Now, NDDC’S face looks pretty
The lady in question reacted like a wasp at the allegation that she was probably an expert in the husband acquisition department and threatened to drag the Minister into one of our congested courts for appropriate punishment. I thought that if a woman was so loved as to be married by four men it means she has lovely attributes. It means that she is a product of highly admirable quality, only a few shades lower than Elizabeth Taylor, the actress, who had eight husbands before she died. And when the stories of alleged corruption and unaccountable governance of the Commission kept tumbling into the public space many people thought the place was a money-guzzling drain pipe. Those who thought that the Commission would make a significant difference to the people of the region may have begun to think that their dreams were beginning to look like specks on a distant horizon.
However, on Thursday last week, the Commission took the first major step in the process of self-redemption and renewal and put a fine paint on its face. The organisation that seemed to be perpetually in the eye of a tornado turned a new leaf. There sprouted from the bowels of the marshy area of the Marine Base in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, a 13-story piece of architectural splendor that kissed the skyline of the congested oil city and smiled at anyone who gave it a smile of satisfaction at its magnificence. The beauty of the building partially compensates for the long period of its residence on the drawing board.
It is owned solely and wholly, brick and roof, by the NDDC. By its armpit is a sidekick, a four-story affair, equally beautiful, meant to house a canteen, a hospital, and a bank. Around these buildings are well-manicured lawns, plants, and flowers that present to onlookers the image of a personable working environment. Erecting a building is not the equivalent of a marathon or rocket science. If you have the money and the will it could be a sprint. This building commissioned last week by President Muhammadu Buhari was started 26 years ago by its predecessor organisation named Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC). For all of those years, the project stood still like a mannequin until Senator Godswill Akpabio convinced President Buhari to bring the edifice to completion.
For getting this building completed, Buhari deserves a standing ovation because this project had escaped the close attention of five governments before him. The Minister, Akpabio, to deserves full marks for pursuing its construction to the logical end at a time of great difficulties occasioned by COVID-19 and dwindling resources. Not to be forgotten is the Sole Administrator, Mr. Efiong Akwa, whose responsibility it was to midwife the building until its safe delivery in the midst of the hurly-burly of Niger Delta politics.
The three men and those who worked behind the curtain to bring the project to reality deserve a storm of applause. This achievement ought to have a cathartic effect on the reputation of NDDC. One major reason for the success of this project is the fact that Buhari had decided contrary to what existed before his assumption of office to put NDDC under the purview of the Niger Delta Affairs Ministry instead of the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
The Minister knew that he had to focus like a laser beam on the Commission if he wanted to make any significant achievement. The second reason for the success of the project is the conviction of the President and the Minster that continuing to pay N300 million as rent yearly was an avoidable waste of public funds. Buhari said at the commissioning: “Today we are handing over to the people of Niger Delta a befitting Head Office complex for present and future use. Consequently, huge yearly rentals would now be saved and deployed to other areas of need in the region”. Abandoning projects by State or Federal governments in Nigeria is not new. Most governments are not interested in completing projects initiated by their predecessors either because they don’t share their predecessor’s vision, or they think the public will not give them credit for completing a project they did not initiate or simply to spite their predecessors or they don’t think it is a project of utmost priority or it is simply a distraction. Even projects already completed by past governments get abandoned for one reason or the other. Here is a short list: Ajaokuta Steel Mill, National Stadia at Abuja and Surulere, three paper mills at Oku Iboku, Iwopin, and Jebba, the four refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna, National Theatre in Lagos, and Aluminum smelting Plant at Ikot Abasi.
If you add your list to this, you will realize that we are a community of wasteful people who value nothing that can positively transform our lives. NDDC has been in turmoil since its inception. That is why there is a huge turnover of its top personnel. In the last 25 years, the Commission has had 17 Chief Executives. That is about 20 months per person. In the last six years, there have been six of them; this translates to one Chief Executive per year. This is symptomatic of an unstable organisation and such an organisation can hardly make meaningful progress. The NDDC is an organisation that serves two masters, each of them unsatisfactorily.
It is a Federal Government Commission established to serve the interests of the Niger Delta people. The nine Niger Delta States are run by Governors from the two major parties, APC and PDP. While the Federal Government is run by APC, seven of the nine Niger Delta States are run by PDP Governors. Only Imo and Ondo States belong to APC. Most times there are disagreements between the Niger Delta States and the government at the centre. This poses an existential dilemma for anyone who manages the NDDC. This schism showed its teeth during the commissioning of the NDDC Headquarters last week. Only one Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma of APC (Imo State) showed up at the commissioning. The remaining eight Governors were absent.
On the eve of the commissioning there was an exchange of hot words between the Minister and the Governors which indicated that all was not well in their relationship. Apart from the party differences between the Centre and most of the Niger Delta States, the Governors have often complained that projects are merely thrown at them from Port Harcourt without their input, whether those projects are desirable or not. Hostility between both sides can be a severe impediment to the development of the region. Every NDDC Chief Executive has found that he is between the rock and the hard place. He is appointed by the Federal Government but he has to work with the nine Governors of the region. That is the equivalent of walking on a tight rope. The regular disagreement between the NDDC management and the Niger Delta Governors is a fly in the region’s ointment that does no one any good.
In the zero-sum ecosystem of Nigerian politics, the Niger Delta will lose if there is no unity among the States and between the States and the Centre. There must be a definite relationship-building template. Partisan politics must give way to good governance so that the money invested in the region can be utilised profitably. There are many uncompleted projects in the region, some of them more than a decade old. Part of the reason is the failure of NDDC to pay the contractors. Part of it is the failure of some of the contractors to execute their projects in a timely fashion.
The other part is probably that some of the projects may have been awarded to cronies and political flunkeys who lack the ability to handle such projects. It is the responsibility of the present and future management of the NDDC to strive to design transformational projects in consultation with the Governors of the region. This will inject gravitox into the relationship. There is no need for a supremacy fight between the two groups who are, one would think, working towards the same goals as defined in the mission of NDDC. The mission is “to facilitate the rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful”.
With the commissioning of its Headquarters office, the NDDC has a right to thumb its chest for destroying a 25-year jinx. It must move from here to build an organisation that believes in best practices. That way it will begin to recover part of the public confidence that was frittered away through the financial and administrative lapses of the past decades. That too will keep scandal away from flying through its beautiful building into the front pages of the tabloid press. That way its business will look as beautiful as its new building.
No comments yet