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*Nigeria: NDDC Projects in The Eyes of Senators
By Ifeatu Agbu
Just like any wise individual, organisations also learn from the mistakes of others, if they truly want to succeed. This appears to be playing out at the current board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. Its immediate predecessor spent only half of its tenure before it was dismissed, all because of the rancorous relationship that existed among its members. The new board, so far, is reported to have worked harmoniously to enhance its chances of delivering on its mandate. And this seems to have attracted the attention of its key stakeholders.
During a recent tour of the commission’s projects by the Senate Committee on the Niger Delta, its chairman, Senator James Manager, was apparently convinced that things have changed for the better. He declared: “We have not come on the heels of disputes. If there is anything that has been achieved by this board, it is peace at the NDDC.”
It was, indeed, in that convivial atmosphere that the Senator-Manager-led team began its latest oversight duty at the NDDC. The Act setting up the commission makes it the most monitored Federal Government agency in the country. The relevant committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives, the office of the Secretary to the Federal Government, the Advisory Committee made up of all the governors of the region, among others, take turns to beam searchlights on the activities of this very important interventionist agency. In a way, this has helped the commission to always be on its toes. ( Continues below...... )
Photo Above: Nigeria National Assembly Complex
Before hitting the road for project inspection, the Senate Committee stopped over at the Rivers State Government House to pay a courtesy call on Rt. Hon. Chubuike Rotimi Amaechi, the governor of the state. The Senators were accompanied by Dr. Tarilah Tebepah, the Chairman of the Board of the NDDC, Dr. Christian Oboh, the Managing Director and some members of the board. The governor, who was until recently the chairman of Forum of Governors of the nine NDDC states, said that they had agreed with the commission to focus more on regional projects like a railway that would connect all the states in the Niger Delta. He also urged the NDDC to invest more in agriculture “to create jobs and reduce the level of crime in the region.”
After the visit to Governor Amaechi, the heavens opened up and it seemed as if the rains would ruin the Senators’ programme for the day. In spite of the rain, the Senators set out for their inspection tour. At the site of the 19-kilometre Abalama-Idoh-Degema Road Project in Rivers State, Senator Manager described the project as a job well done and urged the commission and the contractor to keep up with the good performance. The story was, however, different at the Igbiri-Abbibo-Oba Road and bridges linking Okrika Local Government Area to Port Harcourt. The committee expressed displeasure over the slow pace of work on the project. A visibly angry NDDC boss tongue-lashed the contractor and called for an amendment to the NDDC Act to provide for stiffer sanctions to checkmate erring contractors.
“We have seen that this contractor is not working, the next thing they do is to ask for variation, using powerful Nigerians to mount pressure on us. Meanwhile the communities are suffering, NDDC cannot continue this way,” he said. The MD promptly summoned the contractor to meet with NDDC management, immediately, warning “if in another two months you cannot show a reasonable commitment to deliver this project, we will be forced to re-assign it”. The Senate committee, according to its chairman, has a responsibility to monitor the activities of three agencies, namely; the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the NDDC and the Amnesty Programme. So, their tour of projects included those of the ministry as well. Of course, the East-West Road, which was taken over by the ministry in 2009, is a project that is very dear to the hearts of Niger Deltans.
The committee members inspected different sections of the strategic road being handled by Setraco Nigeria Ltd. The drive through Ahoada to Mbiama was anything but pleasant. The monitoring team rocked and danced through the pothole-ravaged East/West Road. The ditches that cover most of that stretch of the road sent a powerful message that nothing has changed for the long-suffering people of the Niger Delta.
Mr. Michael Hachenberg, the Managing Director of Setraco, told the South-South caucus of the House of Representatives last year that if the delay in funding the project was not checked, it would take 10 years to complete this very important road link. He blamed the Federal Government for not releasing funds as and when due.
