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Re: Time to scrap NDDC

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In the 15 years, since I left office as the pioneer Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, I have restrained myself from joining in the numerous, and constant controversies that have followed the activities of the commission.

I took that decision, having known from experience, that any discussion of the NDDC quickly degenerates into a dialogue of the deaf, more to showcase the verbal prowess of the discussants, than contribute in any meaningful way, to finding solutions to the many problems that have dragged the Commission down into a disaster.

I am constrained to respond now because of the article, with the above title, written by my old friend, Mr. Mideno Bayagbon, former Editor of the Vanguard Newspaper. I do not intend to get into any discussion of his main story, which is hardly different from what many others have written about the NDDC. My main reason is to correct the misrepresentations, and half-truths, about my period in the NDDC, which he has brought into his story.

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Yes indeed, about 16 years ago when he maintained a weekly column in the Vanguard, he had written an article, in which he detailed ill-informed allegations and rumours against the NDDC. Contrary to what he now says in his current story, I was not “shocked and taken aback” by what he wrote.

In truth, I was not even aware of what he wrote, until the Publisher of the Vanguard Newspaper, our respected Uncle Sam, who was then in London, called me on the phone, to ask if I had seen the article. I told him that I had not yet seen it.

Uncle Sam then told me, that the article was full of misrepresentations, and even falsehood, about the reality on the ground, which he, himself knew of. He informed me, that the Management had, as a disciplinary measure, suspended Mr. Bayagbon’s Column indefinitely. He kindly invited me to find time to come to the Vanguard headquarters, and hold a session with the Editorial Board, and explain what we were doing. I took up the offer and made an appointment with Vanguard Editorial Board.

Contrary to Mr. Bayagbon’s claim in his new article, I did not lead “a full management team of the NDDC, with a truckload of documents”, or anything, for that matter. I went there, with John Araka alone. John was then adviser in the NDDC, on Public Communications. I met with the Editorial Board for about three hours, until there were no more questions. I specifically asked Mr. Bayagbon, if he wasn’t going to raise any issues or ask questions, which he declined. I had pleaded with Uncle Sam, to lift the ban on his column, but as far as I can remember, the column did not reappear.

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When Mr. Bayagbon, whose only known experience in management, was limited to the period he served as Editor of the Vanguard Daily, describes me as being, “not streetwise”, and me and Engineer Godwin Omene, then NDDC Managing Director, who had, before NDDC, risen to the post of Deputy Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Company, as being “naïve”, in our management, one has to marvel at his nerve. He proceeded to claim, that our “naivety” soon got us into trouble, “precipitating their early exits”. This last one, to the extent that he was referring to me, was a clear lie.

The truth, as anyone would have told him, is that I served my full term as Chairman of the Board. More, I served even beyond my term, because when our tenure ended on December 21, 2004, I was asked to stay on, and take charge of the commission, until a new board was inaugurated. So I stayed until early May 2005. In the 20-year history of the NDDC, I happen to be the only Chairman who has completed his tenure, which, for me, is a matter of real sadness.

Having gone so far to refute some of the misrepresentations, the question may well be asked: But what do you think your Board achieved? In answering this question I shall try to be as brief as possible. But first, I must point out one general misconception about the NDDC, which persists, in spite of efforts to correct it. That is, the notion that the NDDC was given the mandate to develop the Niger Delta.

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Quite often, you see big headlines, about how the NDDC has failed to develop the Niger Delta, in spite of the huge resources at its disposal. Well, that notion is far from the reality. The truth is, that neither the NDDC Act nor President Olusegun Obasanjo who created the Commission, gave it the responsibility, alone, to develop the Niger Delta.

Indeed, at the inauguration of the first board on December 21, 2000, the President had cautioned the board, not to attempt to take over the responsibilities of other tiers of government in the region. This led the Board, after much debate to arrive at a mission statement, for the Commission, which is: “To facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.” What that meant for us, was that our task was, to help create an environment in which all the agencies of development in the region – the NDDC, the Federal Government, the State Governments, the Local Governments, the Oil and Gas Companies, etc – will harmonise their activities towards the common goal of rapid and sustainable transformation of the Region.

The NDDC, apart from its role in facilitating this harmonious environment, had its individual responsibility for a wide spectrum of development activities – the building of infrastructure (both large and small, and both Physical and social), creation of employment and new livelihoods, peacebuilding etc. It is in this light that I will list, quite briefly, for those who might not have known, some of those achievements, that I consider being important.

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The achievements?

We were able to establish the Commission from scratch, providing for it, operational guidelines – financial, administrative and manpower manuals that were of the highest standards, to which, we did our best to adhere.

