By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta
THE fierce opposition mounted by stakeholders in Niger Delta against the Interim Management Committee, IMC, of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, has waned about three months after inauguration, last year, while the IMC led by the Acting Managing Director, Dr. Gbene Joi Nunieh has now taken control of the interventionist agency.
Findings by Saturday Vanguard show that the opposition championed by top personalities and other critical elements in the region, including a section of militants, were finally overwhelmed when President Muhammadu Buhari, last month, ordered reconstitution of governing Board of the Commission already screened and approved by the Senate, giving the IMC the imprimatur to continue in office.
Many, who all the while thought IMC was purely a contrivance of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio gave up soon after, as the Senate which they had relied on its non-recognition of the Interim Management Committee to further accentuate their stand was found powerless in stopping the directive of the Presidency on NDDC.
Though a powerful Niger Delta leader stated that he neither backed the IMC nor maintained that the governing Board technically dissolved by President Buhari be sworn-in, we learnt that he assisted in no little way in drumming support for the interim management, as he directed militants, who threatened to return to the creeks if Mr. President refused to swear in the former Edo Deputy Governor, Dr. Pius Odubu-led board to simmer down.
A militant leader confided in Saturday Vanguard, “We actually wanted to fulfill our threat of shutting down NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt over the development, but the respected leader (names withheld) called us and said we should not do it, as it will cause further unrest in the region.”
We also gathered that Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the umbrella body of traditional rulers, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger Delta was not against the action of the Federal Government on NDDC.
Deputy National Secretary, PANDEF, Mr. Ken Robinson, told Saturday Vanguard on Thursday, “PANDEF has no particular interest in who becomes board chairman, member and managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, provided decisions are made in line with exact provisions of the law establishing the Commission.”
“However, we would insist that appointments into NDD board should not be for rewarding partisan loyalty or political patronage. Only people of proven integrity and track records of performance should be given responsibility to run the affairs of the Commission. And considering the importance of the Commission to the development of the region, it would not be out of place to add that those to be appointed to the Board should be people of demonstrable commitment to community development matters in the past,” he added.
Former national chairman of Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, and Pere of Seimbiri Kingdom in Delta state, His Royal Majesty Charles Ayemi-Botu and ex-Secretary General of the body, Mr. Maikpobi Okareme, were concerned about the composition of the governing board to be reconstituted by Buhari when they spoke to our reporter, last week.
Both insisted that it was the turn of Delta state to produce both the Chairman of the Commission and Managing Director respectively based on alphabetical order of rotating the chairmanship of the agency and oil production quantum.
Secretary, Warri Consultative Forum, WCF, Mr Amechi Ogbonna, asserted, “Our stand is that Mr. President should base his appointment on the Act establishing the Commission and equity should also play a role. Ogbonna is in cahoots with the contention that Delta state should produce the next managing director, but he said, “What makes Delta state the highest oil producing state is because of the Itsekiri production that covers the operation of Chevron, Shell (Nekonde) and Elf (Conoil), while in gas production, the Okpai of Ndokwa nation is the highest in West Africa. Our stand is that Itsekiri production makes Delta state number one because we produce 52 per cent in Delta state.
C’ttee seals pact with youth leaders
Apparently aware of the power of youths in the region, the IMC, early in the day, parleyed with youth leaders in the region and seemed to have established a working rapport that made it difficult for agitators to permeate the youth groups. Dr Nunieh, also a Niger Delta campaigner, in an interactive session with youth leaders in Port Harcourt, Rivers state, promised bring all stakeholders on board to chart a new course for the region.
The interim management committee under her leadership seems to be keeping to the deal, as youth leaders are not complaining about the management. At the meeting were the President of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Mr Pereotubo Oweilaemi, Chairman of IYC, Eastern Zone, Mr. Sammy George; representatives from Isoko, Ogoni, Ikwerre, among others. The NDDC boss underlined the need to have a sense of direction to help quicken the pace of development in Nigeria’s oil-rich region.
In this vein, Nunieh said: “We are promoting the ‘Charity Begins at Home’ programme, meant to inspire companies and individuals to give back to their communities. We want companies to buy into the programme and adopt different communities for the provision of infrastructure. For instance, the Reynolds Construction Company, RCC, has responded to the campaign and is now fixing the failed sections of the Akpajo-Onne axis of the East-West Road in Rivers State.”
Nunieh said that henceforth, NDDC contractors would be required to adopt communities where they would execute a project such as water, electricity or health facility. She added: “What we are trying to do with this programme is to mobilise people to give back to our communities.”
The Acting Managing Director urged Niger Delta stakeholders to support the efforts of the Federal Government to clean up the polluted environment in the region, noting: “We must realize that the essence of the Niger Delta struggle is more for environmental security.” She said that NDDC would encourage the various communities to keep their villages and beaches clean and appealed for all hands to be on deck. According to her, “all of us have roles to play to make our region safe, clean and economically viable.”
