Is it true that the Ministry of Niger Delta is gathering another bunch of people: “The Niger Delta Council for stakeholders”, to be commissioned in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state on the 25th of April to fashion its own “Action Plan” for the development of the region? It’s better to believe that this is not true because if it is, then the problem that caused the setback suffered by the region is more serious than we see on the surface.

According to a press statement signed by the Minister, Godsday Orubebe, “The Niger Delta council for stakeholders is expected to discuss and deliberate on issues that affect the region and also proffer possible solutions. The proposed Niger Delta “Action Plan” is expected to act as the Developmental Framework in achieving the aspirations of the people in collaboration with development partners which include the UNDP, European Union, governments of the nine states of the Niger Delta and other local partners.”

Is it not pathetic that there are only two major federal government roads to addressing the infrastructural and human development deficit issues that gave rise to the militant uprising in the Niger Delta region? These roads run through the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta. And unfortunately for the ordinary people of the region, these two roads themselves are in a state of parlous disrepair caused by deliberate misplacement of priorities, massive corruption, and deliberate lack of feelings of the sufferings of the real people of the region.

Why are we going ahead to develop another blueprint for the region? What happened to the NDDC’s Niger Delta Development Master Plan where hundreds of millions of Dollars was spent to produce?  Was the master plan not supposed to be an all time clear-enough work plan for short, medium and long term development activities in the region?

What is this new Niger Delta stakeholders’ council going to do that has not been done before and put in documents filed away in offices in Abuja?  Do we need “wise men from the east” to tell us that the East-West Road has remained a sore feature of the Jonathan administration? Do we need a Hausa/Fulani man to tell us that riverine communities need well –engineered jetties and world-class or even Nigerian class water transport systems with modern boats to replace our canoes? Do we need this proposed council of witches and wizards to tell us that instead of sinking monies constructing roads to link riverine communities, we should rather make water/marine transport as enviable as ABC Transport luxurious buses on our roads? Is this not another avenue for another crop of people to enrich themselves at the expense of all of us in the name of planning for the region? How come we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over all the time? Now na we de do ourselves o! We go fit still complain tomorrow?

Development issues in the Niger Delta have always been put in master-plans upon master-plans since the pre-independence era and yet no single one has ever been implemented anywhere in the region. Do we need a summit to build water-friendly low cost housing estates with basic facilities in our marshy riverine communities? If we are honest with ourselves, we can do these things with a very small fraction of the money that comes to the region through different avenues. Are we not tired of action plans that never show any action in our traditional communities?

If our perverse politicians understand that the decision by the federal executive to create a ministry for the Niger-Delta, as they claim, was to empower it to help in the infrastructural development of the area in addition to, not as a replacement for, what the NDDC is doing, how does this translate into the current “iron curtain” relationship between the two agencies meant to work for the interest of the same area of the same people?

So do we just allow the 15-year period of the NDDC master plan to run out with tangible development impact on the Niger Delta because we want to continue to plan until the end of the world? If the master plan does not already exist, this new initiative from the Ministry may have been tolerated. But the existing master plan has in a lay man’s language what needed to be done in every development sector across the region in short, medium and long term with clear cut assigned responsibilities to the local, state and federal governments and even the oil companies. So what stops the ministry from extracting as its roadmap the aspect of the NDDC master plan the federal government is expected to implement?

Is it not pathetic that there is no iota of correlation between the NDDC and the Niger Delta Ministry? Under this setting how do you expect effective utilisation of the available funds for developmental projects in the region?

The minister had some time ago publicly lamented that “If you go and attend a meeting anywhere in the world, people are talking to you about the NDDC, people are talking to you about development and as a minister, you have little or no information about what the NDDC is doing; does that present any meaningful reasoning? A minister of the Niger Delta should be able to tell development partners and whoever that is concerned what is being done by the NDDC. But today, there is no correlation.”

The Act setting up the NDDC clearly puts the supervision of the commission directly under the President. Note, not under the Presidency. This means that there are no obstructive go-between for the commission and the President to ensure expeditious implementation of decisions. The framers of the law were conscious of the fact that the interventionist agency must be freed of all the encumbrances of ministries which are usually weighed down by bureaucratic red tape.

Part II, Section 7 of the Niger Delta Development Commission (Establishment) Act 2000 states that: “The Commission shall be subject to the direction, control or supervision in the performance of its functions under this Act by the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Now that there is an urgent work to be done and luckily, the president happens to come from the troubled area, one would have expected the president to act as an interface between these two Niger Delta agencies that are at war with each other. The lack of coordination or rather the deliberate refusal by the ministry and the commission to cooperate is tied to arrogance, selfishness and corruption-driven supremacy tussle going on in the two establishments.

This is the truth.

IFEANYI IZEZE is an Abuja-based Consultant and can be reached on: [email protected]

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