Leading NDDC into a New Dispensation

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Just months into their appointment, the new Niger Delta Development Commission board is set to firmly position the commission on a path of equitable progress, writes Solomon Elusoji

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was created in 2000 to fast-track the Niger Delta region’s sustainable economic growth. But whether the commission has met its objectives remains a matter of debate. Some of its past leaders have been charged with corruption and embezzlement while there have been serial claims that the commission’s resources have been spent on political, rather than development purposes.

Earlier this year, erstwhile Managing Director of the NDDC, Nsima Ekere, resigned from his position to vie for Akwa Ibom’s state governorship seat in the just concluded general polls. In an acting capacity, Prof  Nelson Brambaifa emerged as his replacement. “When we started the race for appointment as Acting Managing Director of NDDC, I was the least qualified, because in Nigeria, everything goes with money, but I did not have any money,” Brambaifa has said. So, what I did cleverly was to have a covenant with God, through His priest. I said if God could give me the job, I would build His house.”

While it is not yet clear whether President Muhammadu Buhari will permanently appoint Brambaifa as there are other candidates seeking the position, the acting NDDC boss has got off to a flying start.

Advocating for Peace

Under Brambaifa, the NDDC is prioritising peace in the Niger-Delta as the template for rapid development in the region.

In a recent stakeholder’s engagement forum organised by the commission in Port Harcourt, NDDC executives stressed the need to promote peace in the Niger Delta to facilitate the development process in the region.

The NDDC Executive Director Finance and Administration, Dr Chris Amadi, described peace as a veritable instrument for nation building, stating that the commission was making conscious efforts to ensure lasting peace.

Amadi, who was represented by the Director of Finance, Dr Linus Ogbalubi, said the theme of the stakeholder’s forum: “Peace as a Panacea for Sustainable Development in the Niger Delta Region” was apt and it aligned with the determination of the new management of the NDDC to reposition the commission to be able to achieve its mandate.

He said the commission was determined to create wealth and jobs, reduce poverty and unemployment, improve skills and human capacity, improve peace and security, develop partnerships among stakeholders and attract investments in the region.

Amadi also said the stakeholder’s engagement would help in proffering solutions to the security challenges in the Niger Delta region, noting that peace and security were necessary ingredients for sustainable development.

He said: “Building peace across the Niger Delta region is one task that requires a wide range of efforts by different actors, including the government and its agencies, civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations.

 “The Niger Delta region bears the brunt of oil exploration and exploitation in the country. This comes with its own security challenges which also hamper development.”

 Amadi also noted that the NDDC had shown commitment towards addressing these problems and have continued to make genuine efforts towards encouraging the youths and women of the region through impactful programmes which empower them with skills and training.

He charged: “You all have a role to play in sustaining peace in the Niger Delta region, which in turn will trigger rapid transformation and growth.”

In his own remarks at the engagement forum, the NDDC Coordinator for Rivers State, Hon Tekena Flag Amachree, said the NDDC cannot achieve its mandate in an environment characterised by insecurity as a result of youth restiveness, cultism, kidnapping, armed robbery, harassment and intimidation of development partners.

He said it was important for all stakeholders to pay attention to peace building and proffer practical strategies that would sustain it and encourage development in the region irrespective of the ethnic, religious and political affiliations.

 Amachree charged the participants to return to their various local governments and communities with the “gospel of peace as a vital driver in achieving meaningful and sustainable development in Rivers State.”

Urging the participants to be peace ambassadors of the region he said: “It is important for us all to begin to woo investors back to the Niger Delta to drive sustainable development which will not only improve the quality of life of our people by reducing poverty and disease, and in improving peace and security, but will bring more  industries, thereby ensuring that our economy becomes vibrant.

“We must continue to work to foster peace, security and the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region, in particular, and Nigeria, in general. As stakeholders and leaders of thought, we have a responsibility to do what is right and proper for our people. We cannot afford to do less or to fail them. He said the region has a great advantage in terms of manpower and mineral resources, but needs peace to prevail so that dreams can be translated to reality.”

The forum had in attendance, traditional rulers, Community Development Committee (CDC) chairmen, elders, youths, women leaders and interest groups drawn from across the 23 local government areas of Rivers State.

The NDDC Director Rivers State office, Mr Benson James Udo-Asubop, assured that the commission would always engage in activities that would promote peace in the various communities in the region.

Partnering the Military

The Brambaifa administration has also won praise from the military in its quest to secure the region. Commander of the Joint Task Force (JTF), Operation Delta Safe, Rear Admiral Akinjide Akinrinade has commended the NDDC for its performance within a short period of time, especially in the area of infrastructural development and youth empowerment.

