Prominent Niger Delta leaders and critical stakeholders have thrown their weight behind the Expanded Interim Management Committee (EIMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and declared their support for the on-going forensic audit in the Commission.
The cream of the oil-rich region, led by Chief Timi Kaiser Ogoriba, stated their position during a solidarity visit to the NDDC management at the Commission’s new permanent headquarters in Port Harcourt.
The delegation, which included Ms. Annkio Briggs and Alhaji Asari Dokubo, lauded the EIMC for taking some notable strides, while urging it to do more because the development of the Niger Delta region was still a far cry from what was envisaged by those whose agitations led to the establishment of the NDDC.
Ogoriba said: “The on-going forensic audit is very necessary because the funds that have passed through the NDDC from inception till date, do not match the development on ground. Given this fact, anyone that is against the forensic audit has a problem and such a person is an enemy of the Niger Delta people.”
He observed that a lot of the funds that had come into the NDDC were not properly managed, stating: “We want a situation where things are done differently for better results.”
Ogoriba applauded the NDDC for completing its permanent headquarters building, urging the Commission to also monitor the proper execution of its projects. “You need an independent project monitoring committee that will stick to rules and ensure compliance with set standards,” he said.
Responding, the NDDC Acting Managing Director, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, said that the IMC was poised to reposition and refocus the Commission as directed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said: “The NDDC has existed for 20 years, doing things the same way and it has not been able to deliver on its core mandate of fast-tracking development in the Niger Delta region.
“We have tried to make some changes but we met a lot of challenges. We believe that with all hands on deck and leaving the past behind, we are going to surge forward and bring the needed development to our people.”
Pondei expressed sadness that the NDDC, which was set up as an interventionist agency, ended up performing the functions of local and state governments, thus limiting its capacity to intervene where necessary.
He declared: “We want to return the NDDC to its proper role as an interventionist agency.
That is why we are revisiting the region’s roadmap, the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan. The development compass needs review and we will need inputs from all stakeholders to once again underline what the NDDC is supposed to be doing.”
In the area of project monitoring, Pondei said that the Commission had since changed its approach. He explained: “In the recent inspection of just 15 projects by the Executive Director Projects and his team, the Commission saved N1.6 billion from overstated milestones. They could not match what was on ground with what was presented in Interim Payment Certificates, IPCs. We could have done more of these project inspections but for the distractions coming from our detractors. Nevertheless, we are set to resume the inspection visits.”
The NDDC boss said that the Commission had been engaging the governors of the nine Niger Delta states. According to him, “our plan is to hold regular meetings but this has not been realized because of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we have been able to hold virtual meetings through Zoom.”
Pondei lamented that various agricultural programmes have failed in the Niger Delta region on account of poor funding. Notwithstanding, he said, the Commission had started a pilot rice planting project which would be spread across the region subsequently.
He said further: “This project will help in getting our youths to be meaningfully engaged in farming. The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, is ready to provide loans for it.
“We also have plans to train our youths to benefit from the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG, Train 7 project. Barring funding challenges, we want to train the youths in under-water welding.”
Also speaking, the NDDC Executive Director Projects, Dr Cairo Ojougboh, assured that the IMC would do the right things for the benefit of the people of the Niger Delta. He said that the demonstration of support from leaders of the region was re-assuring, noting that the solidarity visit to NDDC meant that the IMC was on the right path.
In her own remarks, an environmental and human rights activist, Annkio Briggs, bemoaned a situation where the NDDC and the Niger Delta region were now a laughing stock in Nigeria because everybody who wanted to make excuses for the injustice in the region, cites the poor performance of the NDDC.
The truth, she said, was that the Commission had to deal with a system where its budget must be taken to the National Assembly where the lawmakers were at liberty to pick and choose what they want before approving the budget.