The Niger Delta Region Development Master plan. For me, this was our greatest achievement. The preparation of the Plan was led, and co-ordinated, by the German consulting firm, GTZ. In what made us, perhaps, precursors of the Nigerian Content Act, we had insisted, that all the sectoral and sub-sectoral studies, must be done by Nigerian consultants. That meant, that over one hundred Nigerian consulting firms and resource persons were involved in producing the Master Plan.

The Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan was a 15-year plan, which spelt out the roles of all the development agencies in the Region in achieving the goal, of transforming the region. The Draft Master Plan was ready, before the end of our tenure, and in line with our strategy of creating ownership by all stakeholders, we had made presentations to the following.

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State Executive Councils of all NDDC member States,
Townhall meetings of general Stakeholders in all the states,
The National Assembly – Senate, House of Representatives,
The Presidency/Federal Executive Council,
Donor Community, The National Planning Commission,
TROMPCON, The Region’s Local Government Council Chairmen, The Oil Companies, and others.

We were able also, to set up, as proposed in the Plan, the Partners for Sustainable Development (PSD) Fora, at the Regional, State and Local Government levels, as well as beginning the training of NDDC staff for their role in the implementation of the Plan. These brought together, representatives of all agencies engaged in development, at regular meetings, with the aim of harmonizing plans and activities and minimizing duplication of effort. The Final Copy of the Master Plan was presented to a general meeting of all stakeholders of the Niger Delta Region, convened at Aso Villa, by President Obasanjo in 2006, and was adopted enthusiastically, as a working document for the development of the Niger Delta. We believed firmly, that if that plan was, implemented sincerely, the region would have been transformed from the prevalent backwardness and turbulence to becoming Africa’s most prosperous, most peaceful and pleasant region. The 15 year period was to end this year, 2020.

3.The NDDC undertook 780 projects in our time, and by the end of our tenure, I believe over 60 percent were completed, with the rest at various stages of completion. These projects included, school buildings, hospitals and health centers, roads and bridges, electrification and water projects, University Hostels, etc. There were also Capacity building projects, skill acquisition and entrepreneurship development schemes.

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All these were achieved, notwithstanding the paucity of funds available to the NDDC then. For instance, the total amount received by the commission in the four years, 2001-2004, was, I believe, N117.0 billion – averaging about N30.0 billion per year, compared to NDDC budgets over the last 12 years which have averaged at over N200 billion per annum.

To put it more clearly, with N30.0 billion, per annum, what we had to spend in each of the nine states, was N3.33billion per annum. That notwithstanding, we were able to build relevant projects in every one of the over 200 Local Govt Areas in the Region. One gratifying news: About three months after I finally left the NDDC, The Presidential Monitoring Committee on the NDDC, after their inspections, declared that there were no ghost projects in the NDDC. For me the best headline was that of the Vanguard, on 30 August 2005. It read: “NDDC has no ghost projects – Presidential Committee.”

We earned the confidence of critical Stakeholders, especially the oil companies. While some stayed away and chose to recycle rumours, and falsehoods, the Oil Producing Companies, who together contributed the largest part of NDDC funds, operated in the same Niger Delta area, as the NDDC. In our common parlance, they were on the ground, and were able to monitor firsthand how the money they contributed was being used. It was, therefore, a matter of pride for us, that the Oil Companies wanted to partner with the NDDC on NDDC projects. Two examples:

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The Shell Petroleum Company offered to partner with us on the building of the Ogbia-Nembe Road project. Shell agreed to provide 70 percent of the funding, (outside their statutory contributions to NDDC funding), while the NDDC would provide 30 percent. And more important, Shell wanted the NDDC to manage the project.

We were building a bridge across the Orashi River, at Omoku, and wondering how to scrape together money to complete the road that formed part of the project. Then AgipOil came forward and offered to build the road, according to our plan, with funds that were not part of their statutory contribution to the NDDC.
These two, and serious interest in the Master Plan by Donor agencies – the European Union, IFA, UNDP, etc. gave me hope, that we must have been getting some things right. More importantly, one could see, that the kind of cooperative spirit needed for successful implementation of the Master Plan, was already emerging.

I will limit myself to these, and ask those who want more information, to visit the Annual reports of the NDDC. For me, the logical next level for the NDDC from 2005, should have been, an aggressive drive for the implementation of the Niger Delta Regional Development Plan. The reasons it didn’t do so, and how the Commission got itself into its present problems, are not part of the purpose of this Intervention. Here, I only want to encourage would-be chroniclers of the NDDC story, to try and get the facts, and having got them, to respect the facts, and tell a fair and truthful story.

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