The Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, has engaged Civil Society Organisations as part of a wider stakeholders’ partnership to ensure sustainable development in the Niger Delta region.
Speaking at a one-day Stakeholders Engagement with Civil Society Organisations in Port Harcourt, the NDDC Interim Administrator, Mr. Efiong Akwa, underscored the need to tap the knowledge of the groups on a broad range of issues in the Niger Delta.
The NDDC Chief Executive Officer assured that the Commission would continue to engage critical stakeholders in its effort to ensure collaboration and partnership in the development of Nigeria’s oil-rich region, emphsising the importance of robust and productive engagement.
He said: “The engagement is not just a talk shop but an open space for deep discussions and debates involving a broad spectrum of how the NDDC can be supported to manage the resources of the region more efficiently and also deliver its mandate in a manner that puts smiles on the faces of the people.
“It is part of this challenge that has made us to explore the possibility of revisiting the Niger Delta Regional Development Master plan that expired in 2020, so we are able to define our development gap and meticulously face them for better outcomes.”
Akwa thanked the civil society groups for their productive advocacy in the past and implored them to join hands with NDDC to do more. He observed: “We are inspired by your role in conceptualising and internationalising the severe pains of poverty and underdevelopment in the region and in defining credible steps on how we can break the glass ceiling.
“We recognise that beyond the critical roles in molding policy directions, you have demonstrable capacity in development discourse and can, therefore, be an asset in seeking collective options on how we move on from here.”
Akwa said that in the past few months, the NDDC leadership had taken time to engage different levels of stakeholders to cross-pollinate ideas on how to improve the fortunes of the region.
He said that with the determination and commitment to get it right, the Interim Management approached the National Assembly and “for the first time in over two years, they passed the Commission’s budget as a show of support to our effort and the new thinking I brought to bear in our operations. Today, we are implementing a budget that has enabled us to follow through our plans and programmes in an organised way.”
He declared that the efforts of the interim administration were beginning to bear positive fruits, stating: “Our contractors, most of whom have not been paid for years even after they have completed their projects, are now being paid and that in itself, is restoring confidence and many more are going back to site to complete their projects.”
Akwa thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for what he described as “his fatherly love and commitment” to the development of the Niger Delta region, noting that he had continued to give the NDDC all that was required to make a difference.
He remarked: “Recently, he directed that all those that are owing money to the Commission should immediately pay up, this will show you a man who walks the talk and who wants to see the region develop.”
The NDDC boss said that the Commission had continued to engage critical stakeholders in the effort to ensure collaboration and partnership, stating that the management had visited the governors of Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta and Imo states.
The Guest Speaker and the Founder of the Centre for Social Studies and Development, Mr Ken Henshaw, affirmed that the NDDC had the onerous task of fast-tracking the development of the Niger Delta region.
Speaking on the theme: “Niger Delta Development: What roles for Civil Society Organisations,” Henshaw observed that right from the days of the Willink’s Commission in 1957, the Niger Delta region was identified as an area in dire need of development.
Unfortunately, he said, the region had remained under-developed despite several interventions, including the 13% derivation.
He lamented that about 88 per cent of Niger Deltans were living below the poverty line, worse than the national average of 67 per cent. He stressed: “We need a paradigm shift to bring development to the Niger Delta region.”
He regretted that abandonment of projects was the biggest problem confronting the NDDC and advised it to collaborate with the Civil Society Organisations to monitor its projects.
In his own remarks, a civil society activist and environmentalist, Mr. Iniruo Wills, said that the NDDC owed its existence to the efforts and works of the Civil Society Organisations. He, therefore, asked that a Civil Society Desk be created in NDDC for better synergy.
He called for more attention on environmental challenges, urging that it should be incorporated in the proposed amendments to the NDDC Act.