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As NDDC Gets Permanent Head Office Complex

Last month, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) headquarters complex along Eastern By-pass, Marine Base, Port Harcourt, commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari   in  a virtual presentation from the Council Chamber of the State House, Abuja.

While commissioning the N16 billion complex, the president said the N300 million annual rent for the former building of the Commission would be deployed to other areas of need in the Niger Delta region.

Recall that the then Oil and Mineral Producing Development Commission (OMPADEC) awarded the 13-storey high-rise contract in June 1994, to Messrs Marshland Projects Nigeria Limited. The gorgeous edifice, which stands out in the slumpy area of Marine Base in the Port Harcourt City Local Government Council of Rivers State, started out for the sum of N4 billion.

Chief Albert Horsefall, the first Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and pioneer head of the Commission, performed the groundbreaking ceremony. The project was executed for 26 years amid serious delays, financial circumventions, and technical gauntlet.

Before Effiong Akwa was appointed Interim Administrator under whose tenure the project was completed, it had wavered under about 16 Chief Executive Officers who differed the cost, performed several revisions, redesigns, and amendments until it ultimately got to the N16 billion threshold.

The circumstances that encompassed the abandoned NDDC permanent headquarters were typical reflections of the leadership gap and managerial loopholes that had led to the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta. The development lends credence to the claims in some quarters that indeed the Niger Delta people are the major cause of the problems in the region.

Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, who coordinated the consummation of the project, gave discomfiting facts of its desertion. Akpabio recollected his first visit to the project site in 2019 and was informed that he was the only government official that had visited the project site. None of the managers of the Commission inspected the project much less commencing a strategy to complete it. It was never a part of their plans. The minister said that he met the project site in a terrible condition. While the land was mashy, the entire area was covered by vegetation.

For getting this building completed, Buhari deserves a standing ovation because this project had evaded the close attention of five governments before him. Akpabio merits commendation for pursuing its construction to the logical end at a time of great troubles occasioned by COVID-19 and diminishing resources. Not to be forgotten is Akwa, whose responsibility it was to midwife the building until its safe delivery in the midst of the hurly-burly of Niger Delta politics.

Having commissioned the NDDC building, the Federal Government must undertake holistic reforms of the Commission to ensure that monies released to it commensurate with projects and programmes. The ongoing forensic audit must be carried through to guarantee probity in the Commission’s affairs. As the President rightly stated, the incredible amount used for servicing rent in the last 26 years should be channelled to other productive ventures in the region.

The NDDC was set up as a direct retort of the Federal Government to the agitation of the oil-producing communities and states for the establishment of an interventionist agency that would address the degradation in the area as well as tackle the infrastructural depletion because some stakeholders felt that the 13 per cent derivation funds might not adequately cater to the needs of oil-producing communities.

We are grossly unsatiated with the operations of the NDDC since its establishment in 2000 despite receiving about N946.19bn in 18 years. The interventionist agency is a total failure. The financial embarrassments and corruption allegations that recently reeled it have eroded public faith in its ability to acquit its mandatory statutory commitments.

The NDDC leadership has to ensure adequate security and timely riposte to security infringements in its environs. This will leave a bequest of robust security that will benefit both the indigenes and the business community of the agency’s headquarters. Also, the Commission is advised to support the ongoing dualisation of the Eastern-pass by the Rivers State Government. This will enable easy access to the area, particularly for those who do business with the Commission.

In recent years, the NDDC has not had good image in the media. It has been one scandal after another, embellished with rib-cracking drama. When the National Assembly invited the last Interim Managing Director, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, for some house-keeping investigation, there was drama when the man fainted in the midst of the nervous grilling and the session came to an abrupt end as he was rushed out to a health facility for resuscitation.

With the commissioning of its headquarters office, the NDDC has a right to thumbs-up for shaking off a 26-year jinx. It must proceed from here to erect an organisation that believes in best practices. That way, it will begin to recoup part of the public confidence that was frittered away through the financial and administrative reversals of the past decades. That too will keep corporate scandal away from flying through its elegant building into the front pages of the tabloid press.

Then, its business will look as glamorous as its new edifice.

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