From Joe Effiong, Uyo
The managing director and chief executive officer Chief of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Dr. Sam Ogbuku, could not have captured the realities of the commission better when he said: “To succeed, we must remain committed to doing things differently from the past. We must move from the era, where we express a determination to making a difference in the Niger Delta, to actually making that difference.”
Everybody seems to have one or two stories to tell about the NDDC and sometimes, most of the contents or the entirety of most of the stories is coloured in the negative, thereby blurring the tremendous achievements of the commission since it came into existence some 23 years ago.
Apparently realising that the commission might not have actually made much difference, the new management of the agency is working hard to change the strategies and ensure that the narratives of the commission, henceforth, are not only coloured good, but are also seen to be good. So, in the fourth week of August, 2023, the team made what now appears like its annual pilgrimage to Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, to cross the T’s and dot the I’s of its 2024 budget.
The parley was in collaboration with the stakeholders of the commission, hence the theme: “Partners for Sustainable Development (PSD) Forum: NDDC 2024 Budget of Reconstruction Conference.” The PSD includes all the nine states of the Niger Delta region, the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and donor agencies.
The Executive Director, Finance and Administration of the Commission, Major Gen. Charles Airhiavbere (retd), enunciated the reason for the conference, thus: “We have gathered here today to give an account of the process that the Niger Delta Development Commission has undertaken in the preparation of its 2024 proposed budget. The budget cycle of the NDDC started in April 2023, with the inauguration of the Management Budget Committee, and the eventual issuance of the NDDC 2024 budget guidelines by the MD/CEO.
“The 2024 budget of the Niger Delta Development Commission is christened, ‘the Budget of Reconstruction.’ The philosophy behind this is that since 2018, this is the first time that the full budgeting cycle of the commission was strictly followed by the system, and also the first time that the full commitment of the executive management to do what is right is at play.
“This represents a fresh start for the commission and attempts to return it to its original mandate. The strategy to achieve the “Budget of Reconstruction” is a multi-pronged approach.”
Airhiavbere said the gathering was for critical stakeholders to review, harmonize and adopt the budget for onward transmission to the national assembly via the presidency for approval.
“This exercise we are holding today is in fulfillment of this present Executive Management’s promise to the Niger Delta people that the NDDC budget would be participatory and transparent,” he said.
Ogbuku was not economical with the true position of the agency since its inception with regard to meeting the yearnings of the people of the Niger Delta and other stakeholders. He traced attempts to improve the budgeting process of the commission to when, for the first time in the history of the Niger Delta, governors of the nine states, through their officials, worked with other stakeholders to build a synergy with the agency towards streamlining their 2008 budgets for optimum delivery of development initiatives.
But, as laudable as the initiative was, it suffered an untimely death as it could not even last as long as the Niger Delta Master Plan, which equally expired in 2020. However, he said the Commission was laying a fresh foundation for the kind of partnership needed to facilitate regional sustainable development.
“Our vision as management is founded on this kind of leadership. In the past few months since our appointment, we have continued to erect a veritable platform upon which this partnership must thrive. As I have earlier noted, it is public knowledge that inadequate funding ranks very high among the numerous challenges of the commission.
“Consequently, we are promoting the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model in order to provide an alternative source for key development projects and programmes. This initiative aligns with the NDDC mandate, as well as the sustainable development goals 17, which focuses on partnerships.
“This model is designed to communicate a new phase for the commission, which will create a new gateway of opportunities for foreign and local investors, captains of industry and multinational agencies. Working together, we will build a new Niger Delta that fulfills the mandate of the NDDC, and of a region that is indeed socially stable, economically prosperous, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful,” he said.
He described the conference as vital because it helped to revive the platform for the PSD forum earlier created as part of the regional master plan implementation guidelines, to bring all service providers and project implementers to the same table.
Ogbuku said the conference also afforded all the stakeholders the opportunity and incentive to pool their resources together, as well as initiate projects and programmes within the obligatory goal of building a better region and empowering the people.
“In the end, we all will be in a better position to achieve the different aspects and levels of our collective mandate to facilitate the sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region of our shared aspirations and dreams.” Ogbuku said.
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Dr. Shuaib Belgore, was full of praise to the management of the commission for the initiatives, which he said, had not happened in a long while and the first since the ministry started supervising the Commission.
Belgore admitted that the NDDC budgets over the years have been faced with challenges, which include belated submission, and delayed approvals, among others, leading to low/poor implementation, which the conference intended to address.
He said: “I will encourage the Commission to continue to evolve and adopt a budgetary process that is in tandem with the stipulated provisions of the relevant Establishment Act. Sections 18 and 19 of the NDDC Act, require the Commission’s Board to submit a budget proposal of a succeeding year, not later than September 30, of the current year, thus the 2024 budget of the Commission ought to be submitted by September 30, 2023.
“The Commission is procedurally to submit its budget proposal to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, which submits to the President and Commander-in-Chief after scrutiny and review. Upon submission, the President then transmits it to the National Assembly.”
According to him, the way forward is to embrace robust and innovative pathways anchored on transparency and stakeholders’ participation towards the right-budgeting, thus maximizing the available resources to address the most critical needs of the people.
The permanent secretary promised that on their part as the supervising ministry, charged with the responsibility of coordinating the overall developmental efforts and activities in the Niger Delta region, they would always provide and avail the Commission of all necessary assistance needed to ensure the passage of their annual budgets, and consistent flow of statutory contributions from the federal government.
At the end of the conference, participants made some suggestions as captured in the communique, some of which were that the Commission should operate a lean budget that would allow and enable her to commence and complete projects within a certain and realistic budget cycle. They also said that the budget of the commission should have a spread to cover the several ethnic nationalities and communities in the region.
“For the 2025 budget, less of new projects should be captured in order to ensure a quick completion of all ongoing projects under the 2024 budget. The timeline for the payment of contractors should not exceed 45 days, allowing a 15-day buffer after which penalties will accrue for non-payment of contractors,” the participant said among other things.