By Ayo Fadimu
The task before the new Acting Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mrs Ibim Semenitari and her team is enormous. She faces the challenge of putting smiles on the faces of people of Niger Delta who though are the birds that lay the golden eggs but this rare blessing notwithstanding, the region appears to be the most traumatised part of the country as the Niger Delta is bedevilled by a range of environmental hazards resulting from oil pollution.
Against this background, hectares of farmlands have been destroyed while fishing business in the region has become a nightmare as a result of this unwholesome development while several years of neglect and deprivation have impoverished the people of the region.
However, the Commission, was established in 2000 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo with the mandate of “improving social and environmental conditions in the South-South region, which is horrific. The mission of the Commission includes facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.
The pathetic case of the people of Niger Delta resulted in a series of unrest which compelled successive governments in the last 15 years to devise several ways of ameliorating their living standard. These measures included adoption of 13 per cent derivation and establishment of NDDC and Niger Delta Ministry respectively.
However, 16 years after it came into being as an interventionist agency to help tackle challenges of under development in the Niger Delta region, it is glaring that the commission is yet to meet this set goal.
For many, the Commission is a failure. Therefore, the first job Semenitari-led team should do is to restore confidence of the people who saw the creation of the Commission in 2000 as a right step towards the development of the area and also quickly start work in turning the face of the area
One of the challenges confronting the commission is abandoned projects. For instance in 2012 alone, the federal government approved 75 mega projects for execution by the commission in the region. Surprisingly, in 2013 not up to 70 percent of the contractors that secured the jobs mobilised to site.
Although an insider in the commission lamented that the commission had been constrained by funding challenges contrary to section 14, sub-section 2 (a) and (c) of the Act establishing the NDDC and disclosed that the commission was exposed to liabilities in excess of N1 trillion including Interim Payments Certificates (IPC) that were unpaid. He added that over N800 billion of funds due to the interventionist agency had been withheld over the years. He also stated that the N45 billion accruing from the ecological funds was also not paid to the Commission.
Yet, the people of the region who have suffered untold hardship need to be catered for. Semenitari and her team must work out a development blueprint which will assist them to hit the ground running.
Currently, about 250 uncompleted projects by NDDC litter several parts of the states which are part of the commission.
Some of the abandoned projects include the 29-kilometre Ogbia-Nembe road, which the commission is building in partnership with the Shell Petroleum Development Company [SPDC]. This road with 10 long bridges and 99 culverts is described as one of the very challenging projects of the commission because of its very difficult terrain. For over 35 years when it was first proposed for construction, successive administrations could not muster the political will to execute it. However, a lot of people are looking towards the multiple award winning journalists cum administrator to complete this project and write her name in gold.
Other projects include the Buguma-Edo-Abalama-Abonema road as well as the 30 kilometre Nsasak Junction-Okon Essien Udim road; the 33.5 kilometre Ikot-Akpan-Udoh road; Iko-Atabrikang-Opolom-Iwuo Achang road with a 600-metre bridge in Ibeno and the Uquo-Odoro Nkit-Ntak-Inyang road.
So also,the 25-kilometre Uzoukwu-Owaza Iguruta Road and bridge project is begging for attention. The story is not different at the site of the 132 KVA transmission line and substation at Ukwa-West local Government Area of Abia State. The N1.6 billion power line project, meant to serve Abia, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states, appeared stalled as the premises of the substation has been overgrown with weeds. “
So also,in six communities at Iyekogba area of Oredo Local Government Area of Edo State, there are cases of of the abandonment of road construction contract awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission
The communities include, Evbowe, Uholor, Utangban, Efionayi, Evbuodia and Ulemon, . Not too long ago, the residents of the area took to the streets to protest the abandoned road project that was supposed to link the communities from Iyekogba near Ogba River to Upper Ekenwan road leading to Gelegele.
The project was supposed to provide an alternative route to Gelegele jetty through Airport road but over 6 years after the contract for the road project was awarded, it is yet to be completed.
The list goes on and it is obvious much that the people expect from the CommissionApart from these abandoned projects, there are other new projects that the commission should start.
Another challenge is that of the contractors handling the works of the commission. The new team should let them realize that the era of sharing national cake is over. The time of change is here. While all erring contractors must be brought to book .
To whom much is given, much is expected. The ball is in your court, Ibim Semenitari