The Executive Director, Projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Mr. Ajenakevwe Samuel Adjogbe, spoke to Ejiofor Alike on how the interventionist agency is working to develop the oil-rich region and earn the confidence of all stakeholders. Excerpts:
You recently completed one year in office. What have been your experiences so far?
The one year we have spent here was quite challenging; challenging in the sense that we came with a particular expectation but met a different situation.
So, we have to resolve the issues that we met on board, issue like the perception about the Commission; issue of completing projects and the issue of reorganising the Commission. These are the issues we have been working on over the past one year.
When you came on board, what did you meet on ground and what were the new ways you adopted to resolve these challenges?
One of the things that we did when we came on board was to initiate the 4R Strategy. The 4R strategy talks about restructuring our balance sheet; reforming our governance system, restoring our core mandate and reaffirming our commitment to doing what is right and proper.
There were a whole lot of projects that were on our balance sheet. We call some of them non-performing projects. They are non-performing in the sense that contractors never moved to the sites. So, the non-performing projects make our balance sheet very high in terms of anticipated liabilities. We tried to reduce our balance sheet and that is one of the Rs.
Reform is another. Reform is in terms of getting other stakeholders to help us to participate in the business of building the Niger Delta or developing Niger Delta. To restructure things – how should we be managing our projects? Should we continue in the same old ways and expect different results? The answer is No! We have to do things differently. So, one of the things we did in that area of restructuring was to reduce new projects that we shall bring on board and see how we can complete ongoing jobs. A project will only bring about benefits if and only if it is completed. If a road is connecting two communities –Point A and Point B, until you connect the two points, nobody will derive benefits from that road. If Point A to Point B is 10 kilometres, for instance, and you have only constructed 5 kilometers, it means that you have spent money on 5 kilometers of road without any benefit to the people. So, it was part of the restructuring that we are doing to complete on-going and new projects to derive their benefits.
The fourth ‘R’ is to reaffirm to our stakeholders and ourselves too that we are here for real business. NDDC is an interventionist agent and we are going to operate as such. We will intervene where we need to intervene and we will not also go to areas we should not go into. These are some of the things that we have done to manage the challenges that we have met.
NDDC was set up to fast-track the development of the Niger Delta. What would you say the Commission has achieved in its 16 years of existence?
The achievements are in different forms. We have achieved some basic infrastructural development. For instance, the Ogbia-Nembe Road that connects Rivers State and Bayelsa State is a great achievement in the Niger Delta region. The Olero Creek is a real interior creek in a mangrove swamp forest but recently, we were able to commission a network of roads – up to seven kilometres in that area. These are places that people never expected to see roads in their lives. Some people had lived in those areas and died without seeing tarred or concrete roads. If you go to Ibeno, for instance, there is over 600-metre long bridge that was constructed to connect to the area where Mobil Producing Nigeria currently operates in Eket, AkwaIbom State.
So, these are some of the things that we have done. Aside that, we have also done human capital development in terms of scholarships, mainly foreign scholarships, so that we can bring up people who can compete favourably anywhere in the world from the Niger Delta region. We have also participated in training people in agricultural areas – new skills on agricultural activities have been carried out through the Directorate of Agriculture and Fisheries. Also, we have the Commercial and industrial Development (CID) Directorate. This is also a directorate that helps in impacting skills. Currently, we advertised, sourcing for Niger Deltans for different skills set – tailoring; welding and fabrication, solar system installation, catering and many others. These are some of the things that we have been doing successively overtime since the inception of this commission.
The NDDC only will not be able to develop the Niger Delta region. We will support where we have enough funds to support. You know that in all the businesses that we think of, funding is critical. When we don’t have fund, we can’t do much. But again, we have done the much that we can do within the available fund that is being appropriated or gotten from the IOCs that contribute to this commission from inception to this time.
You have talked about the challenge you encountered in developing Olero Creek. Generally, the Niger Delta has a difficult terrain. How does this impact NDDC’s ability to deliver infrastructure projects like roads, across the region?
