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Recently, the Honourable Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, was a guest on ‘Politics Nationwide’, a Radio Nigeria Audience Participatory Programme. Mr. Umana, while on the programme, practically showed his brilliance in the management of public office, as he took millions of widely dispersed Radio Nigeria listeners through milestone achievements of the ministry he supervises, as well as the many impactful projects of the NDDC seen spread across communities of the nine states of the Niger Delta Region.

Established on the 10th September, 2008, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was to promote and coordinate its policies for the development, peace and security of the Niger Delta Region; to serve as the primary vehicle for the execution of government plans and programmes for the rapid socio-economic development of the region. It was also expected to execute and formulate plans and programmes, as well as coordinate the activities of agencies, communities, donors and other relevant stakeholders in the development of the Niger Delta Region.

More than 13 years now after its establishment, the question many Nigerians, especially the people of the Niger Delta Region are asking is: has the ministry achieved its mandate of engendering development, peace and security?

Mr. Umana Umana speaks on this.

Excerpts:

PRESENTER: Honourable Minister, amesiere.

MINISTER: Amesiere nde.

PRESENTER: We are looking at the topic: “ Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs: 2015 to 2022”. And the man in office is Mr. Umana Okon Umana, the Minister in-charge of that ministry. Honourable Minister, the ministry has got quite a few on going projects in the Niger Delta Region. Can they be completed before May, 2023?

MINISTER: Thank you very much. Let me first of all say that I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to come on this programme to talk about the activities of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. I want to start by, of course, putting things in context about the mandate of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs by way of some background.

You know the ministry was created in 2008 and it was part of the package that the federal government put in place to address issues of development in the Niger Delta Region. The creation of Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was one of the items in the package. You would also add the 13 percent derivation which was approved for the oil producing states in the Niger Delta Region. You had the Amnesty Programme there and also had, very significant, the establishment of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). All of these were put in place to address the developmental issues in the region. I believe that any attempt to look at the impacts would also mean that we have to see how all of these structures have come to play in addressing developmental issues. But for the ministry of Niger Delta Affairs specifically which was established in 2008, you know that the ministry, like every other ministry, has to operate within the context of budget approved on the yearly basis. For the National Assembly, this budget has specific projects which cover a number of areas.

To go back to your question: it is not really whether all these projects will be completed before May 29. It’s about the impacts of these projects; the relevance, especially what the current administration has done since May, 2015. And looking at the records of the ministry, we have projects that spread over several sectors: roads and bridges, education, agriculture, youth and women empowerment, housing, environment and so on. All of these areas are areas which impact seriously on the developmental agenda of the region.

So, from our records, we have over 872 projects. During this period – May 25 till date, these projects are the projects for which appropriation was made in the various budgets. In terms of performance, up to 60 percent of these projects have been completed. They cover roads, bridges, skills acquisition centres, housing estates. Under agriculture, we have cassava processing mills, oil palm processing mills set up in various states. As I said, we will look at the relevance and impacts of the projects. I don’t believe that just saying that all of the projects have been completed, because government would always continue even when the actors are changed. Even the 2023 budget that is being put together now, I’m sure will be transmitted soon by Mr. President and laid before the National Assembly for approval. You know the tenure of this administration will end in May, 29. So, the incoming administration will have to continue with the programmes and projects.

PRESENTER: Talking projects, Honourable Minister, the East-West Road: What is the current state of that road?

MINISTER: I believe that the East-West Road has been a defining project of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and by extension, it could also be considered as the prime project of the Niger Delta Region. It is a-338 kilometre dual carriage way which starts from Oron in Akwa Ibom State and runs through virtually all the states in the Niger Delta to Warri. It’s been on going for a while and from the records, it’s 80 percent completed. This was a very huge project, in terms of magnitude.

Last year, Mr. President, in his wisdom, directed that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs should hand this project over to the Ministry of Works and Housing. That was done. I must say that a significant segment of that road which the Ministry of Works and Housing is to address now from Eleme to Onne segment and it’s 15 kilometres stretch and it’s going to be six dual carriage way and rightly so because, this is an industrial hub where you have the Eleme Refinery, Idorama Petrochemical Plant, Notore Complex and Free Zone, the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone, Onne Port, etc. So, we look at the investment and assets in that industrial hub. It is only right that, that segment of the road be properly done. It is now the responsibility of the Ministry of Works. I know there has been an agitation by members of community, but you know that as government, we have to follow due process.

