Robinson Tombari Sibe, a policy analyst, says the inability to adhere to a guided, coordinated development plan has been the bane of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). He told KELVIN EBIRI, that NDDC has over the years resorted to impulsive development, which has given rise to abandoned projects across the region.
What is your assessment of the NDDC thus far?
Let me start on a positive note. It would be wrong to conclude that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has not made an impact in the region. Indeed, while I am not satisfied, they have done a few projects that have contributed to development of the region. Today, there are communities, which now have access to good water; there are communities, which now have electricity; there are communities which now have health centres; there are communities which now have schools; there are communities which now enjoy good roods; there are indigent students, who currently enjoy scholarships. All of these are made possible by the NDDC.However, when you juxtapose this with the amount received by the commission in about 17 years of existence, I’m afraid it’s not a performance to be proud of.
Why are there so many abandoned projects in the region?
First, there is a complete breakdown of sanity in the planning process. Development should be guided, not spontaneous lest it’ll be chaotic. Over a decade ago, the commission launched a development master plan, cutting across several sectors. Whatever shortcomings this had, it was a bold step at providing the needed sanity and direction in the planning and development of the region. Unfortunately, this master plan, however imperfect, was abandoned. In an ideal set up, every project awarded ought to satisfy the following: answer a strategic question; fit in to a development master plan; complement other projects by stakeholders and development partners (e.g. states, local government areas, etc) and have a sustainability plan. In the case of the region, we execute projects that do not answer any strategic question. We conceive projects to answer our selfish and clannish interests, not regional and strategic questions.
Projects are executed without any robust feasibility and sustainability plan, they are executed in isolation, without fitting into a regional development plan, or complimenting existing projects of other development partners. In some cases, they merely award contracts, not because the contracts fit into any regional master plan, but because of the immediate financial accruals of the contract. This is why the projects become abandoned mid-way, or are left to rot away even after completion.
In your opinion, what could be responsible for the abandonment of the two rice mills, which gulped hundreds of millions of naira?
For the rice mills and many other similar projects abandoned after commissioning, it’s easy to point out what may have been the problem. For a project that ought to run as a business after commissioning, if you don’t get your business model right, such would fail thereafter; no magic! Such business models should have been analysed and fine-tuned at the feasibility stage, but that is usually not done. They are more interested in the financial proceeds from the contract, and the glory of cutting the tape at the commissioning ceremony.
But why has it been such a difficult thing for the NDDC to fulfill its mandate?
The problem of the NDDC is fundamental. The structure is such that suffocates merit and continuity. It is structured as a political vehicle torn between the nine state governors, the National Assembly and the Presidency; instead of a development vehicle, insulated from the shenanigans of conflicting bureaucracies and political interests. The leadership carries the insignia of any party that is in power – which on the surface, is not bad – but allow their selfish political cravings to dictate the pace and direction of projects. It’s sad that a development agency with such a serious mandate is used as a vehicle for political compensation. Any development agency that compromises her recruitment process will fail. In the case of the NDDC, the leadership is selected from the ruling party as a “political compensation”, and not from a rigorous recruitment process, where professionals and development experts, irrespective of their political affiliations, can apply and be screened on merit. Development that is motivated and guided by politics cannot be sustainable. Thus, different leaderships come, and for whatever reasons, mostly selfish, carry out their personal and political agenda. Every new leadership that comes, rudely interrupts the current development efforts, and substitutes same with his. This, as the results have shown, is counterproductive. Yes, you need political will to drive development, but such development must be insulated from politics. Where we convert our “drawing board” to “political scrap books”, projects will continue to become an arrested development.
Funding is also alleged to impede NDDC’s performance. How true is this?
Funding is an issue. All sources of funding to the commission are remote and detached (not local). This means they are exposed to external risks and shocks, totally beyond them. The erratic disbursements to the commission leave them perpetually in ‘panic mode,’ and you can’t plan properly in this mode. Once you are not in charge of your funding, and cannot effectively and accurately predict your cash flows, it’s difficult to plan sustainably. This is more so because their funding comes from different unpredictable sources, including federal appropriation for the commission (which has its complications); contributions from oil and gas producing companies (which is at the mercy of global industry shocks) and other development partners. Harmonizing these financial dynamics and disparate sources can prove problematic at times, and often creates an alibi for the leadership to take selfish and erratic decisions.
The fact that their biggest funding comes from appropriation from the National Assembly, leaves them at the mercy of legislative gymnastics and the politics of the day. Majority of those who decide their fate (by approving and amending their budget) at the National Assembly, are not from the region, and do not know the regional priorities and critical challenges. They lack passion, and do not know the projects approved the previous year, therefore cannot ask questions, including why they’ve not been completed. How can you play an oversight role over an agency in a region you barely have any knowledge of? Do you now see why the region is an arrested development?
How can NDDC be refocused?
To fix the NDDC, these fundamental issues must be addressed. There must be a well-articulated development master plan that must be respected, irrespective of the politics of the day. The inner workings of the commission must be insulated from the politics of the day. The agency must open up to the public and maintain a transparent process to engender citizen participation. There is no greater army of supervision, more efficient than the public; the commission needs to tap into this resource. The planning and budgeting process should be more inclusive. States, local governments, development partners and the civil society should be involved in the planning and budgeting process. We must also work out a stable and guaranteed funding framework, so the commission can plan sustainably. Finally, the commission should have a merit-based culture, and operate in line with global best practices. Do these and we can begin to expect sustainable results.