By Evelyn Udobia
By its mandate, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, among other responsibilities, superintends the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which has grappled with seemingly unending controversies since it was established. Successive federal governments have through the Ministry, interpreted and implemented their masterplan for the development of the Niger Delta region. Since coming on board in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari has severally assured that his intention for the region are sincere and has demonstrated same through many of his decisions and actions.
First thing first, Mr Buhari’s appointment of Obong Umana Umana as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs underscores the President’s quest for excellence and desire for results. Mr Umana, whom until his elevation, was the Managing Director of Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA), has vast experience in public service and a rare administrative finesse. With a career spanning over 30 years, Umana has the reputation to curry favour across the region as well as gain the trust of the various interest groups in the region. His ministerial appointment is a huge boost for the federal government and the search for lasting solutions to the problems of the region.
“I had the privilege to serve with you in the government of Akwa Ibom State. You worked tirelessly day and night, and you were the engine room of that administration,” Mr Nsima Ekere, former Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), said in his goodwill message to Obong Umana Umana at the reception ceremony in honour of Umana’s appointment as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. “I can say it irrevocably that you were not just the engine room but you were even the consultant to the government.”
Both Ekere and Umana served in the administration of former Governor Godswill Akpabio in Akwa Ibom State as Deputy Governor and Secretary to the State Government, respectively. As key members of the then state executive council, they are in the best place to give each other’s service testimonial and even those of other officials who served with them in the administration. Ekere further said that nobody has ever contested the “engine room” moniker given to Umana because his contributions to the government was so distinctively clear.
In essence, President Buhari’s appointment of Mr Umana as Minister of Niger Delta has provided the region someone who will truly be a rallying point for the people as well as a reliable bridge between the government and the people. This is a major in the federal government’s quest to find lasting solutions to the plethora of problems in the region.
Secondly, the Niger Delta Ministry since swung into full gear under the new leadership with a renewed commitment to achieving its mandate. Recall that in his brief speech during a reception ceremony held in his honour, Mr Umana had said that his focus will be directed towards result-oriented and impactful activities within his short period in the ministry, and added that his tenure in the ministry will leave indelible footprints that will make President Buhari and Nigerians proud. “Though the time is short, we can hit the ground running by making the necessary impact. We’ll be driven by results.”
Already, the Umana Umana led Ministry in collaboration with NDDC has developed a clear and urgent action plan of strategic ideas to be implemented in the short term, mid-term and long term. Critical among the action plan include compilation/publication of list of all completed projects in the NDDC awaiting payments for public scrutiny, stakeholders’ forum to review the existing templates for project delivery, prioritization of project execution and payments that deliver up the most impact for the country, new focus in project execution to shift to “security, health, education, water and road infrastructure”, implementation of recommendations of review of the Forensic Audit Report into the operations of the NDDC, and constitution of the board of the NDDC in line with extant law, among others.
A careful look into this action plan would reveal that the Ministry is presently poised to correct the abnormalities in NDDC that have been a major contributor to the many problems of the Commission. With a Niger Delta Ministry that is now committed to ensuring transparency and accountability in NDDC, there is more than just hope on the horizon for the region but a new era of accelerating growth and sustainable development is already setting in for the people of the region. Although there is only a little time for the Buhari led administration, it is clear that the President’s masterstroke in the Niger Delta Ministry is one that will bring results that will outlive the administration.