In comparing the agitations being made by the Ondo state people for one of theirs to head the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, with the substantive appointment of Madam Ibim Semenitari as Managing Director, I came across a vital cliché. There is a delicate balance between what the people of Ondo need as what seems to be their legitimate right to run the affairs of the NDDC, and that of Mr. President in his desire to put square pegs in square positions. But there is also another fundamental need to see how we can balance the legitimate aspirations of a people whose ‘turn’ to occupy the ‘juicy’ position of NNDC managing director against the backdrop of the problems that the NDDC has had over the years.
There are stipulations in the NDDC Act for the managing director’s position of the NDDC to rotate among the states which make up the states that the NDDC should cater to – Delta, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Edo, Ondo, Abia, Rivers, Bayelsa and Imo. Three of these states of the big five, have ‘tasted’ the sweet juice but the others have not. Therefore, one of them, Ondo, want their ‘turn’ and this is irrespective of the belief that the NDDC is allegedly a clearing house for corruption and needs to be revamped. We would not be hard put to find out why they want their ‘turn’ at a Commission embroiled in one scandal of corruption or the other. For instance, nobody can access the NDDC budget, and if you do you just might find out that the one in your possession is counterfeit. Very many ‘big’ men and women lobby Aso Rock and sometimes employ the services of voodoo priests and the like to get bogey contracts that will never be executed. Before he was kicked out, former managing director Dan Abia was alleged to have awarded an N882million contract for the purchase of luxury cars.
In a survey carried out by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, in conjunction with LITE-Africa, there is evidence that over 84 projects for which funds have been disbursed are at varying stages of abandonment and rot. Their report titled, Citizens Score Card on Niger Delta Institutions, 2015, reveal that out of the 24 communities that were surveyed, 19 of them have no primary schools. For those that have schools, the report said that 32% of them have no desks and chairs for the children. In Edo state, the report says that all the communities that were surveyed and which had functional health centres, there were usually no doctors. There is poor coordination among the Niger Delta Institutions, NDIs – OSOPADEC, DESOPADEC, and EDSOGPADEC, leading to duplication of projects that are in most cases sub-standard. Delta and Ondo states are said to top the list with respect to the number of abandoned projects followed by Edo and Cross River States.
Part of the 10-point mandate of the NDDC includes the plan and conception of an implementation of a set of programmes for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta. Areas of focus include transportation, health education, industrialization, agriculture, power supply and telecommunications. Set up in 2000 to stem rampant cases of militancy arising from underdevelopment of a region that accounts for 60% of total annual revenue of Nigeria, development has been less than rapid, even and sustainable.
This is why the agitation by the Ondo contingent to occupy the managing directorship of the NDDC is a bit curious. Are they looking to occupy the ‘juicy’ position of managing director of the NDDC so as to turn things around? Or is their ambition borne out solely because one of theirs has never occupied the position and so they want the notoriously juicy position at all costs? Do they as a matter of fact have somebody who can turn the fortunes of the NDDC around? Prior to the constitution of Mr. President’s cabinet, gist from the mill had it that this Mr. President was on the lookout for ‘angels’ – people without any baggage of corruption. That search for angels eventually led to a mixed bag of personages of known antecedents and who were not too different from the people who have occupied one office or the other. And so hey presto, we were saddled with an Ibim Semenitari as Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, probably until Mr. President finds an angel to run the NDDC.
So who is Ibim Semenitari? Her profile on the internet is that she is the first female journalist in Nigeria to win the CNN African journalist of the year, together with sundry awards for her work as a journalist. Apart from that, she is a devoted mother and Sunday school teacher in her local church. But who really is Ibim Semenitari? Those who worked very closely with her as a journalist describe her as strong-willed and very opinionated. If she sets her heart on a project or programme, it would take all the demons in hell to stop her. After a stint as publisher of Business Eye Magazine, Mrs. Semenitari joined the Rivers State government under Rotimi Amaechi as Commissioner for Information. Fiercely loyal to her principal and feisty in his defence, her antagonists insist that Mrs. Semenitari should take credit for the frosty relationship that blew open between the APC and PDP in Rivers State. Many of her journalist colleagues in Rivers state say that she alienated and refused to work cordially with them. Nobody knows exactly what they mean by the fact that she was not ‘carrying them along’, but most are hopeful that she would adopt that same attitude as Rivers State information commissioner so that she could be booted out of that place pronto.
But to be booted out of the NDDC as acting managing director would be unlikely. Mrs. Semenitari enjoys the strong support of the man who holds the sobriquet of Lion of the Niger Delta and Transport Minister. She is also a determined person, known as a goal-getter. The only thing short of an endorsement for this kind of person to run the NDDC is the allegation that she presided over the spending of a whopping N82million to host Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka in a three-hour dinner. This was said to have taken place in a Rivers State that owed workers their salaries for two months. Would this be the sort of person to be heading a very sensitive position as Managing Director of an NDDC seen as a conduit pipe to steal public funds?
For some, they are careless from which corner of this country the NDDC Managing Director comes from. They just want somebody with the balls to throw the budget of the NDDC open for public scrutiny. Members of the communities where the ANEEJ-LITE report took place have said that they want to be consulted before projects are sited in their communities. They also want monitoring teams to carry out strict supervision during project implementations, to ensure compliance and to avoid sub-standard projects. If Mrs. Semenitari could pull this off, particularly that part that has to do with throwing open the budget for public scrutiny, then the NDDC would be out of the cemetery in no time.