A three-day retreat by the Niger Delta Development Commission in Onne, Rivers State penultimate week, agreed there are ‘beasts’ militating against the progress of the region and resolved to tame them outright. Olawale Olaleye reports
From the choice of venue to the category of speakers and particularly the disposition of the new leadership at Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), it was unmistakable that the three-day retreat which held between 2nd and 4th of February at Onne, Rivers State would mark a significant difference in the life of the commission. The excitement of members and staff of the commission also showed that they had a degree of confidence in the new leadership.
There was not much to the first day as it was set aside for participants to register and settle in and then, get to know each other from the wide ranging backgrounds. The real business, however, started on day two, Friday, February 3 and ended in the evening of Saturday, February 4.
Each day started with an early morning breakfast but Friday being the first day of the retreat proper, there was the introduction of the ground rules, a review of the retreat agenda and of course, announcements at regular intervals.
The opening remarks by the chairman of NDDC Board, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba set the tone for what to expect. The former Senate Leader who spoke from his vast experience literally introduce the “real ground agenda” for what would later form the crux of debate.
Not oblivious of the avoidable competition that seemed to have existed between the NDDC leadership and governors of member-states, Ndoma-Egba said “We must be partners, development partners to state and local governments, and not competitors. Therefore, our vision should be the creation of a regional economy with drivers that will be youth-friendly as a motivated, educated and empowered youth remains the real source of any nation, not oil or mineral resources.”
On the flip side, he said “An ill-motivated, uneducated and un-empowered youth, on the other hand, will be a curse and a danger to the nation. We, therefore, have a sacred responsibility to make our youth a real resource and a blessing to our region and country.
“Governors complain that member-state governments make no inputs whatsoever into the NDDC budgets, projects and programmes and these are foisted on them to their disapproval. Rather, than being a partner to member states, the Commission is instead in competition, not only with states, but with local governments in terms of projects and programmes,” he said.
Quoting Section 7(1) (b) of the NDDC Act, the former Senate Leader said the Act envisages a diversified but integrated regional economy for the region, adding that “Youth-friendly drivers for this regional economy will be ICT, sports, the creative industry, agriculture and manufacturing supported by inter-modal transportation, health, and education infrastructure with adequate power supply.”
Lamenting the poor image of the commission as inherited by his board, Ndoma-Egba said “At the moment, the public image of the Commission, to put it mildly, is not edifying. The Commission is perceived as a contract-awarding factory or silo with scant regard for procurement and other rules, rather than the development agency it is supposed to be.
“Our image is so bad that a prominent Nigerian had referred to the Commission as ‘the other Stock Exchange’ as a result of the sheer volume of the commission’s contracts out there in the streets; how they are bought and sold and the commission paid on those contracts and on payments to contractors. Indeed, payments for contractors have become an industry by itself as far as the commission is concerned.”
According to him, beneficiary communities of the Commission’s projects and programmes on the other hand have no sense of ownership of the projects and programmes “as they too did not make any inputs into the budget, programmes and projects. Contractors complain about delayed payments and what they have to pay out as commissions to get legitimate payments.”
Ndoma-Egba, who claimed to have conceded part of his time to a friend in the person of Professor Pat Utomi, further gave the renowned professor the grounds to make lucid, the basis for real development in the commission. His emphasis, however, was on leadership and within his 10 minutes time-frame, he left the audience with a message that resonated: “Economic progress will fail if you don’t get the right leaders to set the goals.”
He would soon usher in the address that finally sealed the agenda-setting of the retreat. It was delivered by no other person but the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Nsima Ekere, who said pointedly that the region had failed its 15-year master plan, after having nothing to show for the $40 billion of the $50 billion required to implement the new vision for the oil producing region.
Ekere contended that for the commission to maximally realize its potential and assignment which is rebuilding the Niger Delta region, it must first confront and tame effectively, what he described in his paper as the “dangerous beasts” that are stalling development and progress at the commission.
“The Niger Delta master plan originally required 15 years to implement at a cost of $50 billion. The region has received $40 billion over the past 10 years and sadly, there is little evidence to show for the sums spent. Poor governance of self and institutions are at the heart of public sector delivery challenges,” he said, adding that the result of such a posting was disheartening.
Giving some practical approach to tackling the NDDC challenge through his power-point presentation, Ekere, who claimed to have drawn inspiration from JK Rowling, author of the Harry Porter franchise, who recently released a movie, ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, identified seven vices he reckoned were at the root of the NDDC challenge.
