NDDC: Riding on a New Vision

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Chijioke Amu-Nnadi writes that the current leadership of the NDDC is committed to making the commission’s processes more transparent for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta

On Thursday, January 26, 2017, the Governing Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), held its inaugural meeting at the Commission’s headquarters, to begin a robust and vigorous implementation of its vision for Niger Delta development. It is not the first time the Board would be meeting.

Earlier in November, 2016, they had held an extra-ordinary meeting where far-reaching decisions were taken and the commitment to develop new strategies, within old platforms of engagement, was affirmed. Within this commitment is what the board calls the 4-R Initiative.

Rising from that Abuja meeting, the Board’s chairman, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN, had reassured it would not be business as usual and everything would be done within law, within budget and pursuant to its mandate, to change public perception of the 16-year-old interventionist agency and set forth a new narrative.

“The Commission has not had the most edifying of public images,” Senator Ndoma-Egba said, “and that is because the procurement processes were opaque. That is why many contributors to the NDDC fund are in arrears. We will persuade those who are in arrears to pay and one of the easiest ways of getting them to pay is by ensuring that our processes were transparent.”

At the meeting in Port Harcourt, the 4-R Initiative was expanded into a 21-Point agenda, in which the Board reaffirmed the commitment to making the Commission’s systems and processes more transparent for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region. Senator Ndoma-Egba reiterated that it was imperative to create opportunities “for public participation to engender confidence in the activities of the commission by all stakeholders in the region.”

Other points in the agenda include curtailing the indiscriminate award of contracts in the Commission and that the Board’s approval must be obtained for all procurement of projects and programmes. He said: “The Board must adopt policies that would moderate or streamline the number of new procurements in the Commission, given that as at today, NDDC has over 9000 (nine thousand)ongoing projects, most of which are experiencing funding, implementation and other challenges.

“The Board must determine the status of ongoing projects and programmes and put in place a mechanism to re-evaluate the viability of some projects, revise the scope of others, re-negotiate the cost of some and relocate or merge others, as well as evolve a strategy for settling verified debts.”

Now, the journey towards the Niger Delta, promised in the NDDC Act of 2000, cranks into new gear. And to drive its implementation is the Commission’s managing director and chief executive officer, Mr. Nsima Ekere, a man of uncommon vision, proven track record of achievement, humility and known commitment to ideals and improving the living conditions of the people of the Niger Delta and beyond.

“We would have to do things differently,” Nsima Ekere says, “to improve the transparency of our processes, leverage technology to increase accountability and efficiency, consult stakeholders frequently, engage proactively and be creative about the programmes that we design, to uplift the people and the region.”

Ekere, who comes with a rich pedigree in public administration, is brimming with energy, enthusiasm and ideas and gradually, they are beginning to crystalize into operational models for the transformation of the Niger Delta of over 40 million people, spread across 40 ethnic groups speaking 250 languages and dialects.

At the core of the new thinking at the NDDC is a compass for change articulated by the Governing Board, anchored on restructuring the Commission’s balance sheet, reforming the governance protocols, restoring the Commission’s core mandate and reaffirming its commitment to doing what is right and proper.

Ndoma-Egba, former Senate Leader, leads a field of high caliber professionals with track record of achievements, whose antecedents are already giving hope and confidence to many people in the region. It also heightens expectations.

One of those who have expressed confidence in the team is Mr. Clement Ebri, a former Governor of Cross River State, who declared: “Ndoma-Egba and Nsima Ekere have the requisite experience required to perform creditably. I think we should be expecting a lot of development of infrastructure in the entire nine states of the Niger Delta. I have confidence that under their watch, every part of the region will witness tremendous development.”

Since inauguration on November 4, 2016, the Board has been engaging with stakeholders and familairising itself with existing programmes and projects. And at each visit, new commitments are made to ensure that the new path being fashioned for the Commission becomes clearer and is strengthened. And Mr. Ekere has also taken the opportunity to reflect on what must be done.

While visiting the new headquarters of the Commission, the Managing Director pointed out that the completion rate of NDDC projects was not encouraging. “I remember that shortly after our appointment, I met with some international funding partners and other stakeholders and everybody seem to be very concerned about the state of abandoned projects in the region.”

Then he declared: “It is important to determine to determine the projects that the Commission could afford to complete, depending on the ones that have the highest impact on communities. I don’t believe that there is any sense in starting a thousand projects and completing only one. So we will check the number of new projects and then concentrate on completing on-going ones. We want to complete our projects.”

One of such projects is the 23.5-kilometre Otuasega – Obedum – Emelego road and bridges linking Bayelsa and Rivers States, through some of the Niger Delta’s more fertile lands. The opportunities and possibilities the road presents are enormous for the regional economy.

Besides reducing the time of travel tremendously, the rich agricultural produce of the area will find an easier route for evacuation to bigger markets. That portends more socio-economic activities and wealth for the region’s predominantly farmer population, and improved livelihoods. That fits quite well within the global concept for sustainable development, and helps in the new Board’s determination to restore the Commission’s core mandate.

Other such physical infrastructure abound, crying for attention. And that is what the NDDC, under its new leadership, is determined to do, underlying its mantra to make a difference in the Niger Delta, a region with a long history of false starts and failed promises. This time, with Nsima Ekere and the Management piloting affairs, there is a stronger reason to hope. And the Governing Board just set the tone.

– Amu-Nnadi is the Head, Corporate Affairs of the NDDC