History of two NDDC Towers: One handed back to Rivers, as Commission moves into another
On Wednesday, September 8, 2021, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) handed over the keys to its headquarters building, Harold Dappa Biriye House, on Aba Road in Port Harcourt, to the Rivers State Government, concluding what it called the phased movement of the Commission to its new headquarters at the Eastern Bypass.
The vacated headquarters is eight stories while the new one is 12. Each has a huge history of agony and pain behind it. First, the present one located at Marine Base close to the slums near the waters is the second tallest building in the state and third in the Niger Delta. The tallest is now in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, started by the late Diepriye Alamiesegha administration and completed by the Nigerian Contempt Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB).
That building too has a small history behind it. It was a signpost of the struggle for supremacy between the two states carved out of the Old Rivers State (Rivers and Bayelsa). Alamieyeseigha, a proud and zealous Ijaw hero, wanted everyone who cared to know that he wanted the tallest building in the Niger Delta to be situated on Ijaw land or state capital as Yenagao prefers to be called.
He thus started the gigantic and ambitious project of 19 floors to top the Diete-Spiff Secretariat with the tallest tower at 18 floors. The project seemed too huge especially as the 2008 global meltdown with attendant recession hit the state. It thus became a huge embarrassment for years as each administration showed an attitude to it, either of support of neglect, until the NCDMB was created and sent to Yenagoa by a son of the soil President, Goodluck Jonathan.
Thus, the NCDM Board Tower snatched the title of the tallest building in the Niger Delta from The Rivers State Secretariat Building (Diete-Spiff Building of 18 floors to push the new NDDC Tower to third in the region. This way, the former NDDC Tower on Aba Road now takes fourth.
Beyond height, each of the two towers for the NDDC has rich history.
Abacha vs the feeble Perm Sec
A permanent secretary in the service of the Rivers State (name withheld) had acquired the land many year back. Soon, the area became hot cake and sani Abacha, then a power commander at Bori Camp army brigade, now a division, loved the place.
Abacha pointed at it and it became his, as the story was told. Next, a famous business group which had benefitted from him asked to do him a favour. He pointed at the land and they began to build a tower there for him. The finished artwork had a big ‘A’ designed across the entire length of the tower such that any passer-by would know it’s for Abacha.
The perm sec sued for his land, probably after making private overtures. Abacha rather rose to become Chief of Army Staff and later head of state. The Perm Sec on his own fell sick; became bedridden on stroke and feeble.
The judges knew the truth but lacked the courage to rule against a power army chief with a towering building on the land. So, the case dried in the court but not dead.
Then, unseen forces came in. Abacha died suddenly and another man became head of state. Quickly, the court found its voice and ruled that the land belonged to the perm sec. The sick man who had run out of funds for medication and had allowed nature to decide his health became a very famous and rich.
The state government then under Peter Odili was looking for a place to give the NDDC as headquarters after a fierce battle with Bayelsa and some other contenders about hosting right. So, the governor was said to have handed the perm sec N200m to hands off his weak hands off the land. The man only owned the land, not the building, but the law says whoever owns the land owns the building. But for overriding public interest, the government acquired the place.
This is how the state government became the landlord. It was to be gathered later that the NDDC was paying about N300m rent annually, but whether the entire money got to the state coffers is another matter.
The new NDDC Tower
The FG had created OMPADEC (Oil Mineral Producing and Development Commission) and made Albert Horsefall the CEO. They decided to build a befitting headquarters for it to celebrate the oil region.
The good intention soon got mired in constant change of guards, corruption, etc, until the commission died. Such a commission was suggested before independence by a committee set up by the colonial masters to assuage the fears of the Ijaws. It was ruled that there should be a special commission to develop the riverine areas while also getting normal development from the regional and national governments.
So, OMPADEC and NDDC are not compensation for oil but in keeping with the Willinks Commission and to boost development in the riverine areas. Oil only came to boost the effort.
The building continued to lie fallow until the NDDC was created in 2000 by Obasanjo and they inherited the building plus its troubles which also troubled the NDDC along.
Many CEOs came and looked the other way while trillions passed under the tables in the NDDC. Then, it was only when women came as interim CEOs that action started and died the moment men took over as main CEOs. This was so until Godswill Akpabio came as supervising minister and made the new building his ‘uncommon’ objective and target for completion. This took place in the time of another interim CEO, Effiong Akwa. History will not forget them in a hurry.
Many whispered that he was rather part of the contract problems and raising, but he bulldozed his way to completion and commissioning from July 2000 when the Abacha Tower became NDDC Tower to the new NDDC Tower, making 15 years.
Now, the NDDC is home. It has moved into its own home and is getting a forensic audit report that smells to high heavens. The FG plans to set new rules of engagement which will herald the new vision in a new house.
It will be left to the in-coming CEO and board to decide if the new home will be home of progress or home of rogues in the next 15 years.