It wont be business as usual at NDDC –Chris Oboh, MD
By PETER AGBA KALU
Tuesday, April 17 , 2012
•Dr.Chris Oboh

While Amaechi was hawking orange at the Streets of Port Harcourt as a boy, Rochas was hawking banana around the Streets of Jos and Oboh too was hawking tomato at Ikwere market. Today, Chibuike Amaechi is not just the governor of oil rich River State but Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum. Rochas Okorocha is the newly elected governor of oil producing Imo State, while Chris Oboh is presently the Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)-An organization that is complimenting the development efforts of the states the 9 oil producing states.

This is not the American Dream, it is the Nigerian story. It is the story of hope on the horizontal front for the Nigerian youth, especially for those will endure. There are clear signals to show that the new helmsman is about to change things at NDDC. He spoke to Daily Sun interview recently.

You look so young. What’s your magic?
I’m nearly 50
You look very young?
Well, really I’m 48 plus
How was your growing up like?
My growing up – well, I cannot describe it as… I will say I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon.
Does that mean you went through, let me use the words, extreme difficulty?
No, let’s not say extreme. You see, in every situation and in every society we have ups and downs. In my own case it was not all that rosy. We learnt to work hard to get to the next level.

You seem to have many things in common with Governor Amaechi?
Well, we grew up together. We’re friends and we’re school mates in primary school and we have learnt from each other and so on.
Is he then your Godfather?
Well, if he’s a godfather I don’t understand because I think I’m qualified for this job. God fatherism, in my opinion, is when someone gets what he’s not qualified for through the influence of someone higher up. When it was the turn of Rivers State to nominate a person for the post, he looked at the list of people for the post and he went for me because I am qualified.

If given another opportunity to select, I can tell you that the governor will still go for me because I’m qualified.
What are the aims and objectives of present board of NDDC of which you’re the Managing Director? I ask this question bearing in mind that most of the past boards seem to be aimless just awarding contracts?
The aim of this present board is to establish in the Niger Delta Region a strong and progressive society in which no one will have any anxiety about basic means of life and work; where poverty and illiteracy no longer exist and diseases are brought under control; and where our educational facilities provide all the children of NDR with best possible opportunities for the development of their potentials.

In order to achieve this noble task the present board has made it a duty to see to the implementation of our mandate by executing relevant projects in the entire region. Unlike what was obtained in the past our projects this time are going to be conceptualized, designed and executed based on extensive consultation with locals, and most importantly there is going be input from interested parties and critical analysis by experts. This time around projects are awarded based on their ability to give maximum impact to the local region and beyond the constraints of allotted budget. NDDC this time is going to be a good harvest of concrete achievements as evidenced in the array of projects and programs we have embarked on so far. In all modesty, we can assert that NDDC has taken giant strides to facilitate the all-round development of the Niger Delta and its people.

There is going to be a world of difference because the Board will discharge its duties this time conscious of the fact that their activities are subject to public scrutiny. To this end, I am on behalf of the other board members assuring the people of the Niger Delta Region that the Board will sustain its principle of strict adherence to due process, with the aim of achieving a corruption free Commission. In order to achieve this the Board has put some mechanisms in place to ensure compliance with due process in contracts awards, among others. Since we came in, we have put in place processes to ensure that due process is followed in this Commission.
I am assuring you that the Commission would be just and fair in awarding contracts to Nigerians, particularly those from the Niger Delta will be given equal opportunities in view of what happened in the past, I plead for co-operation and patience from the people.

Looking back over the years will you honestly say that NDDC projects on ground justify the level of funds expended since it was established?
I would say yes and no. yes in the sense that quite a reasonable number of projects have been awarded and executed; no because we’ve not been able to manage it. The funds too have not been well managed. We’ve always focused on seeing new projects awarded neglecting the aspect of project completion.
Adequate management of funds and funds not being enough are not the same thing?
Yes I agree.

Funds are there but are not well managed?
Not being enough is an environment that is challenging so what we’re getting will not be enough. So what we’re saying is that where funds are not enough, we try to manage.
We will come back to that, what challenges have you encountered since assumption of office as MD of NDDC?
From the start, I knew I was coming to a place where I would have many challenges. In this place, we have the good and the bad, so from start, I put up a good team, myself my assistant and others and I can tell you the ship is steady now.

When you came in you promised not to rush into new contracts but along the line the story changed. What is the true position of things?
Of course, I said I would not rush into new contracts and I have kept my promise. I assumed duty as Managing Director on the 16th of December and up till now we have not awarded any contracts. We have followed all necessary steps leading to award of contracts and they will be awarded as soon as they are necessary. However, we’re trying to keep in pace and realign ourselves to the original plan of the NDDC.
In order to fast track development in the region, the new board decided that we will not discard decisions of the last board because there should be continuity in governance.

