By Ifeatu Agbu
The grinding wheels of change may be slow but the deficit in speed is compensated in fine quality.
In a way that applies to the situation in the Niger Delta region where development has been painfully slow to the chagrin of many stakeholders.
Today, however, the story is beginning to change as the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, recently launched a ‘Rewind to Rebirth’ initiative, which it said “is a strategic vision designed to recalibrate engagement with the Niger Delta and the Commission’s overall intervention implementation plan.”
Riding on the spirit of “rebirth,” which sprouted from the Public Private Partnership Summit in Lagos, the Commission on July 6, 2023, organized a One-Day Policy Dialogue in collaboration with the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, development partners and donor agencies at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.
Apparently, buoyed by the success of the PPP Summit, the NDDC Managing Director, Dr Samuel Ogbuku, invited development partners to rally round the Commission to deliver on its core mandate of developing the Niger Delta region.
The high-profile forum had representatives from the Mac-Arthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, BRACED Commission, PIND, the Chinese Embassy, United Nations, AFD, Oil Producers Trade Section (OPTS) of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce, Civil Society Organisations, Infrastructure Construction and Regulatory Commission (ICRC).
Their deliberations were anchored on the theme: “Deepening Governance Through Transparency and Value-Added Partnership.”
The NDDC Chief Executive Officer told the participants at the Policy Dialogue that the Commission remained the major vehicle for the development of the Niger Delta region.
He assured the partners that the Commission was poised to do things differently, and has progressed in the reform of its internal governance mechanisms in readiness to partner with development and donor agencies, and indeed the public and private sector to accelerate the development of the region.
Ogbuku appealed: “Consider the Niger Delta as your own. For donor agencies, we say, support us. For the development partners, we say join us to complete ongoing major projects.
NDDC alone cannot develop the Niger Delta. We need more funding and support.”
He observed: “We have started engagement with the key stakeholders, such as the oil companies who contribute three per cent of their operational budget to the Commission; the state governments, traditional rulers, Civil Society Groups, youth organisations and contractors.”
He said that the NDDC would be banking on multinational corporations such as Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Total to collaborate with the NDDC in executing legacy projects such as the Warri-Escravos Road.
The NDDC boss said that the management had sought to expand the development scope in the region through the involvement of private sector partners.
According to him, “through this policy dialogue, NDDC seeks to comprehensively map donor interventions and compile data on projects in the Niger Delta that complement the mandate of NDDC and establish a coordination framework by identifying any gaps and ensuring harmonization and alignment.”
Ogbuku expressed concern over the perception that the NDDC was a rogue agency, explaining that to strengthen its governance system, stressing that many of the ills that bedevilled the agency in the past were being dismantled by the current management.
Acknowledging that the NDDC may have made mistakes in the past, Ogbuku noted that the continued disruption in previous managements of the commission also added to the challenges faced by the interventionist agency.
He observed: “Previous administrators came with their visions of NDDC. Sometimes, these visions were truncated halfway. We believe if these people were there to complete their vision, probably we wouldn’t have been where we are today because you’d have been holding them accountable for their four-year tenure. But because sometimes they do not complete it, they have excuses.”
The MD stressed that if in the past, development partners had fears of insecurity, it was time to return to the Niger Delta and partner the organisation since the region is now more secure. He remarked that the International Oil Companies (IOCs) were not funding the NDDC as required by law because the commission was not implementing projects in the firms’ areas of operations.
To redress this anomaly, Ogbuku said that the complaints of the oil companies will be addressed in the 2024 budget of the commission.
He described the IOCs as critical stakeholders of the NDDC, stressing it has since engaged the companies for the development of the region.
He stated that the NDDC under his leadership had left the old ways of doing things and had embraced transparency, declaring that “this is the dawn of new era” just as he called on donor agencies to partner with the Commission to rebuild Niger Delta region.
Said he: “the rebirth of NDDC is the reason for the gathering today.
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Dr Shuaib Belgore, who declared the Policy Dialogue open, commended the NDDC, for initiating platforms for collaborative engagements with development partners, donor agencies and stakeholders towards speedy development of the Niger
Belgore said that the forum presented an opportunity to expand formal interaction with development agencies.
He stated: “The aim of this Policy Dialogue is to brainstorm on the shared mandates of the Ministry and the NDDC with you, our development partners and the private sector, on how best to collaborate and promote greater synergy for enhanced result in the overall development of the region.”
