The storm is over. Well, so it seems. The turbulent waves that threatened to sink the ship of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), have abated and calm has returned. It took a Presidential Committee led by Mr. Stephen Oronsaye to throw the anchor that finally saved the interventionist ship of the Niger Delta from what appeared to be an imminent wreck.
Today, a brand new team has come on board and naturally expectations are high. This is more so, as a lot of time was lost in the days when boardroom squabbles took centre stage. It was rather unfortunate that the energy that would have been better used in serving the people of the long-neglected oil-rich region of Nigeria was unnecessarily dissipated in self-serving posturing by people who should know better.
It is a big relief that those days of bitterness and rancour have now been consigned to the dustbin of history. Thankfully, things are looking up again and the urgent task of fast-tracking the development of the Niger Delta is once again in focus.
President Goodluck Jonathan, while inaugurating the new board of the NDDC, charged the members to steer clear of politics, noting that the affairs of the commission were too sensitive to be combined with partisan politics. That directive may indeed be a tall order if one factors in Aristotle’s doctrine that man is basically a political animal and the fact that some of the appointees are seasoned politicians.
More importantly, the president advised them to be mindful of the pitfalls of the dissolved board, saying he would not hesitate to wield the big stick if they fell out of line like their predecessors. He noted that the problems that led to the dissolution of the previous board were not about corruption but poor management.
The Chibuzor Ugwuoha-led management shot itself in the foot by not paying heed to the wise counsel of a seasoned American management expert, Peter F. Drucker, who wrote on the need to strike a balance between management and leadership. According to Drucker, while “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” The sacked board was more or less consumed by the struggle for who was right and who was wrong.
Ugwuoha, coming from oil company background, seemed determined that everyone should play by the rules. That was fair enough but the snag was that he appeared too naïve in navigating the intricate waters of boardroom politics. Consequently, he became rigid in applying the rules and this inevitably led to the intense power struggle which snowballed into series of accusations and counter accusations. The infighting got to the level of blackmail and intimidation which invariably arrested the development of the region. This was an antithesis of the raison d’être of the commission.
The crisis that rocked the commission took root from the poor interpretation of the powers and functions of the board and those of its executive members. A situation where the board chairman is given some executive powers is not in consonance with Civil Service Rules and Regulations where there are no ambiguities in role definition. In the civil service, the day-to-day management of government agencies is vested on the managing director who also doubles as the chief accounting officer. The board functions only as a body that formulates policies while the implementation and operation of the agencies are vested on the management headed by the MD/CEO.
The act establishing the commission clearly identified the MD/CEO as the head of management and chief accounting officer. He reports directly to the board and not through the chairman. However, what was referred to as the operation manual of the commission was later put in place. This gave undue powers to the chairman of the board to act as if he was the chief accounting officer. This practice led to several internal crises which saw the removal of two MD/CEOs and some executive directors of the commission.
When the Procurement Act of 2007 came into force, members of the board and management disregarded, it insisting that the commission’s operation manual was superior to the Procurement Act of 2007 which is binding on all government’s award of contracts. This was the crux of the crisis in the NDDC. While the Ugwuoha group wanted total adherence to extant rules and regulations as encapsulated in the Procurement Act and other Civil Service Rules and Regulations, some top members of the management, the board chairman and some other members would have none of it. They insisted that the NDDC manual was superior, so, it should guide the operations of the commission. Each side adhered strictly to its conviction. That degenerated into irreconcilable differences which eventually led to the dissolution of the board.
The new board must not travel this crocodile-infested road in their own interest and that of the beleaguered people of the Niger Delta who are in a hurry to see concrete development of their region. There must be a change in style and approach at the Dappa Biriye House, the NDDC headquarters. In the words of the Chairman of the board, Dr Tarilah Tebepah, “this new NDDC will deliver, this is a transformational NDDC. We will work hard to meet the expectations of the people.”
Dr Tebepah also promised that the board will work in harmony with management and staff of the commission to be able to deliver its mandate to Niger Delta people. He said: “There is no magic wand, the solution is team work and things will start happening, that’s what I intend to do, to ensure that there is cordiality and proper working relationship.”
The signs are good and the chairman is already sounding the right notes. Having identified the failings of the dissolved board, it is only wise and proper to chart a new course that would as much as possible carry other stakeholders along. Those who have occupied high leadership positions would always underline the importance of the human element. General Collin Powell, who was chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff [1989-93] and the first African American to be appointed Secretary of State, wrote about getting the right calibre of people to deliver good results. For him, “organisation doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything either. Theories of management don’t matter. Endeavours succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.”
The new Managing Director of the commission, Dr Christian Oboh shares the optimism of the chairman as he assured that the governing board would “recreate a Niger Delta that is investment friendly and capable of engendering economic prosperity.” He noted that the task of achieving this cannot be done by NDDC alone but must involve all stakeholders including the private sector.
The socio-economic transformation of the Niger Delta is too complex to be left for only one or two agencies of development. Obviously, undoing the damage wrought by decades of neglect and injustice requires partnership and synergy.
All stakeholders must be brought on board to confront the challenge of rescuing the Niger Delta. It makes sense to pull all resources together to tackle the injustice and inequality that have ruled the lives of the people in Nigeria’s oil basin. It is indisputable that the Niger Delta deserves a lot more than it is getting now.
The new board should also move quickly to win the confidence and trust of the various stakeholders. It should go the extra mile to convince the people of Niger Delta region that they are actually going to bring something new to the table.
One of the most famous women in 20th century politics, the Prime Minister of India from 1966-77 and 1980-84, Indira Gandhi, shared the following words with her fellow leaders: ‘Leadership at one time meant muscle; but today, it means getting along with people.”
It will be wise for the new board members at the NDDC to adopt ‘collaboration” as their mantra.
Mr Agbu, a media consultant, writes from Port Harcourt.