I’m aware that the Federal Ministry of Works has secured funding for that project under the Tax Liability Scheme. And it has also gone through Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and I think the stage now should be award of the contract.

So, I think that the people of the Niger Delta, especially people of that community where that section of the road traverses, they can look forward to happy days and all of the operators in that zone. I speak authoritatively, knowing that with funds now in place and with Bureau of Public Procurement having done its own bid, the contract will be awarded very soon. Not that the contract will be awarded as such. The Federal Executive Council will approve the new cost of the project, because it has become necessary to review the cost. I believe that the road project which is very critical is on course and will be completed very soon. I said 338 kilometres dual carriage way already 80 percent completed. Thank you.

PRESENTER: Mr. Umana Okon Umana, earlier on, you were talking and you made mention of housing. Tell us about the housing scheme of your ministry.

MINISTER: Well, the housing scheme; the strategy deployed by the ministry was to establish a housing estate in each of the nine states of the region and this project has been completed in virtually all the states. So, they are still trying to ensure that issues about the provisions of all the basic sites and services are concluded. The one in Akwa Ibom State had some issues about drainage and flooding which is being addressed. The one in Cross River State; the returnees from Bakassi and some other indigenes of Cross River became beneficiaries. The federal government decided that the houses should be allocated. That has been done. The strategy has changed now. Rather than continue to build houses, we will now allocate land to those who applied so that they can continue to build houses in those estates. But again, that is one project that has been done.

PRESENTER: How impactful have the ministry’s skills acquisition centres been? Tell Nigerians.

MINISTER: The skills acquisition centres, I must say, there was clearly evidence in planning that addressed specific areas of needs. For example, the one in Akwa Ibom State which should be commissioned in the next two months, focuses on oil and gas training and you know that specialised area of training is something that the youths in the region need so that they can acquire the necessary skills for the oil and gas industry. The one in Imo also addresses another area, either agriculture or something else, but I need to confirm the facts. But, l know there is one that focuses on agriculture and it’s to be handed over to a polytechnic where the students there can have maximum benefits. It’s not just enough to build. You have to make sure that it is properly utilized. So, what we are doing is that, on completion of these centres, we will hand them over to the relevant institutions in the various states so that we can be sure that they will be effectively used.

PRESENTER: Honourable Minister, what is your general assessment of this administration, in terms of projects in all areas?

MINISTER: This administration has done very well. That is why one of my key deliverables as Honourable Minister is that we are going to publish a compendium of completed projects; not only for the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, but also for the Niger Delta Development Commission. People can be very harsh in their judgement, probably based on lack of information. So, to ensure that we are solid in the area of transparency and accountability, we will have the publication for public scrutiny. And this will be made available to all the stakeholders in the region. This is something that should be coming up by next month. As I said, it will stretch beyond the Ministry to cover Niger Delta Development Commission, based on the report of the forensic audit which identified thirteen thousand six hundred and seventy -two projects as projects that have been embarked upon. Out of this number, about 50 percent of those projects, over six thousand and something, by that report of forensic audit, were said to have been completed. I have directed that, following up on that report, publish a compendium of completed projects in the nine states – sector-by- sector with locations, dates of award of contracts and costs to enhance accountability and transparency. I think Nigerians will be marvelled that this administration has done a lot in the areas of roads, bridges and in other sectors I have listed already. As I said, it is not enough to just come on this radio programme and speak and leave. We will leave behind documents and records which will list all of the projects completed between May, 2015 up to the end of this administration.

PRESENTER: In retrospect, is there anything you think could have been done differently?

MINISTER: Yes! I believe clearly that there is room for improvement and if we even look at the budget processes, I believe we could have done better, in terms of budget processes, because sometimes, when budgets request goes to the National Assembly, we end up having too many projects and the resources are spread too thinly. So, we could have done better in terms of prioritization and allocation of resources.

