By Barr. Ekong Pius
It seems that there has been a conspiracy of silence among the people of Akwa Ibom state over a very critical issue as regards the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, which is currently headed by an indigene of the state, Obong Nsima Ekere.
The critical issue is the budget of the Commission. Year in, year out, a section of Akwa Ibom people wake up every morning scrutinizing the budget of the state government, while another section go to bed every night, analyzing the budget of the federal government. Whether deliberately or out of sheer oversight, the people of state have consistently failed to look into the budget of an important agency like the NDDC. Why NDDC? First, despite being the goose that lays the golden egg, the Niger Delta region has been largely under-developed. It was on the backdrop of this sad reality, that the federal government, through policies and initiatives, decided to pay special attention to the region with the creation of special institutions like the Niger Delta Development Commission, the Ministry of Niger Delta, etc.
To ensure that these institutions are genuinely serving the purpose the were created, the federal government has ensured that the institutions are headed by indigenes of the region. Presently, while the Niger Delta Ministry is headed by Pastor Usani Uguru Usani from Cross River state, the NDDC is headed by Obong Nsima Ekere, an Akwa Ibomite. It is therefore incumbent on the people of the region who are directly affected by the numerous issues in the Niger Delta, to ensure that these institutions meet their set goals and deliver on their mandate. Unfortunately, even as the mantle of leadership of the NDDC fell on an Akwa Ibomite, the people of the state have remained largely indifferent as regards the affairs of the Commission.
The implementation of this is that the people are not in the know about the level of implementation of the Commission’s 2017 budget which was pegged at N364.5 billion. Because the 2017 fiscal year has passed and nobody cared to ask salient questions bothering on how much was spent on what, the Nsima Ekere led Commission successfully kept all her financial dealings for that year in secret. The people failed themselves. The Nigerian Senate recently approved the 2018 budget, which was subsequently signed into law by President Buhari. The budget allocates about N71 billion to NDDC for the 2018 fiscal year. As the conspiracy of silence among the people continues, it seems that the Commission will once again walk away without giving out to be people. The question is, when the mantle of leadership of the Commission moves to another state, what will Akwa Ibom people say they did with their turn? How will they assess their tenure when they are obviously very uninterested in the current affairs of the Commission?
According to its mandate, NDDC, among other things, is responsible for;
“Conception, planning and implementation, in accordance with set rules and regulations, of projects and programs for sustainable development of the Niger Delta area in the field of transportation including roads, jetties and waterways, health, employment, industrialization, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications.
“Surveying the Niger Delta in order to ascertain measures necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development.
“Preparing master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger Delta region and the estimation of the member states of the Commission.
“Implementation of all the measures approved for the development of the Niger Delta region by the Federal Government and the states of the Commission.
“Identify factors inhibiting the development of the Niger Delta region and assisting the member states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger Delta region.
“Assessing and reporting on any project being funded or carried out in the region by oil and gas companies and any other company, including non-governmental organizations, as well as ensuring that funds released for such projects are properly utilized.
“Tackling ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil mineral in the Niger Delta region and advising the Federal Government and the member states on the prevention and control of oil spillages, gas flaring and environmental pollution.
“Liaising with the various oil mineral and gas prospecting and producing companies on all matters of pollution, prevention and control.
“Executing such other works and performing such other functions, which in the option of the Commission are required for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region and its people.”
Juxtaposing the mandate of NDDC and the reality on ground especially within the last two years or so, it can be said that the Commission has really cheated the people of the region. For instance, the first mandate of the Commission is “Conception, planning and implementation, in accordance with set rules and regulations, of projects and programs for sustainable development of the Niger Delta area in the field of transportation including roads, jetties and waterways, health, employment, industrialization, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications”. So far, the current NDDC seems to only focus on roads, which have mostly been described as substandard. So, what happens to jetties and waterways? What has the Commission done in the region with respect to the health sector, employment and industrialization? How has the Commission utilized her budget so far to achieve her mandate? The people of Akwa Ibom and indeed, the entire Niger Delta region, have failed to ask and get answers to these and many other important questions.
Barr. Ekong Pius is a legal practitioner and writer.