Niger Delta region is made up of two formations – the Agbada formation and Benin formation. The Agbada formation constitutes the part we call the Mangrove forest, while the Benin formation is Imo and Edo States, as well as the upland part of Ondo State. The job we execute in the Mangrove area is more costly because the terrain is really rough. It is a tough terrain to operate in terms of the configuration. Now, it is far more costly to construct one kilometre of road in the Mangrove than in other parts of the region. So, the cost of executing projects in some parts of this region is very high. For instance, one kilometre of road in Escravos will cost double the amount you will use to construct one kilometer of road in Benin City. So, that is a major challenge. When we are doing our budgeting, we look at specific areas – you are not going to see in the budget that one kilometre road or two kilometers of road or five kilometers of road have the same cost across board. It can’t be because it is area-specific. So, it is a huge challenge and that impacts our funding and execution.
Apart from that, across the Niger Delta region, we have about eight to ten months of rain and most construction works cannot be done during the rainy season. Roads that are constructed in the rainy season are usually poorly executed. So, we have just two to four months of dry season because we always have eight to 10 months of rainy season. Even in December, rain still falls in the Niger Delta region. It is a huge challenge balancing the funds with the environment and optimising our execution good weather window.
You inherited 8,557 projects worth N1.3 trillion and the sheer size of these projects means that supervision could be a challenge. The new board of the NDDC had promised to review these projects and address the balance sheet question. How far have you gone on this?
A committee was set up by the management and I was the chairman of the committee. We looked at the portfolio of projects and set out criteria for filtration. We needed to filter jobs and classify them. Jobs that have zero performance since they were awarded were all identified. You awarded a project to someone since 2002 or 2005 and from that time till now, the person has not done anything. In the contract agreement the person signed with the commission, the contract is valid for a period of time, usually two years. What it means is that if after that period and you have not done anything, the contract is deemed to have expired and the project is no more. So, we compiled those contracts and we were able to remove 647 projects worth above N190 billion expected liability from the balance sheet.
We recommended that those projects should be cancelled and the board approved our recommendation and cancelled them. Those projects are now out of the balance sheet and the next phase we are working on is that we also need to know the factors stalling any project that is between the range of 0.1 and 5 per cent performance. Some of the needs of some areas may have changed and some people come back to you with cost escalations. So, we look at it to know if it is something that we want to sustain. Is this project still the current need of the area that needed the project initially? Has anything changed? If the answer is yes, yes, then we have to do something differently. We have gotten our report on this and we have presented it to the management. In our next board meeting, we will also present it for debate and necessary consideration for action.
Some of these people got Advance Payment Guarantees (APG) and the contractors refused to go to site. So, if you don’t go to site, the contract has expired on its own. By default, there is no business between you and NDDC. We are looking at all of these and also working out plans to recover our APG.
Before you came on board, there were cries in the Niger Delta about uncompleted or abandoned projects by the NDDC. What is the current situation with NDDC jobs?
The issue of abandoned projects may not be entirely correct. Let us understand the concept of abandonment when it comes to projects. We say that a project is abandoned if the contractor and the client, which is the NDDC, agree that we are not going to continue with the project. Now, if that is not the case, we won’t call it an abandoned project. We will say it is a non-performing project and we will determine what is causing this non-performance. If you are not paying the contractor, the contractor will not continue to invest in that project.
So, we have funding challenge to start with and we are looking at all the issues relating to the non-performance. Most of these projects are usually as a result of non-payment by NDDC. That is why we have tried to appeal to the Federal Government to give us the money they owe NDDC. When the federal government pays us, we will be able to mobilise these contractors to go back to their sites. You should remember that when the then Acting President, Professor YemiOsinbajo made a pronouncement that contractors that have left their jobs unattended to will be prosecuted if it is as a result of their own faults, some of these contractors went back to site. We recorded between 60 and 80 contractors that went back to site. A typical one was in Ughelli, Delta State – the contractor went back to site but if we don’t have money to pay those contractors, it becomes a challenge. So, some of those non-performing jobs were caused by financial suffocation and lack of funding. We have a whole lot of Interim Payment Certificates (IPCs) right now that we don’t seem to have money to pay for. So, it is a funding challenge.
