Curbing Restiveness through NDDC Reforms

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The reforms being undertaken by the Niger Delta Development Commission will facilitate sustainable development in the Niger Delta and potentially curb militant attacks on oil and gas facilities in the region. Ejiofor Alike reports

One of the reasons the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) failed to realise its core mandate of facilitating sustainable development of the Niger Delta since 17 years of its establishment, was the failure of the commission to resolve the issue of abandoned projects scattered in all parts of the Niger Delta.

NDDC was established in 2000 “with the mission of facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful”.

The mandate of the commission include “formulation of policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta area; conception, planning and implementation, in accordance with set rules and regulations, of projects and programmes for sustainable development of the Niger Delta area in the field of transportation including roads, jetties and waterways, health, employment, industrialisation, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications”
Other functions include: “surveying the Niger Delta in order to ascertain measures necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development; preparing master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger Delta region and the estimation of the member states of the Commission; and implementation of all the measures approved for the development of the Niger Delta region by the Federal Government and the states of the Commission”.

The commission is also mandated to “identify factors inhibiting the development of the Niger Delta region and assisting the member states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger Delta region,” among other functions stipulated in the enabling Act.

Oil and gas industry stakeholders believe that if NDDC had been effective in the development of the Niger Delta since 2000, Nigeria’s oil and gas industry would have recorded minimal or no attacks on oil workers and infrastructure, which came into international limelight in 2006.

But rather than collaborate with/assist the Niger Delta states to implement projects and policies for the development of the region, the NDDC had in the past set out to compete with the various state governments to initiate projects that were never completed.
The issue of abandoned projects was also linked to perceived corruption, which allegedly plagued the activities of the agency since inception.

The Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) Prof. Itse Sagay recently alleged that the NDDC under previous administrations was synonymous with uncompleted projects.
“You will not believe that with all that we are going through, the NDDC, which is the other name for uncompleted projects, has just bought over 70 cars,” Sagay reportedly said about the previous management of the commission.

Ekere’s reform
However, the new template developed by the NDDC for the execution of proposed projects by contractors was the latest initiative by the Nsima Ekere-led commission to reform the agency to enable it realise its mandate of facilitating sustainable development of the oil-producing region.

Published in THISDAY Newspaper, the template, which will “separate the men from the boys,” sets new requirements for contractors that would execute future NDDC projects.
Professional agitators who want business-as-usual will prefer NDDC to give contracts to the boys who will collect money and abandon the jobs as usual.

But genuine agitators who mean well for the Niger Delta believe that for the NDDC to end the era of abandoned projects, contracts should no longer be awarded to incompetent youths masquerading as contractors who had abandoned the jobs awarded to them in the past for lack of competence.

On assumption of office in November 2016, the new management of NDDC, led by the Managing Director and Chief Executive officer, Mr. Nsima Ekere had initiated a raft of measures to reform the organisation and facilitate sustainable development in the Niger Delta.
The reform also seeks to end the era of uncompleted projects and corruption, which had charaterised the 17-year-old history of the agency.

To douse tension among the Niger Delta youths, Ekere recently directed the immediate payment of all outstanding scholarship fees to beneficiaries of the 2016 NDDC Overseas Post-graduate Scholarship programme.
THISDAY had reported that in a recent meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Ekere had expressed displeasure that beneficiaries of the scheme were facing unfortunate hardship due to delays in remitting both their tuition fees and upkeep allowances and asked the students to submit their bank details to the NDDC immediately.

A statement by NDDC spokesman, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi, had quoted the managing director as saying that only 32 out of 200 beneficiaries had so far submitted their personal international bank information and promised to pay them immediately.
From all indication, the new management is poised to change the narrative, taking bold and steady steps to deliver a resounding impact.
Shortly on assumption of office, Ekere had recalled an incident that brought the urgency to make lasting impact.

