NDDC AS A NARRATIVE WITH MANY PERSPECTIVES
By; Jerome-Mario Utomi
It is a general knowledge that the House of Representatives, on Thursday, screened and confirmed members of the Board and Management of the Niger Delta Development Commission nominated by President Bola Tinubu. The President had on August 29 nominated Barr. Chiedu Ebie for the position of NDDC Board Chairman alongside 16 others.
As expected, this development has elicited reactions from stakeholders and the general public. While some people hailed the action of both the president and lawmakers, noting that it is a hallmark of a renewed hope for the people of the Niger Delta region, particularly as members of the confirmed board are laced with leadership capacity to develop the Niger Delta region and assist the federal government ease the tension in the area.
Others view the emergence of the board with skepticism, to this group; it is obvious that, with the policy and strategic confusion in the Commission, and the lack of clear political will to develop the Niger Delta, the commission can do little even if it properly applied its funds. ‘The NDDC as it presently constitutes does not have the capacity and what it takes to develop the Niger Delta region. It is a political configuration. It cannot provide a concrete solution because it does not have what it takes. The multinational oil companies are not paying up their quota. So, how can they solve the problems of the Niger Delta region? They concluded.
For me, these are objective concerns. They are not political but moral issues and there exists concrete development that set stage for this protracted skepticism.
Going by reports, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was established as a response to overwhelming human deprivation in the Niger Delta. It succeeded the highly politicized, incompetent and grossly corrupt Oil Mineral Area Development Commission (OMPADEC) that was established in 1993. OMPADEC was not the first agency established in Nigeria charged with the development of the oil rich Niger Delta. In 1960, the newly independent government of Nigeria established the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB). This agency was virtually moribund.
The inspiration for the establishment of the board was based upon the recommendations of the Henry Willink Commission of 1958 that investigated the fear of minorities in Nigeria. Willink’s report stated, in part, that “the needs of those who live in the creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta are very different from those in the interior. It Is not easy for a government or legislature operating from the inland to concern itself or even fully understand the problems of a territory where communications are so difficult, building so expensive and education so scanty”.
The NDDC was therefore conceived as a fresh beginning and a more focused effort on development in the Niger Delta. Its mission is chiefly to develop the region in terms of infrastructure and human capital.
According to the NDDC Act, the commission is funded by; Federal Government contribution, which shall be equivalent to 15% of the monthly statutory allocations due to member States of the Commission from the Federation Account; Oil and Gas processing companies’ contribution of 3% of their total budget; 50% of the Ecological Fund allocations due to member states; Proceeds from other NDDC assets: and Miscellaneous sources, including, but not limited to, grants-in-aid, gifts, interests on deposits and investments, loans by Federal and State Government and any local or foreign bodies, and donations.
Considering the enormous trust and resources committed to it and the hope placed on it by both the government and the citizens of the Niger Delta, the NDDC has achieved little. This is the only possible explanation for the skepticism!
While this piece therefore, sympathizes with the people of the Niger Delta region on whose shoulder rest the burden of democracy deficits, it on the other hands believed and still believes that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu led Federal Government and of course the incoming board/administration of the Commission may have a sincere desire to move not only the agency but also the Niger Delta region forward in ways that both protect the rights of present and future generations of Niger Deltans. .
This particular notion is predicated on the fact that a peep into the list of the members of the incoming board show that they are eminently qualified public administrators. Leadership holds the key to unlocking and unleashes the right perspective of development in the Niger Delta region.
To illustrate this position, the Agbor Alidinma, Delta state born Chiedu John EBIE, is not only experienced in transformational leadership. Rather, he is perceived and described in so many quarters as transformation personified.
For instance, after 22 years of legal practice in the private sector, he transformed to the public sector with his appointment into the Delta State Government as a member of the State Executive Council and Commissioner for Basic & Secondary Education. While serving in this capacity between July 2015 to May 2019, he reportedly ensured significant reforms and improvements to bear in the primary and secondary educational sector of Delta State.
On the 3rdof June, 2019, Chiedu in a similar vein transformed to the position of Secretary to the Delta State Government. Alluding to his strong qualities and dedication to serve, during his inauguration as SSG, the then Delta state Governor made the following statement about him; “Mr. Ebie is a fine gentleman who served meritoriously as Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education in the first tenure of this administration. His civility, analytical depth, communication skills and diligence are essential qualities needed for the office of the Secretary to the State Government. In addition to these, modern statecraft, with all its complexities and challenges, requires team players, proactive leaders and men with a large appetite for work. Mr. Ebie meets these criteria and I am convinced he is well equipped to enrich the social, political and economic narrative of our dear State”. He went on to hold the position of Secretary to the State Government till the dissolution of the State Executive Council on the 18thof May, 2021.
Following his disengagement from the Delta State Government, Chiedu again transformed. This time around, he returned to the private sector where he engaged in Consultancy work with Cranston Pitt Oil & Gas Consulting Limited, while remaining actively involved in politics.
Politically, he was the convener of Delta Unity Group (DUG); a PanDelta political association promoting unity and brotherliness within the political domain of Delta State.
Also alluring and further lends credence to his capacity in the present office was his declaration before the Nigerian Senate that he garnered in the public and private Sector; values, grit and commitment necessary for the task ahead of chairing the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)if confirmed by this Senate. In his words, ‘More importantly, my public office life has afforded me the opportunity to understand the dire needs of the region particularly as SSG and Secretary of the State Security Council where issues of serious importance (such as stakeholder disputes and security in the oil bearing communities including pipeline vandalism and oil theft) were discussed at the meetings and implementation of the decisions arrived at those meetings mostly rests on the SSG’’. This piece sees no reason why someone with great leadership acumen will not pilot NDDC to safety and purpose
As an incentive to achieve this objective, the incoming board must commit to these four cardinal things; to deliver legacy projects to the people of the region. Secondly, promote computerization/automation within the agency in ways that will amplify transparency and accountability as the Commission’s hallmark. Thirdly, pay disciplined attention to youth and human capital development of the people of the region. Above all, use performance to change the narrative in some quarters which promotes the idea that appointments to the NDDC have become a matter of political cronyism and a process of capturing political votes- that because of the delicate political configuration of power in Nigeria and how this configuration has been bureaucratized, appointments and disciplining of erring officials are usually politicized. This adversely affects the capacity of the Commission to deliver on its mission.
Niger Deltans and other critical stakeholders must on their part give the incoming board needed supports.