Nunieh observed that oil companies operating in the Niger Delta had through their exploration and exploitation activities degraded the environment. To make matters worse, she said: “Our youths who are engaged in illegal refining of crude oil, have joined in this despoliation by polluting the environment with soot. The United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, report shows that one in eight persons from Ogoni will die of cancer. This is frightening and we must do something now to correct the problems. We need to carry out an epidemiological study to determine what ails us and how to address the challenges they pose.” The NDDC boss said that the Commission was going to replace its Post Graduate Foreign Scholarship programme with a broad-based one that would cover the over 6,700 wards in the nine states of the region.
She said further: “We have also suspended the medical assistance usually given to a privileged few to seek medical treatment overseas. We will rather use that money to re-activate our primary health centres in the rural areas.”
Nunieh said that NDDC was designing a programme to train 10 persons in every ward in vocational skills that would be backed with an international certification to enable the beneficiaries work anywhere in the world.
In his contribution, the IYC President, Mr Oweilaemi, promised to sensitise the youths on the need to support the clean-up and “Charity Begins at Home” campaigns initiated by the new NDDC leadership.
He said that all the youth leaders would join in the effort to take development to the rural communities of the Niger Delta region.
Governors declare support
The NDDC committee tactically moved over governors, royal fathers and a host of others in the region having secured the support of youths. Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyeson Wike, who endorsed the committee when the management visited him at Government House, Port Harcourt, asserted, “Political affiliations come secondary. What matters to me is the development of Rivers State. The Members of the Interim Management Committee are all from the Niger Delta region. So, why can’t we support them? The governors of the Niger Delta States met with President Muhammadu Buhari. We told him that there must be a surgical operation in NDDC. So, we support the forensic audit as ordered by the President,” he asserted Rivers governor also stated that the fight over political appointments by Niger Delta people was unnecessary, noting that what the people needed was development.
His words: “I feel ashamed that our people cannot come together and agree on development strategies. The appointment of the Interim Management Committee is purely an executive function. There is no reason for our people to be fighting over it, I will protect anything that has to do with Rivers state and I will not support anybody asking that the Interim Management Committee be removed.”
“If you have the capacity and the political will, you can right the wrongs in the NDDC, I urge you to use this opportunity given to you to put NDDC on the right track,” he added
In Imo state, the governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, also assured the Interim Management Committee of support to ensure that it succeeds in the task of developing the Niger Delta region.
Ihedioha, who spoke during a courtesy visit by Dr Joi Nunieh, and her team of directors at the Imo State Government House, Owerri, said, “The task before the NDDC is enormous but I am confident that you will succeed, especially if you collaborate with the state governments? We have a duty and responsibility to serve the people in the rural areas and the Imo state government will work hands in gloves with you to serve our people. I endorse the forensic audit which I believe will expose the bad eggs that have been working against the region. I commend the President for taking measures to ensure that things work well again in the country.”
Ihedioha expressed disappointment that in spite of the huge resources that had been made available for the development of the Niger Delta region, it was still lagging behind in the provision of basic infrastructure.
He lamented: “It pains me that today after several years, the East-West Road which runs through the Niger Delta region is yet to be completed. Again, our region has the worst network of roads in the country”.The governor observed that “people from other parts of the country would no longer sympathize with Niger Deltans because the people have not utilized the opportunities given to the region through the 13 per cent derivation properly. We have been sabotaging ourselves”.
Nunieh told the governor: “You shall henceforth see a completely different NDDC that will be collaborative rather than in competition, an NDDC that will build synergy with the State governments that will enhance the development of the region”. The NDDC boss said that from inception, the Commission had embarked on a total of 762 infrastructural projects valued at N146 billion in Imo State. She added: “Of this, a total of 314 valued at N53.34 billion have been completed while 179 projects valued at N47.9billion are on-going.
“The Commission between 2016 and November 2019, intervened in an emergency manner by embarking on a total of 438 road projects valued at N238.6billion in Imo State. Of this figure, 173 valued at N100.2billion have been completed, while 97 valued at N58.7billion are on-going.”
Nunieh handed over the document containing the details of all the projects to the governor, noting that under the emergency contract regime, the contractors were expected to mobilise to site and complete the projects within one month or forfeit such awards. She noted that the latest of those awards were in April 2019, and all contracts yet to commence were now legally voided. The Acting Managing Director presented four sewage disposal trucks and 2,000 units of Lassa fever kits to the Imo State government.
Earlier, the NDDC boss stated that the Interim Management Committee was the ombudsman of the forensic audit ordered by President Buhari, stating: “We shall duly and diligently carry out the audit not minding whose ox is gored and ensure that everyone who collected money for any contract or service from the Commission, delivers same to the region.”
Nunieh pledged to carry out the directives of President Buhari, to stop the rot at NDDC and turn things around for good. She said, however, that it was not all gloom and negativity in the NDDC.
Nunieh remarked: “Although, we have seen projects reported as completed on paper, but yet to start on the ground, like we saw in Bende local government area in Abia State a couple of weeks when we visited, we have also seen mega projects completed in the thick of the mangrove forest, like the 25-kilometre Ogbia-Nembe Road in Bayelsa state.
