On the day the new management at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) held a one-day summit far away from base, they invited knowledgeable personalities in the public and development space to give them few words of advice.
The words rather came in torrents, starting from the supervising minister, Umana Okon Umana. The minister has come a long way as an administrator, once the secretary to the Akwa Ibom State government where he was said to have performed creditably.
He was also head of the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority in Port Harcourt. He too did not escape allegations of misdeed by his own detractors.
At the PPP summit, the NDDC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) worth over $15 billion with Atlanta Global Resources Inc, an infrastructure project financing firm based in Georgia, United States of America.
The deal is for the construction of a mega rail line that would connect the nine states that make up NDDC and ease the infrastructure deficit in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
NDDC Managing Director, Samuel Ogbuku, saw the deal as history in the making.
Umana: Don’t join politics, too
Umana harped on many aspects of setbacks in the NDDC, the worst, to him, being distraction and hunger to go and become governor.
NDDC has an annual budget equal to that of any state in the region but most of the CEOs still want to go and be governor even with less budgets.
Recounting how past leaderships of NDDC allowed politics to come in the way of the commission’s mandates in projects, Umana warned the new managing director of the Commission to reject any possible political ambition while in office.
Umana stated: “Before I make my speech, I would like to briefly comment on some of the issues. I had visited a state and when we met with the governor, the governor said that not one km of road had been done by NDDC in his state. I was shocked, it was an extreme position.
“Yes, NDDC has not done as well as expected. But when a governor comes out openly and is saying that not one km of road had been done, I also felt it was a problem, and when I inquired further, I discovered that a former MD of NDDC had been his opponent in an election for governorship and, therefore, he could never see NDDC as a partner that he could collaborate with.
“He saw NDDC as a competitor. So, he had to play down on the achievements of NDDC. So, the message we are also taking away is, I hope the new MD, you are not planning for governorship? Because we don’t need this kind of disruption again in this commission.
“We need professionals, who will be committed to the job of running the NDDC, not people who will come and after one year, two years, they are planning to run for governorship. I know this MD will be different and I know this board will be different.”
Umana talked of how he had set out to create the process of resetting and repositioning NDDC immediately President Muhammadu Buhari appointed him as Niger Delta Affairs minister. He stated that he inherited a rot in the Commission and received over 1,000 messages about pending payments for contracts.
After understanding the things that went wrong in the commission, Umana said he gave a commitment to the president as well stakeholders that he would change the story of the interventionist agency.
The minister said the ministry and the Commission were now on the right track towards achieving badly needed development and progress in the Niger Delta.
Umana warned the new leadership of NDDC to avoid the practice of the commission siting projects and executing them in the states without the knowledge and collaboration of the authorities in the states.
According to him, the partnership with stakeholders, the oil companies, is also extended to state governments.
According to sources at the summit, Umana said he was excited to be part of the important summit initiated by NDDC. He said the initiative was in line with the emphasis of government to harness the expertise and energies of all stakeholders and partners in the drive to develop Niger Delta.
He said government was totally in support of such kind of initiative conducted within the framework of due process and best practice in public governance.
Umana added, “The event we are witnessing today ties back with my action plan to reset and reposition the NDDC following my appointment as minister. I have faithfully implemented the action plan.
“Public Private Partnership will not be realistic in a government institution that is burdened with trust deficit. Keeping with the action plan to do things right, government approved for implementation of some of the key recommendations of the forensic audit into the activities of the NDDC.
Process for recovering money paid cancelled contractors underway – Umana
“As recommended in the report, contracts of over 4,000 projects were cancelled for non-performance and the cancellation was published in the newspapers. The process for recovering money paid for the cancelled contracts has begun.
“The plan is fully on for the Niger Delta region to optimise the benefits from its abundant natural resources, especially oil and gas, which have contributed significantly to the national economy and development, but the region faces many challenges such as environmental degradation, poverty, unemployment, insecurity, and under-development.
“The federal government recognises the need to address these challenges and progress to ensure that people of the Niger Delta enjoy the benefits of their resources and potential.”
Earlier in his address, Umana explained that over the years, implementing the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan, which had a 15-year timeline, failed due to various factors, including inadequate funding for the Commission emanating from inconsistent statutory contributions from the FG and failure of certain oil and gas operating companies to remit their stipulated contributions, among others.
Other voices: Tony Ekpele
Chief Executive Officer of Atlanta Global Resources Inc, Tony Ekpele, said the company was partnering with NDDC to as much as possible provide funds for the commission to construct, operate and also manage the rail line.
According to him, “We commit ourselves to ensure that we do all we can to deliver this project.”
Simbi Wabote: You have enough revenue sources
In his keynote presentation, Wabote said the initiative by the commission to attract additional funding via PPP was very commendable.
He, however, warned that capital attraction was a big challenge when there were real or perceived infractions, corruption, lack of accountability, and other vices within the organisation seeking funding.
Wabote said the federal government had made efforts to address the issues of transparency and accountability in the commission, imploring the board and the management of the commission to do all within their powers to project it in the best of light.
Wabote stated, “This should be evident in your branding, your signature projects, the type of interventions you get involved in, your eagerness to open your books and project sites to scrutiny, your prudence in funds management and others.
“By law, the sources of your funding from the Federation Account, oil producing companies, state governments, and local or international grants are quite massive and first requires the commission to demonstrate financial ingenuity before leveraging for more capital.
“It is, therefore, my belief that once the finances of the commission are adjudged transparent, and prudently managed, it will attract genuine partnerships locally and internationally.”
Wabote added, “From what I can see with the current management, a new dawn is in the horizon and I look forward to very exciting times at the commission.”
Adams Oshiomhole admonished the new NDDC management to entrench sound corporate governance to enable them secure private sector financing needed to support them in executing their projects.
He advocated that the budget cycle of NDDC should be in line with the normal budget run.
He argued, “Sometimes half way through the year, the budget has not been approved and, therefore, you are spending money that is not quite clear and you may thereafter require ratification, and should the ratifying authority decline, you know you are in trouble.”