Oil-rich Niger Delta region has huge challenges due to the failures of past administrations as a result of corruption and mismanagement of resources allocated to the interventionist agency, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in the past 19 years of its existence. There is no doubt that the NDDC is getting the desired attention to address the long time challenges confronting the people of the region under President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The steps taken so far by the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio and his team of management on assumption of office showed clearly a willingness to change the narratives of this great sensitive interventionist agency for better service delivery to the people of the region.
One of the steps taken by Akpabio on assumption of office is the tour of most of the towns/villages in the region; this is the first of its kind by a serving minister, since the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. The past ministers of the ministry never had the strength and the political will to carry out such huge and high risk assessment. The former ministers’ operations had always been on white paper report of the challenges confronting the people of the region which sometimes cannot reveal the true situation of things in the region.
Akpabio’s style of leadership has really brought hope to the people of the region. The assessment embarked by the minister in order to see things by himself despite the risk involved in embarking on this tour as some riverine villages and towns cannot be accessed except by boat, which the minister never mind but took the risks anyways is commendable. The assessment tour is to develop a framework that will help in addressing the people’s problems. The minister used the assessment tour to meet with the traditional rulers by holding town hall meetings with them and listening to their problems and grievances with the oil companies which is one of the factors that has frustrated government projects in their domains.
This intervention by the minister has helped in solving some of the problems which needed the immediate attention of the federal government such as conflicts between the oil companies and the host communities. These are long time challenges which needed the parties to interface with government through the ministry. Problems that the past administrations could not solve are being addressed by the incumbent minister in less than one year in office. The people of the region for the first time in a long time are made to feel a sense of belonging.
The ongoing forensic audit of the NDDC embarked upon by the minister with the full support of President Buhari is to see a functional NDDC. The experience of Akpabio who understands the problems of the region will go a long way in bringing an end to the fraud, which had been the norms in the operations of the NDDC since its creation. The forensic auditors if given enough time to complete their job will create fears in the mind of contractors that handle NDDC jobs. It would make them to know that the era of abandoning such contracts is over. This will also help in bringing the much-needed development to the region.
Some of the ways in which the problems of the region can be addressed as recently stated by the minister is through a new master plan for Niger Delta development. The minister stated that the ministry is committed to harmonising the Niger Delta regional development master plan with the Niger Delta Action Plan to produce a regional roadmap for the development in the oil-rich region. From the above position of the minister, one can see clearly a man who understands the problem of the region and has the comprehensive approach of how to address them.
The recent comment of the minister that the budget will be channelled to road infrastructure in the region is based on his findings in the course of his tour of the communities.
The youths of the region having seen the steps taken so far by one of their own to end their long time challenges of underdevelopment have pledged their support for the Buhari administration and expressed appreciation to the President for appointing Akpabio as the minister of Niger Delta Affairs. The minister has performed well so far towards changing the narrative of the NDDC.
Godwin, a social researcher, writes from Abuja