By Donu Kogbara

ONCE in a while, I publish other peoples’ articles on this page, if I feel that they are especially informative or interesting. And I’m proud to present to you today a piece on NDDC that was written by Boniface Dumpe, a fellow Ogoni from my village (Bodo City, Rivers State) and a Research Fellow at the University of Port Harcourt’s Institute of Agricultural Research and Development.

THE creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, in 2000 was an affirmative Government action to address agitations for development of the oil-rich Niger Delta region. The NDDC Establishment Act embedded a sustainable funding mechanism. Fifteen percent of the Federal Government’s monthly allocation to the member states, three percent of the annual budget of oil and gas companies and 50 percent of funds due to member States from the Ecological Fund was set aside for optimal implementation of the NDDC mandate.

These include closing infrastructure gaps in the area, providing support for human capital development, stimulating economic growth and environmental/natural resource regeneration and its sustainable management as a means to mitigate poverty and improve the standard of living. However, after over 20 years of annual budget implementation, cumulative impact appraisal of NDDC’s performance is grossly short of public expectation.

The much-touted 2006 Niger Delta Regional Development Masterplan, NDRDMP, validated by colossal spending, was more of baseline analysis on the status of development in the region but completely lacking a time-bound evaluation framework. How puzzling! In over twenty years, even the most rudimentary in the hierarchy of needs for target communities – access to potable water, is yet to be delivered to all target communities in need and there is no set date to achieve the basic feat.

To resolve the paradox of the NDDC, the Buhari Administration embarked on a series of aberrations and ordered a forensic audit of the Commission and appointed an interim management committee to oversee its implementation. A Sole Administrator later took over and was replaced last month by another sole administrator.

Both interim committee and sole administrators are unorthodox within the context of the Act that established NDDC, which stipulated that the intervention agency be run by a Board. However, given the apparent deepseated organisational challenges that have compromised or inhibited rightperformance at the NDDC, the forensic audit appears to have also fallen short of public expectations as the panacea to NDDC’s rejuvenation?

How far did the forensic audit go to reposition NDDC for optimal performance of its mandate? At best, the outcome of the forensic audit, as a therapy for the NDDC, is still hazy. What is sure, however, is that the NDDC’s forensic audit has come and gone, and not much has changed in the day-to-day running of the Commission. In fact, it would appear that the NDDC has slipped into a coma since the conclusion of the forensic audit. This clearly indicates that a mere audit to expose infractions of procedures and perhaps some recommendations for sanction of defaulters, and given our prolonged prosecution processes, may not yield the much-desired transformation of the NDDC.

There is no doubt that a key challenge of the NDDC is the alienation of the communities it was set up to serve. Communities are alienated in terms of legitimate participation in the strategic planning process to address their needs. Accessibility of the Commission is limited, while the two-way communication and feedback on programme interventions is not accorded the priority it deserves. These factors contribute to foist a culture of opacity, lack of effective monitoring, corruption and patronage.

Informed analysis also confirmed that Niger Delta communities lack adequate capacity to drive the threedimensional areas of their sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. Whereas, these constraints would require scenario-specific capacity building interventions based on community profiles and needs’ assessment, the most outstanding factor impeding the performance of the NDDC is the contradictions in its operational structure.

The organisation’s management team is created on a political paradigm rather than being development-focused. Therefore, what is required to resolve NDDC’s paradox of performance, is a more fundamental structural reform of its operations by amendment of the extant establishment Act. The crux of NDDC’s performance dilemma is the fact that the three key management staff of the Commission – the Managing Director and the Executive Directors of Finance & Administration and Projects, are in practice more powerful than the NDDC Board as a collective and so are not subordinate to effective Board supervision and control. Rather, they are perpetually under pressure to appease and satisfy political overlords at the highest level both in the Executive and Legislative branches of Government and Party Leaders.

It all begins in the process of securing their appointment when a clan of political godfathers test their strength in competition to leverage their political clout of influence. When eventually appointed, like endangered species, the NDDC management officers must maintain awareness of those calling the shots in the corridor of power from time to time. They are obliged to demonstrate their loyalty and honour all manner of requests to secure their positions.

Consequently, it is virtually impossible for NDDC’s Management to concentrate on conceptualising or faithfully implementing any needs-based or strategic plan for Niger Delta’s sustainable development. On the contrary, annual budget items and projects for contract awards are determined by the emergency or routine demands of political strongmen.

The proposed amendment of the NDDC Act should aim to extricate NDDC’s Management from the burden of excessive political exposure and control by removing the NDDC Managing Director and the two Executive Directors from statutory membership of the NDDC Board. The three key management officers should be transformed into tenured staff of the Commission with well spelt out remuneration and benefits package good enough to attract high profile development managers from anywhere in the world.

The supervision of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs cannot replace the role of an effective Board in approving and supervising the organisation’s strategic plan and annual budgets including Tender guidelines for major procurement. In the proposed amendment to the NDDC establishment Act, the President should only appoint the Board while the Managing and Executive Directors should be recruited by the Board in a transparent process for a specific tenure with well defined targets of achievement set.

The key management staff should be in attendance at Board meetings to take strategic Board decisions and plans for implementation and provide feedback progress reports and make presentations for approval of workplans on an ongoing basis. In this way, the NDDC Management will be responsible to its Board and be subordinate to it. To realise value of envisioned amendments, the President must appoint only eminent and accomplished men and women of integrity to the NDDC Board.

Provisions for tenure security must also be enshrined so that the Board will have an uninterrupted period to superintend over the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region. Insulation of NDDC’s Management from overbearing political influence is what will transform the NDDC from a cash-cow supporting a political patronage system, to a result-based entity focused exclusively on its development mandate for the Niger Delta region. Before he leaves office, President Buhari should set in motion fundamental reforms to deliver the compromised promise of the NDDC after over twenty years.

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