From Joe Effiong, Uyo
It was one of the best attended events in recent days in the Niger Delta Zone. Everybody that is somebody and whose activities are affected or affect the regions found time to be present. No proxy.
From the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, his minister of state counterpart, the interim administrator of the Niger Delta Development Commission, the senate committee chairman on the commission alongside his House Reps colleagues, even the permanent secretary, minid=stry of Niger Delta Affairs, plus the youth, the women the traditional rulers; and I believe even the contractors and job seekers from other regions descended on Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital for the unprecedented three-day retreat organised by the NDDC for its staff beginning from assistant directors upward, as well as other stakeholders of the commission.
The need to rush to the serene atmosphere of Ibom Icon Hotel and Golf Resort, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, appeared to have been a call to duty if the NDDC would go the way of other interventionist agencies in the country, especially OMPADEC, which people are very keen to compare the commission to.
To set the tone for what the gathering was to expect, the interim administrator of the commissior, Mr Effiong Akwa said in his welcome remarks that things need not go on as before in the commission if development and progress were to be expected.
He said that the workshop, which focused on Effective Budget Preparation, Implementation and Monitoring Strategies, was meant to help the NDDC to fine tune its budget processes and position the commission to begin to do things differently. He alsp underlined the need for NDDC to effect some changes in its processes from time to time, pointing out that the Niger Delta Regional Development Master, which expired last year would soon be reviewed to give a new direction and focus for the Commission.
“In the past, we used to sponsor students on foreign scholarships for postgraduate studies. In the light of current events, it has become necessary for us to review this plan and use our universities in the Niger Delta region.” Akwa said.
The minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Sen Godswill Akpabio, siad in his keynote address that the said that the retreat was a family meeting called to rub minds and to find ways to help the Commission fulfil the vision to offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta region.
Describing the theme of the workshop: “Collaborating, Planning and Re-strategizing for a better Niger Region,” as very appropriate, Akpabio affirmed that the retreat was meant to challenge NDDC to interrogate and define, as well as prescribe a viable and formidable pathway towards facilitating the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region.
“If strengthening NDDC, as an institution through its budgeting systems, as well as through its procurement, monitoring, evaluation and compliance processes, is not achieved, then the bells of doom would, inevitably, begin to toll harder.
“Weak political and institutional governance in the Niger Delta has led to the misuse of public resources, poor service delivery, and the poor enforcement of the law. The consequence has been the lingering restiveness, the breakdown of trust, abuse and misuse of power between officials and the communities, and embezzlement and attendant violence.”
The Minister called attention to the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan (NDRDMP) which was activated in 2005 and expired in 2020, stating: “There should be discussions of renewing the plan with the policies of the 17 SDG 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 UN Global Compact for carrying out business.
“Such institutional support would help budgeting, planning and implementation processes to achieve effective and efficient service delivery.”
“Several efforts at managing the oil and gas resources, in a way which fosters the development of the communities where they are extracted, have brought us to this day, to the existence of NDDC and to this retreat. This retreat recognizes that what is critical right now is to recalibrate our budgeting systems and processes, at all levels, internal and external.”
The Minister of State in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Omotayo Alasoadura, was however full of commendations for the commission for embarking on the self-assessment and renewal retreat. He said that the three-day retreat was a manifestation of the resolve of the NDDC to turn things around for the long-suffering Niger Delta region, stating: “I am doubly delighted because this retreat is the second of two clear manifestations of an emerging new NDDC.”
He recalled that last month, the new headquarters complex of the NDDC in Port Harcourt was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari. He said: “Today, we are here to rub minds with a vast array of stakeholders on collaboration and re-strategising for a better Niger Delta region.
“These two events, coming back-to-back, hold enormous promise for the Niger Delta people and all who have stakes in the development of the region. These two events have the potential to boost the service delivery capabilities of the NDDC and they will go a long way in helping the Commission shed the undesirable toga and appellations that have been its unfortunate lot in the past.
“I commend the NDDC for choosing the very relevant and timely subject of ‘Effective Budget Preparation, Implementation and Monitoring Strategies,’ as the focus of the discussions for internal and external stakeholders which preceded the retreat.”
But the traditional institution led by the National President of the Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, and the paramount ruler of Ibeno, Owong Effiong Archianga, stressed the need to carry stakeholders along in budget preparation and monitoring in the commission, since budget was the main focus of the workshop.
He remarked: “Since in budgeting, funding is very critical, I call on this august assembly to take a critical look on section 14, 2a of the NDDC Act of 2000 as amended.” The section, he said, states that the Federal Government would contribute the equivalent of 15 per cent of the total monthly statutory allocations due to the member states of the Commission from the federation account.
The TROMPCON President remarked that the provision was ambiguous and should be reviewed to enable the Federal Government to contribute directly to the NDDC.
Archianga posited that the NDDC project monitoring committee should include traditional rulers because most of the projects were done in their various domains. “In fact, they should be consulted when projects are to be executed in their areas,” he said.
The royal father said that in future, NDDC budgets “should focus on youth employment and not just empowerment, so as to create a better future for the teaming young graduates in the region.
Also speaking at the occasion, the Chairman of the Abia State Traditional Rulers Council, Eze Joseph Nwabeke, harped on the need for NDDC to continually engage stakeholders at the local level to be able to get their buy-in and ensure that they participated in monitoring the Commission’s projects in their areas.
On his part , the National President of the Host Communities Organisation in Nigeria, HOSTCOM, Dr Benjamin Tamiararebi, commended the NDDC for organizing the He remarked that such meetings were long overdue. According to the HOSTCOM President, oil-producing communities deserved a special attention from interventionist agencies such as NDDC, to ensure the sustainable development of the long neglected region, stating: “Our people deserve to be consulted in all development programmes designed for the oil-producing communities.”
After much talks, blames, suggestions, presentation of papers such: Fiscal Transparency, Parliamentary Oversight and Budget Monitoring and Tracking.” By Dr Greg Ezeilo, and another presentation by Mr Godwin Jock, a resource person from the National Assembly, the retreat snowballed into communique in which far-reaching recommendations were made such as the Commission improving on its communications strategy and implementation; its nnual budget to be appraised wholistically; creating a budget realism by eliminating moribund items; and reviewing and updating the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan, among many others.
At the end they concluded thus: “The workshop/retreat was timely and successful. This presents a potential and far-reaching opportunity for a brand new chapter in the delivery of the NDDC Mandate to rapidly improve the quality of life of the people of the Niger Delta Region.” END