In the last few months I have written many articles on the forthcoming elections, its ways and wiles, its winding ways and wondrous wiles, that I am now bored. I even contributed some articles to a publication of my MayFive Media Limited, Newswatch, now, edited by my brother and friend, the iconic journalist of the Newswatch fame, Yakubu Mohammed.
That publication, which is entirely on the presidential election is on sale this week. During this period of our collective fixation on the February 16 and March 2 elections the Federal Government announced the dissolution of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the appointment of a new acting managing director, Professor Nelson Brambaifa. The former chairman of the NDDC board, Mr. Victor Ndoma-Egba, is interested in returning to the Senate, so he is in the trenches in Cross River State trying to get a nod, once again, from his people to enlist in the pantheon of ranking senators. Mr. Nsima Ekere, the immediate past managing director of the NDDC, had been a deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State when Chief Godswill Akpabio was the governor. Now both of them, who were in the PDP, are now also in the same camp, APC, and are looking for opportunities to serve their people, Ekere as governor and Akpabio as a senator. Their fates will be decided by their people in the next few weeks. So, Professor Nelson Brambaifa has stepped into the hot seat of the NDDC’s managing director. Brambaifa is not a new face at the Aba Road office of the commission, for he has been an external board member of the commission since 2016. He is a well-known scholar, scientist and researcher and was the pioneer dean of the Faculty of Basic Medical Science, College of Health Sciences, at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State. He was also a professor at the Niger Delta University, Amassoma, Bayelsa State. That was his last duty before the new appointment. When he was appointed into the NDDC board, the Department of Pharmacology of the university organised a goodwill party for him. One of the professors at the party, Francis Sikoki, described him as a “society builder and a passionate lover of his fatherland.”
Now Prof. Brambaifa has the chance to build the Niger Delta society into what the founders of the commission had in mind. When the NDDC was inaugurated on December 21, 2000, the vision was to “offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta region,” while its mission was to “facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.”
At the moment, Niger Delta is not economically prosperous or socially stable or ecologically regenerative or politically peaceful. Its mission is neither fully nor largely accomplished yet. So, the region remains a work in progress. There are various reasons why much has not been achieved in the realisation of the four ideals contained in its mission statement. One, the funding of the commission is low compared to the task assigned to it. At an average of N350 billion per year, it is almost impossible to achieve the targets it set for itself in the nine oil-producing states. Besides, the budgeted money has never been fully paid to the commission in any given year. Right now the commission is said to be owed about N1.3 trillion naira by the Federal Government. Brambaifa’s early task would be to woo the government in order for this money to be paid to the commission soon. Two, the nature of the terrain in the region makes it a developer’s nemesis. With many creeks and water everywhere and oil spills and pollution, the challenge of taming the vegetation and conversion of it into a livable environment is a nightmare.
Since the launching of the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan in 2001, it is doubtful if it has received the high level of implementation attention it was supposed to enjoy. Part of the failure can be attributed to the modus operandi of the organisation, which is determined from time to time by the board and management as they think fit. There are many uncompleted projects that litter the landscape in the nine oil-producing states. If there is no inventory on this, Brambaifa should consider this as a priority assignment so that he and his team can determine how to complete those projects and put them to use. Three, today, there are six states in the region that are controlled by PDP while three are controlled by the APC. The Federal Government is APC-controlled. In Nigeria, politics seems to dominate everything and even a development intervention agency like the NDDC is not immune from it. Prof. Brambaifa has got to walk gingerly, make friendly overtures to all the governors in the region and extend his hand of comradeship to them so that his work may be made less difficult. Some of the managing directors definitely had problems with some of the governors, judging by the fire that they were spitting in the media.
One of the governors actually said that the NDDC had no land in any state, which is true. The other truth is that the NDDC is expected to add value to what the state governments are doing and ought to be given land for development without any hesitation. These are matters of good relations, which can be decently handled by the governor and the NDDC MD, if they are both decent human beings. But in Nigeria, partisan politics trumps everything and slows us down.
In September 2008, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua announced the creation of a Niger Delta Ministry. That ministry was to fill the gaps in the execution of projects in the region. It is unclear to me how much impact it has made since I have had no opportunity to assess it. But I believe that the authors of the idea thought it would be nice to have a buffer, some kind of mediating organisation between the states and the NDDC. It has done that in a few cases of dispute between them even when the board of the NDDC was in place but I have no idea how many projects it has executed on its own.
As a Niger Deltan professor, Brambaifa knows that there are many, very many, organisations in the Niger Delta bearing all kinds of names, all of them, claiming to be speaking or working for the Niger Delta people. They will try to distract him. He will not be the first person they will attempt to mislead with claims of being the true representatives of the Niger Delta people. There are other groups whose membership is made up of “Generals,” self-anointed generals who spit fire from time to time. There are dozens of such splinter groups, hustling and jostling for attention from the Federal Government and NDDC. Brambaifa must be careful with them. Some of them are already making statements in the social media criticising his appointment. That should not bother him, because there has been no NDDC MD whose appointment has never been criticised by one group or the other. It is a plum position to which many aspire, lobby for, go to spiritual churches for and go to babalawo for and do not get it.
The problems of the Niger Delta have not abated. There is still considerable environmental degradation in the region, apart from Ogoni that needs remediation. There are still hordes of poor and lowly educated youths who are carrying AK-47s on their shoulders. They need to be trained and weaned away from trouble-making activities. Some of the states have very treacherous terrains that need the massive investment of money and machine to make life livable there. Others just need small, easy-to-manage projects that can transform their lives. Rural communities have never been in the contest for gargantuan projects because projects have to be maintained and managed by people in the areas of their installation. And high-level manpower is not easily available in rural areas, because rural areas do not have the drawing power that can keep well-educated experts in those communities.
It is Prof. Brambaifa’s burden to work out a formula that can make the NDDC more efficient or less inefficient than it is now. Maybe some attempt at decentralisation may help. If everyone in the nine states does not have to travel to Port Harcourt for the award of minor contracts, then the big guys in Port Harcourt can have the freedom to deal with the big transformational issues that confront the commission. Secondly, it would be a patriotic duty for Niger Delta youths under any guise to refrain from distracting the new MD. That way, the organisation can chalk up some noticeable achievements in the next few years and change the Niger Delta narrative a little bit.