Uyo — Oil-bearing communities in Akwa Ibom State have again slammed the Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC, for the purported shambolic execution and abandonment of projects across the state.
Representatives of the beneficiary oil communities, who spoke at the maiden edition of NDDC Beneficiary Communities Forum/Stakeholders Dialogue, organised by Policy Alert, a civil society organisation, said the interventionist agency was delivering low quality projects to the people.
They expressed lack of confidence in the ability of the Commission to appropriately discharge its duties given the present situation of things, urging it to improve on the quality of projects, insulate politics and bribery from its processes.
Decentralise operations - Chief Edoho
Chief Emem Edoho from Esit Eket Local Government Area, who chaired the talks, frowned at a situation where contractors in the nine states of the Niger- Delta seeking award of NDDC contracts must travel all the way to Port-Harcourt, calling for decentralisation of the commission's operations.
He said: "You do not expect a rural contractor in Eastern Obolo or Esit Eket to go to Port-Harcourt to queue at the gate just to get a contract of N5 million or N10 million. Such operation should be decentralised in the region. Centralisation is not giving the desired impact.
"You can queue at the gate for two to three days without being attended to except you know somebody in the office or bribe the security at the gate. Such should discontinue. Also a situation where somebody is awarded contract and for five years, you are not paid is not encouraging.
"Also I am calling on NDDC to reorganise the commission such that a contractor must not know a director or commissioner before they are awarded a contract. It is not so in civilised societies," the chair quipped.
'I am aggrieved'- Mbong, community leader
A community leader from Eket Local Government Area, Obongiwoed Emmon Mbong, who grumbled that NDDC's impact was not visible in the area, said: "I am very aggrieved. They should know that there is no gentleman in Niger-Delta. We are only trying to respect ourselves.
Youth leader dares NDDC to identify projects
And NDDC should not politicise its operations; they are only here because of us."
National youth leader of Okobo, who represented Okobo Local Government Area, Ulap Asuquo Bassey, challenged the NDDC to specify the number of projects it has executed in the entire communities in Oro nation since inception.
He said: "The NDDC, two years ago, planned s treet lights in Akai Ndyo without constructing the road. Even the roads they started in Eweme community are all abandoned. For me, they are not working at all. Also they should give scholarships to less privileged youths and not the other way round."
Eastern Obolo neglected - Dr. Ukpatu
Similarly, Dr John Ukpatu representing Eastern Obolo said: "I want to tell this forum that since inception of democracy in 1999 to date, check the records, Eastern Obolo has no one ruler (12 inches) of tarred road done by NDDC.
"And the constitution says that the leadership of NDDC must come from core communities. Eastern Obolo is the only core community in Akwa Ibom that has not sat on the board of NDDC or worked even as a cleaner. Local content policy must be enshrined in the NDDC," he added.
APC card before contract!
Also speaking, Prince Ibiok Esuh condemned recent developments where 15 per cent was called by the agency for contract awarded, adding, "And for you to be awarded contract from NDDC now, you must present your All Progressives Congress, APC card.
"Everything has been politicised. NDDC is now more corrupt than before. During the tenure of Bassey Dan Abia, nobody wants to know if you are from APC or PDP before giving you contract."
Commission should listen to the people- Gov's aide
Senior Special Assistant to Akwa Ibom State Governor on NDDC, Samuel Ekah, who is from Ibeno, after congratulating the organisers, was quick to accuse NDDC of delivering shoddy/poor quality jobs, procrastination on jobs, duplication of efforts and implementation.
Blaming the leadership of the commission for the friction existing between them and states in the region, Ekah said, "There is always a state government contact link. This is normal operational procedure for every interventionist group, whether local or international."
"Even the project that NDDC is coming to deliver is on the land that belongs to the state. That gives the state government a major say in their activities. And the money that is used to fund the NDDC is from the states, and especially my local government, Ibeno," he added.
Criticize, but praise us where we performed - NDDC Commissioner
Reacting to the protestations, Akwa Ibom State Commissioner on NDDC Board, Mr. Samuel Frank, who spoke through his staff, Mr. Effeh Effeh, pointed out that the issues raised predated the present board, saying that while the citizens criticized the oil agency, they should also admit that the commission had recorded some achievements despite the challenges it faced.
"The MD has accepted that he inherited a problem and he has promised to change the narrative. I am also willing to change the narrative.
455 projects amounting to N57bn completed
"You see, in Akwa Ibom State, up to date, I think we have 1,063 projects, different types of projects. Recently another 298 were awarded; 455 of those projects translating to about N57billion I am aware, have been completed and 318 are ongoing at various stages
"Because we are discussing NDDC, I should not be defending NDDC, so if I start defending NDDC, I will not be fair to this forum. I conceive the need for us to improve. We need to change the narrative. I did not come here for a lecture, I came here to listen to you, get your inputs so that at the end of the day, we can improve," he said.
Agency done so little - Bolton-Akpan, Policy Alert
However, Acting Executive Director of Policy Alert, Mr. Tijah Bolton-Akpan, said the essence of the forum was for the citizens and stakeholders to look at ways of addressing the challenges in the commission.
He said: "Other states in the region have already started this. It is sad to know that so much wealth is being extracted from the state, yet, it continues to depreciate in terms of development indicators. NDDC as the interventionist agency created to develop the region, has impacted so little on the region," he noted.