Sad Tale from Niger Delta

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The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) last week defended its 2014 budget before  the Senate Committee on Niger Delta with unexciting news about snail speed approach to project development. Omololu Ogunmade writes

From the Senate two weeks ago came a soul rending tale that no fewer than 4,000 projects being executed by Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) are uncompleted.

The projects estimated to be worth trillions of naira, according to NDDC, are scattered across the oil producing region.
This disclosure brought about many rhetorical questions, among which was, why were projects of that magnitude abandoned? The Niger Delta is one region perceived with mixed feelings. Mixed feelings, because the region produces oil which has been the mainstay of the nation since 1970’s. However, this rare blessing notwithstanding, it appears to be the most traumatised part of the country as the Niger Delta is bedevilled by a range of environmental hazards resulting from oil pollution.
Against this background, hectares of farmlands have been destroyed while fishing business in the region has become a nightmare as a result of this unwholesome development.

The pathetic case of the people of Niger Delta resulted in a series of unrest which compelled successive governments in the last 15 years to device several ways of ameliorating their living standard. These measures included adoption of 13 per cent derivation and establishment of NDDC and Niger Delta Ministry respectively. But it appears that these arrangements have had little or no impact on the people as the axis is yet to witness the desired development.

Therefore, this problem of under-development in the midst of several measures conceived to address the trend came to the fore when Chairman of NDDC, Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, appeared before the Senate Committee on Niger Delta in National Assembly on recently to defend N322.6 billion 2014 budget. His submission before the committee showed that initiating projects was not the problem of the commission but completing it. This led to disclosures that as many as 4,000 projects are more or less abandoned in the area.

The disclosure was viewed to be frightening as it created the impression that the commission continues to initiate projects without deliberate moves to complete them.  This made it easy for concerned persons to compare the attitude of NDDC with the dilemma of a man who started well but failed to carry through its crusade against societal ills. This is moreso that 4,000 projects, if duly completed, would have added immeasurable value to the lives of the people.

Besides, what many have failed to understand is why hundreds of billions of naira being budgeted and released for NDDC projects every year have failed to address this menace.  

But Ewa-Henshaw who recently assumed office as NDDC chairman was swift to blame the trend on the provision of only 15 per cent mobilisation in NDDC’s annual budget.

According to him, there is a need to review this provision in a way that a contractor can obtain at least one-third of the entire contract’s cost so that he can have enough fund to work throughout the year.

He further argued that this 15 per cent mobilisation has been exploited by contractors as the excuse to abandon projects, saying all they do is to ensure that the projects are 15 per cent completed in a year and afterwards leave the sites.

Furthermore, he said some projects which ordinarily should be completed within 12 or 24 months now stretch for as long as seven years.  
Against this backdrop, he said the commission had concluded arrangements to partner with some multi-national firms and corporate organisations with a view to fostering infrastructural development, health care delivery and power generation, among others, in the region.

He also explained that through this partnership, the firms would co-fund the uncompleted projects as well as the newly introduced ones, thereby ensuring their timely completion.
He expressed hopes that this arrangement would solve 80 per cent of the problems confronting the commission adding that the agency had also planned to abolish the 15 per cent mobilisation for contractors. Under this new arrangement, the chairman said projects awarded would be well funded and consequently completed within 24 months.

“We have decided to lay an agenda for NDDC that will enable us implement flagship legacy projects within the sub-region. What this means is that we will tackle very important jobs and developmental projects in the areas of road, power, health sector and the environment. “We recognise the difficulty that we confront with funding but we have been careful in trying to identify the sources of funding that will finance this year’s budget. In addition to that, we have also decided to focus more on partnerships, partnerships that will help us augment funding for the development of the sub-region.

“For example, on roads, we are looking at construction companies that will co-fund major projects with us so that we can leverage on what we have in terms of the available funds and then programme to ensure that these projects are completed in a timely and business like manner.

“We are also exploring partnerships that will facilitate power generation because we believe that if we are able to achieve substantial increase in the provision of power, then we believe that at least 50 per cent of the unemployment problem within the region will be solved.

“We are also looking for partnerships for intervention in the health sector that will directly affect the health care delivery system and the efficiency within that system.” He added: “The first and perhaps most important is the issue of provision of 15 per cent in the budget. What I mean is that if you have a project, say N2 billion project that can be completed within 12 or 24 months, the current practice is that only 15 per cent which is what is required for the advance payment is provided for in the budget.

“Usually what happens, is that the  contractor will quickly go beyond 15 per cent value of work done within 12 months but there is no further provision in the budget to continue to pay for the work that he is doing. The result is delay and even abandonment because after the 15 per cent, the contractor now has to wait for next year’s budget.

“So we need to change our approach. From now, we will look at the total sum required for the completion and we will try to provide at least one-third to ensure that throughout the year, beyond the 15 per cent mobilisation, the contractor can continue to work and he can continue to get paid.”

Responding, chairman of the committee, Senator James Manager, called for rapid development of the Niger Delta, saying doing so would help to avert future crisis in the region.
According to him, the fragile peace in the region at the moment needs to be consolidated through a complimentary developmental initiative.

