By Judith Ufford
VANGUARD Newspapers paved the way when it organised the first everÂ South-South: One Voice summit for the Niger Delta region In Port- Harcourt, Rivers State.
Since then various groups and leaders and players in the region have boughtÂ into this vision. For example, the gathering of Niger Delta leaders for the first South-South Regional Economic Summit in Calabar on April 23 this year is a fall-out of the One Voice meeting.
Like the One Voice meeting, the Calabar Economic summit has equallyÂ set the tone for a renewed drive for cooperation among the stakeholders of the oil-rich region.
It was an opportunity for the Niger Delta Development Commission [NDDC] to once again put the spotlight on the need for partnership in the arduous task of developing the long-neglected treasure base of Nigeria.
The summit came at a time the leadership of the NDDC had just changed hands from Mr. Timi Alaibe to Pastor P.Z Aginighan, who is now the Acting Managing Director.
As would be expected, the new helmsman needed to reassure the key stakeholders, especially governors of the nine states covered by the NDDC, that the tempo of infrastructural development already built-up by the Commission would be sustained.
He described the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan as a development framework that would provide realistic interventions and sustainable development in the Niger Delta.
He, therefore appealed to all stakeholders to key into its implementation. According to him, the NDDC has so far embarked on 2,416 projects. 871 of this number have been completed and commissioned while 1,545 are at various stages of completion.
Till date, development agencies appear to be operating on parallel lines, leading to waste and duplication of projects. This has made it necessary to promote the Master Plan as the accepted compass for the harmonisation of the activities of all the agencies of development in the region.
Since 2008, the NDDC has been running a budget based on the Master Plan. It has also solicited the cooperation of the state governments in ensuring that their budgets reflected the contents of the Master Plan.
There was a tacit agreement by most of the states to do just that from this yearâ€™s budget. This, perhaps, explains why Pastor Aginighan and his management team undertook the tour of the NDDC states to ensure that the governors were being guided by the Master Plan.
Another important aspect of the tour was to monitor the contractors handling NDDCâ€™s projects. Although the contractors handling the Commissionâ€™s university hostel projects were behind schedule, the authorities in the schools remained enthusiastic.
The Vice Chancellor of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Professor Barineme Fakae, for instance said â€œwe are encouraged by this hostel project because it is the first time a project of this kind will be executed in this school since its establishment.
Building a structure of this kind makes a lot of sense because inadequate accommodation is one of the major challenges faced by most tertiary institutions in the Niger Delta region.â€
Similarly, Prof. Enoch Akobundu, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia was full of anticipation. He said the school was delighted in having a hostel of that magnitude being constructed by the NDDC.
â€œWe thank the NDDC for this hostel and pray that you direct the contractors executing the job to step up action so that the students will begin to reap the benefits of this laudable initiative. â€˜â€™
There is a saying that one cannot get to the palace without doing obeisance to the king. Thus, Aginighan seized the opportunity of the projects inspection to pay courtesy visits to the various state governors in the region.
In his view, â€œthe tours also afforded us the opportunity to feel the pulses of governors of all the nine oil producing states who are the principal stakeholders in the NDDC.â€
In Umuahia, the Abia State Governor, Dr. Theordore Orji told the acting MD that his administration would adequately partner with NDDC toward providing the infrastructural needs of the state and therefore asked that the Commission step up its presence in the state.
His counterpart in Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim state said the crisis rocking the Niger Delta would be solved if job opportunities were created for the teeming youths in the area.
He advised NDDC to be innovative and engage in mega-projects capable of providing millions of jobs. He thanked theÂ NDDC for supporting the state in its developmental initiatives and promised to sustain the collaboration.
In Delta State, Governor Uduaghan assured the NDDC boss of continuous partnership and cooperation with the interventionistÂ agency.Â He saidÂ that governors of the South-South of the country had made a case to the Presidency to step up funding of the NDDC in compliance with the law that established it.
The governors, he said had insisted that it was obligatory on the part of the Federal Government to properly and adequately fund the commission if it was to deliver on its mandate for the impoverished Niger Delta region. â€œIt is our right and not a privilege and we are not begging anybody for that,â€ he said.
Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State, called on the Management to always consult with stakeholders before embarking on projects. The sea incursion at Ayetoro oil-producing community in Ilaje Council of Ondo State was his main concern as he called on the NDDC to expedite actions in its projects meant to check the ocean surge into the town.
NDDC budgetary allocation for 2009 as it affects each member state
Of the N97bn budget, N19,323,514,022 is being shared equally among the nine states, namely Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers.
Of theÂ N33,816,149,538 or 35 percent of the total revenue expected from production of oil, N307,214,682 is for Abia, N7,717,203,420Â for Akwa Ibom, N5,025,262,083 for Baylesa, N734,852,916 for Cross River, N4,898,064,644 for Delta, N131,379,865 for Edo, N498,955,378 for Imo, N2,029,174,351 for Ondo while N12,147,042,200 is for Rivers.
Pastor Aginighan further disclosed that additional sum of N24,154,392,527 is to be spent on regional projects known as linkage projects.
Mimiko applauded the Commissionâ€™s position to sanction any of its contractors who failed to deliver on the projects before the end of the year.
Aginighan thanked Governor Mimiko for being the first state whose House of Assembly resolved to adopt the Niger Delta Development Master Plan that would serve as a roadmap to guide project execution for both the state and the agency.
At the Rivers State Government House, Governor Chibuike Amaechi lauded the NDDC thus: â€œThe activities of the NDDC contribute to the economy of Rivers people. I thank you for that and I wish that you do more,â€ the governor said.
In Akwa Ibom State, relief would soon come for the Ibeno people, who are waiting for the completion of the Iko-Iwuo-Achang road.
The nine-kilometre road, with 6.35-km intensive sand filling and a 600-metre bridge across the Iwuo-Achang River, was awarded to an indigenous firm, by the NDDC in February 2002.
Aginighan held a meeting with the indigenes of Ibeno Local Government Area, who expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of work by the contractor.
A community leader, Obong Effiong Archianga, commended the NDDC for awarding the contract to a local firm, but regretted the delay in the project.
Pastor Aginighan urged other communities to emulate the Ibeno people by monitoring projects in their areas. â€œI am proud to witness the zeal demonstrated by Ibeno people to see that the firm handling this contract works.
Pastor Aginighan described the road as one of the star projects of the Commission and assured the community that the contractor would now sit up and by February next year â€œI will drive on this road.â€
Cross River,Governor Lyel Imoke said the state is keen on seeing the 70 projects earmarked upon for his state by the NDDC completed on schedule to complementÂ efforts of the state government.
In Edo State, Pastor Aginighan appealed toÂ Governor Adams Oshiomhole to prevail on his colleagues on the need to revive the Niger Delta Development Advisory Council which he said advises the NDDC Board on matters of policy.
â€œIt is our wish that with the vibrancy you have brought into governance, you can be a proper starting point for the reconvening of the Advisory Councilâ€, he pleaded. The Governor assured that the Niger Delta Advisory Council comprising Governors of the nine states of the Niger Delta region will be revived.
He said there was need for the governors to interact with the NDDC to be able to update and reconcile projects and programmes on both sides.
Pastor Aginighan was right when he told the Isoko and Ijaw leaders who visited him that â€œwe need neither the blood of the Niger Delta militants nor that of the Nigerian Armed Forces to develop the Niger Delta.â€ He, therefore, appealed to the militants to embrace the amnesty offered them by President Umar Yarâ€™Adua.