Towards a new NDDC: The Nsima Ekere offensive
By [Daniel Etokidem]
The venue was Onne, Rivers State. The gathering was a three-day retreat for members of the Governing Board, Directors and strategic Stakeholders from within and outside the region. The theme was, “Collaboration for Sustainable Development”. The purpose was to chat a new course and initiate a new paradigm shift in policy formulation, implementation and evaluation. The need was urgent, the reason cogent and the urgency compelling. A new path was fashioned to bring sustainable development to the Niger Delta Region.
With 8,557 projects awarded since its creation of which only 3,424 projects have been completed and handed over to communities and States, 2,257 on-going whilst 2,506 are yet to be started for various reasons, everybody agreed there was need to access what has gone wrong and urgently formulate and implement policies to correct the anomaly in order to quickly attract the much needed development to the Niger Delta region.
From the NDDC Chairman, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba; to the Managing Director/ CEO, Obong Nsima Ekere, to resource persons, to senior management staff, to development partners, to indigenes of the region, everybody spoke without ambiguity that if the region must develop as envisaged in the conceptualization of the NDDC, it must not be business as usual.
“We must begin to do the right in the Commission, no matter what it takes. Two things are likely to happen: it’s either we tame the beast or we get bitten by the beast. We hope to tame the beast, for the good of our people”, Nsima Ekere, MD/CEO, NDDC, declared, thus setting the tone and policy direction the new voyage must be tailored and tilted towards repositioning the commission and the region.
Addressing the Commission’s staff at headquarters, Port Harcourt on resumption, Obong Ekere had said, “Every NDDC team member has a role to play in moving the Commission and the Niger Delta region forward. With the right vision, hard work and determination, I believe, we can pull off anything we collectively set our minds on.”
According to Nsima, “We have a team at the Board and Management level that is committed to making a difference in the Niger Delta. We are aligned in our thoughts. We are aligned in our determination to make a difference. We are aligned even in the path we have chosen to make that difference.”
He explained that the Governing Board of the NDDC has the political will to ensure that the proper things are done for the benefit of the people of the Niger Delta. To Obong Ekere, poor governance is the biggest challenge to achieving the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region.
Poor governance of self and institutions, the NDDC boss said, “is at the heart of public sector delivery challenges and these have resulted to poorly delivered infrastructure which decays rapidly, lack of social services, pervasive poverty, resurgent militant attacks, pollution of the environment and decreased revenue to government”.
He disclosed that the Niger Delta Master Plan, which originally required 15 years to implement at a cost of $50 billion has failed to achieve its objectives, despite the region receiving $40 billion in ten years, declaring: “Sadly, there is little evidence to show for the sums spent.”
Mr. Ekere also stated that 50 years ago, “Nigeria, China and South Korea were at similar stages of development, but due to poor governance, Nigeria is way behind,” pointing out that while the 1960 per capita income of the three countries were $155 for South Korea, $89 for China and $92 for Nigeria. By 2015, according to the World Bank, the per capita income stood at $27,221 for South Korea, with a population of 50 million, $8,000 for China with a population of 1,370 million and $2,600 for Nigeria, with a population of 180 million people, he said.
He identified weak internal processes, procedures and control, weak organisational culture and unethical practices, among others, as factors impeding the successful implementation of the NDDC mandate and declared that the 4-R Initiative of the Governing Board was set to change things for the better.
“The 4-R strategy encapsulates the solution required to address the myriad challenges facing NDDC,” the NDDC MD said, adding that the Board will restructure the balance sheet, reform governance protocols, restore the core mandate of the Commission and reaffirm “a commitment to doing what’s right and proper.”
Mr. Ekere said: “With about N1.2 trillion of the contingent liabilities on its balance sheet, NDDC needs to find ways to free funds for urgent development projects and programmes,” promising to review over-invoiced projects, determine wrongly procured contracts and recover mobilisation from abandoned projects
“We will also recover excess bank charges, recover outstanding IOC contributions and reschedule payment of outstanding statutory contributions of the Federal Government.”
