The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has unveiled a $15bn deal with the US to construct a rail link to all the partner states.
Details of the deal which was signed in Lagos, away from the Niger Delta, showed that the NDDC was to own the project but entire funding was to come from a private firm, Atlanta Global Resources Inc (AGRI), based in the US with a Niger Delta son, Tony Ekpele (Epele) at the helm of affairs.
The NDDC signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the United States Consulate and the US-based firm, Atlanta Global Resources Inc (AGRI), to build the railway network that would connect the nine states of the Niger Delta region.
The ceremony, which was a part of the one-day Public Private Partnerships (PPP) summit organized by the Commission in Lagos on Tuesday, April 25, 2023, which would provide locomotives, construct railway lines and operate same in the oil producing states of Rivers, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Imo and Abia.
The MOU was signed by the managing director/CEO of the NDDC, Samuel Ogbuku, on behalf of the Commission, Chamberlain Eke, on behalf of the United States Consulate, and Tony Akpele, on behalf of AGRI.
Work on the preliminary stages of the project, perhaps the biggest in the history of the Commission, is expected to start immediately.
Speaking at the summit, Ogbuku disclosed that the NDDC was determined to renavigate the process of its intervention in the Niger Delta so that it can achieve its mandate of facilitating the rapid, even, and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.
He stated that the MoU represented a big harvest for the NDDC from the PPP Summit.
In his goodwill message at the summit, former NDDC Managing Director, Timi Alaibe, expressed delight at the PPP initiative taken by the new leadership of the Commission.
He said: “This is the first time in 15 years that I am attending an NDDC function. This is because the new board is charting a new course that is impressive.”
He added: “Far back, after the implementation of the Master Plan, we decided on an implementation plan which involved all key stakeholders. We decided that the Master Plan cannot be funded by the government alone. We needed the private sector. That is why I support holding the summit in Lagos, Nigeria’s financial capital. The concept of rewinding and rebirth is sweet to the ears.”
Also speaking during the summit, the former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, commended the NDDC for admitting that it had suffered from goal displacement.
He said: “The NDDC management and the board have shown courage by putting the summit together. The NDDC has our prayers and support. What is missing is not the ideas, but the courage.”
In another goodwill message, the former Managing Director of NIMASA, Dakuku Peterside, applauded the NDDC board and management for striving to leave legacies in the region.
According to him, “The founding fathers of the NDDC intended that the NDDC should be a catalyst for development. The PPP arrangement is a new way of getting good results. There must be a fusion between the private sector and the public sector. It is important to bring in the resources and expertise of the private sector.”
The key nerve of the project, funding, would be outside the control of the government or the NDDC. The managers of the fund led by AGRI would recover the funds by managing the project post construction, but it is not clear how insulated the project is from frequent changes in commission or insecurity in the region.
The linkage line also indicates that this must be different from the Niger Delta Coastal Rail Line which the immediate past minister of Transportation kept mentioning. That one was to run from Lagos through the coastline to Calabar, different from a coastal highway or the East West Road.
The MoU signed in Lagos on Tuesday did not however, provide timelines to show when it would commence and when it is expected for commissioning. It is also not revealed how long AGRI would manage the rail line and handover or if the management would be in perpetuity.