By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Former senate leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, is the Chairman, Board of Management of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). In this interview, he unveils the strategies being put in place to make the activities of the commission more sustainable, transparent and efficient. He also expresses support for the re-election bid of President Muhammadu Buhari, arguing that four years is not enough for any government to make a lasting impact.
You were one year older on Thursday, March 8. How do you feel marking yet another birthday?
I feel thankful to God that I am a year older and in good health and peace of mind. It’s God’s grace that one is a year older and he is still very active mentally and physically.
Development of human capital is very crucial in ensuring sustainable peace in the Niger Delta region. What are the action plans at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) towards turning the militants in the creek to useful assets for Nigeria?
You know there are a number of Federal Government’s interventions in the region. We have the Ministry of Niger Delta, we have the Amnesty Programme, and then we have the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The commission is engaged essentially in the development of the region into an integrated economic entity. That entails physical and human capital developments. For the human capital development, we have a number of programmes: we have post graduate scholarship programme for young men and women from the region. We are now contemplating on undergraduate scholarship programme to complement our existing scholarship programme which is essentially the post graduate and foreign-based post graduate programme. We also have different programmes for skill acquisition and entrepreneurship development training and support. Those are the things we are doing to develop human capital. We believe by the time our medium and long term plans come to fruition, they will create greater opportunity for human capital development. For example, we are working on the establishment of Niger Delta Development Bank to secure funding for development of the region beyond oil. It will also ensure sustainability of our mega projects. Like one Ambassador said, ‘We are a graveyard of abandoned projects.’ And the reason is frequent change of board. Each time there is a change; there is also a change in policy direction. The moment you have a bank funding those things, the determinable will become different. The second thing we are trying to do is to ring the Niger Delta with fibre optic to deepen internet penetration. The moment you have fast and deep internet, it will challenge the creativity of our young men and women. So, we are looking at those medium terms and long term projects to excite the creativity of our young men and women.
And are you getting the desired cooperation from the host communities where incessant crises normally erupt?
You recall that some months back, the Vice President was engaged in shuttle diplomacy to the Niger Delta region. That has essentially brought peace to the region to a large extent. So, we now have most secured environment to carry out the mandate of the commission. Achieving a total peace will remain work in progress because total peace comes with equity, total peace comes with development. But the moment they begin to see development coming, I think it will reassure the people that they need to give peace a chance. For now, compared to the recent past, we have seen the return of peace and cooperation from the host communities.
How are you coping with the enormity of your responsibilities in the face of paucity of fund occasioned by the present economic challenges?
We are streamlining our projects and programmes. Sometimes last year, we cancelled over N200 billion contracts that existed in our books. Also, in November, we cancelled another N98 billion worth of contracts that are non performing but have been reflecting in our books and over bloating our balance sheets. We are also engaging with the Federal Government. As we speak, there is reconciliation exercise going on between us and the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Office of Accountant General to reconcile the shortfall in our funding from the Federal Government. The NLG that has never contributed to the budget of the NDDC, for once, is now making a contribution. So, we are hoping that funding will improve to help us address the issue of liabilities, which we are also restructuring. But more importantly, no matter how much money you get, if you don’t have efficient processes on ground, it will just be like pouring water in the basket. So, we are reforming our processes, we are reforming our systems, we are reviewing our programmes so that they can be more efficient. We are looking in the direction of ICT to help us facilitate the efficiency that we seek.
What is the level of collaboration between your commission and other agencies like the Ministry of Niger Delta, Amnesty Programme and the Ogoni Cleanup?
There is an inter ministerial committee headed by the Vice President where the Ministry of Niger Delta is a member, NDDC is a member, the amnesty Programme is a member and the Ogoni Cleanup Programme is also a member. At that level of inter ministerial committee, the necessary synergy is built, and the necessary consensus is also built. That is where we harmonise our activities. The board is headed by the Vice President.
What legacy do you intend to leave behind in the NDDC when your tenure expires?
My hope and prayer is to leave a more efficient, more transparent and more accountable Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) that gives value for every kobo spent.
Flowing from this desire, what is your perception of the recent report of the Transparency International (TI) which submits that corruption worsened between 2016 and 2017 under the Buhari administration?
