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By Dan Etokidem, NDMN

On July 12, 2000, the Niger Delta Development Commission Act 2000 No 6 was enacted. The new law provided for the repeal of the Oil, Mineral Producing Areas Commission Decree 1998, and among other things, establish a new Commission with a re-organised management and administrative structure for more effectiveness; and for the use of the sums received from the allocation of the Federation Account to tackling ecological problems which arise from the exploration of oil minerals in the Niger-Delta area and for connected purposes.

The NDDC was set up to among others tackle ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil mineral in the Niger Delta region and advising the Federal Government and the member states on the prevention and control of oil spillages, gas flaring and environmental pollution.

Its vision and mission; to offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta Region and to facilitate the rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.

This was followed by a Regional Master plan which was basically conceived as a tool that the millions of people of the Niger Delta Region can use to actualize their common vision and build their future to the standard they desire. The Master Plan was designed to offer stakeholders at all levels (individual, group and community) the opportunity to participate fully in the planning and decision making process.

The Master Plan was designed to covered 24 core areas which include Demography, Environment and hydrology, Agriculture and aquaculture, Biodiversity, Transport (infrastructure), Rural, urban, regional planning and housing, Community Development, Governance and capacity development, Health, Small and medium enterprises, Water supply and Energy (electricity).

Others include Telecommunication, Vocational training (with focus on employment generation), Waste management and sanitation, Large-scale industry, Solid minerals, Tourism, Social welfare, Arts, Sports and Culture, Women and Youth employment, Conflict prevention, Financial instruments and access as well as Investment promotion.

The Commission was tasked with the mandate to help in Conflict Resolution in the Niger Delta Region, develop of the Niger Delta Area, help in Poverty alleviation, fostering peace and unity among the member states, fast track in adressing issues of national interest as it concerns the Niger Delta, formulate and finance Special Intervention Programmes in the region, create a direct interface between Niger Delta, the federal government, and other regions of the Nation, and partner with various oil mineral and gas prospecting and producing companies on issues of pollution, prevention and control just to ensure a thorough cleanup of the oil production areas in cases of oil flooding to avoid harm to farms and other agricultural outlets.

While it is true that NDDC’s projects falls under several categories such as buildings, canalization, consultancy, design, desilting, dredging, electricity, equipment, furnishing, ICT, Jetty, NGO, Program, Reclamation/Shore Protection, Roads/Bridges, Supply, Vendor, and Water Supply, the Commission has been synonymous with grand corruption and inefficiency, a further pointer to the fact that the problem with the NDDC is not the Act establishing it but more of the the implementation of the Act and the mismanagement of the Act by the political class who have turned the commission into a conduit pipe for political purposes.

Also, like the NDDC, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA) was created on September 10, 2008 to promote and coordinate policies for the development, peace and security of the Niger Delta Region.

The MNDA was meant to serve as the primary vehicle for the execution of Government’s plans and programmes for rapid socio-economic development of the Region.

It was also expected to formulate and execute plans, programmes and other initiatives as well as coordinate the activities of Agencies, Communities, Donors and other relevant Stakeholders involved in the development of the Niger Delta Region.

But the Ministry since inception has remained toothless and immobile, unable to translate the vision of its conceptualization into reality and many will point to the East West Road whose non completion has defied all logic of road construction as a reference point of the Ministry’s failure.

The way forward

Since its creation in 2000, the NDDC is seen more as a platform by politicians to get themselves empowered financially seek other elective positions by using it as a launch pad to contest the gubernatorial elections of their respective States.

From Mr Timi Alaibe to Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, from Chief Basey Dan-Abia to Obong Nsima Ekere the story remains the same. This pattern no doubt has distracted the Commission from realizing and fulfilling it’s core mandate for the benefit of the region.

This must change.

It is reassuring that President Muhammadu Buhari has appointed an astute administrator and technocrat, Mr Umana Okon Umana as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs with supervisory role over the NDDC. That is not the good news. The good news however, is that Umana is not eyeing any elective position in 2023 which automatically removes the pressure associated with having appointees who are desperate to rip off the NDDC to benefit their political aspirations.

The new Minister therefore owes himself, the government and the country the sacred duty of ensuring that a new NDDC board is not only constituted but is composed in such a manner and form that nominees or appointees are not driven by the usual desire and passion of using the office to oil future political aspirations but people who are desirous to serve the people by helping to interprete the vision of the commission.

Umana also owes Nigeria the obligation of initiating radical and disruptive innovation and reforms that will see to the overhaul of the process at which NDDC projects are conceptualized, initiated, financed and executed. A situation that projects with no direct or immediate bearing, impact and significance to the lives of the benefiting communities should be discouraged while citizens and community buy-in must be the new normal.

There is also the urgent need to place premium on project supervision because the litany of poorly executed projects that litter the region can be safely attributed to poor project supervision and connivance with corrupt officials who offer certification for jobs not done or completed. If the community are carried along from inception to completion, they will feel obliged to also monitor project execution to guarantee quality, sustainability and durability and guard against vandalisation.

The enviaged reforms may not be easy especially since it will entail going against powerful forces who may fight back in a manner that may be ferocious, deadly and menacing. This is where courage on the part of the President, the Minister and relevant Stakeholders comes in.

It is heartwarming that the new Ministerial Action Plan under Obong Umana Umana includes the Compilation/Publication of list of all completed projects in the NDDC awaiting payments for public scrutiny, a stakeholders’ forum to review the existing templates for project delivery, the suspension of all further award of contracts on water hyacinths in the Niger Delta which was one of the way corruption was “legalized” in NDDC, the mplementation of recommendations of review of the Forensic Audit Report into the operations of the NDDC and most importantly, the Constitution of the board of the NDDC in line with extant law to end the fragrant violation of the law establishing the NDDC by a government that is meant to uphold the law.

Another area of reform should be in prompt payment of contractors who have delivered on the job. Keeping contractors almost for a decade before payment, at times, due to partisan differences does add to the difficulty in ease of doing busiess in the region which affects and negates the policy of private sector participation in job creation aimed at poverty alleviation.

Though it is just nine months left before the terminal date of the Buhair administration, but a serious administration can still begin the commencement of surgical reforms that will reposition both the NDDC and MNDA for effective service delivery. Can Buhari and Umana make the difference? Time will tell.

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