This unfortunate development has been giving leaders of the region sleepless nights and the Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan is not an exception. He too decried the slow pace of work on this road. He told the Senate Committee that visited him at the Government House Annex in Warri, that the strategic road has become a source of worry and if it was not completed by 2015, it will be a big problem, adding that it was the desire of the people of the South-South region to have the road completed as quickly as possible.
Dr. Uduaghan said that governors of the Niger Delta region were prepared to liaise with the Presidency to facilitate the speedy release of funds for the completion of the East-West road. He re-echoed the views of Governor Amaechi that the states covered by the NDDC had resolved that the commission should focus on regional infrastructure that cut across the states. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria's Niger Delta Region showing its composite 8 states.
Senator James Manager, said the committee had invited the Minister of Works to explain the circumstances delaying the completion of the road. He said that although the East-West Road was critical to the Niger Delta region, "it is obvious that looking at the way things are going, the road will not be completed in the next five years. That is why we have invited the Minister of Works to explain to us because from the way things are going, it is not possible to deliver that project in the next three years."
Another mega project inspected by the committee in Delta State is the Bomadi-Tuomo-Ojobo-Tamigbe road with 8 bridges. The 16-kilometre road being constructed by Setraco Nigeria Ltd. at the cost of N8.9 billion was awarded in 2009. The Senate Committee Chairman said he was not pleased with the progress of work on the road.
At the 23-kilometre Uzere-Patani Road, the project supervisor, Engr Dotun Olugbami said that the company was struggling to meet set targets with limited funds. He, however, promised that work on the road and three bridges would be completed by December 2014.
The Senators also inspected the Ugheha-Koko-Escravos Road in Delta State. Here, some aggrieved members of Koko community complained that the contractor was not serious with the project. It took repeated assurances from Senator Manager to get them to calm down. He appealed to them to be patient and peaceful to ensure that work progresses smoothly at the site. Turning to the youths, he said: “you need the road, so, cooperate with NDDC and the contractor to enable them go ahead with this project.”
In Bayelsa State, the Senators inspected the 40-kilometre the East/West Road Junction-Sampou-Odoni Osekwenike Road with six bridges. They were told by Chief Azezi Ekadi, a community leader, that the people of the surrounding communities were pleased with what the NDDC was doing for them. “We are very glad that the work is moving well. I thank the NDDC for giving us access to our villages,” he said.
The Senators also inspected the 29-kilometre Sagbama-Edebri-Angalamabiri road, a project which the NDDC MD said was very strategic. Senator Heinekin Lokpobri, a member of the committee, reminded his colleagues that the road does not only lead to his village and that of the Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Serieki Dickson, but would equally open up the hitherto inaccessible areas to commerce and development.
This is not the first time the Senators are coming face-to-face with the daunting problems of the Niger Delta. In November 2007, Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held a four-day retreat in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. According to the Senate President, Chief David Mark, it afforded them the opportunity to venture into the creeks of the Niger Delta. He said it was an eye-opener for them.
Senator Manager said that his committee saw enough from the tour of three states (Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta) to convince them that NDDC holds the key to the sustainable development of the Niger Delta. He said that after seeing things on the ground, they were now well equipped to assist the NDDC. The Senate Committee Chairman said that from what they saw on the ground, the new board of the NDDC was doing its best to improve the lives of Niger Deltans. He, therefore, called for the support and cooperation of stakeholders to enable the commission achieve its goals for the oil-bearing region.
Senator Manager commended the commitment and passion of the NDDC MD and the management team. He said: “From all available evidence, they mean well. Under Dr. Oboh’s leadership, there is a flurry of construction activities going on in the three States of the Niger Delta so far visited” The NDDC boss, who was visibly pleased with the inspection tour, said that the commission was pursuing the delivery of on-going projects and would award new ones where necessary. “We have seen the magnitude of projects going on, what we need now are sustainable efforts and funding to deliver”, he said.
Senator Manager agreed that the issue of adequate funding of the NDDC is at the heart of all development efforts in the region. He underscored the fact that the difficult terrain in the Niger Delta posed an enormous challenge, which should be matched with robust funding.
Mr. Ifeatu Agbu ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
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