He also expressed concern over outstanding debt of about N700 billion owed the Commission by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and late President Umaru Yar’Adua, among others.
How has it been since you became the Managing Director of NDDC?
When we came in, first we had to put up the Uyo retreat where the NDDC insisted that from top management to all the staff, down to junior staff must be in Uyo. So we locked up ourselves and we had to tell ourselves the truth, how do we get this place to work? And it was clear with the new vision that it cannot be business as usual. So in Uyo, we had what we christened the Uyo Declaration, where everybody was committed to doing things differently, the retreat was quite successful and we got back to work.
Having dealt with that attitudinal issue, that challenge, the next area of focus, of course we have always known that infighting among top shots in NDDC, it is either the Managing Director of NDDC is quarreling with the EDFA, EDFA is quarreling with the EDP and all sorts of stories, factions and what happened is that the region suffered. So the three principal actors, the MD, the EDP, EDFA came together to agree on a commitment to themselves, commitment to the region that for the sake of getting our region to where we want the region to be, there is need to push back personal and selfish interests and then to get a common interest to take the driver’s seat. What that has given to us is that in one year in office, we have not had the usual infighting amongst the top management at the executive level between the MD, EDP and EDFA. This has affected positively the relationship between management and the staff.
So having got these very two critical factors clearly, we were set to take off and I can say that we had a smooth steaming, we took off and we are now cruising. One year in office, we have been able to keep faith with the mandate.
We came in, we inherited university hostels that NDDC has been struggling to build, some 10years, some 9 years and one wonders how a commission like NDDC would battle to deliver university hostels for 10 years. So we said no, we must get these hostels ready.
As I speak to you, within this one year in office, we have completed the university hostels, that of Federal University of Technology, Owerri, we have completed that in IMSU, we have completed and commissioned the one in UniBEN, we have completed and commissioned the one in Delsu Abraka, we have completed and commissioned the one in Uyo, UFT Uniport is safe to say completed. We are putting finishing touches. The one in NDU that of course didn’t even take off at all. What we have done is to re- negotiate the contract, the contractor is back on site and the job is being taken very seriously now.
In Otuoke, the contractor is also back on site. In Cross River State, we have two, one in CrossTech and one in UniCAL as we speak; I mean that is the spirit.
One of NDDC’s prime projects that would give us the highest credit in quote, have suffered. The Igbono bridge in Akwa Ibom, I don’t know some of you might know about that bridge, that bridge is now completed and contract has been awarded to take the road to link up the rest of the communities.
What has been the focus of your Commission in terms of capacity for youth in the region; how have you fared in capacity building?
Recently, 280 youths were trained at the Maritime Academy, Oron. We got them certified by NIMASA and as we speak, they are all jostling to go on board. We have also got about 300 of them into Octvale Oil and Gas Institute, to train on environmental remediation, oil spill management; because we feel that should the Ogoni Clean up becomes a reality, our youths as experts would be engaged. So, about 300 of them are currently undergoing two-year training on oil spill management and environmental remediation. Recently, we took 45 of them to South Africa to train in small scale industry management.
We are also discussing with Tinapa for training for our youths. We have also launched the Niger Delta You- Win, our own version of the You- Win Programme, which is already captured in our budget and about a thousand youths will be given grant ranging from N2 million to NI0 million to boost their existing businesses or to engage in small scale businesses.
We have launched and empowered 450 youths on recharge cards business, we have empowered them with generating sets, with phones and then with N150, 000 recharge cards of any network and we got Diamond Bank to manage it within a period of time and these are schemes we have gradually put in place and showed example of how beneficial it is to do things correctly.
When you try to do things correctly and you are supported, you become a role model to younger ones. We try as much as possible to encourage those who want to use their hands, who want to use their talents and make genuine wealth for themselves. That’s one way we tend to get our youths to do things correctly.
So, the focus is to encourage both the talented and the gifted and it is working for us because even journalists have not been writing stories on youth restiveness in the region. It is because of the level of engagement the present governing board of the NNDC has adopted in ensuring that our youths get the best.
We have also launched women empowerment programme; even the physically challenged aren’t left out. So, welfare of citizens of the Niger Delta and a thriving infrastructural development has remained our focus. What we have now is a new NDDC.
