February 25, 2024

Opinion-ed by Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

 

It is a time-honored belief that for an average Nigerian leader, once a direction is chosen, instead of examining process meticulously and set the right course; one that will allow us to overcome storm and reach safety before we can progress and achieve our goals, many obstinately persist with the execution of such plans regardless of a minor or major shift in circumstance.

 

While the above scenario partially explains why Nigeria as a nation, still, its head has stuck in the mud of underdevelopment. There are, however, hopeful signs that not all public office holders or government agencies in the country approach public service with such a mentality or leisurely approach.

 

The recently inaugurated board/management of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a federal government agency saddled with the sole mandate of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta, is a typical example of a group that have do far discharged constitutionally assigned responsibility not for private gain but for the purpose of greater good for the greater number- and practiced public leadership laced in principle and international best practices.

 

Aside from visible departure from old leadership order, the recent passionate plea for government-private sector collaboration for sustainable development and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United States Consulate and a United States-based firm, Atlanta Global Resources Inc., AGRI, to build a railway network that will connect the nine states of the Niger Delta region, further underscores my assertions.

 

Essentially, participants at a one-day summit put together by the new board/management were unanimous that for a sustainable development of Niger Delta region to be achieved, partnership and collaboration must be at its centre.

 

It was clearly stated that the scale and ambition calls for smart partnerships, collaborations, ecosystem thinking, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society. The summit, which had the theme “Rewind to Rebirth,” was held on Tuesday April 25, 2023, at the Eko Convention Centre, Eko Hotels & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.

 

The event was among other goals aimed at finding creative and innovative ways by all strata of the society-public and private sector -to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection of the Niger Delta region.

 

Different speakers present at the event brought to the fore the reality of infrastructural deficit facing the Niger Delta region and government’s helplessness in this regard, justifying as imperative NDDC’s calls for partnership with the private sector.

 

Still ruminating on this whole thought of partnership and sustainability as discussed by the gathering, it has dawned on me that the new NDDC board/management has not only brought a shift in the nation’s public leadership paradigm, but set a sterling leadership example that other government agencies, commissions, ministries and in fact the incoming administration must study and adopt as a dashboard to correcting the nation’s leadership challenge which is gravitating to a culture.

 

Very profound is the recognition by the  Board and Management of NDDC, that inadequate funding ranks very high among the numerous challenges of the Commission and use of the Public Private Partnership model to provide an alternative funding source for key development project.

 

The programme in my views, is in alignment with the Goals 17, of 2030 Sustainable Agenda, a United Nation initiative and successor programme to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)- with a collection of 17 global goals formulated among other aims to promote and carter for people, peace, planet, and poverty.

 

It currently preaches partnership and collaboration at its centre and clearly specifies that the scale and ambition of this agenda calls for smart partnerships, collaborations, ecosystem thinking, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society.

 

Like the new NDDC board and management that have demonstrated passion for their purpose, practiced their values consistently and lead with their hearts as well as their heads, this piece believes that this time is auspicious for our government at all levels to switch over to a leadership style that is capable of making successful decisions built on a higher quality of information.

 

As a nation, it is important for the incoming administrations at both state and federal levels to openly admit and adopt both structural and managerial changes in ways that welcome approaches and impose leadership discipline than conventional and create government institutions that are less extractive but more innovative in operation.

 

This shift in action is important as we cannot solve our socio-economic challenges with the same thinking we used when we created it.

 

Even as this piece celebrates and postures NDDC board/management as a people that are desirous of ushering growth and structural change in the Niger Delta region, with some measures of distributive equity, modernization in social attitudes and improvement in health and education of the people, there exists yet, some steps that the board/management must take to catalyze sustainable development of the area that will guarantee the security and comfort of the present and future generations of Deltans.

 

First and very fundamental, the new partnership between the government and private sector in the race for massive infrastructural development calls for a higher level of transparency on the part of the government (NDDC).

 

Transparency will remain the cornerstone as it will increase the confidence expected by these interventionists’ private sectors as well as the civil society groups who may not be disposed to investing in an environment that is devoid of transparency and accountability.

 

Very instructive also, finding a solution to the societal problems vis-a-vis youth unemployment in the region and developing a climate of sustainable future and innovation is another part of the goal that needs a disciplined attention from NDDC.

 

Talking about the youth unemployment in Nigeria, a report recently puts it this way: “We are in dire straits because unemployment has diverse implications. Security Wise, a large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation agenda that does not have job creation at the centre of its programme will take us nowhere”.

 

Youths challenge cuts across, regions, religion, and tribe, and has led to the proliferation of ethnic militia as well as youth restiveness across the country. This may, in turn, hamper the peace needed in the region if handled with levity.

 

Particularly, this threat is more pronounced in the oil-rich region of the country with the chunk of the proponents spearheaded by the large army of professionally trained ex-militants currently without a job. It is only by engaging these teeming youths through employment creation that the incessant youth restiveness can be abated.

 

Secondly, the current NDDC board/management must not fail to remember that going by the Act establishing the Commission, its scope of coverage extends to roads, jetties and waterways, health, education, employment, industrialization, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications among others. This piece holds the opinion that none of this aspect should be abandoned for any reason.

 

Most importantly, the piece suggests that there is an urgent imperative for the current board/management to revisit the Niger Delta Regional Master Plan launched in 2007 for implementation over a 15-year period which was abandoned for yet to be identified reasons by previous administrations.

 

As a people, we must remember that the Master Plan has a legal backing as Section 7(d) of the NDDC Act 2000 empowers the Commission to prepare master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger Delta area and the estimates of the costs of implementing such master plans and schemes and therefore should not be discarded.

 

Finally, this piece submits that the NDDC new board/management is providing the Commission with the needed leadership and therefore should be supported by all stakeholders.

 

Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Politics), Advocacy for Social and Economic Justice (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;[email protected]/ 08032725374