I also think that another area has to do with the need to strengthen collaboration and partnership with other stakeholders with state governments in the region. Just recently when we had the meeting of the National Council on Niger Delta in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, I did say that we would ensure that we collaborate a lot more with the state governments and that it was wrong for the NDDC, for example, to go and start projects in any state without discussing with various state governments. If you go and start something, you may be duplicating projects and wasting efforts and resources and may not even fit into the development plan of the various states. So, I believe we did not do too well in the area of partnership and collaboration. Now, it’s one area we are working on, and moving forward, I believe that we will have some improvement in this area.

CALLER: Good morning. My name is Chief Fidan Onyemeke and I’m calling from Owerri in Imo State. Honourable Minister, l salute you, Sir. Let me say that, while appreciating the work you are doing in the Niger Delta Region, there is need for you to look into this issue of pollution. First of all, we have this case of illegal refineries which are in a lot of places. These refineries have caused a lot of problems to states and environments. I want to quickly suggest that you raise this issue at the Federal Executive Council so that licences can be granted to the people from the Niger Delta Region to run modular refineries or what you call artisanal refineries, rather than see them as illegal things and continue to punish them and even kill people. When they are given licences, it will reduce the problem of petroleum shortages that we have in the present day Nigeria and will also create employment for the people.

Now, on the issue of housing, compensation should be paid to those whose land were acquired and distributed to people to either build houses or so, while the houses already built by the federal government should be distributed to genuine people. There are poor people in the various rural areas who don’t have roof over their heads. Such houses should be given to them as a sort of poverty alleviation programme; and not when you build houses and you say you are building estate and bring people who may not come from that area and allocate such houses to them. Let the rural women, widows and others be given small houses. Build for them so they can have a place they call their own. Thank you and God bless.

MINISTER: Thank you very much, Chief. Your points are well noted and I want to agree with you that we have to deal promptly and decisively with this issue of illegal Refinery – the refining of petroleum product which has led to massive pollution in the area. The federal government is looking at this already and know that this issue is an issue that cuts across several ministries and agencies of the federal government. It is being addressed and I believe that even the recommendation you have put forward is also on the table for consideration. So, I want to thank you for bringing this up.

On the issue of housing, I gave an example of Cross River State where the houses were allocated to Bakassi returnees. So, what you have suggested is already being done and we will follow up to ensure that when the ones in other states are allocated, what you have recommended will be taken into accounts. Once again, I thank you.

CALLER: Good morning, Honourable Minister. It’s radio mama calling from Delta State. Compliments of the season. It is true that in Buhari’s Administration, in terms of infrastructure, he has done a lot. It is just that the insecurity has overshadowed it. My concern is: any infrastructural development ignores human capital development is not good enough. For instance, ASUU being on strike for over seven months. On the Independence Day, I saw President Buhari when he talked about it and said let him tell us what he would offer to them. But, he just said: ‘ go back to classroom’. I wasn’t impressed with that.

Honourable Minister, what I want to ask you about Niger Delta; I watched on television; some of the militants are not happy the way APC government has not fulfilled their promise. They said they would build modular refineries, but up until now, they have not done anything about it.

I want to know: what is your intention? How are you going to address the issue once and for all?

CALLER: Good morning, the Honourable Minister. My name is Chidi Onyeka, calling from Anambra State. For me, I think the NDDC has tried, but where I’m concerned is that most of the projects they are doing are being abandoned and this multiple accounts of NDDC where sometimes, they would say they have over two hundred accounts. I thinks all those things are disturbing the development of the commission. If I were to suggest, I would say that let them scrap NDDC and have South- South Development Commission, instead of this NDDC, so that Abia and Imo States would join South-East Development Commission. This will make it zonal and in line with state governments’ programmes. A lot of projects that they are doing are not in line with the state governments’ programmes. So, they should reform the NDDC.

CALLER: Good morning. I’m Jude Uguajala, calling from Imo State. I want to urge the minister to spearhead the move to increase the derivation percentage given to the oil producing areas, in line with the Petroleum Industry Act and to prevail on the federal government to jettison any move to remove the Amnesty Programme started by the late Yar’adua Administration. Any attempt will further aggravate the insecurity situation in the region, particularly and the country at large. Prevention they say, is better than cure. The region is indeed the golden hen that lays the golden egg for our overall national development and cannot afford to be delegated to the background in the scheme of governance of this country.

