By Ogbu Nweke
Even as we await the eventual reconstitution of the Governing Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), amid the legitimate, albeit deafening, clamour for it, we must not lose sight of positive developments, akin to revolution really, at the all too well-known leadership-challenged NDDC. Indeed, there is something revolutionary about the salubrious staff attitude and the general change in orientation and focus that now characterise work ethic in the nation’s primary development interventionist agency, hitherto notorious for the laissez-faire attitude of its workforce and corruption of its leadership.
And it is all thanks to the management wizardry of Akwa Ibom born, Dr Efiong Akwa. Before Akwa came onboard as an interventionist CEO of the government’s interventionist agency primed for the development of the oil-bearing and producing but highly neglected Niger Delta region, the NDDC was a well-advertised cesspool of corruption, much like any other government establishment in Nigeria, or even much worse.
Here was a development agency that did everything except carrying out its very mandate: as a development agency. Or what other development agency in the world would brook the abandonment by its contractors of all 13,000 of its projects for which a whopping N6trn out of the total N7trn released to the commission over a 20-year period, had been paid, according to the NDDC Forensic Audit Report released in September last year.
Well, not any more, at least not under Efiong Akwa and, perhaps going forward. Combining his training as an inquisitive lawyer and calling as a pastor, a servant of the Most High God who must not only be honest and transparent in his dealings but must also be seen to be so, Dr Effiong Akwa would appear to have embarked on reorientation and refocusing of the NDDC workforce at the start of his stewardship as managing director and chief executive officer at the head of an interim management team. For, no sooner did he and his team resume,than a completely brand new NDDC emerge with a workforce whose attitude to work had become decidedly more positive and defined by its total commitment to meeting the goals of the commission. Needless to say that the frenetic pace at which NDDC now executes its projects is all thanks as much to Akwa and the team’s pragmatic leadership of the NDDC as it is, perhaps even more so, to the loyalty, commitment and hardworkof the workforce.
Indeed, leadership is everything, especially back when with the necessary political will. While politicians and other vested interests bickered over ‘reconstitution of NDDC board’, which is perhaps another term for return to the old, sleazy ways of running the commission by it-is-our turn managers, whose loyalty is almost always 100 per cent to leaders of the ethnic group from which they were appointed, Dr Akwa and team simply gave politics a short-shrift and instead proceeded to birth the new NDCC they had painstakingly midwifed through achievements that would become a parameter by which the performance of future managing directors and chief executive Officers of the NDDC would be assessed.
With strong political backing from the minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, and President Muhammadu Buhari, the NDDC under Efiong Akwa has hasdone exceedingly well. If anything, Akwa has demonstrated that a government establishment, especially an interventionist agency like the NDDC, could actually be ran well and profitably, in total fidelity to its mandate which in this case is urgent and massive development of the oil-bearing and producing but neglected Niger Delta.
For instance, although Akwa was appointed chief executive only in December 2020, which is about 15 months now, the NDDC under him has completed over 20 projects that were callously abandoned for many years by the commission’s previous management. Three of those projects, including the magnificent head office complex, Eastern ByePass, Port Harcourt, under construction for all of 25 years, the ultra-modern police barracks in Omagwa, also in Port Harcourt, itself under construction for 12 years, and a student hostel at the University of Uyo with capacity for 1,006 students, which was under construction for over 15 years, were personally commissioned by President Buhari. There is also the electricity project in Ondo State reportedly built by the commission with the capacity to electrify homes, offices and businesses in 12 LGAs and soon to be completed, among others.
It is instructive that at Akwa’s behest, contractors who had long abandoned a number of road projects awarded to them under the NDDC road infrastructure development programme were practically forced to mobilise back to site and complete a record 77 roads even before the earth-shaking NDDC Forensic Audit report had been released. It means that working with the ‘uncommon’ one, the one and only Senator Akpabio as supervising minister, the hard-pushing Akwa and his team had long seen reason to confront defaulting contractors and get them to redeem their contractual obligations to the NDDC, in a clear demonstration of effective leadership, which the new NDDC midwifed by the Akwa Ibom born lawyer and pastor and members of his interim management team, can certainly do with, going forward.
It is thus not for nothing that many stakeholders in the region, including governors, have hailed Akwa and his team for the ‘uncommon’ energy and focus they have brought to bear on their management of the commission in the past 15 months, posting results that have far surpassed in value those by previous managements put together in the 20-year history of the interventionist agency.
Without a doubt, it is a new dawn in the NDDC clearly, the era of sleaze and corruption in the commission driven largely by prebendalism, is over. By his remarkable run as interim MD, Dr Efiong Akwa and his team, working with Senator Akpabio, have shown that a lot can, indeed, be achieved by a government development SPV such as NDDC, with commitment, dedication and transparency on the part of those charged with the responsibility of driving its mission and vision.