Akinrinade also promised that his unit, which comprises the army, navy and airforce, will ever be ready to partner the NDDC to provide security in the region.

In response, Brambaifa told the JTF commander told that the NDDC has security of the region as one of its core mandates promising that the commission shall partner security agencies to ensure the stability of the region.

He further revealed that as part of this mandate, the NDDC shall undertake the construction of access roads in Yenagoa and build modern Police Headquarter in Bayelsa state.

Winning Support 

While Braimbaraifa’s young administration has been criticised by groups affiliated to those seeking the NDDC top job, it also has the support of several community movements in the Niger Delta.

After members of the Brambaifa administration were invited by the Economic Crimes and Financial Commission (EFCC) recently and unfounded allegations of financial corruption filtered into the media, the Inter-ethnic Network for Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and Buhari(INCRAB), a citizens advocacy group and society watchdog, condemned “the base, mischievous and politically engineered attacks on the Executive Management team of the NDDC.”

The group said it viewed “the allegations of financial impropriety and other unnecessary attacks against the management of NDDC  as calculated attempts bereft of both fact and common sense, targeted at putting the Executive management team of the commission in bad light before Mr. President and entire Nigerians in a bid to seize the economic and political structures of the Niger Delta and use same to advance some selfish and desperate pursuit for political power.”

It also noted that “It is worrisome that these unwholesome attacks are staged against the management team of the NDDC despite its sterling performance and widespread interventions across all critical sectors including infrastructure, human capital development, agriculture, education, health, environment, empowerment and social welfare.

“We state with all sense sense of responsibility and modesty that the massive achievements recorded by the five-month old Braimbraifa-led management team do not only exist in the papers as may be the tradition with some government agencies but are tangible with known geographical locations within the Niger Delta and real beneficiaries across the region.

“We understand that the originators, fabricators, machinators and sponsors of these attacks and campaign of calumny are highly placed politicians domiciled outside the Niger Delta region but prides themselves in their far-reaching clout and influence across the six geopolitical zones of the nation, such political clout, which in their thoughts, outweighs that of the Presidency.”

The group added that: “in view of the shenanigans and dubious intent of the orchestrators of the allegations and campaign of calumny against the executive management team of the commission that has touched so much lives and performed laudably within a very short period, we urge the people of the Niger Delta to brace up against any form of external intrusion through a few willing tools in the Niger Delta to sweep off a team that has brought back the NDDC to the people and given them a proud sense of belonging through its numerous programs and prompt interventions.

“NDDC can not continue to be the cash cow of greedy politicians whose insatiable appetite for power spurs them into attempting to hijack the commission at all costs for the sole purpose of promoting and financing their selfish political pursuits while undermining and demoting the development efforts of the management of the commission.”

Media aide to the acting NDDC boss, Nancy-Stephens Ijaopo has equally noted that corruption allegations the commission were “sinister plots by very desperate individuals and their collaborators within and outside NDDC to criminalise the current Interim management board, led by Brambaifa to get the present board out, because the old perfidious style of handling contract payments aided continuous corrupt enrichment.”

In their final submission, INCRAB urged President Buhari to “completely disregard all the allegations and petitions against the Prof. Braimbraifa-led management team as they are mere political inventions intended to beguile the Presidency into effecting a change in the management of the commission despite its monumental achievements within a short period.

“We urge the Prof. Braimbraifa-led management team not to be distracted by the antics of detractors and focus on the good works they have been doing even within a very short period of time.”

The association of Rivers and Bayelsa Contractors of Niger Delta (RABCON) have also condemned what it described as the needless attacks on the management of the NDDC.

 The contractors in a statement endorsed by the trio of Chief Aaron Tamunokoriari Princewill, Engr. Zebb Tuordolor and Dr. Nyema Owhondah noted that they were “worried by this campaign because we the contractors of Rivers/Bayelsa are beneficiaries of this new board while the entire Niger Delta is bubbling with relief since they came.  Our payments have been flowing unhindered and we are carrying out projects awarded to us with specification and proper supervision, unlike in the past.”

Stakeholder’s Commendation 
One of the Niger Delta stakeholders, Iniruo Wills while commending the commission said:  “It is obvious that NDDC is doing quite a number of projects, across the country those projects are transformational. Like the Ogbianeme road which they are jointly doing with Shell, one of their major projects capable of transforming lives because it is very strategic.
“It connects a lot of communities around that route together and it’s a big one. However, I think they can do better especially the duration they spend completing the projects. The Neme road project ordinarily should not have lasted beyond five years but it has taken them about 17 years. And I’m sure the expectations of the people now is that it should be expanded beyond what they are doing. Summarily, they are doing well but they can definitely do better.”