By Donu Kogbara
THE Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, has been a hotbed of controversy and friction for as far back as I can remember. Senior NDDC executives and their political godfathers in various states and Abuja often have major disagreements with each other; and these Establishment tiffs sometimes erupt into open warfare.
Meanwhile, ordinary Niger Deltan stakeholders who aren’t personally embroiled in toxic, high-level NDDC Issues are, as a general rule, deeply unimpressed by the poisonous dramas that regularly unfold.
Long story short: NDDC has tonnes of petrodollars at its disposal, plus responsibilities in nine states; and it should be a highly respected, much-loved, well-run, effective intervention agency that transforms the existences of the distressed masses in environmentally compromised and socio-economically challenged oil-producing areas.
But there is a huge disconnect between what NDDC should/could be and what it actually is. The depressing reality and laudable ideal are miles apart; and NDDC is widely viewed as nothing more than a failing cash cow for a cynical, corrupt and predatory ruling class.
I almost accidentally got dragged onto NDDC’s turbulent stage when Joi Nunieh, who became Acting Managing Director last October and was removed two weeks ago, asked me to become her media advisor.
Nunieh and I come from the same Ogoni ethnic group and had been lifelong family friends. Our parents were chums. I regarded her as my kid sister and I really loved her; and when President Buhari bestowed this extremely important position on her, I effusively thanked His Excellency on this very same Vanguard page.
But Nunieh’s tenure was tragically brief; and I wasn’t at her side when she was tossed out on February l9, a mere three months after she’d been appointed, because she had sacked me on Christmas Eve. My dismissal was brutal and completely unnecessary.
She and I had previously enjoyed a healthy and honest relationship. I’d tell her off when I felt that she was doing the wrong thing. I’d make sardonic remarks about some of her political associates. And I didn’t mind if she, despite the age gap, firmly contradicted me.
I knew that certain aspects of our relationship would have to change when I became her subordinate at NDDC. And I was cheerfully ready to defer to her, call her “Madame” in public and help her behind the scenes to fulfil her potential and serve our region. But power can intoxicate; and Nunieh started to carry on like an omniscient empress and to treat me and so many others like irrelevant fools who could add no professional value to her office.
I was frequently subjected to passive-aggressive hostility that I didn’t understand. I was often sidelined and humiliated. It became obvious that Nunieh regretted, for reasons best known to herself, inviting me to be her employee; and I didn’t want to be a distraction at a time when she was embattled on so many fronts.
Even if one is several cuts above Nunieh and saintly genius who never makes mistakes and possesses superlative People Management skills, the helm of NDDC is an immensely difficult place to be. There are so many competing interests and demanding mandarins to satisfy. There are so many systemic dysfunctions, festering scandals, negative rumours and embarrassing facts to contend with.
When I realised that Nunieh and I were not on the same page and that she didn’t want me to help her control the pressure cooker that is NDDC, I shrugged philosophically and offered to leave; and for old times’ sake, I offered to leave amicably. But instead of graciously accepting my offer and ensuring that I was paid for the weeks I’d worked, she coldly replaced me without telling me. I heard that I had been dismissed from third parties. And I didn’t get a dime.
I walked away from NDDC empty-handed and heavy-hearted, having witnessed at close quarters how destructive power can be. NDDC now has a new Acting MD, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, a medical doctor and reputable academic from Bayelsa.
Pondei will supervise an upcoming forensic audit of NDDC’s activities with help from an Interim Management Committee comprising: Acting Executive Director, Projects, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Chief Ibanga Bassey Etang, Evangelist Caroline Nagbo, and a former Vice President of the African Development Bank, Mrs. Cecilia Akintomide.
All of the above are down-to-earth and intelligent individuals who have what it takes to excel and deliver substantial dividends to their long-suffering constituents; and I pray that they focus on achievement and don’t allow power to go to their heads.
According to Charles Odili, NDDC’s Director of Corporate Affairs: “It is on record that President Buhari directed that the NDDC forensic audit, which has been widely applauded as a crucial move and the only process that can cleanse NDDC, be overseen by the Interim Management Committee, IMC.” Let’s hope the cleansing happens.
By the way, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio, used to be Governor of Akwa Ibom State; and he transformed Uyo, the state capital, into a modern metropolis. Akpabio also tackled infrastructural deficiencies in rural parts of Akwa Ibom; and I’m keeping my fingers tightly crossed that he applies the same dynamism to his role as NDDC’s Oga At The Top.