Ogbuku’s new lease at NDDC, by Ken Ugbechie 

Ogbuku’s new lease at NDDC, by Ken Ugbechie 

Samuel Ogbuku NDDC MD

The Niger Delta region, once described by Michael Peel, a former West Africa correspondent of the influential Financial Times as A Swamp Full of Dollars (title of his book published in 2009), is Nigeria’s treasure trove: rich in crude oil, gas and a buoyant ensemble of solid minerals.

But it is also the most neglected patch of earth in the country; abused and abandoned. Abused by the exploitative activities of some oil majors and abandoned by successive Nigerian governments especially the jackboot administrations.

Many years back, I found myself tucked in the belly of the Niger Delta region. That was during my NYSC days. I was among four corps members posted to a small, rustic community called Imiringi in present day Bayelsa State. One of us was a medical doctor who minded the community clinic built by Shell. The rest of us taught in the only secondary school in the community, Mater Dei High School, which happens to be President Goodluck Jonathan’s alma-mater.

As corps members, we lived in apartments built by an oil company for staff of the community clinic. We used free electricity powered by the gas turbine in Imiringi. Electricity here was more regular than it was in other parts of the country. There was pipe-borne water but the water was dirty. The water was brownish, almost like pond water. The natives used to flaunt, and rightly so, the brown water as evidence that their aquifers (water-bed) had been polluted by the activities of the oil majors. The water, truly, was heavily polluted, laden with iron and hydrocarbon discharges. The activities of the oil majors also impacted negatively on their aquaculture as most of the fish ponds in the community and adjoining communities could no longer sustain fishery activities. We saw a people blessed, yet stripped of the blessings. We saw sadness where there should be much joy.

Occasionally, we saw young vibrant men in the community brawl openly. They fought over road contracts and other menial jobs. The roads here lead to oil facilities and no more. The people did not brawl to compel the oil companies to do their roads, they fought over which ‘camp’ got the contract for the roads. That was in the days of Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC). The commission itself was steeped in all manner of leadership crisis at that time hence could barely help the communities. The biggest beneficiaries from that state of flux were the oil companies which ravaged the communities the more without the least care for the environment. In simple language, while OMPADEC was riddled with internal contradictions, the people of the oil-rich communities suffered.

Today, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has taken the place of OMPADEC. The NDDC was set up by the NDDC Act 2000. It was an interventionist agency to assuage the pains of the people of the Niger Delta region. Its brief was to implement the Niger Delta Master Plan. Brilliant in concept and lofty in goals, the commission, however, had been stewed in the juice of dirty politics right from its foundation. It started with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo refusing to sign the Bill into law after the National Assembly had harmonised its passage. The lawmakers had to override the president’s veto to turn the Bill to an Act of parliament. First huddle scaled.

That presidential lethargy spun a web of crises for the commission in its many years of existence. The crisis manifests in the high turnover of leadership. The Act specifies that each member of the Board including the chairman and managing director shall serve for a term of four years renewable for another four years.

But that has not been the case. The commission has suffered knee-jerk leadership changes. In most cases, the leadership was fired on account of fraud or plain incompetence. But all that changed with the nomination of Dr. Samuel Ogbuku by President Muhammadu Buhari and his subsequent confirmation by the Senate in December 2022.

Ogbuku, a homeboy from Ogbia clan in the heart of Bayelsa state, is a cut above the rest. A former student union activist, environmental activist and one of the fiercest voices in the defence of the Niger Delta people’s rights, was widely regarded as a fit man for the job. And he has not only proven it, he has surpassed expectation, birthing a new culture of transparency and projects activism. His leadership style, migrating NDDC from transactional to transformational management has triggered a fresh vista of development across all the nine states within the Niger Delta region. Little wonder he was reappointed by President Bola Tinubu as he steels himself to deliver on his Renewed Hope agenda.

Received opinion from across the Niger Delta is that Tinubu made the right decision in reappointing Ogbuku whose tenure under Buhari brought peace, stability and development to the region. Now, under Tinubu, Ogbuku and the extant Board have formed a formidable development machine with effective pulley system wheeling the axle of development in the hitherto neglected Niger Delta region. The culture of integrity inherent in Ogbuku’s NDDC, a departure from the feast of corruption that hallmarked previous Boards, has translated to international oil companies (IOCs), the diplomatic communities, local and multinational partners having renewed confidence in the commission. Without a doubt, Ogbuku is in the exclusive club of high-performing appointees of President Tinubu.

At a recent media tour and sensitization engagement in Port Harcourt which featured senior media executives and editors, participants were taken through a tour of the massive infrastructure wrought by the NDDC. From electricity, roads and bridges, education, healthcare delivery, capacity building including critical skills acquisition, social services, youth development, agriculture, among others, Ogbuku has birthed a new order at NDDC. The wide-ranging development initiatives now dotting the Niger Delta region speaks to a thorough needs assessment carried out by the commission before execution. In the past, the NDDC was perceived and treated by some persons as their ATM (to use the expression of a former minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio) and poorly executed, sometimes abandoned projects, were dumped on communities whether they needed such projects or not. That narrative has changed. Projects are sited and executed according to needs.

It’s all too obvious. NDDC has shed its old skin. We can no longer ‘off the mic.” Across the nine states that make up the Niger Delta region, there is profound evidence to justify the interventionist mandate of the commission. An enduring takeaway from the virtual media tour is that NDDC can now confidently take ownership of its projects because they not only bear a mark of quality, they have the seal of due process and cost-effectiveness. Ogbuku has carved a noble space for himself, refusing to walk in the tainted paths of his predecessors. He should stay the course for the journey has only just begun.

First Published in Sunday Sun