•Meet Prof Pondei, the game changer rebuffing offers from contractors

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta

SINCE the Leopard cannot change its spot, many Niger-Deltans and Nigerians had concluded that Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, recognized more for the odious corruption that had oozed from the agency, over the years, will never be able to turn the tables, but latest feelers from the organization and stakeholders indicate that the interventionist agency is being refashioned.

Not a few actually gave up hope on the Commission given the ill-starred circumstances the former Ag Managing Director of the Interim Managing Committee, IMC,  Ms. Joy Nunieh,  appointed by Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to decontaminate the organization,  lost her job in February.

Reports said since the inauguration of a new IMC headed by Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei, as the new Ag Managing Director on February 20, a new breath of life has entered the Commission.  Others in the management team are Chief Ibanga Etang (Ag. Executive Director, Finance and Administration), Dr, Cairo Ojougboh (Ag. Executive Director, Projects), Mrs. Cecilia Akintomide (Member) and Mrs. Caroline Nagbo (Member).

First shocker for contractors

An insider told Saturday Vanguard, “The first nightmare for contractors and others who tried to offer percentages to Prof Pondei to effect payments for certain contracts was that the several moves bounced. Such is unheard off in NDDC.”

“Under him, IMC adopted a new approach to project verification by involving the press and doing road integrity testing during these physical verification exercises.

“With approval of the budget, outstanding payments for contracts, which have been duly verified physically were made. Many of the payments were for contracts owed for over five years and were less than N50 million. Processing and payment of these are still ongoing and will continue after the lock down,” he added.

Saturday Vanguard learnt that the Pondei-led IMC is very passionate about agriculture, which he believes is the future of the NDDC states. The IMC had met with the Rivers State Commissioner of Agriculture, Dr. Kpakol and his team, and also with the Country Representative of the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), Ms. Nadine Gbossa and her team. The two signature programmes: the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme and the IFAD LIFE-ND programme are in late preparation stages for implementation.

The tuition fees for the Overseas Scholars programme have reportedly been processed for payment, but delayed due to lock-down issues at the CBN.

According to our findings, the IMC had directed the NDDC to respond hands-on to the Covid-19 Pandemic by donating N775m to help the nine states in their response and a further N270m as palliative to youths, women groups, widows, orphans, and people living with disabilities. Plans are underway for more support as the lock down period extends.

“There is also a deliberate clearance of utility debts owed suppliers, hotels and consultants. With the approval of the Lead Consultants for the forensic audit of the NDDC, the IMC has put in place the machinery to ensure that the exercise is carried out in conducive atmosphere across the nine states and the headquarters.

New work ethics

The Commission’s staff, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard said they saw a new direction, a new dawn when the Pondei-led IMC held a meeting with the staff of the NDDC at the headquarters on February 21, adding that the IMC addressed the staff,  pointing out the need to chart a new NDDC.

Many staff had that ‘it cannot be done’ attitude  to things are now forced to dump their attitude because the new man in the saddle does not believe in impossibility.

Suddenly, there is new work culture in NDDC.  When in Port Harcourt, Pondei gets to the office at 8.00 am and leaves at 6.00 pm, so staff have become more punctual and do not leave early because the boss is around. The reshuffling of directors, especially the “untouchables” has sent a signal that things are now different

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One of them asserted: “IMC held meetings with all the directors, some directorates and a subsequent interactive session with all staff revealed a plethora of issues within the NDDC. Staff had not been promoted since 2016, no promotion arrears, no public power supply, low staff morale, dysfunctional directorates, no 2019 budget, no or low budgetary approvals for statutory functions, crowded offices/no office spaces, no internet services, no utility vehicles/old rickety vehicles for operations, no internet services.

“We could not believe our eyes when the IMC reviewed all these problems and developed a road map for operations to make the Commission more functional whilst solving the issues raised. There was a reorganization of the headship of the different directorates, the first general reshuffling in about 12 years,” he said.

His words: “The IMC rigorously followed all the processes involved and ensured that the 2019 Budget was passed, approved and signed.”

Saturday Vanguard gathered that Pondei, in fact, made a deliberate attempt to raise staff morale and obtained approval from the supervising Ministry to conclude promotion exercises aborted years ago. Yearly allowances paid to staff in January each year, were processed and paid promptly in March 2020.”

Magic wand

Some stakeholders, who spoke to us, said Pondei in few months of his assumption of office is re-positioning the Commission “by being firm, but humane in approach to issues.” He is also said to be “leading by example, having mutual respect for everybody and listening to everybody.”

By this weekend, the new management team is nine weeks in office, which is too shot to assess, but clearly, Prof Pondei has not disappointed President Buhari and Minister of Niger Delta, who found him worthy for the assignment.

The Lead Consulting firm for the auditing of the Commission had commenced work, whilst the selection process for the other firms is ongoing and his IMC sees legacy projects that will impact on more people, projects that will be long-lasting and sustainable empowerment programmes for the youths, women and the vulnerable as the way forward for the Commission.

N’Delta group backs new reforms

Recently, the 21st Century Youths of Niger Delta and Agitators with Conscience, one of the leading Niger-Delta campaigners, applauded Senator Akpabio “for listening to constructive criticism and being proactive to the yearnings of the Niger Delta people by the sterling appointment of a distinguished technocrat as the acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission in the person of Prof. Pondei.”

Leader of the agitators, self-professed “Gen” Izon Ebi, in a statement, said: “ Since his appointment,  the professor and  IMC  have demonstrated professionalism in the running of the Commission that both the staff,  youths,  contractors, host communities,  traditional leaders are applauding him because of his unbiased focused and dedicated leadership style.”

“As we speak the process of paying contractors is ongoing, abandoned projects are being revitalized and the ones that were haphazardly done are optimized to specification.  The zeal to ameliorate the plight of the Niger Delta and its people can be felt in this perilous time on this Corona virus pandemic. The intervention of the commission has been timely and very commendable and welcome in saving the lives of helpless Niger Deltans.

“The re positioning of the Commission has been brought to the fore by the present administration.  The auditing of the books, relocation to its permanent office complex and intervention in critical areas should be encouraged and commended.  We, the 21st Century Youths of the Niger Delta and Agitators with Conscience feel that inadequate supervision can be said to be the major reason for the past failures of the Commission.

“The synergy between the Niger Delta ministry and the Commission is bringing about uncommon strides in the commission.  In, lieu of this, we plead with Mr. President to make Prof Pondei the substantive managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission. He is a technocrat that is not tainted by political tar brush, he is from Bayelsa state whose turn it is to produce the substantive MD as per the rotation principle and his integrity cannot be assailed by vested political interests,” the group asserted.

It added: “We state categorically that appointing prof. Pondei as the substantive MD and the synergy between the Commission and the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs will enable an uncommon growth in the Niger Delta region since the Commission is being supervised by the uncommon transformer in the person of Senator Godswill Akpabio. “

“We plead and urge Mr. President to fast track the development of the region and put a stop to the unnecessary acrimony and bad blood that may arise of the rotation principle is not adhered to.

“At the this juncture , we want to make a clarion call to our youths to have a rethink and support the leadership of Senator Akpabio and Professor Pondei to develop the Niger Delta for our people,  loved ones and generations unborn.  We should eschew been used by political buccaneers to foment trouble in the name of protest to blackmail and pull our distinguished personalities and leaders down because such will not augur well for Niger Delta,” the group further admonished.

Vanguard

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