“That road is the outcome of a joint venture between the NDDC and Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC. This is the kind of collaboration the 2020 NDDC seeks with our governors and other development agencies, “she said.
Abandoned projects to be completed
As part of its strategies in fully taking over, Dr. Nunieh, has further re-affirmed the commitment of the Commission to complete all on-going projects in the Niger Delta region.
Nunieh spoke while inspecting NDDC projects in Imo State in the company of the state Deputy Governor, Engr. Gerald Irona, representative of Ohaji Egbema Federal Constituency, Hon Kingsley Uju and others, as he expressed dissatisfaction with the situation at most of the sites visited by the team. He said that non-performance of the contractors provided justification for the worries of President Muhammadu Buhari and his order for a forensic audit of the NDDC.
“At most of the places we visited, people were brandishing Interim Payment Certificates, IPCs, with very little to show on the ground. The Interim Management Committee, IMC, will try to complete the projects to respond to the concerns of the President. The reasons for the President’s worries and the pressure on the IMC to change things are becoming obvious. The defaulters do not want us to work to facilitate the carrying out of the forensic audit,” she stated.
Nunieh stressed that the NDDC would carry out the mandate of President Buhari to complete all on-going projects in the region and positively impact on the lives of people in the rural areas.
The inspection team visited the road and bridge leading to Oguta Lake, to connect Egwe Autonomous community and Nnebukwu community in Oguta Local Government Area.
The NDDC boss noted that the project which was awarded in 2010, was abandoned with very little work done, after the contractor had collected N455 million in addition to a mobilisation fee of N700 million.
The Imo State Deputy Governor, Engr. Irona, said that the project was important because of the commitment of the state to tourism, especially at Oguta Lake, which had always been a good tourist attraction, noting that the bridge would link Oguta with Rivers and Anambra states. The representative of Ohaji Egbema Federal Constituency, Hon Kingsley Uju, decried the slow pace of work on the road and thanked President Buhari for setting up a team to take correct of the ills at the NDDC.
He observed: “Today, we have seen the wisdom in Mr. President’s appointment of the IMC to unravel the level of infrastructural decay in the Niger Delta region. I have moved round with the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC on inspection of projects and we have seen the level of abandoned projects in Imo state.
Uju said that the House of Representatives was in agreement with the President’s decision to set up the Interim Management to supervise the forensic audit of the NDDC, stating that the three-man Interim Management deserved the backing of the legislature.
Contractors get marching orders
Meanwhile, NDDC has warned contractors working for it to brace up and discharge their obligations fully as the Commission will no longer pay for jobs that are not verified and certified. Nunieh gave the order while inspecting projects, including multi-billion erosion control project in Bende Local Government Area of Abia state; erosion control, solar water and a health centre.
The inspection team, led by the NDDC Chief Executive Officer, included the representative of Bende Federal Constituency and member of the House Committee on NDDC, Hon Okezie Kalu; the NDDC Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Chief Ibanga Bassey Etang and other directors of the Commission.
Nunieh stressed the need to intensify the efforts of the Commission with respect to supervision and inspection to facilitate the speedy completion of on-going projects in the nine states covered by the NDDC. She noted that the inspection was necessary to ensure that development projects in rural communities were properly executed for the benefit of the people, warning that unnecessary delays would not be tolerated.
At the Etiti-Ulo Road, the NDDC boss expressed shock that what she described as a “very deplorable” road was recorded as completed, when it may not have been done at all. She said that from what she had seen, she decided that the NDDC would no longer clear jobs for payment unless they were inspected.
She observed: “Too many people are asking us to pay for uncompleted projects. Going forward, we must visit project sites to see things for ourselves. We are not going to sit in the office to approve payments for jobs we cannot attest to.”
Other projects inspected by the NDDC team were the completed solar water project at Ndiwo Itumbauza in Bende, which was not functional and a similar one at Etiti Ulo, as well as a health centre in Nkalakwu. The NDDC boss decried the poor state of the health facility and charged the Commission’s Directorate for Health and Social Services to take measures to re-activate the health centre, insisting that all abandoned projects would be revamped and completed.
Indigenes of the communities benefiting from the projects trooped out in their numbers to receive the NDDC team. They displayed placards indicating their appreciation of the efforts of the NDDC Interim Management in ensuring that rural communities were positively impacted.
The President General of Bende Development Union, Mr Anthony Njoku, said his people were full of gratitude for the various projects being executed by NDDC in their area.
National Assembly likely to back Buhari
Concerning the legitimacy of the IMC, the safeguard offered antagonists of IMC by the Senate has faded out with the Senate Committee on the Niger Delta Affairs and the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC reportedly expressing their preparedness to submit the report of the 2019 budget of the agency as soon as the National Assembly resumes plenary on January 28.
Available information indicated that the interim management and directors of the commission had defended the commission’s budget before the appropriate committees of both chambers of the National Assembly. Sources said the Senate committee engaged the directors of the Commission during the budget defence sessions, while the House committee had no objection engaging the interim management.
However, the actual position of the National Assembly the NDDC interim management committee will be known when the lawmakers resume after their current break, but it is obvious that they will fall in line with the desires of President Buhari.