Nigeria: Developing Oil-Rich Niger Delta Region Through Stakeholders' Collaboration

The oil spillage in the Niger Delta region has left most parts of the region inhabitable. To this end, stakeholders met recently to deliberate on the way forward. ANAYO ONUKWUGHA writes on the deliberations.

Oil spillage and its devastating effects on the Niger Delta region is better imagined than seen. To address this challenge, the federal government created the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in the year 2000 with the sole mandate of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

One of the core mandates of the agency is to train and educate the youths of the oil rich Niger Delta region to curb hostilities and militancy, while developing key infrastructure to promote diversification and productivity.

In view of this, NDDC recently organised a three-day strategic capacity building workshop/retreat for its directors in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

The three-day event, which attracted members of the National Assembly, traditional rulers and chiefs, oil and gas host communities, the international oil companies, youth groups and non-governmental organisations, from across the Niger Delta region, was anchored on the theme: "NDDC - Collaborating, Planning and Re-Strategising for a Better Niger Delta Region."

Declaring the retreat open, interim administrator of NDDC, Mr Effiong Akwa, said with continual consultation and collaboration with stakeholders, the agency was poised to fast track the development of the Niger Delta region.

Akwa said: "The NDDC is born again and the core of our new personae is continual consultations and collaboration with stakeholders to create commonalities for effective development of the Niger Delta region."

The NDDC boss harped on the need to review the development template of the region as captured in the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan, which he noted, expired in 2020.

He expressed confident that the retreat would bring changes in the processes of the commission and help it to build a strong institution that would provide better service to the people of the Niger Delta region.

Akwa, who stated that changes and periodic reviews of processes were necessary for any developmental agency that wished to make progress, said the retreat was in furtherance of the on-going consultations with stakeholders of the NDDC.

To the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, the efforts of the NDDC to restore collaboration among stakeholders would help in fashioning a common roadmap for the development of the region.

Akpabio stated that the retreat was a family meeting called to rub minds and to find ways to help the NDDC to fulfill its vision of offering lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta region.

The minister, who observed that the theme of the retreat was very apt, said the three-day retreat was meant to challenge NDDC to interrogate and define, as well as prescribe a viable and formidable pathway towards the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region.

Akpabio called attention to the Niger Delta Master Plan, which was activated in 2005, but expired in 2020, saying "There should be discussions of renewing the plan with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals incorporated in the new plan.

"It would also be healthy for the commission to consider adopting some or all of the 10 principles of the United Nations Global Compact for carrying out business.

"Such institutional support would help budgeting, planning and implementation processes to achieve effective and efficient service delivery," he pointed out.

For the chairman, Senate Committee on NDDC, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, it was crucial to get stakeholders to work together to ensure that the Niger Delta moves forward.

Nwaoboshi commended the NDDC interim administrator for realising the need for cooperation between the National Assembly and the commission.

He said: "In the past, we had assisted the NDDC, to get the oil and gas companies to meet their statutory obligations to the commission. We amended the law and today the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) is paying its dues to NDDC. We must always work towards cooperation and discussion for the good of every one."

Also speaking, chairman of House of Representatives' Committee on NDDC, Hon Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, stated that the cordial relationship with the NDDC had facilitated some progress in amending the NDDC Act.

Tunji-Ojo, who also called for the review of the Niger Delta Master Plan, stated that the NDDC should also think of generating income for the commission.

He further stated that one of the best things that had happened to the NDDC was the setting up of the forensic audit, which he said would help to clean up the Niger Delta.

The minister of state for Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Omotayo Alasoadura, said the decision by the NDDC to embark on a journey of re-awakening and renewal was a welcome development.

He said the retreat provided an opportunity for the ministry and the NDDC to create a new trajectory for the commission and the Niger Delta region.

He said it was heart-warming that the NDDC, as part of its strategic planning, was rubbing minds with traditional rulers, civil society organisations and the leadership of the National Assembly to fashion out ways to deliver its mandate more effectively.

The minister said: "I am aware that many stakeholders of the NDDC have not been satisfied with its performance over the years. You have been accused of not carrying them along. Given this background, I am happy that you have chosen 'Collaborating, Planning and Re-strategising for a Better Niger Delta Region' as the theme for this retreat."

Permanent secretary, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Dr. Babayo Ardo, said the overall objective of the retreat should be to reposition the NDDC for effective service delivery as an interventionist agency created to accelerate the development of the Niger Delta region.

Ardo noted that the retreat was germane, especially as it came at a time when both the ministry and the NDDC were trying to see how they could come together and reposition the commission.

He affirmed that the forensic audit of the commission, which had entered another phase of physical inspection, point to the fact that things would not remain the same again in NDDC.

Ardo observed that for some of the deficiencies identified in the NDDC to be corrected, there was need for a review of some sections of the Act establishing the commission.

In his presentation at the retreat, an expert in budget and public finance management, Dr Greg Ezeilo, underlined the important of meeting stakeholders and having an effective handshake with them.

Ezeilo, anchored his paper on the topic: "Fiscal Transparency, Parliamentary Oversight and Budget Monitoring and Tracking", said: "The bulk of the NDDC expenditure lies with them. Fiscal transparency requires documentation and openness to the public. As such, data should be reliable and the publication of the budget plans and outcomes should be done from the outset. There should be open contracting largely to support public disclosure and accountability for tax payers' moneys."

He identified the four pillars of fiscal transparency as clarity of roles and responsibility; open budget process; public availability of information and assurance of integrity, saying that "promoting transparency involves rigorous engagement of the public in the budget tracking process."

Ezeilo said that government must commit itself to ensuring that fiscal transparency was not in doubt by ensuring that legal frameworks and institutional capacities were strengthened.

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