‘Industrial Cluster’ For Niger Delta – Matters Rising?

By Substance Udo-Nature


During his recent meeting with Manage
ment Staff of the Niger Delta Develop
ment Commission (NDDC), in Port Harcourt, September 21, 2019, the Minister of Niger Delta, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, hinted that plans are underway to build what he called ‘industrial cluster’ in nine states of the Niger Delta.
Akpabio who seems to be in hurry with words and action since his appointment as Minister, and understandably so, said the proposal was aimed at empowering upwards of 1,000 to 2,000 youths from the region with employment opportunities and self-sustaining windows, with a long-term goal of creating more indigenous entrepreneurs and employers than employees and job-seekers as victims of socio-economic unpredictability.
A follow-up release by the Commission’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Mr. Charles Odili, showed that the plan was part of modalities to strengthen the Post Amnesty Initiative (PAI), which is aimed at further empowering ex-agitators from the creeks who had since completed their training in various and chosen fields on the benevolence of the subsisting Amnesty Programme.
Recall that the Federal Government under late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on June 25, 2009 proclaimed and mid-wifed the Amnesty Programme as a palliative and peace-building mechanism for former and penitent militants towards their emancipatory engagement and full integration and acceptance into the open society.
Therefore reinforcing the programme and its beneficiaries with industrial cluster cannot be a bad idea, depending however on its peculiar philosophy and content. Romancing the idea with characteristic enthusiasm, Sen. Akpabio had stated: “The Federal Government is planning to start a PAI, where industrial clusters will be established across the Niger Delta region to engage youths that graduated from the current Amnesty Programme. We know that the Amnesty Programme will come to an end someday, with youths forced to fall on NDDC. So, the nine Niger Delta States will have the industrial clusters that would absorb between 1, 000 to 2,000 youths with different skills set”.
Stamping his foot of commitment on his expected brainchild, the minister further added: “We are going to make provision for this in the 2020 budget of NDDC. To this end, the ministry and the commission will collaborate to realize this goal”. Like many of such that have already been projected or promised by stakeholders in the Niger Delta, the introduction of the proposal was heralded with thunderous applause. But that scarcely could not have been without reservations, considering the recurrent narratives of the Niger Delta. It is even more so because Sen. Akpabio did not provide specific details on the proposition.
Good as the proposal may be, in the court of public opinion and necessity, it has to be weighed, even expediently, against the prevalent and endemic situation in the Niger Delta Ministry and the Niger Delta region which has been their drawbacks. The fact remains that the people’s minds are already saturated with failed promises like the condonable effects oil exploitation activities have had on the region’s eco-system.
Conversely, there tend to be feelings in town that Akpabio and his team should not tinker with the idea of fresh huge and unrealistic initiatives when the ones he met on ground were still begging for urgent and greater attention. From available record, the Ministry/commission is presently handling about 12, 000 projects, including those considered abandoned for years, and is haplessly stuck in financial quagmire.
The temptation to avoid must be the tendency to create unrealistic initiatives merely with the subtle aim of enriching ones portfolio of achievements without tangible results. Indeed, must we talk of industrial cluster now, whatever it entails or promises, when other programmes no less important have been abandoned for donkey years?
The Ministry of Niger Delta in particular, like the NDDC, has a generational pattern of emerging with flood of promises but ebbing with tiny drops of fulfilment. Every new man on the saddle may have come with giant truckloads of promises but left with nothing in comparative fulfilment to show than excuses, gross failure and, sometimes, long ropes of shocking allegations of impropriety tied to their necks at the exit door. Part of the causes of these, may not have been unconnected with carrying too much load on their hands.
There exists a dissenting world of difference between starting a thing on paper and translating it into reality for material consequences. With what is on ground and for the sake of future stocktaking in appraisal of how much was promised and to what extent it was achieved, people are already of the opinion that Sen. Akpabio has too much on his hands. He should be wary of any awkward promotion of glamorous ideas in spite of the temptation from politics to do so.
Akpabio himself is not comfortable with the agony of many abandoned or protracted projects in the region that is under the ministry. Recently, he was quoted as saying, “We have to work together to ensure that NDDC lives up to expectations as well as curtail its procurement activities and reduce the number of new projects and programmes”. Two of the ugly many staring him boldly at the face are the East-West Road and the on-going 13-floor NDDC headquarters, which had seen administrations came and disappeared with their luggage of promises.
Although the Niger Delta Ministry and the NDDC have tried, as could be seen in projects like the completed N24 billion 29-kilometer Ogba-Nembe Road project in Bayelsa, which traverses about 14 communities as well as some other projects scattered around member States, we must agree with Sen. Akpabio that the Commission could have done more, considering its share of national budget. Yet, the budget performance of the ministry has been questionable.
Out of cumulative experience, the maxim that government is a continuum has proven to be mere alibi and nobody seems to trust in it. Nigeria is not blessed with the tradition of successive leaders or administrations starting off or continuing from where their predecessors left off. Every administration seeks to launch identifiable signature projects that, after all, may be white elephant in nature and with no superior utilitarian value compared to the previous ones which efforts should have been concentrated on to complete.
All considered, the fight to develop the Niger Delta must not be left for the appointees alone. They need more support than acerbic criticisms. Governors and other stakeholders therefore must avoid the pull-down crab syndrome that does not allow concentration and progress by those who have been privileged to serve; who at the end of allotted time shall have questions to answer about their stewardship.
Imagine, for instance, that Governor Seriake Dickson who celebrated President Buhari’s appointment of the outgone MD of the Niger Delta, Mr. Nelson Braimbraifa, because he is from Bayelsa State, would suddenly turn around to question latest appointments into the same ministry by the same President simply because he appeared not to have had a voice in the processess.
In a recent interview, former second Republic Resident Electoral Commissioner in the old Bendel State, Chief Atiyota Ejughemre, condemning the criticism by some Niger Delta governors against the composition of the NDDC by President Muhammadu Buhari, therefore advised, “There is an avenue for the Governors of the major oil-producing states to come together to intervene and ensure that the board works to give us what we want. What do we want? The development of the Niger Delta region”.
Apart from the flashes of hope Akpabio has shown, we also have to show of trust and faith in the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Dr. Akwagaga Enyia’s promise that the Commission has “set out to build a new image based on a culture of service delivery devoid of corrupt practices. Our daily business must be transacted with no modicum of corruptive complicity”.
We must not dismiss this as a platitudinous anthem of the NDDC leadership. We must give the new team the benefit of the doubt! The Niger Delta should be on the speed lane of development in all ramifications.

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