By Sam Ekpe
AT a recent press conference held in Port Harcourt, the Contractors Association of Niger Delta Development Commission, CA-NDDC, made resolutions on a number of issues that currently affect the Commission.
Following a meeting executive members of the Association held with Prof. Pondei the acting MD/CEO of the NDDC at the commissions new ultra-modern head office in Port Harcourt a win -win situation was arrived at which involved a number of agreements.
It is expected that if these agreements are implemented, the seemingly unending impasse in the commission, which has led to thousands of abandoned projects in the Niger Delta will become something of the past.
Chief Professor Jasper F. Jumbo, National Chairman of the founding fathers of the defunct OMPADEC/NDDC who is also the grand patron of the contractors association, and led some members of the founding fathers like Prof. Nduka Nsirim, HRH Eze Young Ogbonna of Owaza, Abia State; Prof. O Jason Osian, Miss Ibetomie Biriye, Engr. Chidi Amadi and others, had earlier requested the Acting Managing Director to ensure that performing contractors were paid without further delay.
One considers that by far the most significant aspect of the press conference was the attention the Contractors Association called to the neglect and abandonment of the Founding Fathers of the Development Agencies of the Niger Delta Region –OMPADEC and NDDC.
These founding fathers used their personal resources to fight for a better deal for the Niger Delta region. They did so from the days of Dr. Pius Okigbo, through the tenures of Chief Olu Falae, the Presidential Advisory Committee, President Ibrahim Babangida, the Armed Forces Ruling Council, AFRC, President Ousegun Obasanjo, Senator Fred Brume and the National Assembly.
It is indeed unfortunate and deeply regrettable that the Nigerian State has allowed the labours of our past heroes, the Founding Fathers of OMPADEC and NDDC to be in vain. Almost all of them have died without any recognition or appreciation of their service by any of the host governments of the commission – Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River, Edo, Delta, Imo and Akwa Ibom states.
When one hears or reads about the mind boggling figures alleged to have been looted in the NDDC by public officers instead of being used for the public goods one wonders if the spirit of these Founding Fathers of the NDDC will not recoil in their graves.
Apart from the tokenism of naming the rented headquarters building of the NDDC after the late sage, Chief Harold Dappa Biriye, no other form of national recognition has been accorded these Founding Fathers of the two development agencies of the Niger Delta region.
Having watched with keen interest and admiration, and from close quarters the early stages of the struggle, the intrigues and positive developments that gave birth to the organisations, this writer feels deeply concerned about the sorry state of affairs in the Niger Delta region.
For instance, the struggle for the emancipation of the grossly marginalised and under developed riverine communities of Nigeria was initiated by the late Chief Harold Dappa Biriye who made a case for a better deal for the area at the Landcaster Conference in 1957.
Following deliberations at the conference the Wilkins Commission was set up in 1958 to address the case of the Niger Delta minorities of Nigeria. This gave raise to the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Board, NDDB. Though underfunded, the NDDB coordinated economic activities in the Niger Delta Area until the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war in 1967.
I was a witness to the historic role Jasper F Jumbo played in the Niger Delta struggle while serving as the public relations officer to the late Dr. K.O Mbadiwe, then Special Adviser to President Shehu Shagari on National Assembly Matters in the 1980s. Jasper Jumbo visited our office in State House Marina, Lagos on many occasions seeking support for his well researched solution to the Niger Delta problem from various political heavy weights of the period.
Dr. Mbadiwe gave him a letter of introduction to the late Dr. Pius Okigbo, the then Chairman of the Federal Committee for the Review of Revenue Allocation. Dr. Okigbo’s appreciation of Jasper Jumbo’s confidential submission and positive response was one of the reasons behind the allocation of 1.5 per cent of Federal Revenue to the Mineral Producing Areas.
During the Military Regime, Chief Dappa Biriye floated the Association of Mineral Producing Areas of Rivers State, AMPARS, and wanted the Mineral Producing Areas Fund used for a Mineral Areas Bank for Niger Delta. Dr. Jasper Jumbo disagreed with him on principle and formed the National Association for Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, NAMPAD, and for over seven years carried the Niger Delta struggle on his head.
As national co-ordinator and later national chairman of NAMPAD, Jumbo in 1986 led a few Niger Delta personalities to formally negotiate with the Federal Government to establish another Commission for the Development of the Niger Delta since the NDDB had become moribund. This led to the establishment of OMPADEC in 1992 by the President Ibrahim Babangida Administration and later NDDC by President Obasanjo later in 1999.
One sees no reason why such icons of the Niger Delta struggle like Prof. Jasper Jumbo and his other colleagues who saw it all from inception till date should not be involved in nurturing the baby they gave birth to and see it grow to maturity.
At this period our dear President Buhari is searching for most effective and efficient strategy to develop the goose that lays the golden eggs, without our endless tales of corruption and scandals, shouldn’t Prof Jasper Jumbo a tried and tested administrator and visioner of the Commission be invited to clean the augean stable and give the development agency an entirely new lease of life? I so summit.
Ekpe, a media and PR consultant and commentator on public affairs, wrote from Abuja.