Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, spoke to journalists recently and declared that the region would enter a new era of development under its new board. Bassey Inyang was at the session. Excerpts:
What do you have in mind to get NDDC revamped as quickly as possible so it can achieve the development goals for which it was set?
First of all, we would need to carry out a number of audits. An audit of our systems, audit of our processes, audit of our projects and audit of our personnel, so that we can have a true picture of, not only the governance systems, but also a true picture of our obligations. Secondly, we have to develop a master plan. There was a master plan that was drawn up before. It was a 15-year plan. It is more than 10 years after the plan was drawn up, so it is either we do a new plan or we revalidate the old one. But there has to be a master plan that would govern planning for the region.
Part of the problem has been that the NDDC is budgeted for on a year-by-year basis. It would not work. We have to have a long term to say this is what we want to see out of the Niger Delta, and then you use the yearly budget to achieve that ultimate goal. Those are some of the things we intend to set out to do. Uncompleted projects would be captured in the project audit because a project audit would determine the number of projects you have, the nature of the projects, and the status of each project.
The projects that you need to get off your books, you find a convenient way of getting them off the books because we need to clean up the books. Right now, NDDC has over 9,000 contracts and that is an unwieldy number. No matter the capacity of an organisation, I doubt if you have capacity to properly execute 9,000 contracts. Some of those contracts are moribund, some are dead, and some are non-existent. So, you need to really investigate and find out the status of each and every one of them and then you clean up the books and then you begin to deal with the realistic ones.
The funding of NDDC is a known problem and apart from the budget from the federal government, statutorily, there are companies and organisations that are mandated to contribute to the running of the NDDC, financially. Don’t you think this could be a huge challenge for your board, given the time frame and expectations?
Well, funding would be an issue, but one of the greatest impediments to funding is the lack of transparency. When people don’t see a transparent process in an organisation, they will hold back their money. So, we have to re-engage the stakeholders by making sure our systems and processes are transparent. What people see now is a very opaque environment and that would not encourage people to put in their money. So, you have to open up the system, make sure that there is due process in everything you are doing and then reestablish the confidence of the stakeholders in the place.
I give you an example. Under the Act establishing the NDDC, there are number of committees and organs that should operate. There is an advisory committee made up of the governors of the NDDC states. But, I don’t know when last that organ met. Why do you need the advisory board? You need the advisory board because the member states are contributors to the finances of the project, so they must be part of the planning. They must be part of the budgeting process. There should have input into what kind of projects the commission should do in their states or should not do.
I give another example. Recently, I was told in Rivers State or so, the NDDC said they did some projects and the state government is saying no, you did not do the project, we did the project. So, we don’t even know who did what.
On issue of youth restiveness, militancy and vandalism oil and gas installations, this is affecting the economy and people are expecting that your board would play a role in addressing them. What is your comment on this?
First of all we need to engage with the youths. We need to engage with all the stakeholders. If a group believes that it was part of a process, a decision-making process, they will feel a sense of ownership of the process and the outcomes. But when a group is not part of that process, they see the process and the outcomes as strange to them because they were detached. So, there is no ownership. The important thing, going forward in the Niger Delta, is that every stakeholder must feel a sense of ownership.
They must be a part of the process. If the youths are part of the process, I believe they will begin to own the process and it would begin to douse militancy. It won’t stop it because what would eventually stop militancy is development; the kind of development that would create an economy for them, an economy that would make them productive. So, until we get to that point, we would still have some restiveness. But you cannot have development in an atmosphere of militancy and chaos.
The expectation from the current NDDC board is high. What words do you have for the Niger Delta people?
The people should expect a new story. It would be a new story of commitment, single-minded focus and determination to make a change in the region. It is only the Niger Deltans that can change the Niger Delta, and we have this historic opportunity to do so and the choice to succeed or fail is ours to make. I would rather choose to succeed than to fail, and I would do everything to make that difference.
The people should expect a new story. It would be a new story of commitment, single-minded focus and determination to make a change in the region. It is only the Niger Deltans that can change the Niger Delta, and we have this historic opportunity to do so and the choice to succeed or fail is ours to make. I would rather choose to succeed than to fail, and I would do everything to make that difference