“Nothing we heard or read about prepared us for what we met on ground. Thousands of youths had stormed the Commission and the hotels where Board Members were staying, welcoming us, pointing attention to the state of the region and the people particularly the youths and demanding that we do something to restore hope and build a new Niger Delta of hope, progress and opportunity,” he reportedly explained.
He was referring to a large crowd of youths that had taken over the NDDC head office before the new board arrived, effectively truncating part of the handing over event in their bid to welcome the new team with unprecedented enthusiasm.

For the new team, the incident was an immediate call to action – putting together an action plan that creates opportunities and restores hope to the youths and people of the Niger Delta region.
Indeed, a recent study by Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND), an oil industry- funded initiative revealed that youth unemployment is a major challenge facing the region.

“Despite vast oil resources, the Delta region is characterised by extremely high poverty levels. 70 per cent of youth in the region live below the poverty line. The youth (15-24 years) unemployment rate is 40 per cent, far exceeding the national average youth unemployment rate of 14 per cent. Youth un- and under -employment has ultimately become both a driver of conflict and a formidable obstacle for peace and regional development,” PIND reportedly explained.

To address this major challenge, the NDDC’s Chairman, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba has said the Commission would focus on activities, which would create jobs and equip the youths with sustainable skills.
“An ill-motivated, uneducated and unempowered youth on the other hand will be a curse and 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,” he added.

That has already begun. Last month, the Commission recently approved and invited tenders from consultants to implement its high skill development programme for youths across the region. The focus areas including entrepreneurship development, software development and programming, maritime technology, entertainment industry and welding and fabrication, are areas with significant capacity gaps which the training is intended to bridge.

As part of the new regime of transparency and openness, the budget of the commission is now available on the commission’s website.
Also a project monitoring portal has been launched to enthrone accountability and due process.
The new board had earlier put a hold on payments and contract awards to ascertain the state of affairs of the commission.

An audit of its processes, system, projects and personnel were initiated for integrity, efficiency, transparency and accountability.
Also when the Board had its inaugural meeting in January, it adopted a four-prong strategy it code-named the 4R to drive its activities: Restructure the balance sheet; Reform the governance systems; Restore the execution of the core mandate; and Reaffirm commitment to doing what is right.
Next came the three -day retreat that brought in stakeholders to review the future direction of the commission.

The idea of the retreat was to open up the organisation to fresh ideas by organising a stakeholder retreat in Rivers State from February 2-4, 2017.
The stakeholders’ retreat was charged with the task of jointly formulating the commission’s vision, and the drawing up of a roadmap for the actualisation of this vision.
To enthrone international best practices in its activities through effective collaboration with reputable international organizations, representatives of The European Union, Department for International Development (DFID), Ford Foundation, and USAID/SACE were invited.

To align with the transparency posture of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, NDDC also invited the Bureau of Public procurement (BPP), Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR), PIND, SEEFOR, Facility for Oil Sector Transparency (FOSTER), National Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI), BRACED Commission, Shell Production Development Corporation (SPDC), BudgIT, and others.
Themed ‘Colaboration for Sustainable Development’, the event was the first of its kind in the 17-year history of the NDDC.

Benefits of the retreat
At the end of the retreat, the commission resolved that going forward, it would operate as a regional enabler, working in partnerships with states and local governments to deliver development.
To actualise this aspiration, the board has met with some Governors of Niger Delta States and solicited their support, especially in the reactivation of the Niger Delta Development Advisory Committee made up of governors of the nine Niger Delta States.

During its visit to Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike had argued that to succeed, the commission and governments of Niger Delta States must work together adding that “NDDC needs the support and cooperation of states to make meaningful impact in the Niger Delta.”

Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State also re-echoed the same sentiment when he said: “We have to, from now on, be involved in their projects and in the selection of contractors to work in our state.” “From now on, we want to insist that the same quality of materials we use on our roads are the same NDDC contractors who operate in the state must use,” he added.
With the collaborative approach of the new management of NDDC towards Niger Delta development, the issue of underdevelopment, which is the basis of restiveness in the region, will be addressed through collaborative efforts of relevant stakeholders.