While restating that the board would not succumb to threat, all previously awarded contracts provided for in the budget among others will be judiciously implemented in line with available resources.
We are open to your invitation to ask questions, we will open our books for inspection anytime you want.
What other positive steps have you taken in order to ensure quick and effective delivery of projects?
In a deliberate effort to ensure speedy completion of projects and quick delivery of other services the Niger Delta Development Commission has inaugurated three committees. They are ad hoc committee on the 2nd South- South Economic Summit, procurement planning committee on the 2012 financial year, and the 2012 budget committee. The assignments of the committees are crucial as their success would go a long way in setting the tune for the commission. The Board charged members of the South –South Ad Hoc Committee to come out with a report as to where the NDDC is expected to be in the next 10 years.

We told the committee members to ensure that only big ticket projects that will impact meaningfully on the lives of the people are provided for in the budget. Let us forget about small projects and look at big ones, there is no need budgeting every year, when we can’t execute. Our emphasis should be on completion of projects. The committee is also mandated to supply us with weekly report, I think if we are able to do our bit, we will able to move the commission from where we are to a far greater height.

What is the extent of liabilities such as unpaid contracts you inherited and what steps have you taken to rectify the problems?
Well, the liabilities are there but I can’t give you exact figures. But I can tell you that virtually all our contractors were complaining that they’re not been paid.
I can assure you that I challenged some contractors to come forward and ask for payment and those who came and proved their cases were paid.
For me, it’s not the number of new contracts that I award that matters, it’s the number that I deliver that matters. The few projects we want to deliver before the end of July I can tell you that we have done nearly 98%. So God being on our side we’re sure that before our tenure will elapse on the 6th of August 2013 we will go close to delivering 100%.

Give me a brief run down of any positive impact NDDC has been able to make on the people of the Niger Delta recently?
A total of 91 Niger Delta youths trained by the NDDC in welding and drilling technology in Turkey have been certified international welding specialists and drilling technicians. Forty of them were trained in comprehensive international welding inspectors’ course while 51 benefited from the safety quality and maintenance training. The programme is fallout of the partnership arrangement between the commission, Nigerian Institute of Welding. The training was in furtherance of the commission’s capacity development programme designed to make youths of Niger Delta employed in the oil and gas industry.

With this type of training  I am assuring you that gone are the days people say the region lacks resourceful personnel in the cure oil sector, with this type of training Niger Delta youths will be able to take up such opportunities that exist in the oil and gas and other related industries.
The move was in line with the transformation agenda of the President Goodluck Jonathan government, and am assuring you that we are going to put every mechanism on ground to make sure that the programme would be sustained and I am also discussing with the Board to double the number that we trained in 2012”.

The commission will not stop at training but also engage the grandaunts’ at the OPTS level. We will support every effort to ensure that the knowledge you acquired is not wasted that was why we awarded cash award of N500, 000 each to the two grandaunts who distinguished themselves during the training.
We have also commenced the process for the implementation of the 2nd batch of 29 mega projects sited across the region.
Two of the projects are sited in Abia state, 8 in Akwa Ibom, 2 in Bayelsa, one in Cross River and 7 in Delta state. Edo state has one, Imo 4 and Rivers 4. The commission has put all machinery in motion to ensure the effective implementation of the projects.
In order to achieve a quick delivery of these projects I visited the sites and I warned the contractors against indulging in sharp practices that will impede the successful execution of the projects. Where contractors choose to circumvent laid down procedures and execute their projects below expectations, they shall be demolished at their own expense.

Our problem in the past was that once contractors receive mobilization fund they fly out to London to rest or celebrate only to come back after squandering the fund to ask for contract variation. But this time around where requests for variation are not justified such projects shall be determined, re-advertised and re-awarded to serious contractors.

For quick delivery I implored consultants and resident supervisor to ensure that their staffs were not only qualified but always around to monitor progress of work by contractors. Where consultants choose to send inexperienced or non engineers to supervise engineering projects, such contracts shall be terminated without notice, same fate apply to consultants in other fields.
If the NDDC were given enough funds do you think there would have been room for the Niger Delta Ministry?
May be I will answer this question when I finish my tenure (laughter). What I will just say is that we have come into office at NDDC here with a mission to do things right. It’s no longer business as usual. We have decided that this time around we would do things the way they should be done – with transparency and accountability.

