BY JESUTEGA ONOKPASA
It could be maintained that the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, is yet to deliver on its mandate. Needless to say, any human being with even a bare minimum of a sense of justice should be utterly aghast at the execrable treatment of what is undoubtedly the most important component of the Nigerian commonwealth.
Nevertheless, while several commentators have blamed this sad situation on managerial ineptitude and a lack of vision on the part of the NDDC, it is arguable that the commission’s poor score-card may also be interpreted from the prism of poor funding. That the NDDC is poorly funded is not news. Indeed, the commission has never been invested in any given year with the requisite funding prescribed in its enabling law. While this serial breach of the law is lamentable enough, even more alarming is the fact that what is usually voted for the commission is hardly ever entirely released to it. From a moral compass, therefore, it becomes arguably untenable to write off the efforts of an agency not adequately provided for in the first place.
I was recently presented with the opportunity of assessing the commission at close quarters in the course of a visit the Niger Delta Patriotic Initiative, NDPI, paid to Engr. Tuoyo Omatsuli, the NDDC’s Executive Director, Projects. Omatsuli turned out to be extremely engaging, homely, and down to earth, coming across as rather well-grounded on the expectations of his office and altogether both realistic and optimistic. He honestly laid bare the embarrassingly monumental challenges of the commission and its alarming liabilities. I had expected him like the typical Nigerian official to hungrily cling on to these as an excuse upon which no one should expect the NDDC to deliver. On the contrary, he seemed quite determined to make a difference, effusively assuring us of President Jonathan’s commitment to spearheading a renaissance in the Niger Delta while reiterating the new board’s preparedness to justify its appointment by doing things uncommonly. I came out of the encounter rather impressed by his confidence in the ability of his bosses, Senator Bassey Eta-Henshaw and Barr. Bassey Dan-Abia, to deliver on the commission’s mandate.
I consider it shameful that an agency set up to correct the quasi-genocidal neglect of Nigeria’s cash cow is both insufficiently provisioned and even more unconscionably starved of what paltry funds it is statutorily allocated. An all-stakeholders funding summit for the commission is urgently required at this stage. The main and counterpart funders of the NDDC must commit themselves to adequately, honestly and properly provisioning the agency. The era of fiscal rascality and a palliative approach to the Niger Deltan problem must be wound down and immediately replaced with an unfaltering commitment to the concise development of the region. Our disordered approach to nation-building must be discarded forthwith and replaced with a determination calibrated by justice, equity, fairness and forthrightness.
The NDDC, on its part, would do well, both for itself and the rest of us, to make the best of what it currently receives while relentlessly insisting on what is statutorily due to it. Projects must be faithfully carried through and judiciously concluded. What the new board requires is imagination and an unwavering fidelity to its mandate. Only thus will it deliver a new dawn for a region too long trapped in the darkness of an intolerably extended night of dehumanising pathos. One of the highpoints of the Nigerian Civil War was the currency of a propagandist slogan powered by the Nigerian state. It insisted that to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done. The civil war has come and gone but the Niger Deltan problem is still very much with us. A solution to that problem is by every means a task that must be done. The Federal Government, the states, the petroleum industry and all other stakeholders must key into that effort as the law demands. It is their duty and they do us no favours by following the law. The neglect of the Niger Delta is both heinous and intolerably morally reprehensible. The problem of the Niger Delta is a Nigerian problem and not a Niger Deltan problem. If a Nigerian solution is not found to it, a Niger Deltan solution will increasingly become attractive to the long-suffering people of this long ill-treated region.
*Onokpasa, a legal practitioner, writes from Warri.