I think it is a perception, not a reality. You also must know that corruption has become so pervasive and so endemic in our system that in three years you are not really going to make appreciable impact. The impact you are going to make is not going to be felt as quickly as it ought to be. It is an endemic problem and it is going to require consistency and sustainable strategy to begin to reduce corruption. You cannot eliminate corruption. And you can only begin to reduce corruption when you make your processes and systems more efficient. I believe corruption is a consequence of systemic inefficiency. When a system is inefficient, people take advantage of the system for personal gains. So, we must strengthen our systems, we must strengthen our institutions. Added to that, there must be a re-orientation of our values. What drives corruption in Nigeria is public expectation. The moment you are appointed into an office, the public just believes that it is your turn to come back with your own share. We have a number of institutional issues, a number of value issues that we must address. And it is going to take time.
Do you think President Muhammadu Buhari together with the APC-led government which came on board with a change mantra has done enough to deserve a second term?
I think so. Let us not forget the valley from which we are climbing, let us not forget the depth from which we are rising. We appreciate that there were problems, we also appreciate there was this crisis of high expectation because of where we were coming from. Those high expectations may not have been met but that is not to say that there have been no achievements. There have been concrete achievements. Public finance, for instance, is now more transparent. We now have the TSA through which you can trace what goes into the government’s coffers and what goes out of it. Travel around South-south and South-east, you will see the huge road infrastructure that is going on. So, it is not as if nothing has been happening. Apart from the recent abduction of Dapchi Schoolgirls, insurgency has been largely contained. We must all appreciate that the challenge of security globally is very dynamic. The challenge of herdsmen too has always been there only that there is escalation of it in the recent time.
Looking at the divisive tendencies in the country today, some people are of the opinion that Nigeria had never been this divided in its political history. Do you also disagree with that?
I have lived long enough to see this country. How would anyone say so? We had the crisis of 1965, we had the crisis of 1966, we had the civil war from 1967 to 1970. What did they represent? They represented sharp divisions. Rather than exaggerating those divisions, I think the concern now should be on building a national consensus on the way forward.
In other words, you believe this government can lead this country to the Promised Land?
The Promised Land is forever shifting destination. It is like development; there is no milestone you reach and you say this is the point of development. Development is work in progress. For us, the Promised Land will also be work in progress. But I think that four years is too short for any government to make the kind of lasting impact that it should make. Four years is damn too short, giving where we are coming from.
Does the National Assembly have the right to re-order election timetable for the INEC or suspend any member who expresses a contrary view?
I cannot comment on the issue of contrary view because I am not a serving member of the National Assembly. I don’t have the details; I don’t have the nuances of what is playing out there. So, I cannot comment on issues I don’t have all the facts. On the issue of whether or not the National Assembly can alter the order of sequence of election, there are different opinions. My opinion is that when it comes to issues of elections; the reason the electoral body is called Independent National Electoral Commission is that it has absolute responsibility for ordering the sequence of election. It is a debatable matter, but that is my personal opinion.
What is exactly the position of the law?
That is my opinion of the law. That is my own interpretation of the law. And fortunately, I think Femi Falana also came up with his legal opinion on the matter and I share the same position.
Then, of what benefit will that reordering be to democratic process?
That question is best answered by the advocates of the new order. The members of the National Assembly are in the best position to justify the election in the order they want as against what INEC is proposing.
Looking at the present situation in the country, what in your opinion is the desirability or otherwise of the proposed bill on hate speech?
I haven’t seen the bill, I haven’t read it. So, I don’t have any opinion about it.
The Peace and Reconciliation Committee headed by Bola Ahmed Tinubu is already working to bring peace back to the APC. What is your view about the ongoing process at the national level and at the level of Cross River State chapter of the party?
I think Asiwaju Bola Tinubu should be encouraged. He should be given every support to carry out the assignment. A political party must face internal tensions. But it is not so much tension that is the issue; it is the management of those tensions. I think Asiwaju Tinubu is astute enough to navigate those tensions and find amicable resolution to those competing tensions. I support him, I encourage him. And I will give whatever support he needs to make him succeed in his assignment.
What is the state of things in your state chapter of the party now?
A congress was held and a report has been sent to the National Working Committee. Until a statement is made by the NWC, I cannot confirm what the position is.