Of course, there’s no organization that does not have its short comings but we’re trying to see that public opinion will change about NDDC so that things will move on positively.
Okay. Banana peels seem to have crept in here. In order to regain the people’s confidence in your commission what plans or programmes have you put in place?
In the first place we have cleared all the fields and there won’t be room for any banana peels (laughter), which means that nobody will fall, I can assure you. We have, to a reasonable extent opened our books for people to look at.
There’s no perfect system but we’ve tried to engage engineers to follow up our projects and we’re doing that online for the first time. So we have improved our transparency.

As a measure of our transparency our contractors are all always invited for bid-opening which is done in the open. After the bid opening we equally invite those contractors to know if there’s any disagreement with the procedure.
We cannot say now that we’re perfect. We’re open to people to tell us what we’re doing right or what we’re doing wrong.
In what position were you before the elevation?
I’ve been in various departments. But let me just say that my last position was in human resources – let me not give you more questions to ask me (laughter).
And still in transparency we’ve made it an in-house culture to employ and give qualified hands the opportunity to work so as to gradually phase out the older hands.

My brother, I have a Ph.D on environment so I don’t just waste my time. Because I want to add value to my society I have taken my time to think of an area where I will be useful.
What’s your take in staff development?
Just like every organization, NDDC will like to ensure that the capacity of its staff is improved.

In choosing to rehabilitate the erstwhile militants instead of addressing the principal reasons that brought about militancy in the area such as non-availability of basic infrastructures, don’t you think the Federal Government was just treating the symptoms only?
Well, that may not be totally right because it was not just possible to harvest these boys from the bush and give them to the multinational companies to manage. There is a process which we call re-conditioning or rehabilitation because most of them actually have been impacted upon. So there was the need to re-integrate them properly into the society.

The NDDC and the Amnesty programme are presently working together to see how to address this unemployment issue now because after their training issue the boys must be attached to somewhere while the programme will be sustained.
Is there any Regional Development Master Plan on ground for the Niger Delta Areas?
Yes, you will recall that there have been many attempts and many plans made in the past to improve the lives of the people of the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria. Sadly, each ended with very little to show for the time and resources spent. Therefore it is understandable that the people of the Niger Delta are quite disillusioned with ‘plans’ at this time. The disenchantment of the people not withstanding, it must be stated that the Niger Delta Master Plan is different in its goals, focus and approach, and will not suffer the fate of the others before it.

The Master Plan is basically conceived as a tool that the millions of people of the Niger Delta Region can use to actualize their common vision and build their future to the standard they desire. The Master Plan is designed to offer stakeholders at all levels (individual, group and community) the opportunity to participate fully in the planning and decision making process. . specifically, the coordinating consultants require the ideas and opinions of stakeholders as basis for defining focus areas for development and for producing a vivid picture of what the people want the Niger Delta region to look like within 15 years of the master plan implementation.. This implies that the input of stakeholders today is what will determine the state of affairs both for individuals and communities in the region tomorrow.

The Master Plan, for which satellite mapping had been completed and the resource
consultants appointed, is expected to cover the following areas; Demography, Environment and hydrology, Agriculture and aquaculture with focus on economic activities, Biodiversity, Transport and infrastructure, Rural, urban, regional planning and housing, Community Development, Governance and capacity development.
Others are Health, Small and medium enterprises, Water supply, Energy that is electricity, Telecommunication, Vocational training with focus on employment generation, Waste management and sanitation, Large-scale industry, Solid minerals, Tourism, Social welfare, Arts, Sports and Culture, Women and Youth employment, Conflict prevention, Financial instruments and access and Investment promotion
Many people believe that the oil wells may dry up in the next few decades. Don’t you think that there should be an emergency priority in the agenda of the oil-producing states to build an alternative source of income for the citizenry?
Yes that is why basically every state in the Niger Delta region is now investing in Agriculture. We have lots and lots of cassava in this region and of course, fish. So these are areas people can invest in to generate income from export and so on.

What can you say about your legacies, character and expectations? Pointedly are you a politician?
Virtually, everybody, or let me say, man by nature is a politician. But for me, since the civilian governments started I have never been a card-carrying politician. I can say I’m a politician because way back in the school I was a student leader. And virtually all the time I’ve had engagements both at the state and federal levels.
On the other hand, I can say I’m not a politician because I’ve not presented myself for any elective position and it’s not my intention in the nearest future.
You don’t want to go into politics?
We all can’t be in politics. Politics is there quite all right but there are other areas people can make and then we all come together and play a general role.

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