of developing the oil-producing areas because of its geographical quirkiness, peculiarities, etc had been recognised by earlier military governments notably General Babangida and his reluctant establishment of OMPADEC – where he allowed a 1.5% of oil revenue to be dedicated to it. For many years this money was regarded as a money sucking tit for all ministers whenever they needed money, ministries such as Works, Transport, Housing, Communications, Science and Technology, etc. The money had been accruing in the CBN and no one was responsible for its disbursement. When the first DG was appointed he had to rush to the CBN to put a stop to the raids on this account and he met a stone wall which he overcame by writing a letter to the president to secure the balance with the CBN. (Similar raids on other government accounts in CBN were common, the BASA flight contributions were similarly raided until someone told an incoming minister of the existence of the funds. The minister transferred the funds and no one knows what the minister did with that money!!)

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OMPADEC started small development projects in the oil-producing areas. The job was daunting because up till then there had been little or no development. In the Delta, Rivers areas the most useful and beneficial work OMPADEC did for the people was to provide waterside lavatories for the inhabitants. In those oil-producing areas of the South-South there were no toilets in the houses for the inhabitants. Everyone had to go to the latrine houses on the shore, armed with tin or plastic cup tied to a rope. After doing his or her business, the person will drop the cup through the same hole that he or she had dropped urine and excrement, scoop up water to wash the bottom. OMPADEC built many of these toilet houses on the shores, built borehole wells for water in the towns and villages, gave loans to transporters to buy canoes with engines, or buses etc.  
Sometimes they produced electricity, wired the towns, and paved at least the single main road in the town. It also had land reclamation schemes. The main achievement of OMPADEC was that for the first time the people of the oil-producing areas saw that the government was doing something for them even if that something was a shit house and a cement wharf for people to disembark from canoes and boats without wading or thrashing, treading water. Clean water from numerous boreholes, limited electricity through generators, many towns had their one main road paved.

The main drawback of OMPADEC was the absence of the studies of the area and a consequential plan of how to really develop the area. Half bread they say is better than none. I do not believe most Nigerians know how poor these areas really are: in the whole of Kalabari land there are 1 or 2 banks – are in Abonnema and one in Buguma. The banks do not want to expand because there is no economic activity to sustain branches. As for hospitals and clinics – yes the buildings are there but how do you run a clinic without water and electricity? Without Staff? Who would pay the Staff – OMPADEC or the State Government, or the Local Government? Who would pay for services – laboratories, and other auxiliary services?

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In 1999 the government set out to really bring development to the area. Some had advocated that the new NNDC could still incorporate the old OMPADEC but there was a toxic allegedly fraudulent atmosphere with OMPADEC, e.g. the Director-General was believed to own or to chatter a helicopter to land at the heliport the DG built in his property in Delta; he established a concrete cement factory for manufacturing electricity poles and paving stones, he ordered large quantities of transformers stored mainly in Lagos, but through an elaborate round-tripping scheme – use the same documents to pay again for transformers and other goods that already belonged to OMPADEC.
 
Some people in the Presidency set to work. They studied development agencies around the world and zeroed in on three to provide a framework of development while winding OMPADEC down. The Welsh Development Authority established in 1976 was responsible for bringing up Wales out from the doldrums of coal mining to the 20th century. B) They also studied the canal system of Holland, especially its eco-diversity, it`s land reclamation projects, its canals etc, and the administration of these projects. C) The third study was the Tennessee Valley Authority – its control of levees and dams it built, control of flooding, the building of infrastructure, making the rivers navigable and producing electricity to 9 states in the US and exporting surplus electricity outside. It also produced fertilizers, programmes to develop the whole Tennessee basin. The memo establishing the NDDC was anchored on these studies. They even went so far as to study the use of the Mangrove forest. It is a hard durable wood, and also how to preserve the crustacean that thrived in the mangrove areas of the Delta.

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The ruling principle was that the NDDC was to be an engineering project focused development authority. It would order scientific and engineering studies of the area; draw up plans and institute projects which would be integrated throughout the South – South; including the cleaning up of Nigeria as the Welsh Authority had cleaned up Wales after the coal industry, the Dutch kept their waterways clear and clean and the Tennessee Valley Authority gave electricity built infrastructure, fertilizer factories, rural development models, fishing, horticulture etc.

The solicitor’s instruction to the ministry of justice to set up the NDDC laws had all these elements. What had not been taken into account was the malevolence of politics and greed. The research, planning, project based NDDC was on paper but was overtaken by the capacious greed of the first appointees The Governors insisted that their nominee for Director of NDDC must have an adviser; Government house had an office for adviser on the NDDC and from nowhere half-baked money-grabbing projects flowed into NDDC: projects were given in relation to how much each state contributed oil, the directors and advisers reported formally to the board but in reality to the Governors, who if truth be told, were already busy enough not to care that  much for NNDC `s principal objectives. A culture of ‟bring the money let us divide” became the raison d’etat of the commission.

Is it a surprise that everyone who has been a director or MD of NNDC sees it as a piggy bank for that Director`s campaign to be Governor? Only Mr Omene, who was the MD of Shell, before becoming MD of NDDC had not aspired to be Governor or some other political apparatchik after his stint at NNDC.

Some studies about the ecology of the area was done especially in conjunction with Shell. That study is buried in secrecy and controversy. Maps drawn for the area seem to develop legs and walk out of the Survey Department. These plans and data would be part of a holistic publicised development plan for the NDDC, with clear targets and programmes. It is the lack of this vision that had resulted in the disgraceful name-calling and dogs fighting for a bone between various interest groups- the National Assembly, the NDDC, the Ministry of Niger Development. If their vision had been captured in a phased and verifiable development plan, NDDC would have been able to achieve the purposes for which it was established.

To be continued tomorrow.

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