How N’Deltans can help Buhari develop region – Senator Ndoma- Egba
By Emmanuel Unah
Sen. Victor Ndoma Egba
CHAIRMAN, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba, spoke to Saturday Vanguard on the rot that bedeviled the commission and what the new board under his leadership and management is doing to give it a new lease of life.
As Chairman and link between the Board and the Federal Government, what are your strategies and vision for NDDC to achieve its mandate? My vision for and of the NDDC is returning it to its original mandate of being the driver for an integrated though diversified regional economy. When President Olusegun Obasanjo launched the Niger Delta Master Plan on 7th March, 2007, 10 full years ago, he captured the essence of the arrangement as a “plan to facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta region into an economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful area”.
Ndoma-Egba That vision remains as valid as it was then as it is now. It is regrettable that the region has become even more turbulent and more underdeveloped than when the master plan was launched, clearly because it was abandoned after all the fanfare that attended its launching in 2007. From its inauguration, the master plan is anchored on a stakeholder-generated and owned strategy.
The stakeholders, which include the governors, the members of the state Houses of Assembly, staff, traditional rulers, oil companies, youths (including the agitators), women, the disabled, environmental right activists, etc have to be transparently and strategically engaged. By efficiently collaborating with these bodies, the commission becomes an actual development agency instead of its present perception as a contract awarding commission. Also, private sector will be encouraged to participate in the various developmental activities while development partners will be engaged to ensure delivery of relevant projects.
Can you enlighten Nigerians on the commission’s original mandate and where it derailed? We are changing the narrative of the commission and the region by refocusing it to its original mandate. The public perception of the commission today is all about contracts. As soon as someone greets you, the next question is, “chairman when can I come for a contract?” It has lived with the reputation, rightly or wrongly, of a contract awarding factory or machine, delivering little impactful development to the region. The business or mandate of the commission will certainly involve the award of contracts, but the contracts should be to achieve a strategic plan and not contracts for the sake of contracts, as it appears to be the situation now. It was when the procurement process began to be opaque that its core mandate did not see the light of the day.
This would be reversed so that the commission will gain back public trust. And to do this, it therefore means the procurement process in award of contracts must be transparent; through firming up the units and fine-tuning the process. We must rebrand the commission and change the public perception of it as a slush fund and this we must do through our honest work and single minded focus and discipline. Take note that we are having outstanding funds from various agencies and for the commission to get them, we will persuade those, who are in arrears to pay and one of the easiest ways of getting them to pay is by ensuring that our processes are transparent.
The moment they see a certain level of transparency, it will encourage them to live up to their obligations to the commission. When the processes are opaque, people will hold back. Also, in keeping with Mr. President’s change agenda and global best practices, we have to audit our systems, processes, projects, and staff. The commission must be transparent so that we can get more support from stakeholders and engage the attention of international development partners.
The board will set quarterly targets, milestones, benchmarks and responsibilities that will form the focus for each quarter. Achieving these targets will be the core oversight function of the board committees that will be set up soon.
I like the phrase, ‘youth and not oil is the main resource of the region,’ as captured in one of your interviews, can you expatiate on that? The youths remain the real resource and blessing of a nation if they are motivated, educated, empowered and productive in a competitive environment, but a huge challenge if they are not. The NDDC will focus on education. So the youths will remain a blessing and not a challenge. Our vision is the creation of a diversified regional economy with identified drivers that will be youth-friendly. When I say youth and not oil is the main resource of the region, I mean, diversifying the economy of the region; changing their focus from oil to other sectors would go a long way to explore and probably create new and unexplored parts. This can be achieved by engaging them in sectors such as ICT, sports, the creative industry, agriculture and manufacturing supported by inter-modal transportation, health, education and infrastructure, with adequate power supply.
What can you say about President Buhari’s efforts to impact on the lives of the Niger Delta people? Actually, we are appreciative of Mr. President’s efforts at bringing lasting peace in the region. If you look at the 2017 budget, there is a marginal increase in everything concerning the region. Allocation to Niger Delta Ministry went up, the budget of the NDDC went up, and the budget of the Amnesty Program went up. Now, something is being done with some urgency on the completion of the East-West Road. We have the Ogoni clean-up, as well as the recent dialogue with leaders from the region. We have the Lagos-Calabar rail line.
And recently, the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, following the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari, during his vacation, was on a tour of major communities in the region. This further demonstrates the commitment of the federal government toward the development of the region. The region is in urgent need of development and it is only in an atmosphere of peace that we can develop. We cannot develop in an environment of militancy. We cannot complain about environmental pollution and degradation in the region and at the same time engage in activities like pipeline vandalism and breaches that not only pollute the environment, but also shield those who should bear responsibility for the sorry state of our environment from liability. The President believes that traditional ways of justice administration and alternative dispute resolution may be adopted in some cases, rather than relying on force at all times to redress misconduct. Also, people in the informal economy have to be identified and catered for. And for Mr. President’s good intentions to be delivered successfully, all of us from the region must assist him by taking responsibility for peace and security in our own interest and in the interest of generations to come.