The Permanent Secretary said that engagement with partners and stakeholders was one of the many new strategies designed by the current management in NDDC and the ministry to fast-track the development of the Niger Delta region.
He noted that the Ogbia-Nembe Road, which was jointly funded by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, and the NDDC, stood out as an example of what could be achieved through partnerships.
Belgore observed that opportunities abound for partnership in the construction of roads, bridges, markets, agro-processing plants, skill acquisition centres, health centres, explaining that some of the projects had attained appreciable level of completion, while new ones could be initiated for partnership.
He said the call had become necessary to present stakeholders a window of opportunity to collectively review it’s past development effort in the region, with a view to charting a new and robust road-map premised on probity and corporate governance structure.
The Policy Dialogue Forum came out with a 15-Point Agenda to enable NDDC comprehensively address the developmental challenges of the Niger Delta region.
The focal points, articulated in a communique highlighted the need to create opportunities “for public participation to engender confidence in the activities of the commission by all stakeholders in the region.”
resolved that collaboration with Federal and State Governments in terms of project execution and work with the BRACE Commission to harmonise the development agenda of the region with states, LGs, donors and CSOs.
They stressed the need for effective stakeholder engagement with a view to making them take ownership of projects located in their respective communities, adding that there was need to strengthen the Partnership for Sustainable Development (PSD) Forum for value added partnerships.
The participants also called for More focus on the soft side of development such as livelihoods which are mostly driven by Civil Society and the need to prioritise the role of Civil Society in partnering with the NDDC towards development.
The recurring question of the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan (NDRDMP), which expired in 2020, was also highlighted.
They recommended an immediate review of the road map to meet current trends and realities.
In a lead presentation, entitled: “A Sea of Opportunities in the Niger Delta Region,” the Chairman, NDDC-PPP Committee, Engr. Emmanuel Audu-Ohwavborua, remarked that inadequate funding was a major challenge for the Commission.
He noted that the poor funding was emanating from inconsistent statutory contributions from the Federal Government, and failure of some Oil and Gas Companies operating within the region to remit their contributions in line with the provisions of the NDDC Act.
He stated that 80 per cent of the nation’s wealth currently resides in the Niger Delta, describing the region as a sea of opportunities. He assured the development partners that there was no way they could put their money in the Niger Delta and lose, explaining that for the commission to meet its targets, it was diverting its attention to private funding rather than overdependence on government.
He added that the NDDC had so far built over 5,000 kilometres of roads, comprising 42 bridges, explaining that there were currently 3,000 ongoing projects, costing over N1.5 trillion, which needed the support of development partners.
He stated that since inception, the commission has awarded contracts worth N5.2 trillion, but has only received about N2.5 trillion during the period, including overheads.
Audu-Ohwavborua told the donors and partners at the event that over N200bn worth of renewable energy projects were being worked on to attract carbon credit to the region.
He explained that the proposed Niger Delta Regional Power project would have 15 power stations streamlined to power all communities in the entire region, while the East-West coastal road with over 160 bridges was necessary because on completion, it would link the Niger Delta people who are predominantly farmers and fishermen.
He noted that access to affordable power in the region would accelerate industrial, economic growth and stimulate income generation.
In his own contribution, the NDDC Executive Director, Projects, Mr. Charles Ogunmola, emphasized the need for joint efforts in developing the Niger Delta, noting that it would not be difficult to tackle the challenges of underdevelopment alone.
Ogunmola said: “The scale of infrastructural deficiency and human development gap in the Niger Delta is enormous. We realized that we cannot do this alone. So, we decided to look at other ways to address the deficiencies.
This is the next in the series of meetings we will have with partners, to help us drive our agenda for the Niger Delta. On coming on board, we resolved that we must make a difference. I enjoin you to listen, let us reason together as you figure out how you want to partner with us in the great task ahead.”
One of the highlights of the Well-attended event was the goodwill messages from representatives of the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), European Union, British High Commission and the Embassy of the United States.
In his own goodwill message, the Director-General of the Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta, BRACED, Ambassador Joe Keshi, said what the people of the Niger Delta needed were little things to make their lives better.
He said what will be used to make the people’s lives better are there but the Nigerian leaders lack the political will to make it happen.
He urged all development agencies to join hands with the NDDC realize the partnership proposition of the Commission.
Two Panel Discussions were held on the topics: Rethinking NDDC’s Mandate in the context of Current realities in the Niger Delta; and Positioning NDDC and the Niger Delta for Renewed Donor Participation and Optimising Synergies.