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NDDC: A New Dawn Finally Beckons

One of the landmark achievements of the Obasanjo’s administration was the establishment of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as the premier interventionist agency in the oil and gas endowed Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

Drawing from a background of violent and non-violent agitations, the region had grappled with a multitude of development challenges, and a chequered past plagued with failed promises and false dawns as each cycle brings more stories of monumental corruption and leadership deficit.
The agency was preceded by the Niger Delta Development Board established through the Willinck’s Commission set up by the then pre-independence Government in 1958 to assuage the demands of the region following the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantities at Oloibiri in present day Bayelsa State.

The Board was consumed by excessive Federal interference which invariably weakened it. When Major Jasper Isaac Adaka Boro,the fiery Ijaw student activist led his group to declare an independent Niger Delta State in 1966, he was trying to create a platform for his people to lay rightful claims over a resource that lay underneath their land. It was not too much to ask for.

Though he did not succeed, Boro made his mark and created an awareness that stood the test of time in the consciousness of the people and of the region.

Following the disbandment of NDDB,another agency was formed and aptly named Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC). The new agency came with much expectations but became mired in the usual excessive interference from power brokers at Federal and State levels, leading to abandoned projects, excessive debts, poor development ideas, and dismal performance in engaging the people of the region to know their exact needs. This was compounded by high turnover of management as well as the ugly spectre of corruption. Needless to say OMPADEC failed on its mandate and had to be scrapped.

In the interregnum that followed,the region grew very restive as the younger generation found it expedient to confront the Government as they stared at a bleak future defined by environmental degradation, pollution, abject poverty, and unemployment. Thus militancy took firm root in the region.

Away from the tactics adopted by Kenule Saro Wiwa -led Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), the next phase of agitations grew increasingly violent. The creation of NDDC became the only policy option left for the government to address the development challenges of the region. By then, multiple groups deploying methods like kidnapping of oil workers, pipeline vandalism, bombardment of oil installations and sea piracy have become entrenched in the region.

This trend became the new norm in the region as the Government had to deploy an arsenal of military hardware to pacify the region. At some point between 2008 and 2009 when then President Yar Adua declared Amnesty for the militants, Nigeria was producing less than 700,000 barrels of crude oil per day as a result of the activities of the militant groups.

They had virtually brought the Nigerian economy to her knees.There were an estimated 45 distinct groups in operation in the region, each controlling its fief, and holding the region and the country siege through oil theft and other criminal activities.

It was the shift to illegal oil bunkering and crude oil theft by the militants that most signified how bad things were becoming. NDDC,on its part, gradually lapsed into the familiar terrain that engulfed previous agencies. Corruption was commonly associated with Commission while it kept changing management and boards, most of them in acting capacity.

The incentive to perform was very low and the Commission found it hard to establish a clear roadmap for the development of the region due to unstable leadership. Among the nine States that made up the region,there was intense and unhealthy struggle by Governors and Ministers to be in control or sabotage the management at each given cycle. More and more, NDDC became the butt of jokes before Nigerians who were regaled with tales of sleaze and disappointments in national television.

By the time it became clear that what the region needed was a development expert without political baggage, but one armed with the requisite academic background and vigour to get the Commission back on track, the right thing was finally done. Former President Buhari sought and got that right candidate in Chief Dr. Samuel Ogbuku. Thankfully, President Bola Tinubu reaffirmed that confidence despite some changes in the Board recently and retained him with renewed mandate.

By all indices, Dr. Ogbuku is eminently qualified for his newest national assignment. Armed with a Doctorate degree in Political and Administrative Studies from the University of Portharcourt with focus on Niger Delta Region,his thesis and dissertation are superb articulation of the problems of the region, and the practical solutions to the problems that hinder development in the oil-rich region. He had served as Chief of Staff to the former Governor of Bayelsa State,H.E Chief Timipre Sylva and later became a Senior Legislative Aide to former Deputy Senate President, Chief Ovie Omo-Agege.

His antecedents as a dyed-in-the-wool son of Ogbia L.G.A of Bayelsa State where he holds a traditional title, and one who had most of education in the region, prepared for this onerous task.
With the new Board made up of diligent individuals headed by Chief Chiedu Ebie, there is no doubt that the region will unlock her potentials and experience a renaissance. Gone is the era where contractors disappear after being mobilized to site or connive to get phantom projects paid for. Gone are the days where uncompleted projects litter the region. Gone are the days when excuses were made for abysmal performance benchmarks.

Chief Ogbuku is walking the talk with his management team, and has stopped at nothing to enthrone peace in the region,which has already been acknowledged through his recent award as an International Eminent People Peace Awardee. The new NDDC is one where individuals are out to write their names in gold. It is the new face of NDDC where projects and programmes have visible positive impact on the people. We are already seeing it in the Project HOPE Initiative which was rated as having the most transparent selection process for participants as well as the scholarship scheme that has been adjudged open,free and accessible to all qualified candidates.

The new drive towards a green economy that aims at mitigating the effects of oil and gas production on the environment is very laudable, as well as the new drive towards a ending gas flaring in the region is commendable.
Beyond these, emphasis on rural roads to link markets, development of commerce, industry and trade Chambers for region,and a complete overhaul of critical social infrastructure already started by the new Board must be sustained.

Across the nine states in the Commission,the story is the same,as new projects are springing up while abandoned ones are receiving attention. The Cardiovascular and Orthopaedic Hospital in Portharcourt Rivers State is a notable case in point.

We need a peaceful and developed Niger Delta region,one that attracts more sustainable investments. This is the best way to create a new development plan and unbundle the huge potentials of the region. The prevailing notion is that a new dawn of development is here at last. A dawn that brings the once far-off dream of a peaceful and progressive Niger Delta much closer than once thought.

@Ronald O.



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