Do you have enough competencies within NDDC to monitor and supervise the jobs awarded by the commission? I mean, what is the correct project – engineer ratio?
I will say yes that we have sufficient capacity. Apart from our own employees; we have consultants that are either resident consultants and some are not resident consultants. So, on a ratio of manpower to projects, we have between 1:30 to 1: 40. But we are trying to see how we can do better – doing better in the sense that, like I said before, we are trying to reduce new projects that are coming on stream and manage the ongoing ones, so that we can finish them up because it does not make any sense to say that ‘okay, we are a new board; so, we need to start our projects’.
How about those projects, which are ongoing? In this 2017 budget, for instance, our proposal was in the ratio of 70:30, that is, 70 per cent of the budget being for ongoing projects and 30 per cent for new projects. That is fair enough and in that way, we will have more appropriation to continue to fund ongoing projects and complete them and we just do fewer new ones. With time, this ratio will also come down and we will be looking at, may be, one engineer to 20 projects. That will be a good thing to achieve.
People have raised concerns that the quality of NDDC jobs. What is the true situation?
NDDC jobs are executed to the best standards you can think of in the world. We have Project Management Department (PMD) and this department is the custodian of our standards and specifications. We are trying to introduce something, which is work-in-progress currently. It is called ITP – Inspection, Test and Plan. This plan will help us to remotely monitor our projects. For instance, part of the elements of this ITP is inspect, witness, hold and so on. There are about six elements.
What it means is that if you are doing a road construction, once you have completed excavation, you have to hold on at that point for somebody to come and certify that you have removed all unsuitable soil before you can start filling. Once you have reached the level for your filling, you will also have to hold on there for somebody to come and pass you for you to apply for the next stage of material, usually stone-base items. When you are laying your asphalt, it has to be a witness point. Witness point is one of the elements, and this means that someone has to be on site with you, watching how you are laying the asphalt because asphalt laying is something you may not be able to know if they have covered something underneath.
So, somebody must be there to ensure that what you are doing is in order. These are some of the things we are going to do and implement them as we move forward. What it means is that for every project, we are going to identify those hold points; we are going to identify those witness points and we are going to identify the inspection points and they will be tied to milestones. If you do not observe them, certificate will not be issued to you. It will be clear from the first day and that is what we do in the oil and gas industry. We operate in the same environment but you see jobs in the oil and gas industry coming out very well. It is the same thing. ITP is one of the things this NDDC Board and Management are trying to introduce into the payment management system. The PMD is working on it currently and we are going to finalise it and attach it as part of the addenda to our contracts.
It is going to be project-specific and not going to be generic so that you know that these are your hold points; these are your witness points and these are your inspection points and so on. Through that way, we will be able to manage and improve our quality at the end of the day. If somebody is laying tiles in a building project for instance; if he has done his skidding and nobody is there, nobody will know whether it is ordinary sand that he has put there without cement. When you step on the tiles, it starts making noise underneath because there is void there.
What you perceive as mixture of sand and cement is just sand with cement spread on it. With time, sand will separate from the cement and you will see the tiles breaking because somebody did not witness that activity. So, that is the only way the craftsman will be able to bypass the actual thing to be done and he just does anything. So, what you see as a finishing product are just tiles laid on top of sand; not mixture of cement and sand. These are some of the things we are trying to prevent. So, since the contractor knows that certificate will be issued after that point, he is going to call the client to come and witness it so that he can move on to the next stage without hindrance. That is it.
Officials of AkwaIbom State Government, for instance have alleged that NDDC execute projects without consultation. Does the commission just move into a state to execute project without due engagement with the state authorities?