He called for collaboration among stakeholders to achieve sustainable development in the Niger Delta, adding that the NDDC Governance and Reform Project (NGRP) will “catalyse the irreversible reform of the NDDC by enforcing compliance with rules and regulations.
Speaking at the 5th Niger Delta Dialogue in Port Harcourt, with the theme, “Assessment of NDDC’s Successes and Shortcomings to date”, he lamented that though the NDDC was created as a result of the agitations for improved redistribution of national wealth to the people of the Niger Delta from where the Federal Government earns majority of its foreign exchange,
the present state of the Niger Delta is a reflection of the governance challenges faced by NDDC, the 9 State Governments and the Federal Government.
“The region has been wracked by persistent militant attacks and general breakdown in law and order with kidnapping rising to alarming level and causing capital and expertise flight from the region”, he said.
He explained that the project portfolio of the NDDC is distributed across civil works such as buildings, canalization and reclamation, jetties and shore protection, electrification, roads and bridges, water supply, buildings, flood control and erosion and equipping, and furnishing of schools and health centers.
“Our programme portfolio covers training and capacity building for Oil spill response, Telecommunications, Building technology, Entrepreneurship development and Waste-to-wealth amongst others. For instance, a total of 72,000 pairs of plastic chairs and desks have been produced and are about to be distributed to schools across the region”.
“The healthcare programmes have been quite extensive with over 1.2 million documented patients treated, 3,500 communities visited and 6,000 referrals cases managed. Emergency relief materials were recently supplied to several communities such as Okerenkoko, Oporoza, Opobo amongst others, 7 Healthcare facilities equipped, and over 30,000 protective kits against Lassa Fever distributed”.
“Our education programmes deserves a special mention: a total of 1,411 students have received scholarships since 2010 of which 1,066 were supported in M.Sc and 345 in Ph.D programmes. Five (5) of the M.Sc students graduated with distinction from Coventry University, England and one (1) from Aberdeen University. A Ph.D student, Mr. Ubong Peters won the three (3) minute thesis competition in Australia; Mr. Augustine Osarogiagbon of Memorial University is so brilliant he completed his Ph.D in less than the stipulated time and has been offered a dual Ph.D programme with two graduate assistants to work with him and a post-doctoral fellowship lined up. Finally Mr. Charles Igwe studying a Ph.D in Construction Engineering at Concordia University, Canada saved the Montreal Area Municipality over $1 billion by redesigning the TURCOT interchange road construction project costing $3.67 billion”, he declared.
But he has a reform for the NDDC Scholarship scheme. “We need to review our scholarship scheme. There are so many other areas we can sponsor students for study and not just oil”, he told Board members.
“These positive results show the depth of talent within the Niger Delta and what can happen if we just encourage the younger ones to stay focused on their education. We also have to create an enabling environment for them to return to and be productive citizens”, he admonished.
The new Board of the NDDC he said, is committed to tackling the root causes of the numerous challenges besetting the Commission and by extension, the Niger Delta region. After a careful review of the issues, we are implementing what we call the 4R strategy which consists of the following components:
-Restructure the Balance sheet which currently has about N1.2 trillionworth of on-going projects;
-Reform the Governance systems to ensure that as an organization we comply with extant rules and regulations and prevent mistakes of the past from recurring;
-Restore the Core mandate of the Commission by ensuring we have a properly prepared set of Master Plans for the 9 States, and
-Reaffirm our commitment to doing what’s right and proper.
The goals are ambitious he admitted and the time we have is limited he confessed but said he remains confident that the right first steps have been taken and the board shall remain focused on its objectives.
According to Nsima, the reforms planned will also affect how the board prepare its budget to ensure the NDDC is able to deliver high impact social welfare programmes that really touch the people and help the Commission change the present negative narrative.
