In Charles Dickens seminal novel, A tale of two cities, which was first published in 1859, the author opens up by positing that, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,...it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair..."
The opposite nature of this timeless quote comes into sharp focus when viewed against the prism of current happenings in the country. It is no longer news that we are in a recession, oil prices have plunged, agitation in the Niger-Delta region have resumed in frightening dimensions, with groups coming out of the woodworks to destroy critical national infrastructure in the region. Conversely, we can bask in the warmth assurance that Nigerians have been always been a very resolute and determined breed that have succeeded against all odds, our huge youth demographic if positively channeled is a game changer, many of the leading lights in various fields globally are Nigerians and the opportunities for growth in Nigeria seem abundant. As such, even though the horizon looks bleak at the moment, these times present us with a golden chance to re-invent our nation and let the world know that many good things can come out of Nigeria.
Interestingly, harking back to Dickensian quote, the Niger-Delta region also foregrounds the binary oppositions which the saying projects. As a nation where oil, accounts for close to 90% of exports and roughly 75% of the budgetary revenues, the region that produces oil is still very far from the Promise Land of development in spite of huge sums that have been committed to the area by way of amnesty and most importantly, the Niger Delta Development Commission, a vehicle created by the Obasanjo administration in 2002 with a mandate to accelerate the development of the Niger Delta area.
The challenges of both the NDDC and the region have been well chronicled. Some of these include infighting among the leadership team as well as leaders in the region, misalignment between the agenda of past NDDC teams and the real developmental needs of the area, cronyism, opaque procurement processes and a myriad of other problems.
It is not in doubt that the newly appointed Managing Director of the Commission, Mr. Nsima Ekere, a stellar technocrat and an astute politician is the right fit for the job. Against the backdrop of his experience as an enterprising estate surveyor and valuer, Head of various developmental focused agencies in Akwa-Ibom state before his well earned elevation as the Deputy Governor of the state, President Muhammad Buhari must be commended for making the right call in this regard. Like it is often said, everything rises and falls on leadership, the choice of Ekere is indicative of the President’s resolve to fix the problems of the oil-rich Niger Delta in a sustainable manner and in accordance with the extant provisions of the law.
However, in view of the NDDC’s dismal performance over the years, Mr. Nsima Ekere has literally got to hit the ground running with a view to bringing succor and relief to the impoverished citizens of the region. Like Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, bellowed at a divided America in his speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, “America could no longer afford the luxury of administering itself “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” but, rather, recognize “the fierce urgency of now,” Ekere and his team must take urgent and concrete steps that demonstrate an acute awareness of the situation at hand, and move the NDDC and by extension, the Niger Delta region, out of the doldrums of neglect, abject poverty and rent seeking mentality that has crippled it and transform the land into one which every citizen from Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Ondo, Edo, Abia, Imo and Cross River states would be proud to call home.
It is important for the new NNDC management to pay close attention to enthroning accountability in all their processes and shed the toga of being just another “contract-awarding” institution. This is more so imperative in the light of the recent allegation by the Senate Committee on Public Account that previous managers of the NDDC might have been involved in shady malpractices. This is one clear way the NDDC can endear itself to the people, in a nation where probity and accountability are mere buzzwords; Mr. Ekere has a sparkling opportunity to further cement his legacy as a man of honour by ensuring that due diligence and accountability are not sacrificed on the altar of prebendalist and parochial allegiances.
In this new era of change, where state resources and revenues have dwindled, the new team must also be innovative in their approach to developmental projects. The Nsima-led team must dig their heels in and draw from their entrepreneurial backgrounds to provide a balanced scorecard for intervention programmes. The new NDDC must function like well oiled machinery with every part working at full and optimized capacity, devoid of the frictions and schisms of the past.
Like leadership guru, John Maxwell once shared, “a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” A critical examination of Mr. Ekere’s resume shows that he is well positioned to usher in a new era of bliss and prosperity in the Niger Delta region. For us as Nigerians, even though, the times are indeed dire at the moment, there is always a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
John Effiong is a developmental policy analyst and resides in Port Harcourt, Rivers state.