Why NDDC Board Should Sustain the Hopeful Signs

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By Jerome-Mario Utomi

There exists a time-honoured notion among management experts that for every given task, there is always a strategy to achieve the desired results. In planning, you may have more than one strategy which could be labelled as ‘Plan-A’ and ‘Plan-B’ or even more.

Chiedu Ebie, Chairman of the newly constituted Governing Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, recently demonstrated the understanding that NDDC as an interventionist agency is not left out in clarion formulation of strategies needed for getting hold of stakeholders and converting their support to a springboard for the right vision that will set the tone for sustainable development of the Niger Delta region.

Part of this identified hopeful sign was exemplified in his recent declaration during a facility tour of the NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt, Rivers state, that the new board and executive management will take basic steps that would inform the rollout of new strategies to drive the development process in Nigeria’s oil-rich region.

That is not the only evidence.

A peep into his acceptance speech during the board’s inauguration also reveals a new leadership that is not only interested in changing the narrative of the region but laced with a burning desire to unleash objectives that inspire new order within the Niger Delta space.

Although public leadership is a very difficult responsibility, however, this piece believed and still believes that the people of the Niger Delta region will no doubt enjoy the well-pledged commitment of the new leadership and its right vision.

Supporting the above assertion is Ebie’s promise that the Board will look back at the vision and history of NDDC’s 23-year existential journey, aligning it with current realities and the objectives of the current administration as such approach will illuminate the yearning needs of the people of the Niger Delta, identify the commission’s challenges, and proffer Workable solutions.

There is yet, another hopeful sign.

Aside from promising that the new board will adopt effective communication with key stakeholders as paramount in the discharge of its duties as this will foster trust, restore transparency and promote accountability; all of which are of great importance to the people of the region and Nigeria in general, also alluring to all was his promise that the board will honour and collaborate with critical stakeholders in the region,  execute legacy projects based on detailed needs assessment,  seek strategic collaborations and partnerships with opinion leaders, community leaders, professionals and development partners to leverage constructive and attainable outlooks.

For me, the question that is as important as the piece itself are; why must Niger Deltans and Nigerians as a whole applaud this new leadership vision and hopeful expectations in the Niger Delta region?  Is the promised change of narrative in the region by the new board not too early to celebrate?

First and very fundamental, those who have followed the protracted public leadership provision in the region will agree without a doubt that the inability of these past leaders to conceptualize their objectives set the stage for the region’s backward and degraded environment. This was further exacerbated by crude oil exploration, exploitation and production without disciplined compliance with international best practices, thereby turning into a region where the communal right to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies is violated.

Secondly, the region as it presently postures symbolizes a location where previous governments employed a non-participatory approach to development, an approach that stripped the people of the Niger Delta sense of ownership over their issues, where the government and other Nigerians failed to see the problem of the region as a national one and not restricted to the region.

Thirdly and very key, it is a zone where fierce war has been raging between ethnic and social forces in Nigeria over the ownership and control of oil resources. And as a direct result, a long dark shadow has been cast on efforts to improve the well-being and economic development of the region’s peoples and communities.

While Ebie’s new resolve and verbal declarations are celebrated, this piece insists that as a nation, we are faced with the choice of nation-building in a much larger context and this particular recognition wholly explains why the board must take these declarations beyond words and have same sustainably translated to action.

For a very long time, the people of the region received from successive administrations in the country responses that seemed substantive but were not, and today, they are beginning to feel as if they were being manipulated.

At different times and places, they listened with real curiosity to comments by public officials promising to solve the problem of the region. But up till now, the challenges are still alive and active in the region and the politics that kept it going have flourished unabated.

Out of so many such examples of failed/abandoned promises, those of the immediate past administration stand out. Nigeria’s former Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in 2021, at a function in Lagos, told the gathering that the former President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration was determined to ensure the completion of all the critical projects it embarked upon in the region. He specifically stated that FG will address present energy demands and empower the Niger Delta people through promoting local content.

He noted that the Federal Government will in no distant time complete three Modular Refineries in the region. These refineries according to him include the Niger Delta Petroleum Resources, NDPR, Modular Refinery in Rivers State; OPAC Modular Refinery in Delta State and Walter Smith Modular Refinery in Imo State.

On that day, at that time and in that place, the former Vice President also said that the remediation exercise in Ogoni land, under the recommendations of UNEP, shall be completed in no distant time. He specifically underlined that the clean-up commenced in January 2019, and a total of about 57 sites have so far been handed over to contractors by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) under the Federal Ministry of Environment, noting that the Ogoni clean-up will be the first of its kind in the history of the Niger Delta to be handled by the Federal Government for remediation activities within the region.

He said the Federal Government was also developing several deep-sea ports across the region, including the Bonny, Warri and Ibom Deep Sea ports, among other development projects such as the establishment of Export Processing Zones to boost economic activities.

Today, while this piece may not have the capacity to judge the outgone Federal government offered the people of the region forlorn hopes, signals coming out from Ogoni land show that the area is still heavily burdened with environmental injustice and those who believed the former Vice President has finally realized that nothing has changed.

The same ugly fate was visited on the promised deep sea ports across the region. The Bonny, Warri and Ibom Deep Sea ports, among other development projects, have remained in limbo while the government that made the promise is now rested. The people of the region are still waiting like doves for the promised establishment of Export Processing Zones to boost economic activities.

The new NDDC board must do all within its power to avoid the ‘culture’ of promise and failure as witnessed in the past by the people of the region.

Finally, even though it will be highly celebrated by all of the board in the open gives a clear definition of the region’s problems, the goals to be achieved, or the means chosen to address the problems and to achieve the goals for the people to see, this piece on its part holds the opinion that it will be safer for the board to imbibe the culture of silence, keep their programmes close to their heart and allow the people to speculate than trying to entice the people with proposed projects and programmes and through the process falls into the trap of ‘promise and fail’ which characterized previous efforts in the region.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator for Media and Public Policy at the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). He can be reached via [email protected] or 09032725374

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