Soon after serving as the Rivers State Commissioner for Information, Ibim Seminetari was announced by President Buhari as the Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), where she worked for nine months. It was an eye-opener for the former publisher, who had to put up with political interference from different levels of government. In this interview with Henry Akubuiro, she revealed the inherent drawbacks she witnessed at NDDC and why it was difficult to meet the demands of the oil producing communities in the Niger Delta, some of which had to do with external reasons.
You came to the NDDC following misappropriation accusation preferred against the former management of the agency. How did you go about blocking the loopholes?
I am careful to use those words. I came to the NDDC at a time when a new government was in place –a new government that was doing business in a particular manner. The government was anxious to go back to the starting blocks in terms of delivery of service and development to the people of Niger Delta. So, it was clear from my brief that Mr. President wanted to make sure that the Niger Delta People got value for their money –and value for money in public service meant there had to be more accountability and transparency in the management of our processes, whether it was on how we were going to go about our budget and ensuring that stakeholders buy-in and stakeholders’ input or in ensuring that there was a quarterly report as prescribed by the Act, which, after we submitted to Mr. President, we ensured it was uploaded on the commission’s website and made available to members of the public so that they could monitor the work we were doing or whether it was ensuring that we were monitoring projects regularly and frequently and engaging contractors and engaging them to go back to the sites and deliver to the people of Niger Delta. So, basically, it was just ensuring that greater accountability, improved transparency and greater insistence that people do their work and play by the rules
Yet there has been recurring complaints by those from the NDDC catchment areas that the agency isn’t doing enough. Why is it difficult to meet the expectations of the people?
The fact of the matter is that one of the things that happen a bit in our country is that we don’t count, so we can’t account. That’s why you hear me trying to give an account. The reason is that, if we did a bit of measurement, we might find out there are many communities in Niger Delta, and the only government they know is the NDDC.
Yes. Having said that, is the NDDC doing enough? It could do better for many reasons. One is that it is not funded as it should. From inception till date, it has not received a Naira from the Ecological Fund, which it ought to be getting as part of its funding principles. It doesn’t get all the money the budget say it should get. So, the commission doesn’t get all of its funding. As at today, it is being owed by the Federal Government and oil companies. That’s on the one hand. The other hand, even the funding it gets, there were so many issues with the processes in the past. There are also issues of political pressure. At the commission, you find people who put pressures…
Against the backdrop of calls for the scrapping of the commission, what do you think can be done to improve its services?
I am sure that nobody from the Niger Delta, from the communities whose lives have been impacted would say so. Many of those people saying so are the ‘wine drinking elite’ who sit in some cozy place, far removed from the realities in the communities. Otherwise, why would you look at the Ogbia-Nembe Road we completed while I came on board (a partnership between the NDDC and Shell covering 14 communities that had never been linked by road before) or the Nembe-Brass, and say you should scrap NDDC. Frankly, it is not about scraping; it is about demanding greater accountability, and I think that is a general problem across the country and across all MDAs –it is not an NDDC problem.
I would like to know whether the Commission, in any way, has been affected by economic recession.
Sometimes, a lingo becomes so sexy. I think the most current lingo is recession. We hide everything behind it.
Between working for Rivers State government and the NDDC, which position was more tasking for you?
You can’t compare apple and orange. Each one has its demands. But, basically, the thread that runs across all of them is that public service in Nigeria can be quite tasking if you really want to do it well. People can quite misunderstand you, and you might not be able to meet the huge expectations.
How easy was it for you coping with the demands of governance, given the fact that you were on the other side of the fence criticizing the establishment?
I don’t think anything comes easy in life, but the fact that if you have spoken about something, and somebody says, “Ok, do it”, you already know what the issues are, and it makes it easier for you to handle. It is easier if you don’t know what the issues are.
Life outside NDDC, what has it been like?
As you can see, I am cooking in the kitchen for my husband, and I’m enjoying my freedom in the house; I get to stroll around and dress in casuals; I get to take a vacation; but, then, I have to look for akara money, so I can eat daily bread.
Are you not bored? Are you not nostalgic at all?
I am neither nostalgic nor bored. Those two words cannot define what I feel right now. I don’t get bored because I have work to do; I am a professional. I had a work that I was doing before now –journalist. I am a communications expert. I still have what I do. Right now, I’m vacation. After working for a long time, it is right to take a vacation.
You want to go back to journalism at a time journalism has been facing severe challenges?
We will still be doing it. At least, I am a communications professional; there are many aspects of communications I can consider. They said we should go to the farm. So, I will be farming, too.
From the Commissioner for Information, Rivers State, you became the Acting Managing Director of NDDC. How did you manage the transition from a manager of information to a manager of an agency?
As a commissioner, you manage people as well. As editor or publisher, you manage people, too. I think that administration and management is something that cuts across, regardless of whether you are at the NDDC, at the ministry of information or at the newsroom. I am also a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management, so I am from, all intents and purposes, a manager as well. Basically, it was the work of managing –managing people. Rather than managing people, government information and managing projects, I was managing people and projects at the NDDC.
What is your style?
My style is simple but also bohemian. I could be eclectic sometimes. I like simple but classy wears. I am very afro centric and I will gladly wear an African designer over above other designers out there. In terms of colour, I choose colours that work with my skin. I like the fact that we make clothes to fit in this part of the world therefore, it takes care of different curves. I like a bit of African touch in what I wear.
How do you relax?
I love reading a good book and dancing even though I’m big. I like going to the gym just re-invigorate me but I never find enough time to do that. I love playing with children. I really love dancing, I’m a typical South-South woman. I like Highlife and Calypso. Even for my gospel music, I like heavy percussion.
What is your most priced fashion accessory?
Honestly, I don’t have any attachment to material things. I can tell you that I love very good handbag, I love shoes and I love jewelry.