As a participant observer in the Niger Delta project, I am amazed that over the past few weeks an incredibly enormous amount of energy has been expended by various individuals, groups and corporate entities on issues around the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, the Niger Delta and Nigeria at large, with little progress. Not a few have, uncharacteristically, had to fly off the handle. Many have been called names other than their first, middle or surnames. Many more have thrown their hands up in the air, in utter frustration with the situation. But, beyond the dark clouds the foregoing represent, there is a bright silver lining, which should energize us all to join hands in moving the NDDC and the Niger Delta forward for the good of Nigeria.
My interest in the Niger Delta has far-flung roots in certain personal and vicarious experiences along the route of my practitioner-researcher journey. The take off point of this journey was my employment 14 February 1994 as a Researcher-Reporter on the energy and politics beats on the pioneer team of THISDAY newspaper. In December 2004 came another milestone in my journey, when I moved, from my position as founding Associate Editor at Leadership Newspaper, to Nigeria’s public service, as a public relations and management practitioner in NDDC, an agency of the country’s federal government, created to facilitate the speedy, sustainable development of the Niger Delta. Although my birth and teenage years in a Niger Delta town – Ughelli – gave me an inkling of the paradoxical situation of this well-endowed but highly beleaguered region of Nigeria, my working career provided me greater and enormous opportunities to observe, as well as experience, first-hand and second-hand, its peculiarities.
I was born in an era when agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. By the time I became a teenager, petroleum had displaced agriculture in Nigeria’s economic mix. Gradually, I saw farmlands and rivers dwindle in importance, as petroleum effluents diminished their fertility and reduced the ranks of people whose affluence was tied to land and water. As an adult, I have seen the seething anger of a people who perceive relative deprivation, as the bubble of oil boom went burst. In the past two decades, I have lived and worked among people who keep wondering whether petroleum exploration and other business activities have left them better or worse off.
The glaring contradictions, arising from the above-mentioned practical observation and experience, stirred my intellectual curiosity. Consequently, the first two of my three Master’s degrees focused largely on the intersection of leadership, sustainability, change and strategy implementation, in the context of the sordid situation of the Niger Delta. Out of the dissertation of my first master’s degree emerged a book with the title: Making the Niger Delta work: Strategy Execution Tips from the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan.
Similarly, my third Master’s degree culminated in my investigating and scoping the academic literature to unearth researchers’ scant attention to exploration of how C-Suite executives advance corporate sustainability performance in Nigerian organizations. My ongoing doctoral study builds on the foregoing, as well as the advent of sustainability and corporate sustainability performance as modern-day concerns, in that it explores how top executives provide leadership to advance corporate sustainability performance for the good of all, in the context of the Niger Delta.
It is true that NDDC can do much better than it has done since it was established. For example, the NDDC Act provides that one of its functions is “to prepare master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger-Delta area and the estimates of the costs of implementing such master plans and schemes.” Hence, NDDC in its early days, collaborated with a vast array of stakeholders to craft a development strategy, named the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan (NDRDMP), to change the region. The NDRDMP was devised to pursue poverty reduction, largely through improved productivity in agriculture coupled with development of micro and small-scale enterprises. It also aims at accelerated economic growth through improved infrastructure and industrialisation of the region; with human resource development, institutional development, capacity building and environmental protection as general foundations and enablers. In fact, the aim of the NDRDMP was to move the Niger Delta from the deplorable situation it was to a more desirable future state, through orderly implementation in three phases of five years each, over a 15-year period spanning 2005 to 2020.
Regrettably, we are yet to experience truly speedy development of the well-endowed, predominantly oil and gas-bearing, but highly beleaguered Niger Delta region of Nigeria. This, among other reasons, was why President Muhammadu Buhari acceded to the request of the nine Governors and other leaders of the Niger Delta for a forensic audit of NDDC from inception till 2019. Moreover, it is on record that President Buhari directed that the NDDC forensic audit, which has been widely applauded as a crucial move and the only process that can cleanse NDDC, be overseen by the Interim Management Committee, IMC of the NDDC.
However, the current IMC of the NDDC, led by the Acting Managing Director, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, has been distracted by relentless allegations about all manner of spurious misdeeds. These have been interpreted in some quarters as attempts to hang the IMC and stultify the forensic audit.
While it is not for us in this piece to adjudge the merit or otherwise of the numerous allegations and counter-allegations pertaining to the NDDC and the IMC, one thing is crystal clear. There is widespread concern about the deficit of service delivery by NDDC. This concern presents an opportunity to generate great ideas to turn around the unsatisfactory situation of the Niger Delta.
Consequently, all true lovers of the Niger Delta and Nigeria should come up with ideas on how to strengthen the NDDC for better service delivery. Let’s join hands and channel our energies to make the NDDC work for Niger Delta and Nigeria. Although it was conceived with the intention that it would be reviewed periodically, the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan is yet to be reviewed. This should be a source of worry for all true lovers of the Niger Delta and Nigeria. It does no one any good engaging in endless recrimination, trading blames and peddling falsehoods. We have had enough.
*Pius Ughakpoteni, Deputy Director (Media Relations) at the NDDC, writes from Port Harcourt.