The Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, says it will collaborate with the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Niger Delta Task Force to build peace and resolve conflicts in the Niger Delta region.
The Chairman of the NDDC Governing Board, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), said this when members of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Niger Delta Task Force paid him a courtesy visit at the Commission’s headquarters in Port Harcourt on Thursday.
He said that the challenge of development in the Niger Delta was the challenge of peace. Put differently, he said: “The challenge of peace in the Niger Delta is a challenge of development because for us to have development in this region, which is urgently needed and very highly needed, we need to have peace. In achieving that peace we are ready to engage with everybody to ensure that peace returns to this region.”
Senator Ndoma-Egba said that the Federal Government had in the last few months demonstrated its desire to address the concerns in the Niger Delta. He commended the initiatives led by the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who he said had shown a lot of new zeal by making several visits and promises.
According to him, the new initiatives were a demonstration of good faith on the part of President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government to the people of the Niger Delta.
The NDDC Chairman noted that it would be difficult to develop the Niger Delta without an integrated plan. “No region or country develops without a plan, so for the current board, the challenge is either to revalidate, or upgrade, or come up with a new master plan, because the indices used in the previous plan are no longer valid today.”
He stated that the Niger Delta Regional Development Master plan, which was launched in 2007, with a life span of 15 years, was almost coming to an end. The carefully crafted master plan, he regretted, was abandoned almost as soon as it was launched.
Senator Ndoma-Egba said: “We are determined to do the needful and fortunately we have received a lot of interests from partners, the European Union, the United States Government and the Government of Germany to support us in either revalidating, updating, upgrading or coming up with a new plan. But that plan is imperative if we must develop in a consistent and sustainable manner.”
He re-stated the resolve of the NDDC Governing Board to return the Commission to its original mandate of “being a regional devolvement agency to create an integrated economy for the region.” He noted that the public perception of the Commission was not one of a regional development agency but one of a contract awarding factory.
According to Senator Ndoma-Egba, the focus of NDDC should be the integration of the Niger Delta region. He added: “We want to pull back from the old attitude of competition to a new one of cooperation with member states, because we need the cooperation of stakeholders if we must integrate the region. That is why one of the very first steps we took as a board was to request Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief to reconstitute key organs of the Commission, including the Niger Delta Advisory Committee and the Niger Delta Project Monitoring Committee.
“To achieve our new focus, we need to strengthen a number of things, we need to strengthen our processes and we need to strengthen our systems. We need to earn the trust of not only funding partners but also development partners both local and international. And to do so we must earn their respect. And to earn the respect we must be transparent in our operations.”
Mr. Albert Akpomudje (SAN), the Chairman NBA Niger Delta Task Force, said the association could not fold it arms and watch while the Niger Delta region was being torn apart by crises.
He said that the NBA deemed it necessary to set up the Niger Delta Task Force to assist all stakeholders in collaboration with the various tiers of government in bringing to an end the crisis that had plagued the region.
Mr. Akpomudje lamented that the only thing that strikes the mind of people when you hear Niger Delta was the crisis in the region due to the presence of crude oil. He said: “What is uppermost in the mind of Nigerians is how this crisis can be fully addressed and the responsibility of this to every average Nigerian is that NDDC has a lot of that responsibility.”
The NBA task force chairman said that one of the 11-point terms of reference of his group was to “determine if the Niger Delta Development Commission Act should be amended to reflect and deal with current constraints in the areas of funding and to include all companies involved in all aspects of oil and gas enterprise within the funding arrangement with appropriate sanctions for defaulting companies.”
He assured that the NBA would propose the amendment of the NDDC Act in the area of funding to enable the Commission to carry out its mandate of developing the region.
He said that the Task Force would act as a bridge the between the NDDC as representatives of government and those at the grassroots that are affected by crisis. “ When the chips are down, the grassroots people , including those called the militants, will trust the NBA more in a mediation effort whenever there is crisis in this region.
“We shall hold town hall meetings with communities in the Niger Delta to advocate peaceful resolution of the crisis and impress on the indigenes of the region that carrying arms, blowing up pipelines, kidnapping and other vices cannot be the best way in resolving the crisis.”