By Chijioke Amu-Nnadi
The appointment by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Dr. Samuel Ogbuku, the managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, to a fresh term in the newly announced governing board of the interventionist agency offers a few important lessons on how to manage opportunity and promise.
Appointed first in January, 2023, by the outgone administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, Ogbuku, who as the managing director served with the former chairman, Mrs. Lauretta Onochie, the former executive directors of projects and finance and administration, Mr. Charles Ogunmola and Major General Charles Airhiavbere (rtd.), respectively, as well as a slew of other members in the old board, established a management style of technocratic governance, inclusiveness and openness that has endeared him to Niger Delta stakeholders and the Commission’s staff alike.
The announcement of his name to his old position, for a fresh tenure, was indeed greeted by affirmation and celebration across the region and along the corridors of an agency that has, over the years, yearned for a leadership that is committed to the efficient and effective discharge of its mandate to facilitate regional development. Having been accused repeatedly over the years of failing to rise to the call of their duty to serve their own people, the Commission’s staff, it has been reported, has thrown their collective weight behind Ogbuku’s drive to build a stronger workforce and a more efficient organization.
For someone whose first sojourn can best be described as brief, the spontaneous outburst of approval may have come as a surprise to many. But there must be many more who understand his commitment to excellence, and to delivering on his assignment to the NDDC and the Niger Delta. But the question to ask would be: how did Samuel Ogbuku earn the confidence of the new President, as well as the plaudits and admiration of the people of the Niger Delta, whose best interest he serves?
The answer is easily unveiled in the lessons his time as managing director of a Commission, which has been heavily criticised in the past for poor delivery on its opportunities and promises. The first May easily be deduced from his history, pursuits and antecedents. And is his vision and passion for a Niger Delta region whose natural wealth makes its lands and people prosperous and peaceful.
As an activist in the quest for a better Niger Delta that meets the long-standing needs of the people and satisfies their expectations, Ogbuku has continued to identify with the challenges of regional development and the difficult living conditions of Niger Deltans. The Niger Delta region, which produces the bulk of Nigeria’s wealth, has long been known for the unfortunate paradox of widespread poverty, high unemployment, poor infrastructure, embattled landscape and coastal areas, as well as poor social services, poor skills base and youth restiveness. In the past few decades, Ogbuku has been an important part of the intellectual agitation that continues to call attention on what needs to be done to develop the region, as well as positively impact the people.
His emergence, therefore, as the managing director of an agency whose core mandate is to facilitate rapid, even and sustainable development in the region, must have come as the needed platform, and impetus, to help him transform some of his ideas and vision, part of which helped earn him a PhD in political and administrative studies, as well as the lessons learnt in advocating for a better Niger Delta, into reality.
As the managing director of the NDDC, Ogbuku has spearheaded a number of landmark changes, new ideas, renewed enthusiasm and accomplishments. While working to strengthen institutional structures and processes within the Commission, he is working to improve due process, financial discipline and transparency. He is working to improve the implementation of projects and programmes, so that they can adequately serve the needs of the people for longer, more sustained periods. And he is improving staff morale by addressing salient issues of commitment to professional conduct of an efficient workforce.
In instituting the public private partnership (PPP) model for the Commission, for which several engagements within and outside the country has already been organised, Ogbuku was reported to have said: “In the 22 years since its establishment, the NDDC has not achieved this mandate, despite what may be described as its best efforts. While the Commission developed strategies, as well as facilitated a regional master plan meant to tackle existent challenges, the core of those challenges remain. While the master plan, which aggregated the vision and expectations of the people into a roadmap, offered lofty prescriptions, it was largely ignored by most stakeholders. The expected buy-in did not happen, even though the plan was launched to much fanfare on March 27, 2007, by then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
“The years between its launch and expiry witnessed many setbacks to the mandate of building the Niger Delta into the region of our shared dream. Besides the failure by stakeholders to own the Niger Delta regional Master Plan, inadequate funding, political interference, leadership instability, delays in passage of the Commission’s budgets, as well as institutional lapses created, by 2019, a Commission embroiled in its own identity and statutory crisis. Consequently, over the years, the Niger Delta witnessed a rise in uncompleted, or poorly executed projects, while the Commission buckled under the weight of debts and financial exposure.
“The inauguration of the board, on January 4, 2023, therefore, is seen as part of government’s efforts to reposition the NDDC to operate optimally, effectively and professionally. We believe that (we have) been mandated to follow the trajectory of institutional reforms initiated by (the forensic) audit. We are committed to reordering and strengthening what has been initiated by government, it has become imperative for us to, indeed, ensure that there is a paradigm shift in the way the Commission conducts its business. And be committed to it.
“While the Commission has made some visible impact over the years, a lot still has to be done. To achieve this object, therefore, the current board is unfolding a new initiative for sustainable development. Our “Rewind to Rebirth” is a strategic initiative designed to recalibrate our engagement with the Niger Delta and the Commission’s overall intervention implementation plan. Embedded in this initiative include exploring more avenues for funding, as well as opportunities for collaboration and investment in the Niger Delta region.
“It is public knowledge that inadequate funding ranks very high among the numerous challenges of the Commission. Against this backdrop, the current Governing Board and management is promoting the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, in order to provide an alternative source for key development projects and programmes. This initiative aligns with the NDDC mandate, as well as the sustainable development goals 17, which focuses on partnerships.
“The NDDC-PPP summit was conceived as a strategic stakeholder meeting to launch the NDDC PPP initiative. It is designed to communicate a new phase for the Commission that will create a gateway of opportunities for foreign and local investors, captains of industry and multilateral agencies. Working together, we will build a new Niger Delta that fulfills the mandate of NDDC, of a region that is indeed socially stable, economically prosperous, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.
“To succeed, we must remain committed to doing things differently from the past. We must move from the era where we express a determination to making a difference in the Niger Delta, to actually making a difference. There is no better time than now. We are improving and strengthening our internal processes and institutional protocols. We are taking definitive and definite steps towards following due process in all our operations. We must become transparent in ways that build confidence among our partners and stakeholders. We must be more mindful in the allocation of funds to projects and programmes, and remove all areas of waste.
“Ultimately, it is our belief that this new initiative will help build needed consensus among partners and across the Niger Delta, to ensure that we can, together, truly implement visible projects and programmes with far-reaching impact in our communities, in our shared and unwavering commitment to rebuilding the Niger Delta, and bequeathing to ourselves and our future a region of which we all can be proud.”
As part of his engagements, Ogbuku has given life again to the Partners for Sustainable Development (PSD) Forum. Only recently, at a budget harmonisation and reconstruction conference in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, he brought together a number of important stakeholders involved in regional development efforts, in order to collaborate in delivering quality projects and programmes for the region, at considerably reduced cost. He has rebuilt the relationship between the NDDC and relevant institutions and is creating a new Commission that is better equipped to deliver on its mandate.
The people have noticed. Governments in the region have noticed, as well as the National Assembly, the OICs and the diplomatic corps representing international development agencies. But, more importantly, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has obviously noticed, by reappointing him to “continue fashioning a veritable path to ensuring an NDDC that delivers on the president’s Agenda of Hope,” by helping to restore hope to the region and its people. That is the journey ahead.