One thing we are happy about now is the positive change in the handling of our budget. You know our budget used to arrive late and because of that, the Commission couldn’t function, because you cannot run without budget and that we have corrected. You must have noticed that our budget was presented in February and the National Assembly passed it quite early. As we speak, the 2015 budget has been passed. So, the Transformation Agenda of Mr. president is working and we have moved from the analog ways of doing things to the digital. So, several reforms are ongoing. A lot of things have changed, but the greatest problem of NDDC is finance to meet our citizens’ demands.
What has the Commission done for the women? Do you have a task force that monitors projects to ensure effectiveness and prompt delivery by contractors?
For every empowerment programme we embark on, we must put a post-training plan. I told you how we sent some of our youths to Maritime Academy, Oron. Ordinarily, if it were the NDDC of yesterday, it would have ended there. But we took a step forward after their training, we got them all their documents, including NIMASA certification to enable them on board. So, by that we prepared them for the labour market; there were those we took further steps in acquiring generating sets, telephones, tables, canopies; everything that will allow you begin and we gave to them free-of-charge with take off recharge cards. With those cards, they can do PHCN, water bill and other services for you. 300 of our youths are studying in King Amachree University in Cotonou, seeking construction-related skills, like tiles laying and all that, we have also made post graduation arrangement for them. Once they finish, we give them take-off grant. We monitor them, we don’t just give them grant. We train, we empower and we follow up.
If you are to score yourself, how would you rate the present NDDC in monitoring and evaluation?
Well, we are trying to bring change,the Commission also has its challenges and difficulties. Yes, we have been able to strengthen our project monitoring unit. We have also carved out another department we call, the Project Monitoring Department. So we no longer rely solely on Project Monitoring Supervision and when PMS says this Interim Payment Certificate is certified, it will go to PMD and they must get to the site, get pictorial evidence of projects before the managing director puts his signature on payment. Now, in the office of the managing director, he has also strengthened project monitoring with two offices.
What is the synergy between the Commission and the Senate Committee which is responsible for oversight function?
Not just the Senate committee, even the House of Representatives committee, even the Presidential Monitoring committee on NDDC. I think there are several other agencies. So you see all of these, all must do their job, Senate committee, House of Reps committee, everybody must do his or her job. We have maintained excellent relationship given what is available in terms of funds. We are putting our funds to good use, driving our projects and ensuring standards. In fact the new team has maintained a very strong and excellent relationship with both chambers of the National Assembly and that has paid off because of the speed with which our budget was considered and passed. Also several other initiatives that the National Assembly and NDDC have had course to drive jointly, so, the relationship is solid and excellent.
One aspect again you will also notice positive change, you know our budget used to arrive the National Assembly in November, so by the time you do this and do that, NDDC budget is passed around August of the next year. And by the time you bring the budget to settle down, the year is gone. So in actual sense, the commission was not functioning because you cannot run without budget that we have corrected that . You will notice our last budget, we presented somewhere in February even though we were just coming, the National Assembly passed it quite early. As we speak, the 2015 budget of the NDDC has just been forwarded.
So the transformation of Mr President is working in NDDC. We have moved from the analog ways of doing things to digital.
What are the challenges of funding?
Well, it is true that we have challenges, especially in terms of fund. To be fair, the Federal Government isn’t owing us, but, we have outstanding debt owed by the past administration to the tune of N700 billion. But we understand the time and we wish that the Federal Government is magnanimous enough to help us pay this debt. If they pay us, it will help us do a lot of projects. But President Jonathan has been very committed to the success of this administration; what we are talking about is the accumulated debt owed by previous administrations from the Obasanjo to the late Yar’ Adua.
The general feeling in the region is that the current management you have is used to junketing, and not available to verify projects.
I don’t know where the story is coming from. People don’t understand that the business of being the Managing Director of NDDC isn’t one that requires you to sit down in Port Harcourt here. You may be needed in Abuja, either by the Presidency, the National Assembly, or any of the oil producing states. So, people don’t understand that the business of presiding over a Commission like NDDC isn’t just everyday office work. It is as tasking as the office of a state governor and you cannot accuse a state governor of not staying in his state, when you know that our federalism is upside down and you need to go to the centre more. That’s the truth.
Still on financing, the oil exploration companies are expected to also make funds available to the Commission. Have they been forth coming?
Yes they have shown commitment and Mr President has been very supportive.