The March to a New Beginning at the NDDC

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Nkese Okon narrates the impressive steps being taken at the Niger Delta Development Commission to achieve set goals

By June of this year, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) would mark 20 solid years of its corporate existence having been established by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 2000. But, how well the foremost interventionist agency has fared in its mission of fast tracking the sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful, remains a matter of conjecture.

Has the commission, for instance, achieved the mandate of conception, planning and implementation of projects and programs for sustainable development of the Niger Delta area in the field of transportation including roads, jetties and waterways, health, employment, industrialization, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications?
The insinuation of corrupt practices at the commission is a familiar tune on the lips of stakeholders and various interest groups in the region.

Lately, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has come under strong criticism for a glaring failure to achieve the mandate for which it was established, despite the huge funds made available to the agency to enable it function optimally. The seemingly injudicious application of funds from the federal government and other sources, expectedly necessitated a presidential intervention last October, when President Muhammadu Buhari ordered for the forensic audit of the operations of the commission from inception to date, with a view to sanitizing and repositioning the commission for greater efficiency.

In January 2020, the President in another bold step officially informed the Senate of the decision to vet the books of the NDDC. Although a governing board had been approved by the Senate at the time, President Buhari needed to make the senators understand the need for an Interim Management Committee to work with the auditors to clean the Augean stable, so as to avail a substantive board a clean slate to kick-start their tenure.

To ensure a seamless operation, the president on 19 February, 2020 approved the enlargement of the Interim Management Committee consisting of Prof. Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei as acting Managing Director, Ibanga Bassey Etang as acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration and Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, acting Executive Director, Projects with Caroline Nagbo and Cecilia Bukola Akintomide as members.

Additionally, President Buhari on March 10, inaugurated the Advisory committee of the NDDC, made up of the nine governors of the Niger Delta states. Two additional members, the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs and the Minister of the Environment Ministry were added with a charge by the presidency for them to bring responsible leadership to bear on the affairs of the commission.

The Minister of Niger Delta Affair, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio, who is also the supervising minister for the Niger Delta Development Commission during the inauguration formalities had tasked the enlarged Interim Management Committee to cooperate with forensic auditors to audit the operations of the commission as directed by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Heeding the call of duty and in consonance with the huge confidence reposed in the Interim Management Committee by the presidency and other critical stakeholders, the Pondei-led crack team had hit the ground running in the onerous task of sanitizing the operations of the agency.

On Tuesday, 21st April, a new angle was introduced into the probe of the commission with the invitation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to be part of the forensic audit being undertaken by the Interim Management Committee. It is believed that the injection of fresh blood and new ideas into the operations of the commission is already beginning to yield tangible benefits aimed at refocusing the Niger Delta Development Commission on the path of progress for a better overall service delivery.
“We have reports of projects awarded and paid for but not executed. There is a need for us to work on these cases” Prof. Pondei told the EFCC helmsman, while on a visit to the premises of the agency in the Rivers state capital, Port Harcourt.

The unfolding scenario would see the EFCC availing the commission of its status reports on all its investigation reports on cases involving the intervention agency. This is a courageous step in the probe process, which could send jitters into the spines of the defaulting contractors and the cartel that had routinely preyed on the fortunes of the Niger Delta Development Commission.

According to the NDDC acting Chief Executive, “it was imperative to call in the EFCC operatives in order to help the NDDC in establishing why those who were given the contracts and paid abandoned the jobs and went away with the cash”.

Apart from inspiring hope in the heart of stakeholders, the move is also sending a strong warning signal to the errant contractors and those who were opposed to the forensic audit that it may not be business as usual, anymore. It would appear the time to give account has come, perhaps, sooner than expected.

The story of the NDDC in the last 19 years, according to its supervising minister, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has not been rosy. ”The NDDC, we believe could have achieved more”, he had lamented to stakeholders at an event in Abuja. “You have a stunted child who could have been a six-footer. We want to know the reason why the child could not grow. Is it that the child was not given enough nourishment? He had wondered rhetorically.

Curiously, the Niger Delta Development Commission had been haemorrhagging for quite a while. The head office building started over two decades ago could not be completed till date. Since inception the commission has been operating from a rented corporate headquarters where it pays a whooping N300 million naira annually as rent. Senator Akpabio once expressed shock when on a visit to the commissions’ headquarters, he discovered that the commission was not even connected to the national grid.

Under his watch, however, the commission’s purpose-built headquarters is already said to be at about 98% completion and scheduled for commissioning when normalcy returns.

If the traducers were ever in doubt about the determination of the Interim Management Committee to change the narrative of the long-suffering commission, the recent events in and around the agency would have put paid to such misgivings.

The reinvigorated Niger Delta Development Commission is poised to realize the mandate of pulling the Niger Delta region out of the socio-economic, environmental and political problems that have plagued the region. The hope of Senator Akpabio to see the intervention agency build hospitals, provide light to communities in darkness, support industrialization and food sufficiency in the Niger Delta region could well be realized.

The march to a new dawn also offers a glimmer of hope to the governments of the oil-producing member states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers to drive development in the region. These are the new realities at the Niger Delta Development Commission.