Let me begin by commending the previous administration that eventually set up the Niger Delta Ministry and indeed the present administration for funding it to invigorating it to an unprecedented level that has gradually given rise to the many development recorded by the ministry so far.

CALLER: Good morning, Sir. Ibrahim from Kwara State. Well, the issue of Niger Delta is that the problem is within that region. The gurus there don’t allow whatever that is given to be used judiciously and if this does not change, the problem will continue. This is because they hijack everything in the name of politics and what have you.

The way forward is that the leaders of the Niger Delta should be God-fearing, sincere and transparent so that whatever that is given to them by the federal government can be used judiciously.

MINISTER: Thank you very much. One of the callers, Chidi brought back the issue of illegal refinery which I had addressed already. So, I don’t think I want to comment any further on that.

On the abandoned projects of the NDDC and multiple accounts that Onyeka brought up, I believe that the institution of the forensic audit by the administration of President Mohammadu Buhari was to look at the issues of abandoned projects; the lack of following the procurement rules in the award of contracts which led to all of the problems. We are waiting for the white paper on the findings of the forensic audit, but I can say the fact that the federal government is taking a decisive action and it is already paying dividends. The findings, even before the white paper, some of the recommendations have been implemented in phases. For example, over four thousand and something projects were identified as projects that had been awarded, but work has not commenced. So, the federal government has taken a decision to terminate all those contracts because they just add up to the portfolio of projects not executed by the commission. So, the process of terminating those contracts are on going and I believe that post forensic audit, and with the NDDC under the ministry which I oversee, we will ensure that sanity returns to the way business is conducted by the commission. I want to assure that we will faithfully implement the decisions of government on the forensic audit report. If we had followed the procurement law and due process, I don’t think we would have this litany of abandoned projects.

When contracts are awarded without regards for availability of funds for budget provisions, we end up with this kind of situations. Moving forward, we will make sure that sanity is returned. I also would like to say that on multiple accounts, this is no longer applicable. You know that of the first major decisions of Present Muhammadu Buhari administration was the policy of Treasury Single Account (TSA) and all MDAs were directed to close all of their accounts and then open the TSA with the Central Bank of Nigeria. NDDC complied the same way all other MDAs complied. So, that is no longer applicable. This is still part of the restoration process and the need to ensure that sanity, transparency and accountability and the real improvement in the governance process that we are going to find in the NDDC.

PRESENTER: Earlier on, you made reference to the issue of duplication. Now, NDDC communities and other stakeholders are interested in the development of the Niger Delta Region. How does your ministry handle issues like these?

MINISTER: The issue of duplication will no longer arise, with the new framework which focuses on collaboration and partnership. So, moving forward, we will bring everybody to the table and share information so that whatever the ministry is doing will be shared with all of other critical stakeholders and of course, the new template of consultation and involvement of the state governments: consultation before projects are embarked upon, would even involving the state governments in the monitoring during the process of execution. I believe that with the new template that I have directed should be put in place, we will have better outcomes.

PRESENTER: Honourable Minister, I know that the clean up on Ogoni Land is under the Ministry of Environment, but as a ministry in -charge of the development of the region, what have you done to ensure the success of that project?

ANSWER: Yes, it is under the Ministry of Environment, but I want to say that in the inter -ministerial structure set up to address this issue, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is also represented. So, we are part of that structure put in place by the federal government to deal with the Ogoni clean up. Ministry of Environment is driving it, but it is not only about the Ministry of Environment. The approach to deliver on this job is inter-ministerial.

CALLER: Good morning. My name is Thank -God Peter Offong. I’m calling from Calabar. First, I want to thank the Minister for the work he has done so far. I want to talk about local content and the NDDC.

I know the road to Akwa Ibom from Calabar is in progress, but the other road in Port Harcourt which the Minister has already mentioned; more effort should be put in that aspect because one, it is causing real hold- up in that axis. And secondly, the issue of local content, I believe that local content should bring in people of the Niger Delta to have local companies to enable us to grow in our country and our region. But, in the other way round, at least I have seen a local content, with headquarters in Abuja and Bayelsa. I found out that very difficult for we who are the Niger Deltans to benefit from it. I have a company and like one or two years now, I have about 180 workers who work under me. I believe if they can allow local content to operate and allow indigenes of the region to bring in local content, it will improve the region.

