By Ukpong Ukpong
The people of Niger Delta have high expectations from the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. They are confident that being a continuation of the All Progressives Congress, APC, government this administration will strive to complete lofty plans began by its predecessor as articulated in the party’s manifesto for the region.
Based on that hope, leaders and some prominent groups have set agenda for the president with priority given to enabling the reformed Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, to work for the people. Other expectations include completion of the East-West road, revival of seaports, fixing the coastal roads, continuation of cleanup of communities affected by decades of oil exploitation and security. Also, considering recent removal of subsidy for premium motor spirit, the people demand urgent revival of the Warri and Port Harcourt refineries among others.
On NDDC, the concensus among Niger Deltans is that the commission be funded to commence its constitutional mandate without further delay. The president has demonstrated right from his inaugural speech the capacity to act decisively and timely on urgent issues of national importance. If he could dispatch the fuel subsidy palaver that haunted his predecessor for eight years with three simply words, “subsidy is gone”, then it’s expected that he should address the grossly under funding of NDDC so that it can carry out its core mandate. Keep in mind that funding the commission is a silver bullet that could bring solution to myriad of development deficits within the region.
Mr. President will find that in order to restore the confidence of the citizens from Niger-Delta areas in the oneness of the Nigerian nation, he must tackle concerns of marginalization resulting from slow pace of development in the region. Also, the fact that NDDC has not received budgetary allocations from 2021 till date because it was without a governing board adds to the long list of grievances. Unfortunately, now there is a substantive board, the commission’s budget defence was suspended pending the outcome of a senate probe of alleged unauthorized spending.
Honestly speaking, the foregoing is perceived as an excuse to keep starving the commission of funds. Development of the Niger Delta continues to suffer in the face of this melodrama as such the president should call the warring parties to order. NDDC is not a stage for soap opera and the people have grown tired of these unfounded allegations and counter allegations. That said, this so-called ‘investigation’ seems primarily targeted at naming and shaming certain persons without a real effort to find a lasting solution.
The current management of NDDC should be given a chance to prove itself having shown that it is ready to work. Yes, there maybe differences among members of the board which is normal among people from diverse background that is why the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is required to keep the management of NDDC focused on delivering the mandate. Realities on ground forced government to supervise operations of the board, which actually blurs the act establishing the commission nevertheless the board deserves to be empowered not emasculated.
Keep in mind that members of the board are drawn from leadership of APC from various states, making it an appendage of the party. They are the final product of painstaking process of reforms by the last administration in response to appeals and agitations by leaders and people of Niger Delta to overhaul the NDDC.
Former president Buhari cleaned the proverbial Augean stable and delivered a commission that will work for the people. Specifically, after two years of auditing the commission to unravel how trillions allocated to it since its establishment had been utilized, he then directed the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to execute a 10-point action plan aimed to reposition and retool the commission, culminating in the constitution of a governing board for the commission in accordance to extant laws.
The carefully selected board, comprising experienced technocrats and loyal party stalwarts has been on the go right from day one with the message of renewal and rebirth. At a public-private-partnership (PPP) summit, recently organized by the board in Lagos, to project its novel plan to seek alternative funding, the Managing Director of NDDC, Dr. Samuel Ogbuku, admitted that there is a paradigm shift from competing against to collaborating with stakeholders inorder to shoulder the enormous responsibilities of developing the Niger Delta region.
Ogbuku hinted that there is a conscious effort to ensure that all investment partners and stakeholders are on the same page henceforth, saying “we have resolved to make an all-inclusive budget that accommodates the interests of all key players in the Niger Delta region. To achieve this, we have charged our Budget Committee to give stakeholders the opportunity to tell the NDDC the kind of projects they want in their areas, so that they can be included in our budget.”
The region expects President Tinubu to give the commission required funding and support needed to achieve set objectives, having just emerged from rigorous reforms which according to the former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, was to engender opportunities for real development since real development cannot be underaken by a government institution has trust deficit. Presently, the NDDC is run on the template of global best practices in public governance thus able to attract genuine investors and development partners as evidenced during its recent PPP summit.
Finally, the APC manifesto, which Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as a national leader inspired, promises to pursue the continuous well-being of the inhabitants of the Niger Delta area, and take measures to address the long overlooked challenges of environmental devastation and mass poverty among the people whose land lays the golden egg. Drawing from this manifesto, Niger Deltans expect that as president his administration will pay special attention to funding and operational efficiency of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.