When Europe was virtually on its knees at the end of the Second World War, it took the intervention of the United States of America, armed with a Marshall Plan, to revive the devastated economy of the continent. The positive rings of that initiative have continued to reverberate across the globe over the years. In Nigeria, the Federal Government took a cue and included the drawing up of a Master Plan in the Act setting up the Niger Delta Development Commission [NDDC]. It was meant to produce a comprehensive compass that would guide the orderly and rapid development of the region.
To actualise this mandate, the commission promptly engaged international experts to produce the highly acclaimed Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan (NDRMP). The document, which took several years and huge resources to develop, has been globally applauded as one of the greatest achievements of the NDDC which facilitated the project. The overall objective is to fast-track the development of the region that produces over 90 per cent of the country’s oil wealth.
The importance of this regional plan, aptly described as a roadmap to development, is better appreciated against the background of the abysmal performances of previous interventionists’ agencies from the Niger Delta Development Board [NDDB] set up in 1961 to the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission [OMPADEC] inaugurated in 1992. It is no secret that one of the reasons those agencies failed to tackle the developmental challenges of the region was because of the absence of a comprehensive master plan.
The choice of GTZ International of Germany and Wilbahi Engineering Consortium of Nigeria as lead consultants that produced a world-class master plan was deliberate, as they have cognate pedigree. In addition, 30 sector consultants and various resource consultants were assembled to work on different aspects of the plan to further enhance its global competitiveness. The process was systematic and laborious as several workshops and seminars were organised with oil-bearing communities, local, state and federal governments, international donor agencies, oil companies, among others.
The Master Plan is structured in 3-5-year phases, namely: the foundation phase (2006-2010); the expansion phase (2011-2015); and the consolidation phase (2016-2020). It can be said to be the first integrated development plan driven by stakeholders’ participation in Nigeria because it covers different sectors including health, education, transportation and agriculture, while its objectives embrace economic growth and infrastructural development.
The comprehensive work was approved and adopted by the Federal Government as a document that holds the key to the rapid development of the Niger Delta. The governors and other political leaders of the region were satisfied as they were part of the processes that produced the plan from the scratch. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo was excited and delighted on March 27, 2007, when it was officially launched. He said: “It is my abiding belief that we are launching the commencement of a voyage of hope that will sail the Niger Delta past a legacy of turbulence, neglect and poverty into an assured future as our nation’s most peaceful, most prosperous and most ecologically regenerative region by 2020″.
The administration of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, which succeeded Obasanjo, also agreed that the plan has the capacity of adequately addressing the development challenges of the Niger Delta. The commission has through its Partners for Sustainable Development [PSD] Forum brought all the stakeholders under one umbrella to aid the process of harmonising projects in the region as enunciated in the plan.
Incidentally, the first official assignment of the present NDDC Managing Director, Mr. Chibuzor Ugwuoha was the attendance of a workshop by the PSD Forum in Port Harcourt. His remarks at that occasion underscored the importance he attached to partnership. He said: “We know that the task of developing the Niger Delta is enormous. We cannot do it individually but together we can do it.” Ugwoha’s emphasis on the PSD Forum as a platform for collaboration is in line with his desire to engender further buy-in and commitment of all stakeholders to the Master Plan. He said that since the Master Plan constitutes the template for tackling the developmental challenges of the Niger Delta, the commission needs to constantly engage stakeholders in implementing it.
Currently, the NDDC boss has been visiting the state governors in the region and using every opportunity to reiterate the importance of the partnership arrangements already worked out with them. The visits have become necessary at this time to rekindle the interest of some state governments and other key stakeholders to the Niger Delta project that seems to have dwindled over time. A lot of people are worried that the key stakeholders appear to have abandoned the implementation vehicle for only the NDDC to drive. This is unfortunate because the Master Plan is a property of all Niger Delta people.
Perhaps, the setting up of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs contributed to the loss of focus. At the onset, the mandate of the ministry was not very clear, and its interface with the NDDC was at best hazy. Even in terms of allocating funds for the critical needs of the Niger Delta, both the executive and the legislature appeared to treat the ministry and the commission as if they were eating from the same pot. In the 2008, the National Assembly approved a budget of N79 billion for the NDDC. In 2009, however, its budget was drastically reduced to N27 billion, while N50 billion was budgeted for the new ministry. Thus, both of them got the same amount that only the NDDC got a year earlier.
It, therefore, came as a big relief when President Goodluck Jonathan reassured Niger Deltans recently that the lofty plans captured in the Master Plan would be pursued with renewed vigor. He said: “Let me assure you that I am irrevocably committed to the development of the Niger-Delta. We must develop the region to restore confidence and hope among our people and children. To this end, let me assure you that the Niger-Delta Master Plan for development is on course and we will assist the NDDC and all the state governments to faithfully implement it.”
The Federal Government should match its words with action by going a step further to mobilise all the stakeholders to put their hands on the plough to get the plan moving at optimum speed. In 2008, there was an understanding that all the nine states budgets would be prepared to fit into the Master Plan, to ensure that they actually keyed into its implementation. It would, therefore, be good to ensure that the central government, states, local governments, oil companies and other stakeholders work in harmony to realise the lofty dreams inherent in the Master Plan. Every one of them should be allocated specific roles on which they can be held accountable.
It is encouraging that the state governors in the region are beginning to take keen interest in the affairs of the commission which drives the master plan process. Recently, the hitherto dormant Advisory Committee of the NDDC, which comprises the governors and the principal officers of the commission, sprang into life after many years of in-action. The advisory committee intervened in the internal challenges that have confronted the interventionist agency of late. The long expected meeting of that moderating body also deliberated on how to aggressively implement the master Plan.
With the governors now putting heads together with the NDDC management, there is hope that the Master Plan will now experience a new lease of life. The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs should be mandated to play a key role in coordinating the activities of the various stakeholders. If the ministry does that, it will help to facilitate the smooth implementation of the Master Plan and consequently the development of the region. There should be some sense of urgency in its implementation knowing full well that the first five years of the 15-year plan, termed the foundation phase, is ending this year.
Mr. Agbu wrote from Port Harcourt.