The recent commissioning of the half completed headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in Port Harcourt, threw up several angles that once more betray the condescension with which the Presidency and some of its operatives consider the region and its affairs. Routinely subjected to an underdog status in the schemes and processes of national politics as well as governance, it has become a fait accompli that whatever is thrown at the zone must be accepted by the people without a whimper.
Firstly among the recent instances of denigration was that President Muhamadu Buhari trivialized the commissioning of this all important project remotely by zoom and thereby lost the golden opportunity of bonding directly with the people which a personal, physical appearance would have achieved. Secondly was that the ceremony was conducted without effective buy-in by even the governors of the states for which the NDDC was established, as they were seemingly, formally excluded from the proceedings, and in a manner that testified eloquently to the routine discounting of their relevance, along with that of other leading lights of the zone in the affairs of the Commission.
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Not unexpectedly the situation generated some friction between several leaders in the zone including the Governor of the Rivers State Nyesom Wike and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio. As is public knowledge, the latter had recently hijacked and virtually personalised all the statutory powers of the Commission, having been implicated in scandalously denying it of the services of a board of directors, imposing Interim Management Committees and finally anointing a crony to run the agency in the capacity of a Sole Administrator answerable only to him.
To accentuate the parody in the commissioning exercise is the fact that even the governors of the NDDC states were not carried along by the Commission as their absence was conspicuous at the ceremonies both in Abuja and Port Harcourt as protocol demands. A typical instance was that the commissioning ceremony was scheduled to take place at a time when the Rivers State Government was dualising the Eastern Bypass Road which is the access route to the new NDDC headquarters. The Rivers State had since November 2020 awarded a contract for the dualisation of the Eastern By-pass and work was in progress when the NDDC launched its commissioning enterprise. In fact, a recent circular from the Rivers Government has announced the closure of the road to vehicular traffic from March 24th to April 23rd 2021. Beyond any other consideration this situation offers to not only expose both staff and visitors to the new NDDC headquarters to significant inconveniences, but also betrays the incontinence of the leadership of the Commission with respect to reconciling its operations with the government of the host Rivers State. This is a situation that should have been avoided had there been a formal reconciliation between the Akpabio imposed leadership dispensation in the NDDC, and the Rivers State Government.
To further accentuate the less than cordial interface between the Commission and host Niger Delta states, are at least two view from the respective governors of two of the participating states. Firstly was the call from the governor of State Hope Uzodinma who called for a review of the NDDC Act to provide for the active monitoring of the operations of the Commission by beneficiary host communities – a control measure which is lacking in the present dispensation. Also is the intervention by the governor of Delta State Ifeanyi Okowa who called for the placement of all funds going to the NDDC into an escrow account, during the period it had no board of directors.
Tall orders, one would say! For how, when and even whether these proposed valid reforms along with others, will ever come to pass in the context of contemporary realities of Nigerian politics, is a matter of conjecture, given the present set up which profiles the Niger Delta zone as deserving nothing more significant than mere handouts whenever they cry out stridently. And with Niger Delta indigenes in the federal government who as cronies, indulge in deleterious enterprise of undermining their home land, the fate of the region lies in the hands of its more altruistic leaders. In that context the prospects of redemption of the Niger Delta region has to be procured under a development paradigm shift, from the present regime of endless lament as underdogs baying for more handouts, to the adoption of targeted domestic initiatives at self -help in fostering economic reinvention of their communities.
For instance, although the region today is the county’s cash cow being the hub of the oil and gas sector, as a delta terrain of one of the world’s largest rivers, (the great River Niger), the zone remains a depository of humongous stocks of natural resources in every inch of its territory, and which for now remain largely untapped. It is therefore time for the leaders of the zone to start thinking inwards to discover hidden opportunities begging for attention, and capitalize on such. All it will cost them is the loss of their mendicancy and dependency on Abuja for their lifelines, while their dividends will be the watershed of untold prosperity for their homeland.