By Sam Akpe
In the immediate past, Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, even as a ranking senator, was well known for demonstrating a self composure that left no one in doubt as to his depth of maturity.
He never talked just for the sake of talking. Anytime he raised his hand to speak on the floor of the Senate, it was clear that Ewa-Henshaw had something serious to say. In few words and short sentences, he made his points. Even when he walked from his seat to place a committee reports near the Senate Mace as required by legislative tradition, he did so with dignity.
Not much has changed about him. There seems to be no hurry in his actions although the tone of his voice suggests a quick match. These attributes have nothing to do with his princely stature and height. It has more to do with his professional orientation and personal self discipline. Trained in America as a banker, Ewa-Henshaw has this boardroom charisma that seems to emphasise the belief that bankers talk less and think more.
These recollections came to mind last week when Ewa-Henshaw, who is now the chairman of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), dropped a bombshell regarding the unbelievable huge indebtedness he and his board members inherited less than two years ago when they assumed duties; shortly after their appointment by then President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
By the way, in the last few weeks, Ewa-Henshaw and his team at the NDDC have been visiting some of the nine states of the Niger Delta; commissioning projects. Details of such commissioning and the specific impacts of the NDDC to the people of the region is a story for another day. Accusations and more accusations have continued to trail either the success or the failure of NDDC since its inception. It’s time for a deeper, factual insight.
For someone credited with a huge sense of modesty both in conduct and public utterance, Ewa-Henshaw’s revelation should attract more than a passing glance NDDC stakeholders. This was how he put it: “Funding remains a major challenge and obstacle to the progress that we could have made. For example, since 2001, funds held back by the Federal Government is now in excess of N800 billion.”
It is an open fact that the Act establishing the NDDC requires that the Federal Government should provide 15 per cent of monies paid from the federation accounts. However, since inception, NDDC has only been getting 10 per cent of that amount.
Specifically, the NDDC draws its funding from three major sources: the federal government, the oil companies and the state governments. Government of the nine states of the Niger Delta region, are statutorily expected to contribute 50% of the ecological fund to the commission. Between when NDDC was established and today, findings show that the commission is yet to collect a kobo of that fund from the states. This raises the question: is there no provision in the Act establishing the commission that would compel states to make the payment?
On assumption of office in December 2013, Ewa-Henshaw said the current board of the NDDC inherited over 7,000 projects alongside liabilities in excess of one trillion naira, stressing that, in the past one year, the interventionist agency has been striving to complete on-going projects instead of initiating new ones. He observed that in spite of inadequate funds, he and his colleagues have remained undaunted in their determination to complete all on-going of projects as directed by the federal government.
The NDDC Chairman said however that despite inadequate funds, the board and current management of the commission have recorded some noteworthy achievements in the completion of projects and the execution of development programmes. “We have so far completed and commissioned six university hostels and awarded 1,021 overseas scholarships for Master degrees and PhD programmes in engineering and sciences. Several other inherited projects are also in the process of being completed, including the specialist hospital in Ikom and the Adiabo bridge project,” he said.
The calm-looking managing director of NDDC, Bassey Dan-Abia, said NDDC has since “metamorphosed from an agency that is determined to make a difference, to one that is making the difference. We are now a new transformational NDDC with a more cohesive and inclusive leadership, reaching far beyond the component states and always ready to collaborate with willing partners.”
In Bayelsa State, Dan-Abia described the corps members’ apartment complex built by the commission as the first of its kind in Nigeria. The edifice, which has 44 air-conditioned self-contained rooms would accommodate at least 88 NYSC members. It is fully fitted with water heaters and other conveniences, including a large conference room and multiple sporting facilities.
Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State described the activities, programmes and achievements of the NDDC as a revolution that is in line with what his administration is doing. “I appreciate the NDDC and the partnership it is offering to the state. We affirm our desire to continue to support the commission,” he said.
More cheering however was Dickson’s decision to encourage his fellow state governors from the Niger Delta to demand for proper funding of the NDDC as envisaged in the Act establishing the commission. Dickson agreed with Ewa-Henshaw that the obvious poor funding of the commission has limited its ability to execute critical infrastructural projects, such as regional rail line, and major roads and bridges that would impact on the wellbeing of the people. He urged the federal government to give special attention to states in the region, given the challenging terrain of the various communities, which requires huge funds and efforts to develop.
In Dickson’s words: “The Niger Delta is an endangered region; even the colonial masters, before they granted independence to Nigeria, recognized the existence of this region as a special area, and designated it so. They did this because they were aware that the developmental challenges of this area are more than the challenges of most other parts of the country.” He said the Niger Delta challenges were ecological and environmental and that that realization should affect the release of funds by the federal authorities to the NDDC.