The nine states that make up the interventionist constituency of the Niger Delta Development Commission has since last month been taking turns to play host to top officials of the Commission on projects inspection tours of these states. Recently, it was the turn of Imo State that prides itself as the Eastern Heartland. But after a tour that took the NDDC delegation round some project sites, the unequivocal verdict was: Poor job all the way.
By Mike Ebonugwo
FROM every indication, the visit of the NDDC officials led by their Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Chibuzor Ugwuoha, to Imo State was one that was eagerly awaited.
Although the Governor of the state, Chief Ikedi Ohakim was reportedly unavoidably absent to receive the August visitors, the Deputy Governor, Dr. (Mrs) Ada Okwuonu who stood in for him, assisted by other members of the state executive council, did not fail to communicate the appreciation of people of the state to the NDDC and their highÂ expectation of the Commissionâ€™s greater involvement in development initiatives and efforts in the state.
She said that as a full-fledged member of the league of oil-producing states in Nigeria, Imo State deserves a fair share of representation in the NDDC programmes and projects. She did not stop there. â€œWe expect more assistance from the NDDC, especially in respect of the Nwaorie River dredging as well as construction and rehabilitation of roads, particularly in the oil-producing parts of the state. We also want you to assist us in completing the ultra-modern sports academy weâ€™re building at Egbema so that the people will know youâ€™re for us,â€ she pleaded.
She spoke in response to Mr. Ugwuohaâ€™s earlier statement soliciting the support of the state government so that the NDDC can more effectively discharge its responsibility to the people of the state.
According to the NDDC boss: â€œWe have come to solicit your support and to let you know that weâ€™re partners in progress. This is because the development of the Niger Delta cannot be done by the government or the NDDC alone. There has to be a broad collaboration of all interested parties and stakeholders for the objective of giving the people a sense of belonging to be achieved.
â€œWeâ€™re fully aware of the great work youâ€™re doing in the state. But the essence of governance is for us to work together. That is why we need your cooperation. All of us must try our best to ensure that the peace we have achieved is not lost again. So we must use the opportunity we have to touch our people positively,â€ he said.
Mr. Ugwuoha underlined the imperative of this cooperation by stressing that the NDDC is an interventionist agency and not an alternative government which has come to take over the running of the relevant states under the agencyâ€™s sphere of operation. It was also an opportunity for him to reiterate his conviction that providing infrastructures to the NDDC beneficiary communities is not enough as it pales into insignificance in the absence of human capital development.
According to him: â€œWe believe in giving special attention to human capital development. The major problem we have in the Niger Delta is unemployment. Our people need to eat; but how can they eat when they are unemployed? Our people need to be properly educated and trained so that thy can be gainfully employed. This is the only way we can guarantee peace and avoid restiveness. If we donâ€™t act this way, we will have a country of hungry people who can be dangerousâ€.
The NDDC boss then went on to inform that it was against this backdrop that the NDDC under his watch had come up with some capacity building initiatives andÂ programmes that will give a new lease of life to people in the NDDC states.Â One of these is the NDDC Technical Aid Corps, NTAC, which recently took off. Under the scheme which attracted 57,000 applications when it was advertised, 2000 individuals are expected to be employed and financially empowered after completing the requisite training in computer knowledge and work ethics..
He informed that under the auspices of other such initiatives, 25 individuals are presently being trained at the Petroleum Training Institute, PTI, Warri which the Commission has taken steps to upgrade so that the individuals sent there will receive the best of training; 25 youths have been sent to the United States forÂ trainingÂ in film production under a partnership arrangement with an indigenous firm working in collaboration with the New York Film Academy; 250 youths are being sent to the Maritime Academy, Oron; 200 Niger Deltans are being sent abroad for studies under a scholarship scheme instituted by the Commission as well as organising a training programme for teachers, with special preference for science teachers.
These, he said, is in addition to a programme the Commission has come up with to encourage local governments to provide services to the people. This entails the Commission providing N45 million, the local government bringing N15 million, making a total of N45 million which Mr. Ugwuoha said can go a long way in making life better for the people of the community.
After this interaction and exchange of ideas, the NDDC delegation had left and thereafter commenced inspection of its project sites in Imo State. This essentially covered areas where different contractors were handling road construction and rehabilitation works on behalf of the Commission. One of those visited was the 43-kilometre asphaltic concrete Ukwugba Junction-Egbema-Etekwuru-Umuapu road contracted to Enerco Nigeria Limited at the cost of over N2,549,620,908.06 in November 2009, with a mobilization of over N387,443,136.21.
Another is theÂ N960,925,623.98 10-kilometre Obinze-Umuokanne-Umuapu road being handled by Graphik Limited, for which the contractor had been mobilised to the tune of over N144,138,844.95. Only 15 per cent completion is said to have been achieved, with clearing work almost completed, about six kilometers of earth work done and scarification of some existing but damaged bituminous surfaces still in progress.
Also visited was the N760,231,249.15 Izombe-Agwa-Obokofia road undertaken by Niger Delta Projects Consortium Limited. The contractor originally handling the project was said to have demobilised from site without achieving any meaningful work. Subsequently, the project was re-assigned to the present contractor- Niger Delta Project Consortium.
The contractor reportedly complained that the amount from the IPC raised for him was collected by the bank on grounds that his account was in debit. The pace of work was considered by the inspectors to be generally slow. This necessitated the engagement of an estate valuer to value the properties.
While the inspection tour lasted, the NDDC boss could not hide his disappointment at the quality of the work as he lashed out at the various contractors for failing to live up to expectation. According to him, both the pace and quality of work left much to be desired as they fell short of specified NDDC standard. Mr. Ugwuoha expressed his feeling in this respect against the backdrop of his charge and marching orders to all NDDC contractors during a meeting with them last year. During the meeting he had pointed out very clearly that â€œour contractors must see themselves as important factors in the development of the Niger Delta, and that we do not want to see them as mere contractors, but as our collaborators and partners in the task of developing the Niger Deltaâ€.
He did not stop there. â€œNiger Delta is in dire need of development and you have been saddled with the responsibility to bring about development in the Niger Delta and you cannot afford to waste one minute. We have told the whole world that these contracts have been awarded. We will not tolerate any form of delay from any contractor.
â€œRemember, we know the contractor that is handling whatever project. If there is a failure, after two,three,four,five years, we will know that you did not do your job well. Because if a road is built the way it should be built, we shouldnâ€™t have potholes even after 10 years. All of us travel overseas, we see roads that are built, some of them 50 years ago and people are still using them. There is no reason why our own roads will last only three months, six months. That is not the money we pay you. We pay you money to do good roads and you must prepare good roads for us. If we see failure of that nature, you will no longer do any job for us. We have so much to do in the Niger Delta that we cannot afford to spend our money carelessly,â€ he had said.
This obviously explained why after expressing his disenchantment with the poor performance of the contractors, he had issued them a march order to work in accordance with their contract terms or have their contracts revoked.