All of us must be committed to the peace, security and prosperity of our region. It is our duty. You have said well of the Presidency on militancy, how is your commission tackling it? Like I said earlier on, the youths are the real assets of the region. We must put in place a pragmatic youth empowerment policy, which will enable the area’s youths to discover their talents and live useful lives. Training and retraining of the youths will continue to benefit the region. Appropriate training modules have to be identified for training the youth of the Region. This will be in consultation with the Amnesty office and development partners. This will improve stability and assure potential investors, local and foreign of the safety of their investment. Empowerment of the indigenes has to be sustainable, based on needs assessment.
Enhancing the position of women is also very important. Creating opportunities for women will help in addressing their needs and recognize their role in the community as peace makers while appropriate medical facilities and personnel will be deployed for the well being of the people of the region. Trained and qualified manpower will also be assembled to attend to individual and specific health needs of the various communities. Corporate social responsibilities of international and national oil companies have to benefit the people. These companies will be encouraged to improve their relationship with the host communities under the coordination of a unit of the commission. There will also be improved transportation infrastructure by providing alternative and cheaper means for efficient movement of people and goods. I will continue to appeal to all militant groups to stop the breaches and vandalisation of oil facilities. Their point has long been made.
Now, they are inflicting injuries and suffering on themselves and our already hapless and helpless people. The North-East zone is clamoring for a sister commission, what is your take on that as a politician. I am no more a member of the National Assembly, but the move to establish a commission in North East is receiving a robust debate in both chambers of the National Assembly. I believe they will do what is best for the nation and the North East zone. How about agitations for restructuring? My view is that the present political structure of Nigeria has become a drag and not sustainable. The structure cannot deliver the kind of development we deserve Your commission organized a retreat recently, what were the objectives and the outcome?
A lot was discussed, the major thing like I said was rebranding the commission with the mandate of transparency so as to create trust, which will attract other bodies to enable the commission achieve its mandate. You know, as an interventionist agency, there is need to create a synergy with various stakeholders who will also be involved in carrying out its activities such as auditing processes, systems, projects and personnel for integrity, efficiency, transparency and accountability. The first step is to revive the Niger Delta Development Advisory Committee, which is made up of the governors of the member states of the commission, and two persons; consisting of such number of persons as the president may deem fit to appoint from the public or civil service of the federation.
The committee is charged with the responsibility of advising the board and monitoring the activities of the commission, as well as the implementation of the commission’s projects. They are going to have access to the books of account and other records of the commission at all times, and submit periodic reports to the president. A full functional Advisory Committee will ensure harmonisation of projects and programmes with the member states and will make the commission a partner to the states, rather than the competitor it now appears to be. So, reviving the advisory committee will help the measures being put in place by the governing board and management, to reinforce transparency and accountability, as well as strengthen the governance framework required to improve performance.
What is your view on the recent whistle blowing strategy as a tool to curb corruption? The whistle blowing strategy as a policy of government is a tool designed to press forward and possibly give effect to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Law. Despite not having a legal or legislative backing, it is potent in the fight against corruption. Is it true that militants are also being awarded contracts? Yes as part of the measure to bring lasting peace, people from whatever group should have something doing. Contract is a major medium through which jobs can be created. The issue is that it should not be taken like I earlier said as a national cake sharing bazaar. The complaint is that the systems and processes are weak and opaque which is being strengthened. I think they (former militant leaders) should just await the outcome of the verification exercise that is ongoing.
I do not know whether it is true, whether they are part of the stories we hear. I went to see a very prominent Nigerian, and as soon as he saw me, he said ah! Chairman of the other Stock Exchange! I said which Stock Exchange? He said, but your commission’s contracts are traded in the streets the same way shares and stock are traded in the stock market. You see somebody holding 16 to 17 contracts, all dated the same date, but in the names of different companies. What would have happened? They would have just simply bought them off somebody. I have also heard, but have not confirmed that a contract was awarded for the protection of shoreline, and it was found out that the community had no shore.
So, my appeal to the youths is that let us pass through due process and if they are verifiable projects, then why not. Besides, one of the commission’s 21 points agenda is that the board must adopt policies that would moderate or streamline the number of new procurement’s in the commission given that as at today, NDDC has over 9000 ongoing projects, most of which are experiencing funding, implementation and other challenges. And the rate of failure of these contracts has not come with sanctions to anyone.
The board must determine the status of each ongoing projects and programmes and put in place a mechanism to re-evaluate the viability of some projects, revise the scope of others, re-negotiate the cost of some and relocate or merge others, as well as evolve a strategy for settling verified debts. Deliberate efforts must be made to determine the number of projects that can be focused upon and quickly completed. Though, the approach to the project has been ad hoc, arbitrary and self-serving, with very little end-user content. Many projects appear strange to beneficiary communities. The projects are imposed on them and it creates a crisis of ownership.