NDDC, Niger Delta Ministry not working together- Orubebe

THE PUNCH Newspaper

What is the position of the Federal Government on the oil spills in Ogoni vis-a-vis the United Nations’ Environment Programme report?

Well, you are aware of the report that was submitted by the committee that was put in place. Since it is a report, the government will have to look at it, discuss and analyse it and then come up with a position. When that position is taken, it will be clear to everybody that that is the position the government has taken. Mr. President is concerned about the issues of the Niger Delta and in line with his transformation agenda for this country, he would do those things that will bring peace and development to the region and Nigeria generally.

There was a similar spill in the Gulf and the reaction of Shell was prompt and the president of the United States was immediately involved. There are feelings here that Shell is being pampered by the government.

Well, I don’t think that is the thinking in government circles. The government cannot just come out to make a statement because a report has been submitted. This is a government that stands for justice; a government that stands for the rule of law. Once we have analysed that report and we have come out with a definite solution, Mr. President will make a pronouncement. The President cannot just make a pronouncement without having a critical knowledge of what has been presented to him.

What do you think are the measures that can be put in place to actualise lasting peace in the Niger Delta beyond Jonathan’s administration?

Well, I think that the agitations that has been on ground are on roads, good environment and economic empowerment. Once there is a programme to tackle these issues, there will be lasting peace in the Niger Delta. Recently, the government had to attend to the East-West Road again to ensure that whatever resources that are needed are procured so that the road can be completed in the next few years and once that road is completed, it would open up the entire Niger Delta. So, once the Niger Delta is opened up, there will be a lot of economic and social engagements. A lot of trainings are going on and once the area is opened up, companies will come up. Small-scale productive companies will come up and the people will be engaged. Today, the Ministry of Niger Delta has been able to identify over 57 dump sites and work is going on them. So, it is a gradual process. The problem is that we are in a hurry to see that things are done today. People forget that there has to be a planning period. There has to be an execution period. I know that in the next few years, the foundation for the total development of the Niger Delta would have been set. Today, we are working to ensure that the economic and infrastructural development frameworks that we are going to leave behind will be something that anybody that is coming to occupy this office will work on. It will not be an issue of what are we going to do? What should be done would be known by anybody that is coming and how to do it will be known and where and how to get the funds will be known.

There are feelings in some quarters that the Niger Delta Development Commission and the ministry should be together. What is your view on this?

Well, you know somehow people go into this discourse without looking closely at the operations of the two institutions. One of the reasons the Ministry of Niger Delta was created was to provide a platform where somebody at the cabinet level would be providing information and ideas as to what should be done in the Niger Delta. So, today, at every given point in time, the issues of Niger Delta are always discussed at cabinet level. The NDDC is an intervention agency and its managing director does not attend cabinet meetings. And so, except he is invited, he cannot come to the cabinet to talk about issues of the Niger Delta. But the minister is always there. He is always in contact with the President and so, these issues are always brought to the knowledge of Mr. President and his colleagues in council. That is number one. Number two, this ministry was set up as a coordinating ministry, to coordinate development activities in the Niger Delta. You work with the oil companies. You work with the state government. You work with everybody. So, I don’t see why the issue of NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta is generating all these talks from here and there. My stand is that the era of giving money to people to come and talk for you is over. We want to be practical. We want to do things that would move Niger Delta forward. We are talking about programmes for development. Now, if there is no correlation between the NDDC and the Niger Delta Ministry, because this ministry is called Ministry of Niger Delta; if you go and attend a meeting anywhere in the world, people are talking to you about the NDDC, people are talking to you about development and as a minister, you have little or no information about what the NDDC is doing; does that present any meaningful reasoning? It does not present any sound reasoning. A minister of the Niger Delta should be able to tell development partners and whoever that is concerned what is being done by the NDDC. But today, there is no correlation. When I see some hungry contractors talking about these things, it is sad. Really, some people who are supposed to be reasonable people, when they open their mouths to talk about the NDDC and Niger Delta, you begin to weep within yourself. Today, what is required of us is to maximise our resources. A road that is being done by this ministry is being advertised by the NDDC because we are not working together. There is no coordination.

The summary of what you are saying is that there is undue duplication of efforts?

Well, the government is looking into that. I don’t want to pre-empt what the committee will come out with but the point we are making is that there must be a concrete relationship between the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. That is the only way we can coordinate and develop the Niger Delta properly.

During your first day in office, you said that funds allocated to the ministry were inadequate as only N51bn was budgeted out of a projected N155bn. You said also that the ministry would look for alternative sources of funding. What are these alternative funding sources?

Well, even the other day, I told you that until we conclude the arrangement, we won’t disclose that to the public. I can tell you that a framework is being completed, and once we are through, there are levels through which they will go. Once they go through all the levels and they are accepted by everybody, they become news.

How would you assess the response of the Federal Government to the nagging developmental issues that require urgent attention? By that I mean the level of funds being released for developmental projects. We are asking because the government once allocated N440bn to security when the Niger Delta crisis was on in 2008.

Well, it is always difficult to assess the government particularly when you are in it and you also know the pains and constraints of the government; it is difficult to talk about the government within government. Well, if you are an outsider, you may not know the pains and constraints; so, you can say certain things. But as an insider who understands what is happening, I know the pains and constraints of the government. And as I told you, the government is committed, Mr. President is committed and he is going to do everything possible to see that the developmental issues of the Niger Delta are attended to.

The ministry has some of projects like the skill acquisition centres, the roads and others in the region. Can you tell us when they are most likely to be completed?

Well, we are hoping that in the next three to six months, we should be opening almost all the skill centres and putting them to use. Of course these skill centres are going to train a lot of youths and others generally in the oil and gas and maritime industry, agriculture, tourism, in ICT, and so, we are going to have centres that will provide capacity; people that will have the wherewithal to work in the oil industry, in the maritime industry and other key areas in this country. The East West Road, we are pushing to see that in the next two years or so, it is completed. Other road projects that are going on here and there, we hope that by 2014, people are going to see a remarkable development in terms of roads, skill centres, environment projects, capacity building, economic empowerment, the cleaning up of the Niger Delta and remediation. People will see some of these things that we are talking about and I can tell you that by the time we’ll be talking in 2014, you will have a lot of stories to tell Nigerians.


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