If, according to the freshest promises, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, shall be able to make realistic the commissioning of what is supposed to be the permanent head office of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) on the target date of March 31, 2020, he will have altered old patterns and reaffirmed his celebrated momentum as an Uncommon Transformer.
Before the arrival of Sen. Godswill Akpabio, every previous minister within the past two and a half decades had come with huge and tantalising promises that safely and silently ended up in Utopia. From September 10, 2008, when late former President Umaru Musa Yar’adua established the Ministry of Niger Delta, we have had three persons preceding Akpabio, namely late Uffot Ekaette, Mr. Peter Godsday Orubebe and Pastor Usani Usani as ministers, each with truckload of lifeless promises to complete the head office project.
There have also been boards, chairmen, and managing directors over these blank years of elongated expectations. Within the period too, we had overnight billionaires emerged from the echelon of the stunted commission majority of whom nearly become governors and federal lawmakers in their respective states.
In fact, if we were to count from 1994 when the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), then headed by the incumbent Nigerian President, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari, initiated the project, it would be approximately 26 years and the project that sits and swims permanently on money is still struggling with a catalogue of unrealistic dates for completion.
We rue, for instance, the remembrance that in 2014, Barr. Bassey Dan Abia as Managing Director of the Commission had stated with an air of sanctimony: “It is in line with our policy thrust that contract cannot go on indefinitely. Every contract must have a terminal date. We have agreed with the contractors that we want this project (the NDDC Head Office) to be completed by the end of this year (2015)”. Then Director in charge of projects, Tuoyo Omatsuli, had concurred that with the pace the work was going, the 2015 target for completion was “very realistic”.
Speaking during the 17th Anniversary and Annual Thanksgiving Service of the NDDC at the Dappa Biriye temporary headquarters of the Commission, December, 2017, the former Managing Director, Mr. Nsima Ekere, had promised that the next thanksgiving was to be held at a completed and commissioned permanent head office of the NDDC along the Eastern By-Pass, Port Harcourt. “The 2018 edition of our Annual Thanksgiving will be held at the permanent site”, he tickled the audience.
Promises over this project therefore have always been taken with a pinch of salt. Will Akpabio make a difference? Its seems ll previous Ministers and MDs had gone to the site with head pans of sand, a hired caterpillar, took fine pictures and made sure they went viral, then signed billion-dollar memos with green biros.
During his inaugural meeting with management and staff of the NDDC, Wednesday, September 4, 2019, the Minister blasted the poor culture of project abandonments and debilitating slow pace of projects that have bedevilled the Commission, the most insulting and pitiable being the permanent Head Office of the NDDC.
“Since the time of OMPADEC, you started a building; unfortunately, 20 years after, you have not been able to complete it. You should also have a little bit of sober reflection…You should be ashamed of paying the state governments over N200m to 300m a year when you could have completed where you are and move in. How come we don’t have legacy projects to show in the Niger Delta? But with a strong collaboration between the Ministry and Niger Delta, I see a brighter future”.
Curiously, at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in 2018, additional 16billion was approved outside statutory budgetary allocation for the completion of the project in the days of Usani Usani as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. Yet, the struggling uncompleted 13-storey headquarters had stood like a ripe pimple on the swollen face of a Commission that by today is feared to be indebted to the tune of N3trillion.
On completion, the project is expected to be a multipurpose one-stop modernist headquarters, with ancillary facilities such as medical centre, car park, restaurant and others made much more modern with service equipment like lifts and escalators, etc. In the vision of the incumbent acting MD of the expanded interim NDDC board, Prof. Kemebradekumo Pondei, the high-rise edifice will be “an impressive and befitting testimony to what NDDC was capable of doing”.
But one thing leads to another. The original completion date of March 31, 2020 has now been shifted to April 30, 2020. Acting Director of Projects in the NDDC, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, had argued that importation of materials and mobility of labour for the completion of the project are adversely affected by the current global epidemic. No thanks to coronavirus that has provided such admissible soft-landing justifications!