The case of Akwa Ibom State is not true. What we do is that we engage the stakeholders through our Community and Rural Development (CRD) group. CRD is an aspect of Policy, Government and Public Affairs (PGPA) in some other organisations. So, we engage our stakeholders. At the onset, they participate in the selection of the projects. For instance, what we did in the 2017 budget efforts was to activate all the state representatives.
A memo was sent to the chairman of the budget preparation committee in each state. Even in Akwa Ibom State, the government participated in one of the meetings championed by the state representative. So, they made input and once these inputs are collated at the centre, what we do is to trim down. We identify projects and classify them, depending on the priority that we attach to each of them. Once sent to the National Assembly, it comes out is an Appropriation Bill.
It is not something someone can sit down in his bedroom and say that this is the budget and this is what we are working on. It is a legal document that comes back at the end of the day. I don’t know whether it is when we go to the site that we should do another engagement. No! We do the engagement even at the project conceptualisation stage at the onset and everybody is part of the process going up. The site work is just the continuation of the process. That is what we do and anybody saying something contrary to this is not fair to us. Sometimes, people cook up certain things, may be, for political reasons. So, let us be aware of that as well.
Another major criticism of the commission is that most of its projects are stand-alone projects, instead of projects that have regional impacts. What is your reaction to this?
When you look at a masquerade, someone looking at it from a particular point can say that it is a circular object. Another person looking at it from a different angle will say that it is a square. So, it depends on how you are looking at it that will make you conclude that this project is stand-alone or that it is a regional project. For instance, the Ogbia –Nembe Road, I just mentioned; that is a regional project because it is connecting two states and many LGAs.
Now, there is a road in Otuaseigha in Bayelsa State. You drive into this road through Yenagoa but when you get to certain point, it will look as if you are in a close and you have to return back into Yenagoa for you to come out. It is part of my pains here; we have put it in the 2017 budget so that we can connect it to the East-West Road because people do lumbering and farming in that area. What it means is that when you go to transport your timbers, you must carry them and go back again, all the way through Yenagoa. But for the people to really get true benefits is for you to connect the road to the East-West Road.
Even though it is still within the same state, it is a regional thing because it will have ripple economic effects. Other people will say, okay, since this road can connect like this, let us also go and do business. Other lorry drivers from Port Harcourt will go there. So, it is a business opportunity for them. So, what I really see as regional projects are projects that will promote economic activities in the region. It doesn’t matter the location. For example, in Delta State, there is another project we are trying to execute as our pride- the Omadino – Okerenkonko-Escravos project. It is about 65 kilometres of road on the swamp of Niger Delta. The project is not connecting any two states but when it is executed, it will have regional benefits that will make it not to look like stand-alone project but a regional project. The National Maritime University in Okerenkonko – I don’t believe that you will send your children to that university if there is no road connecting the university. You won’t like your children going on speed boat all the time and there is no airport at Okerenkoko. You need a road to go to that place.
All the waterfronts there – people will go there and build jetty when the road is completed. So, business will start and you can also go there to start your own business. These are the things that will activate regional economy, and not localised. Let me come back to your question. Standalone projects are equally good, while big projects are equally good. What is important is how these projects impact the area or region. That is what we should address. Is the project truly useful to the people of the region? If the answer is yes, then we do the project.
NDDC was perceived to be corrupt before the inception of this administration. What measures have you put in place to eliminate corruption?
The issue of corruption is more a perception but then I believe that when it is established, culprits are prosecuted accordingly. We have different agencies of government handling corruption-related issues. I don’t believe that it is tied to a particular place. It is something that is monitoring the whole country, irrespective of what arm of government. But we have an obligation to reform things here. So, any area where we feel that things are not properly done, we implement our reforms.
That way, we will be able to continuously improve the system so that when we do things right and meet the expectations of the people of the region, perception will change. We don’t want people to force the stakeholders to have confidence in us; rather we want to earn the confidence of our stakeholders – government, the international oil companies that contribute three per cent of their annual budgets to this commission and even the people we are serving across the region. We need to earn their confidence so that they can say yes, NDDC is now a born again commission and that we can now see the light of dove coming.