CALLER: Good morning. My name is comrade Mazi Patrick Okoroafor, calling from Aruchukwu, Abia State. I wish to call on the authority, let’s see what we can do to complete some of these outstanding projects. For example, Aruchukwu Road from Ohafia; the road has been there since after the Civil War. Contractors would come and go and the road is still hanging. In Ikono Local Government Area in Akwa Ibom State, there is a bridge between Aruchukwu and the area – Ukana Bridge. Thank God the governor of Akwa Ibom State has done it, but the road there is NDDC project.

Honourable Minister, Sir, I would like you to look into Federal University of Technology hostels. There is enough land for NDDC to build hostels for the students. Each room was meant to accommodate four students, but how many of them do we have? About eight or ten which is not good.

And the issue of compensation to communities, Honourable Minister, it is not good when a project is on and you see youths coming to disturb contractors; create more problems. I would suggest that anytime a project is to be cited, involve the traditional leaders, youth leaders and religious leaders from the project community. Let them be part and parcel of the contract. Thank you.

CALLER: My name is Abubakar Ibrahim Isa. I’m calling from Borno State. Everyone is appreciating the Honourable Minister for what the NDDC is doing, but see our own – the North-East Development Commission, we can’t say we are benefiting from it.

MINISTER: Thank you. The question on local content: I will advise my brother to familiarize himself with how the agency that handles local content involves Nigerians. It would be wrong based on one personal example to write off a programme that has been very impactful and I would also request to ensure that the Executive Secretary who is running that agency is brought here so that he can let Nigerians know the impact created by the agency by ensuring that Nigerians are seriously involved in the oil and gas sector. And I think the local content policy should be expanded beyond the oil and gas sector, but I know that we have made tremendous progress arising from the programmes and structures put in place by the local content agency. So, it is not enough to just stay at home and think that you have been excluded. You need to find out what you need to do so that you can be part of what is going on.

On roads, bridges and so on, there is a process and every project has to be captured in the budget and there has to be some appropriation made. And in the process of putting up the budget, the ministry usually gets input from various communities. Letters are written to the ministry from communities and then based on those letters, the technical team would visit those locations and in the end, the projects end up in the budget. It’s an on going process. There is no way you would have all the roads or bridges in all the communities in one budget. And when you look at the number – a thousand five hundred projects completed between May 2005 and now. These projects you will find in the compendium we are publishing soon. A lot more projects are on going and some of them which may not be completed will continue even when the next administration comes in.

I want to agree with Comrade Patrick who called in. But what is being done today is not different. You cannot go anywhere and start a project without involving the communities. Usually, the contractors would ensure that there is someone appointed who will liaise between the contractor and the community. That is the procedure now, but as I said, we will take it to the next level of ensuring that state governments are more involved because when they are more involved, the issues of land are solved and we can also get the governments to help the ministry and the NDDC, through collaborative effort, to deal with some of these issues, even the problem of compensation.

If NDDC conceives a project and a state government is involved based on partnership, state government can say ok, we will take up compensation. This is what we are looking forward to.

PRESENTER: Honourable Minister, you had earlier observed that some people can be harsh in the assessment of the accomplishment of your ministry due to lack of information. Can you say the ministry is accessible with information about its projects?

MINISTER: There is a website which Nigerians can access and get information about the activities of the ministry and the same also applies to the NDDC. As I said, that is not enough. That is why we are going to publish a compendium of projects to strengthen transparency and accountability. That compendium will give the locations of the projects, costs, the scope and when they were completed. These will be circulated for public scrutiny. This is being addressed already. I gave a timeline. I said next month, we will launch the compendium.

PRESENTER: In thirty seconds, what do have to say to Niger Deltans?

MINISTER: I believe that efforts of the federal government in putting structures to address developmental issues in the region have been impactful. It could have been better, but I don’t think it would be fair to write off the efforts of all the structures federal has put in place. Thank you.

https://www.newtelegraphng.com/we-are-working-to-strengthen-transparency-and-accountability-in-nddc-minister-of-niger-delta-affairs/

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