Professor Nelson Brambaifa, the acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has expressed determination to turn the commission around but says that they are incapacitated by the commission’s current financial state due to the N1.9 trillion owed by the Federal Government.
You assumed office in February this year as the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, what is your vision as it concerns the Niger Delta region?
To answer this question, we must first look at the principles, objectives, definition and imperatives of sustainable development and offer an equally credible vision for necessary intervention and regional development. In so doing, we will arrive at two very important truths which are; to make the Niger Delta a better place, we must be willing and brave to foster a new narrative and support the change agenda enunciated by the Federal Government, and this is the essence of my mandate.
The sum of my vision is for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region. We must do all that we must to work within the prescriptions and with appropriate strategies for the effectiveness of NDDC to give the Niger Delta a lift.
As a commission, we intend to harness the goodwill, cooperation and partnership with the people to build a better region that will bring about true and sustainable development, which I define as one that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We cannot afford to fail the Niger Delta.
The security issues in the country and oil bunkering have no doubt affected oil companies in the Niger Delta. How is NDDC contributing to abate these issues?
Just to take you down memory lane, after the report of the commission that identified the Niger Delta as a special area, the Federal Government decided to start curbing the security challenges by collaborating with intervention and security agencies which was not enough, but was increased to a maximum number.
I am a classroom lecturer, but I have left lecturing to come here by virtue of my appointment to ensure that mandate is fulfilled. We have started in the area of infrastructural development and the commission is doing its best with the resources they have. Since we came on board, we have improved on the road network within this short space of time. We have more mega-projects and we hope we will be given enough time to continue the work we have started and accomplish our goals.
We have embarked on a massive renovation of rural roads in the area, and we are very sure that with these improved road networks, there will be no hiding place for these criminals.
Some communities in the Niger Delta still complain about neglect in terms of job employment and rural development, do you think NDDC has done enough in these areas?
We have procedures of employment in NDDC, we do not just employ anyhow. There must be vacancy before you employ, there must a reason and need for an employment. Part of my vision is wealth creation and poverty reduction, which we must achieve.
Job creation is a paramount necessity in Niger Delta. When adequate jobs are created, of course poverty would be reduced and that would also lead to reduction of hunger. It is said that ‘a hungry man is an angry man,’ and crimes are reduced at least to a minimal level too. There is no way you cannot find crime, but it will be reduced. It is only an idle man that becomes the devil’s tool. When people are busy with their jobs, there won’t be any reason to be involved in crime, so our goal is to do what we can.
As a Professor of Pharmacology who has achieved numerous international merit awards, what are your thoughts about the health sector in Niger Delta and what better ways will you recommend to achieve and improve health care services?
The major basics of any concerned administration should be primary health care, which means taking health care to the grassroots and this should be one of the topmost priorities of the government. The health condition of the Niger Delta is a pathetic situation. The government and ministry of health need to improve on health care delivery as it will get to the people. Taking patients to the maternity wards in the region is a major challenge; we have cottage hospitals all over the place, yet they are inaccessible by those at the grassroots.
In the meantime, we are trying to get centers, we just had an MOU with the center in Cross-River State, and we intend to take it to all nine states of the Niger Delta. We have referrals where we could carry patients from the cottage hospitals that are in the grassroots. We have begun renovating the hospitals in these rural areas and equipping them with drugs and medical facilities.
We have doctors who go there to carry out minor surgeries and we have optometrists who specialise in performing eye surgeries and we give out prescribed free glasses. It is my duty to ensure that the services are strictly given out free of charge.
Given the capacity of funding in recent times, would you say you have enough finance to execute key projects?
We are incapacitated by the current financial state of the commission. The Federal Government is owing NDDC about N1.9 trillion and that is slowing the pace of the ongoing infrastructural development in the area. We appeal to the Federal Government to release part of the fund so that we can accomplish our set-out goals and fulfill our obligations to the Niger Delta people, which we believe will go a long way to achieve a whole lot in reducing the poverty rate in the region.
What are those key projects that would be regarded as legacies by the commission?
I call it capacity building, in other words the scholarship scheme. We recently launched one. We signed Memorandums of Understanding with some international universities and right now, we only offer post graduate scholarships to designated universities in Europe, America and Canada. Based on our budget, we have given scholarships to 200 and 55 million in the areas of engineering, and medicine.
Again, it’s not all about giving scholarships; we also provide them job placements when they return. In my short stay of six months, I have gone to the universities in person and interacted with the students who expressed happiness. The second batch will be leaving by September this year which we just concluded the admission exercise. So when I talk about human capacity, this will be one of the key projects which will be considered legacy projects in generations to come due to its impact.
What are the pressing challenges facing the commission and how do you intend to solve them?
Poor exploitation of agriculture/Aquaculture for economic gains, socio-political challenge, and environmental degradation due to oil spillage; these are some of the challenges facing the Niger Delta. After years of oil exploration and exploitation, the environment has witnessed pollution and consequent degradation.
Besides pollution occasioned by oil and gas business, we also face seasonal and constant erosion, silting, and flooding, as well as poor control of refuse, sewage and municipal solid waste. These challenges have combined to make the Niger Delta a very poor region. We are currently working according to the master plan and in synergy with consultants and stakeholders to achieve the mandate of a sustainable development in Niger Delta.
Apart from the stated goals, what are other priorities of the NNDC and how does it foster development in the rural area?
NDDC is also committed to doing more to revive not just socio-economic activities and improve the livelihoods of the people, but we are determined to revive the hopes of the people in our capacity and willingness to intervene in their lives. Our objectives have remained the same, which is to bridge the gap in the management of the oil and gas sector of the Niger Delta region, to prepare our youths for leadership and management positions in the oil and gas sector, and to produce skilled graduate beneficiaries who can match international standards and take over the leadership of the oil and gas sector in the nearest future.
As an academic, do you have any future political ambition and are you confident that you have the competence to run for political office?
Yes I do and that is based on my academic achievements as a Professor and my leadership contributions to the society which also earned me global merit awards and international recognition. I desire to serve and advocate for the people, especially in furtherance with my mandate which is based on human development.
What are your expectations from the Federal Government in terms of supporting the NNDC to achieve its mandate and what are areas in the NDDC that require the immediate intervention of the Federal Government?
All we ask of is the support of the Federal government to achieve our vision to enable us carry out our mandate which will also be for the betterment of Nigerian citizens.