It should be established here that the firms that NDDC would partner with were not expected to use their resources to fund the projects. Instead, their interventions are expected to fill the vacuum created by NDDC budget strategy. The firms will only leverage on the budget to provide funds capable of sustaining projects’ execution throughout the year. This initiative, if well harnessed, may bring succour to the people of Niger Delta and simultaneously reposition the commission from its perceived non-performing state to an effective and  responsive organisation living up to its name.

Details of 2014 NDDC Budget
President Goodluck Jonathan had on June 4, forwarded N322.6 billion to the National Assembly. The budget showed a N7 billion increase, representing 2.1 per cent increase from the N315.85 billion 2013 budget for the commission.

In the letter accompanying the budget, Jonathan said: “Pursuant to Section 18 sub-section one of the NDDC Establishment Act, I wish to submit the 2014 estimates of expenditure and income of the commission for the kind consideration and approval of the National Assembly.

“The commission has submitted a budget proposal of N322 billion for 2014 as against N315 billion in 2013 presenting an increase of about 2.1 per cent over last year’s budget. Furthermore, the budget is made up of personal expenditure of N15.80,73 billion only.”
The budget consisted of N10.186 billion as recurrent expenditure; capital expenditure of N2.281 billion; personnel expenditure of N15.80 billion and project development expenditure of N295.051billion.

Sources of funding for the budget include N23 million revenue brought forward; federal government contribution to excess crude arrears of N50 million; another N130 million contributions; ecological fund of N57 million; internally generated income of N100,000 million and unpaid arrears from 2012 approved budget of N12.5 million.

Bell Tolled for Kuta
When the Senate adjourned sitting to June 24 in commemoration of the end of third legislative session on June 5, it did not dawn on Senator Dahiru Awaisu Kuta, who represented Niger East senatorial district, that he would never return to the chamber.
In the same vein, it did not occur to his colleagues that they would not return to the chamber as a complete house neither did they imagine that they would return mourning being exactly a year after they lost Senator Pius Ewherido who represented Delta Central senatorial district in the Senate. Ewherido died in the National Hospital, Abuja, on June 30 at the age of 50.

According to Senate’s spokesman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Kuta died in Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) at the early hours of Thursday. Until his death, he was the Chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-governmental Affairs.
The Senate would definitely miss him in view of the roles he usually played. For instance, he was always assigned by Senate President David Mark to moderate events as time keeper during important debates and voting exercises in the chamber.

Mark would always address him as ‘comrade’ while he often described himself as ‘the only comrade in Senate.’ Kuta had joined his colleagues to observe a minute silence for a number of deceased in the chamber. It would sadly be his turn when the Senate resumes from its recess, thus echoing the expression, “such is life!”
Kuta, who was one of the most vibrant, agile and resourceful senators until the beginning of his undisclosed illness last year suddenly became fragile and had lost his physical composure. Although he was often absent since his ailment began, he was still in the Senate prior to June 5 adjournment.

Since his death was announced, the Senate said it had again lost one of its vibrant, focused and dedicated members.
According to Abaribe, the deceased was one of the most resourceful senators who loved his people dearly and worked assiduously for the good of not only his state and constituency but also the entire country.
“He was a Nigerian patriot per excellence. A development oriented lawmaker and one that believed and worked for oneness of the country, a belief he amply exhibited as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-govenmental Affairs,” he said.

Also in a swift reaction, Senate President David Mark, who is on official trip to Brazil where he represented President Godluck Jonathan at the opening ceremony of the mundial Thursday, lamented that “the cold hand of death has robbed the Senate and indeed the nation of a brilliant, vibrant and result-oriented lawmaker who distinguished himself in all ramifications.”
He added: “Senator Kuta was a fore front parliamentarian. His views and positions unarguably represented those of the ordinary Nigerian. Indeed, he stood for the masses. That was why he enjoyed the sobriquet of ‘comrade senator’ on the floor of the Red Chamber.

“His  death has no doubt created a vacuum. We shall miss his humour. We shall miss his frank, honest and patriotic acts. He was a rare gem. Senator Kuta’s easy and calm disposition endeared him to all.

He was a good mixer and everybody saw in him a true friend. He was just a pleasant fellow.
“My heart goes to his immediate family, the government and people of Niger State as well as the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria over this painful loss,” Mark said.

Also reacting to Kuta’s death, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, expressed shock over the tragedy, describing it as an “incalculable loss to the Senate and the nation.”

Ekweremadu, in a statement by his Special Adviser, Media, Uche Anichukwu, described the late senator as a dependable senator who discharged his responsibilities most creditably and efficiently.

He said: “Distinguished Senator Kuta was a brother, friend and a paragon of integrity, principle, courage and competence. He was a pan-Nigerian who loved his country from the depth of his heart and worked selflessly towards its development. His death truly hit where it hurts most and I am pained that he did not live to see the Nigeria of our collective dream, which he worked so hard for, fully emerge from the challenges of the moment.

“His death has indeed bored in the heart of the Senate a hole that will be very hard to fill up. He will forever be remembered for his conviviality, robust and insightful contributions on the floor of the Senate, and total commitment to the overall institutional success of the National Assembly.”

He condoled with the family of the departed senator as well as the government and people of Niger State over the sad event.

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