Youth restiveness and violence are inimical to the development of the Niger Delta region as it drives away investors and runs counter productive to governments desire to ensure an economically viable, developed and prosperous region, the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Nsima Ekere, has declared.
Ekere who spoke exclusively to the Nation’s South South Regional Editor, SHOLA O’NEIL, said virtually the entire world knows Niger Delta youths for confrontation and for making unreasonable demands. “When I came in here and met a very different environment it gives me a lot of hope. What people know us for is aggression, street harassments, kidnappings, violence, blowing up pipelines. That’s what being a youth in the Niger delta is looked at and that’s how people see us.
He lamented that presently, Dangote is building the biggest refinery in the world but rather than build it in the region which is nearer to the source of raw materials, such a multi billion dollars investment is situated in Lagos with billions of dollars spent on a pipeline for piping crude to the refinery, regretting that nobody wants to put that kind of investment in the Niger Delta because of the impression they have of our youths.
Hear him; “Just imagine the economic impact; multiplier effect of that investment in the economy of the Niger Delta. Thousands of jobs will be created directly and indirectly. Spending that huge amount of money in the Niger Delta will change our society, our lives and communities. And that is just one out of several”.
Mr Ekere stated that there is an ongoing advocacy that SHELL (SPDC) should not relocate out of Rivers State because they were about doing that. In his words; “Virtually all oil companies are doing that: Agip operates from Abuja; MD of Shell is in Lagos, MD of Chevron is in Lagos and virtually everybody is out of the town. I came into Port Harcourt in 1990 and served (NYSC) here. I was here for 17 years. The MD of Chevron was here in Trans Amadi, AGIP too. This is the effect that the perception that we have given to the world about the Niger Delta is having on us”.
He called for an attitudinal change among Niger Delta youths towards a new global perception that will attract investment and development to the region, noting with dismay that for 16 years, the NDDC had become ineffective in fulfilling its core mandate, thus rather than continue with the age long tradition of dolling out money to youths in the name of empowerment with nothing to show for, the present board is committed to sustainable empowerment that will lead to growth and wealth creation.
On his plans for the region, the former Akwa Ibom State Deputy Governor said the Commission is planning to have IT connectivity in the Niger Delta.
“We have had several meetings and there will be more meetings. The marine cables that brought internet from the US and other parts of the world to Africa, brought the same capacity/bandwidth to Lagos for Nigeria (175million people), as in Sao Tome, with less than 70,000 people”.
“So they have the same capacity as Nigeria and there is a lot of wasted capacity there. So the meeting we have had in the last two weeks is working with Galaxy Backbone, a federal government owned company, to go to Sao Tome, get marine cable and pipe that excess capacity directly to the Niger Delta”.
He explained that a technical committee has been set up to work on it. “We want to make this happen. We have two years in the life of this board and management. We don’t have that much time. I want to be able to achieve this in two years. That is one of the things we want to do”, he declared.
According to the NDDC boss, “We must begin to work on the mindset of our young people and let them understand that criminality is not the right way to go. As far as I am concerned, most of this so-called agitation is not agitation; it is criminality. We must begin to differentiate between agitation and criminality”.
He called on the youths to look for innovative ways of living their lives as the options and opportunities abound in the region. “You would not imagine what you can do with your life with a little bit of innovation and drive”, he admonished.
He noted that past NDDC projects and policies failed because most of the things that the Commission came up with over the years are things they want to use to appease those that are causing trouble. “For me, it is encouraging other people. I hate to see that we are rewarding truancy more than good citizens. The scheme they had was to just take some of these boys and say they clean street, control traffic and they call them NDDC volunteers and pay them money at the end of the month. If you keep doing that for 50 years, you can’t see the qualities that we have and values we add to the society”.
On the NDDC scholarship programme, the MD said there was need to overhaul and review the policy towards strengthening it to be more effective, efficient and result oriented.
“Unfortunately, we discovered that the NDDC hasn’t paid our scholars who are abroad. There is this funny policy (of the programme) where you first go to the school, register and then send an invoice from the school. The invoice is what is then used to process the scholarship and sent to you. The question I asked when I met with the team is that ‘I used to think you must pay some fees before you are registered in the school’. They said, ‘yes’. I said, ‘why do you put the cart before the horse?’
“Anyway, that is what the policy is. When they send the invoice, we now give their account details for processing and payment of tuition fees to the school. But because the scholarship is worth $30,000, if your school fee is $20,000 or whatever it is, we pay the balance to the scholar for upkeep. The scholar is also to send his/her overseas bank details to be able to access this fund. As at (the time) only 32 of 200 scholars that won the scholarship last year have complied with that. So, 168 have either not yet sent in invoice or account details to be able to get that money. I directed that the 32 who met the policy guidelines should be paid. The appeal for those who have not yet met the requirements is to try and hasten it so that theirs can be paid”.
Continuing, he said, “But going forward, I am going to change that policy, because if you grant somebody scholarship you want them to benefit from it; you don’t want to put roadblocks to prevent them from benefiting. The challenge has been – from what we hear – that a lot of people know that for you to get the scholarship, you come with a letter of offer of admission in some selected courses”.
On the N560 million vehicle controversy, Mr Ekere said since the present management came on board, no new vehicle has been bought. Hear him, ” I am driving my personal car and my two executive directors are driving theirs. Any time my chairman comes into town he uses his car. The supervising minister for the NDDC, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, has visited a couple of times on official visit to Port Harcourt and we don’t even have cars to send to the airport to bring him. We were just in the process of buying the vehicles. These days before you do anything you have to go the BPP. We wrote to them and they gave us certificate of no objection to buy the vehicles and we have that. The process is that once you get that, you take it to Federal Executive Council; they will deliberate on it and if they approved, they will give approval before you can buy. That process is ongoing and it is not completed’, he declared.
He explained that since coming into office, the present board freezed all contracts for three months and has presently advertised over 370 projects that are due to be awarded. “That is because if we don’t do it now the budget year is virtually ending. It is supposed to be March ending but now we have extension to May. If we do not do it most of what should have been done in this year in the budget would be lost; it would not be done” he stated.
He said NDDC was viewed in time past as corrupt because periodic stock taking and the right governing structures were not in place as well as the non existence of international best practice in the ways things were done then, explaining that as a way forward he has initiated the 4Rs to reform and restructure NDDC towards ensuring that everything must be done properly as the board and all stakeholders must commit themselves to the proper way of doing things.