“Specifically we shall collaborate with our stakeholders including the Federal Government, National Assembly, State Governments and LGAs of the region, and most important, the Oil & Gas firms who directly fund our budget. For this later group we shall deliver interventions in host communities that address their specific needs”, he noted.
Then he turned his attention the most critical and sensitive stakeholders in the region- the youths. Hear him, “At this stage I want to talk specifically to the youth. We are taking your issues very seriously and in the next few weeks we will engage the youth, agitators, ex-militants and other interest groups directly in a forum where we will collaboratively decide on the most viable and sustainable programmes for empowering youth so they can be productive for life. These programs will be supported by our partners and will be monitored closely to ensure they deliver on the promises we make”.
We are also improving our partnerships with various organizations such as:
-The Partnership Initiative in the Niger Delta (PIND) supports economic development, peace building and capacity building. We are finalizing an agreement with PIND to provide support for our technical resources and some strategic projects to strengthen our internal capacity to deliver on our mandate.
-The FOSTER Foundation is focused on supporting well run non-profit programmes in social services and human welfare, education, healthcare and community engagement. Our planned partnership with Foster will help us bring high-impact social welfare services closer to the people of the region.
-The Open Government Partnership(OGP) works with domestic reformers to improve governance of public sector institutions to make them more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.
-By working with USAID we will be able to support a wider range of programmes from agriculture, economic growth, education, healthcare, gender equality and women’s empowerment, crisis and conflict management, and environment and global climate change.
-budgIT aims to simplify the budget of the Federal and State Governments and other sub-national institutions. Since transparency is a key tool in our push forward we shall work with budgIT to make sure our performance financial and project portfolio information are in the public domain on a regular basis.
-The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) has developed a framework for transparency and accountability in the reporting and disclosure by all extractive industry companies of revenues due to or paid to the Federal Government. Our planned partnership with NEITI will enable the NDDC track revenue due to it from the Federal Government and Oil & Gas firms operating in the region.
-Our partnership with the World Bank Group will allow us tap into their deep policy expertise and long term development funds that can be used to target specific sectors in the region.
-The BRACED Commission promotes regional cooperation, integration and growth in the South-south States of the Niger Delta. We shall coordinate with the Governors who are members of BRACED to ensure that their specific plans are incorporated into the new Master Plans that we shall collaboratively develop.
-The Market Development for the Niger Delta Programme (MADE) promotes the development of agriculture value chains in the Niger Delta. Agriculture is the fastest way to get thousands of young people productive and we will work closely with MADE to achieve this goal.
These partnerships Ekere said is designed to create a more transparent NDDC that is driven by best practice, adherence to rules and creating value-for-money projects and programmes.
He appreciated the continued good works of the Niger Delta Dialogue in keeping the narrative alive and assured that his time at NDDC will be different and with the people’s support the present board will change the narrative to a more positive story and deliver the basis for a more stable Niger Delta region for the collective benefit of all.
As part of his determination to vigorously pursue and put in place an effective and efficient training and skill acquisition programme for the people of the region, the Nsima Ekere led management team recently called for proposals from Training / Skills Development Firms for some of its Skill Acquisition Programmes.
The NDDC in furtherance of its mandate on Human Capital Development intends to embark on Skills Acquisition and Employment generation training programmes for the youths and women of the Niger Delta Region. Consequent upon this, the Commission requested for proposals from reputable and competent Training / Skills Development Firms for programmes in the areas of Welding and Fabrication, Furniture Making & Woodwork, Catering & Confectionary,Food Processing, Home Management (Tie & Dye).
Other areas include Modern Printing Technology, Fashion Design and Tailoring, Computer Technology / Programming (middle & high levels), Entertainment Industry,Solar Power Maintenance, Maritime Technology as well as Entrepreneurship Development.These trainings and others already ongoing will no doubt mark a new dawn in the lives of the Niger Deltans.