He listed the vices to include pride/humility, gluttony/temperance, sloth/diligence, envy/kindness, greed/charity, wrath/forgiveness and lust/chastity, arguing that the impact of these vices on development is evident in the parity evaluation amongst Nigeria, China and South Korea, with the two other countries leaving the nation behind in terms of development indices after 50 years of starting at a competitive level.
He also identified some of the implications as “poorly delivered infrastructure that decays rapidly; lack of social services to the citizenry; pervasive poverty and resurgent militant attacks on oil and gas installations, which leads to pollution of the environment and reduced income to the government and the NDDC.”
These elements he described as the beasts at the commission, he further noted, had affected majorly, the organizational performance, financial performance as well as the NDDC master plan, the three of which he further broke down into smaller and comprehensible sub-headers.
But to tame the menace, he came up with a 4-R cage solution that could help address the challenges faced by the board. They are Restructuring, Reforming, Restoring and Reaffirming. All of these, he claimed, would help control the debt offspring, constrain daily operations in line with the rules, chart a new course for the board and ultimately, reiterate its commitment to doing that which is right at all times.
Ekere also said with about N1.2 trillion contingent liabilities on its balance sheet, the NDDC needed to find ways to free funds for urgent development projects and programmes in line with new strategic focus, in addition to effective deployment of the 4-R cage.
Corroborating Ekere’s position, the General Manager, External Relations at the Shell Petroleum Development Company, Mr. Igo Weli, who spoke on the topic: “Expectations of the IOCs: Collaborating to Deliver Shared Values to the Niger Delta”, said contrary to insinuations that Shell was not paying what it should for the development of the region, it had so far paid 135 billion in naira and 1.1 billion in the United State dollars with the current exchange rate differential.
He also mentioned other areas the company had played its support part like the joint reconciliation of statutory payments which comes up once in two years; project/activity specific partnership and collaboration like the Ogbia/Nembe road and the support work of National Assembly committees on the region.
In the same vein, representative of NEITI Executive Secretary, Dr. Orji Ogbonnaya Orji addressed the topic: “NDDC Interventions and Extractive Industry Revenues Transparency”. He also used the opportunity to hint at some of the remittances the agency has paid to the NDDC, a majority of them not accounted for. According to NEITI FASD report of 2007 to 2011, he said about N7.4billion funds allocated to 9 states were not accounted for.
In addition, he said about 22 projects were duplicated and valued at N1.188 billion, even as he claimed companies were underpaid by $390 million between the years under review. He therefore urged the commission to embrace cooperate governance that is built on openness, efficiency and accountability.
There were however other speakers from different walks of life, a majority of whom had clues on how the NDDC should run and they shared their experiences with the others.
Although the rapporteurs are yet to come up with their resolutions on the way forward for the NDDC, feelers from the management showed that this might be one NDDC leadership that would bring the commission back on track. THISDAY learnt from a majority of the participants that the retreat was in many ways different from what they used to have, an indication that a much serious leadership has been put in place, in addition to saving a lot in terms of cost and yet, giving the best so far in terms of quality of persons and location.
Some of the participants noted that the previous leadership of the commission acted like mini gods with heavy security attaché that made it impossible for members to even get any close let alone be helpful to the overall interest of the commission and by extension, the region.
But when they saw Ekere and his chairman, Ndoma-Egba freely moving around the halls without any molestation from any security personnel, they held strong views that such could pose serious indications that a better leadership might have arrived at the commission, with better worldviews and exposure that could positively rub-off on the development of the commission, moving forward.
Another point gathered from amongst the members of staff was that in the past, the NDDC leadership hardly paid attention to such retreat and never stayed till the end, thus failing to live by example. They gave instances of their venues as major distractions to the successes of their previous experiences because they were usually held within town, which naturally came with their distractions and provided the opportunity for participants to bolt away before the end of the retreat. But Ekere and Ndoma-Egba stayed till the end of the exercise and partook of all activities, including the various breakout sessions for intense brainstorming.
But when they saw Ekere and his chairman, Ndoma-Egba freely moving around the halls without any molestation from any security personnel, they held strong views that such could pose serious indications that a better leadership might have arrived at the commission, with better worldviews and exposure that could positively rub-off on the development of the commission, moving forward