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By Michael Jegede
THE task before the newly inaugurated board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) led by former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba is, no doubt, quite enormous. The commission under the chairmanship of Ndoma-Egba with the former Deputy Governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Mr. Nsima Udo Ekere as the Managing Director (MD), has to quickly hit the ground running to reposition the interventionist agency for better performance and improved service delivery.
The agency was set up in 2000 by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo with “the mission of facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.” The NDDC is generally believed to have consistently failed to perform, and as such, had not lived up to expectations in the fulfillment of its mandate.
This is why many have stressed the need for the new board headed by Ndoma-Egba to strive hard to make a significant difference in the actualization of the core mandate of the commission, so as to pave way for the overall development of the oil-rich region. To bring meaningful and sustainable development to the region, the new board inaugurated on November 4, 2016 must work out modalities for the proper implementation of the NDDC master plan.
The Special Assistant to Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State on NDDC affairs, Mr. Victor Ekpo, for instance, had noted that the master plan has been discarded for years, maintaining that the time has come for it to be duly implemented in the interest of the Niger Deltans. Ekpo said the region has not seen development because the master plan, which according to him, “is all embracing, capturing several projects and programmes,” has been recklessly ignored. Ayade’s aide charged the new board to go into the archives and “look into the NDDC master plan and implement it because it will help develop the Niger Delta and take the boys off the creeks and check current level of militancy and pipeline vandalism.”
The assessment of abandoned NDDC projects is very paramount as the new board settles down for work. This should be done with a view to ensuring that contractors return to site without delay for the purpose of completing such projects. The worth of projects in the Niger Delta areas that have been abandoned is said to be over 1 trillion naira.
According to its 2016 first quarterly report, presented in Abuja in June by the acting Managing Director, Mrs Ibim Semenitari, who has just stepped down with the inauguration of the Ndoma-Egba-led board, the commission awarded a total of 8,557 infrastructure development projects valued at N2.4 trillion between 2001and March 18, 2016.
The report indicated that 3,454 projects worth N441 billion reached completion out of the total number of contracts awarded within the specified period. It disclosed that the projects were awarded in the areas of roads, bridges, jetty and shore protection, canalization and reclamation, electricity and power, water and buildings, food control and equipping and furnishing.
The report further said: “Of the total number of infrastructure projects awarded, about 250 are regarded as mega projects, that is, projects with cost ranging from N500 million to N24 billion. There are 2,257 ongoing projects totaling N1.2 trillion in value, while 292 others worth N81 billion were either stalled or abandoned. During the period under review, the commission terminated a total number of 49 projects valued at N1.9 billion. Other agencies of government took over 29 projects with a total contract sum of N16 billion from the NDDC.”
The chairman of the previous NDDC board dissolved by Buhari in December 2015, Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw had said in July last year that they inherited over 7,000 abandoned projects spread across the nine states in the Niger Delta region when they came into office in December 2013. Ewa-Henshaw pointed out that scanty release of fund, which in his words, contravenes section 14, sub-section 2 (a) and (c), had been the major challenge confronting the commission.
The former chairman further explained that the NDDC Act requires the Federal Government (FG) to contribute an equivalent of 15% of the monthly statutory allocations to the nine member states, lamenting that the commission has never gotten its fair share in terms of funding since it was established. It was revealed at the 2016 edition of the Partnership for Sustainable Development (PSD) held recently in Port Harcourt that the interventionist body in the Niger Delta region is owed over N900 billion as computed from actual amount the FG ought to have remitted from oil revenues, ecological funds, state contributions and 3% of oil budgets of oil companies. Notwithstanding the said unpaid monies accruing to the NDDC as contributions, many observers have contended that funds from budgetary allocations and other sources made available to the commission from inception have not been judiciously applied for proper execution of projects for the betterment of the Niger Delta people. It has been argued that corruption, mismanagement and poor implementation of development plan were the bane of the agency, and not paucity of fund. So, the new board must do much to entrench transparency and accountability in the running of the affairs of the NDDC to engender developments in the region.
A situation where a large percentage of contracts awarded by NDDC did not follow due process calls for serious concern. How does one explain the recent revelation by the Senate Public Accounts Committee that the management of the NDDC could not provide evidence of approval for 1,691 contracts, out a total of 1,697 contracts awarded by the commission between 2014 and 2016. The new board, therefore, has a duty to correct the irregularities in the award of NDDC contracts and restore dignity to the commission. It is only when due process is strictly followed in the award of contracts that fraud can be grossly minimized.
The new board headed by Ndoma-Egba should also create a template for the equitable distribution of projects among the states of the region and constitute a team for the monitoring, inspection and follow-up of projects to ensure efficiency and reduce the cases of project abandonment. It is believed that with fairness and equity in the distribution of projects in line with the NDDC Act, there will be no room for complaint of neglect by any area or state in the Niger Delta axis.
Jegede writes from Abuja