President Jonathan lamented on Monday that development in Niger Delta has not justified the quantum of funds allocated to the region, especially through the various intervention agencies over the years.
At the inauguration of the new Board of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC headed by Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw at the Council Chamber of Aso Rock presidential villa, the President also lamented that most people in the Niger Delta felt that NDDC has not lived up to expectations over the years.
As such, he said the new Board should strive to be different.
“You have a lot of responsibility and for those of you from the Niger Delta who are even there, you know that the history of intervening agencies is legion. From three per cent to one intervention or the other, if you aggregate the total amount of money the Federal Government has spent on this agency is enormous and I don’t believe on ground that we have something to show very clearly,” the President who also worked with Oil Minerals Producing Areas Authority, OMPADEC said.
The President urged the new board to be innovative in its activities and be conscious of the fact that Nigerians are now very probing of government activities more than ever before, especially with the enactment of Freedom of Information Act.
He also asked the new Board not to award any new contracts until all the ongoing projects are completed. The President noted that NDDC has too many ongoing projects.
“A body like NDDC should not just go into a voyage of contracts procurement but ongoing projects must be completed for people to benefit before new ones are awarded,” said Jonathan.
” There are just too many ongoing projects and we believe that you don’t even have enough manpower to manage the ongoing projects,” he added.
The President noted that the former Board of the Commission was dissolved because instead of “instead of it to work with the management to make sure that people from the area benefit from the NDDC they were busy quarrelling over money.”
“The money does not belong to the board members nor the staff, the money belongs to the people yet they were quarrelling. If the money that belongs to the people is being spent the way it should they will be no reason why people should quarrel.
“There are guidelines in terms of procurement and managing of funds and if the MD or ED is doing things contrary to expectations there are lines of reporting, there are lines of authority and I will expect you to follow.
“I don’t expect you to go and start quarrelling. I expect you to be committed, both the board and the management, so as to ensure that the people from the area benefit from the resources,” said Jonathan who also appealed to Governors of Niger Delta States to take their supervisory role over the Commission more seriously.
“I urge you particularly the chairman as the head of the team now, the MD, other board members and the EDs to work together to make sure that within this period, Nigerians see clearly that you are totally committed to the development of the place.
“You know everything done by government body, the blame if wrongly done is on the head of the president. If you do badly, it is Jonathan that is probably using NDDC funds for election campaigns, that is what people will say. I will really look at your activities clinically, and I will not accept any aberration from the conventional and acceptable way of managing resources of the people,” said the President.
In his response, Ewa-Henshaw said members of the board were fully aware of the shortcomings and criticisms that have trailed the commission over the years.
He however said his Board will adopt a fresh approach and forge a new direction to create a more positive image for the commission.
“We believe that the NDDC can become the veritable vehicle for it is intended to be for the uplifting of the people of the Niger Delta, a vehicle by which their situation can be transformed from one of deprivation to one of prosperity and hope. You have already charted the course through your transformation agenda for the Nigerian nation.
Ewa Henshaw said his Board will focus on major infrastructural developments that will open up and integrate the sub-region and projects and programmes that will result in wealth creation and creation of employment for the youths of Niger Delta.
He also promised that the Board will observe good governance, transparency and efficiency in all facets of the commissions operation.
Ewa-Henshaw assured the President that the Board members will not take their responsibilities lightly.
“I think for us we are going to change direction and focus as I said. There is no reason why NDDC cannot get involved in major infrastructural development. The 2013 budget is about N300 billion.
“The first thing we are going to do is to put up a small thing to do a thorough analysis of existing projects to let us know where and what has been paid, percentage completion, expected completion period and then we can do analysis and agree on which ones that we need to follow but beyond that we will take a more substantial proportion of the NDDC budget and focus it on major infrastructural development,” Ewa later told journalists.
He said his Board will look at the region key infrastructures like roads that can link up all the states within the region for integration.
“Once you build those roads and allow people to move freely, integration will begin to take place, there is no reason with the kind of budget that the NDDC has that we cannot begin to be initiators of power development for the sub region, we don’t want to be full owners of any project particularly power, oil but we want to be a catalyst for developing those projects, we will look for partners, we will encourage them, and if necessary, put small investment and look for private equity that will assist in establishing this project.
“If we provide sufficient power for the sub- region, we will solve the unemployment problem by half. oil industry is based in the Niger Delta region, there is no reason why the citizens of that region cannot begin to take parts and become important stakeholders, not stakeholders in the sense that oil is coming from their backyard but taking ownership of some off the aspects of those explorations, developments, refineries.
“In whatever way we can, we must begin to get the people of the area involved, we must begin to open up the area, find ways to create wealth and reduce unemployment for the people,” he added.
Bassey Dan Abia, Managing Director, NDDC said the board was aware of the “unmet expectation of the people of Niger Delta region in respect to NDDC.
“So what I will do is to ensure that we review the Niger Delta regional development plan and most of those critical and fundamental issues that are contained in that plan we have not been following, we just have to review the master plan”.
“We have learnt our lessons over the years and this time around, I have interacted with the quality of people that are coming on board and we have resolve as a team and once we have a common agenda there is no reason why we will not succeed, it is when you are working from different points and objective that there will be crisis,” said Dan Abia while assuring that the new Board and management will not be torn apart by in fighting as was the case in the past.
Other members of the board are Dr Itotenaan Henry Ogiri, (Rivers) as Executive Director (Finance and Administration) and Tuoyo Omatsuli (Delta), as the Executive Director (Projects).
Others are Turofade Oyarede (Bayelsa); Ephraim Sobere Etete(Rivers); Etim Inyang Jnr (Akwa Ibom); Adah Paul Andeshi (Cross River); Tom Amioku (Delta); Samuel Okezie Nwogu (Abia); Uchegbu Chidiebere Kyrian (Imo); Maj. Gen Suleiman Said (Niger, North Central); Alhaji Abdumalik Mahmud (Bauchi, North East).
However, Edo, Ondo and North East are yet to have nominees on the Board.