Orji Uzor Kalu and NDDC
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Orji Uzor Kalu, the chief whip of the Nigerian Senate, last Tuesday in Abuja, called on President Bola Tinubu to scrap the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs because it is tantamount to a duplication of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
As expected, the comment has elicited reactions from Niger Deltans, stakeholders and the general public.
But each of these reactions/comments shows a ‘profound shock’ to our nation’s conscience and brings to the fore the bizarre and troubling manifestation of how seriously off-track the Niger Delta Ministry right from creation has taken the region via politicization of the region’s development.
While many believe that as an interventionist agency, the NDDC, charged with the mandate to drive the development of Nigeria’s oil-rich region, was established by the NDDC Act of 2000.
The agency needs no supervisory ministry under which it operates. Others believe that the agency’s mandate is unambiguous; it is to facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful. Therefore, there is nothing for the Ministry to supervise.
For me, aside from aligning with persistent calls by Nigerians of goodwill on the urgent need by the federal government to creatively introduce belt-tightening initiatives to regulate bogus budgets and cost of governance in the country, there are other multiple reasons why the existence of the Ministry is not only a duplication of offices and responsibilities but a distraction to the NDDC.
In a recent but similar intervention, I argued that the policies that laid the groundwork for the ongoing developmental projects by NDDC in the region were not designed and put in place by the Ministry. Rather, they were incubated, planned and insisted upon by Dr Samuel Ogbuku’s management.
Again, going by reports, the Niger Delta produces nearly 75 per cent of the nation’s export earnings, but the news is that 43 per cent of the region’s population still lives below the poverty line. This paradox, going by reports, is due primarily to ecologically unfriendly exploitation of oil and gas resources that expropriate the region’s indigenous people and their right to these resources.
Despite this frustration and sufferings on the part of the region’s people, the Niger Delta Ministry lacks documented evidence of demonstrated personal effort(s) in the past or present to change this narrative and bring back prosperity to its land and people.
Going by the above shocking revelation, the question may be asked; what is the usefulness of keeping and funding a Ministry like Niger Delta that contributes next to nothing towards the developmental wellbeing of the people under its primary constituency or jurisdiction?
Without waiting for an answer to the above poser, Niger Deltans of goodwill and, of course, other critical stakeholders are in agreement that for the region to truly take the right path and develop, the Niger Delta Ministry has to give way.
And as Senator Orji Uzor has kick-started the call, Niger Deltans must choose the right value and adopt the right perspective.
Also, in the present circumstance, I believe and still believe that the nation has all it takes to support NDDC in developing the region without the Ministry of Niger Delta. The only ingredient that is lacking is the political will.
Very key, even though NDDC may have delivered not too impressive performances in the distant past, there is no gainsaying that the story of the oil-rich region has changed for the better since the coming on board of Mr Ogbuku as Managing Director of the commission.
Report has it that since he took over the helm of affairs at the organisation, he has been able to articulate the demands of the people of the area, embarked on practical initiatives to complete the gargantuan projects which he met and conceived and carrying out the execution of several other projects for the benefit of the people, and by so doing, calmed the restiveness which ab initio signposted the region.
Aside from other legacy projects the agency currently midwives in, the NDDC, under his leadership, a while ago, disclosed that it has come up with a pilot scheme to address challenges of youth restiveness and give succour to youths in the region.
The scheme known as Holistic Opportunities, Projects and Engagement (Project HOPE), which comprises both human capital development and human capital determination, is a platform on which youths of the region would benefit and make unprecedented progress.
Project HOPE was designed to create a comprehensive potential resources database of the youth population of the Niger Delta region, with a focus on their needs, qualifications, skills, passion, interests, and employment status.
It was also designed to create 1,000 jobs in each state of the Niger Delta region by securing sustainable international and local partnerships for the establishment of multi-agro processor industries, internship development, training opportunities, Chamber of Commerce and overall youth engagement statistics, which would rely on community-government-corporate partnership model for land acquisition for the project.
The project came a few weeks after NDDC management, in a similar style, rolled out the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Summit, at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Lagos, on Tuesday, April 25, 2023, to provide an alternative source of funding for key development projects and programmes to enable the agency faithfully deliver on its mandate to fast-track the development of the Niger Delta region as envisioned in its enabling Act.
Speaking on the theme of the summit, Rewind to Rebirth, and re-igniting the importance of stakeholders in the agency’s engagements, Ogbuku disclosed that as part of the efforts to renew and reposition the NDDC, the Governing Board has stepped up collaboration with various stakeholders.
“We have started engagement with the key stakeholders, such as the oil companies, who contribute three per cent of their operational budget to the commission; the state governments, traditional rulers, Civil Society Groups, youth organisations and contractors.”
He disclosed that the NDDC has met with members of the Oil Producers Trade Section (OPTS) of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who are no doubt critical stakeholders of the Commission.
“This group, which embodies the International Oil Companies (IOCs), stands out for us because we need their cooperation to get full and prompt remittances of their contributions as prescribed by law,” the MD stated.
Separate from exploring more avenues for funding, for better technical expertise, for higher-yielding varieties of crops, as well as opportunities for collaboration and investment in the Niger Delta region, making the initiative very alluring is the awareness that aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals 17, which focuses on partnerships. A typical positive outcome is the stirring story of NDDC’s partnership with the SPDC Joint Venture on the celebrated Ogbia-Nembe Road in Bayelsa State.
While maintaining that it was important to engage stakeholders in project conceptualization and execution, the NDDC Boss added that the oil producers work in the communities and sometimes have first-hand information on the needs of the local people.
“We want them to engage with us in project selection. Also, we need the oil producers to sometimes avail us of their technical expertise in project management and monitoring. In other words, we are embarking on this journey of developing the Niger Delta with the full participation of all stakeholders.”
He was categorical when he said that the NDDC could not shoulder the enormous responsibilities of developing the Niger Delta region alone, adding that all hands must be on the deck, especially to provide the necessary funds for the tasks.
“Our partnership approach is to engage specific sectors in their areas of strength. For instance, the private sector is better equipped with expertise, resources, and technology to drive economic growth and development. By partnering with this sector, we can successfully leverage these resources to implement our programmes and projects,” he added.
Ogbuku concluded that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) are essential partners to be courted.
“These organisations understand the needs and aspirations of people in the Niger Delta region. By collaborating on specific programmes and projects, drawing from their knowledge and resources, and involving them in planning and implementation, we can ensure that our programmes and projects align with the needs and aspirations of people in the region,” he said.
I believe this is not a political matter but a moral and socioeconomic issue. It is about effective resource management; this time, the warning must not be ignored. This is the time for all the lovers of the Niger Delta region to call for the scrapping of the Niger Delta to free up funds for NDDC to carry out infrastructural development in the region.
Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via [email protected] or 08032725374