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N’Delta: Executing The 44 Projects

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The Federal Executive Council (FEC) recently approved N179.13 billion for the execution of 44 projects by the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, in the nine states it covers. The projects include construction of bridges, roads, drainages, hospitals and the acquisition of hospital equipment, provision of potable water and educational facilities.

Among the ambitious projects that the government has lined up are the completion of the expansion of the East-West highway; the construction of the East-West coastal road from Calabar to Lagos; the coastal rail line; Inland water ways transportation; reclamation to link some oil-producing communities and environmental clean-up activities. The projects also include a N14.9 billion contract for the development of the newly established Federal Polytechnic of Oil and Gas, sited in Bayelsa and another N5.72 billion for the upgrade of the Petroleum Technology Institute (PTI) sited in Effurum.

This is a significant departure from the previous half-hearted approach to the massive developmental challenges in the region that produces over 90 per cent of the wealth of the nation. It remains to be seen how fast the government is willing to move to actualise these projects.

Taking on the big ticket projects will certainly make a huge difference on the deplorable state of affairs in the oil-rich region. It also aligns with the broad vision of those who believe that the region deserves a Marshall Plan treatment; that bold strategy that revived Europe after the devastation of the Second World War. Since we don’t have such a grand plan yet, the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan will suffice, as it outlines a holistic approach to the challenges posed by the deleterious effects of oil exploration and exploitation in the region.

While the government tries to shift emphasis from what it terms small projects to mega projects, it needs to carefully consider the whole concept of big and small. There is need to strike a balance between the big projects that would take many months and even years to complete and the small ones that would quickly address the urgent needs of a people who are eagerly looking forward to seeing concrete development.

In essence, the concept of mega projects must be clearly defined to ensure that the ultimate goal of rapidly and comprehensively transforming the delta region is achieved. In fact, mega projects should not just be about roads, bridges and rail lines. What happens to schools, hospitals, electricity and water projects? These may be small projects, but they are essential components of the region’s development process. The Master Plan, accepted by all stakeholders as the way forward, provides a fine blend of mega and small projects required for the quick transformation of the region. This widely acclaimed roadmap for the region took four years to produce by national and international experts.

Indeed, it is a worthy compass that should be adequately funded in order to translate the lofty plans into tangible projects and programmes. For instance, a coastal road proposed in the plan to run from Calabar to Lagos, is estimated to cost about N300 billion. Obviously, such huge projects call for collaborative efforts of all the stakeholders.

Since the Yar’Adua administration, like its predecessor accepted to work with the Master Plan, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, which is facilitating its implementation, should be adequately funded to deliver on the critical sectors outlined in the plan. If all the stakeholders, which include the three tiers of government, oil companies, international donor agencies and the NDDC, were to put their hands on the plough, all sectors would be developed simultaneously without having to place emphasis on the size of the projects. In several cases, small is deemed beautiful in meeting the basic needs of the populace.

Incidentally, all the stakeholders come under the umbrella of Partners for Sustainable Development [PSD] Forum. According to the Managing Director of the NDDC, Mr. Chibuzor Ugwoha, “the PSD Forum, which is a direct product of the Master Plan, is a platform for collaboration amongst the development stakeholders of the Niger Delta region”, He noted that the body serves as a clearing house of information during project planning, budgeting and implementation. “It ensures that stakeholders harmonise their activities to avoid undue duplication of efforts and waste of resources”.

Such collaborative efforts, which derive from the Master Plan,  are essential in the quest for sustainable development in the Niger Delta. The 29- kilometre Ogbia-Nembe road being built by the NDDC in partnership with the Shell Petroleum Development Company [SPDC] is one good example of the kind of team work required to turn things around. The N9.6 billion project illustrates the kind of challenges confronting the Niger Delta. It cuts through the swamps with nine bridges and 99 culverts. The terrain is such that four metres of clay soil has to be dug out and then sand-filled to provide a base for the road. This road is going to an area in the Niger Delta that was written off in the past as one of those areas that would never be linked with motor way because of its difficult terrain.

If all the stakeholders were to play their roles appropriately, there would be little to complain about and the distinction between mega, medium or micro projects would not be necessary. It is unfortunate that many states and local governments in the region have been misapplying the funds meant for such basic amenities as potable water, hospitals and schools. They should be held accountable for the funds they receive. Mere tokenism is no longer satisfactory to Niger Deltans.

It is only recently that the Rivers State government, for example, took up the challenge in earnest and started building multi-billion model primary and secondary schools, as well as state-of-the-art hospitals in all the local government areas of the state. Sadly, this appears to be an exception as most of the other states are still lagging behind. The Rivers example needs to be replicated in all the Niger Delta states, so as to free the interventionist agencies to concentrate on regional projects that would rapidly improve the lives of the people.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole was not far from the truth when he accused the governors from the south-South region of squandering resources meant for the development of their domain.

Bankole said that even though Nigeria had not been fair to the Niger Delta, which has been producing the funds with which a city like Abuja was built, the region, should however, hold their leaders responsible for their woes. He also said that with the huge amount of money the Niger Delta States collect from the Federation Account, there was no reason why the quality of governance in a state like Lagos should be better than what is obtained in the Niger Delta states.

Agbu is editor’s guest

 

Ifeatu Agbu

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Eid-El-Kabir: Sultan felicitates Nigerians, urges greater commitment to farming

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Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto and President General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), has extended his felicitations to Nigerian Muslims on the occasion of Eid-el Kabir.

In his Sallah message on Sunday, Abubakar urged Nigerians to commit more to farming as a means to alleviate societal economic hardship and address the high cost of living in the country.

“We are fully aware that the leaders in the country are doing their best to ease the hardship, but more needs to be done.

“Our people, particularly in the North, are in a very difficult situation. Therefore, leaders need to do more in tackling the current challenges,” he said.

The Sultan further urged farmers to make the most of the rainy season to ensure sufficient food production to meet societal demand.

“We should all go back to farming and produce food because doing so will ease our condition and boost the country’s economy,” he advised.

Abubakar also called on Muslims to continue praying for the leaders, emphasising that only prayers could support the desired needs of any society.

He appreciated the security agencies in the country for their sustained dedication to ensuring the safety of all citizens.

The Sultan applauded Gov. Ahmed Aliyu of Sokoto State for his commitment to supporting the less-privileged in the state and urged the people to continue living peacefully with one another.

He thanked the Muslim community for the continued dedication to propagating the true essence of Islam, and urged them to have full faith that the country’s challenges would soon be over.

He also prayed for the safe return of the pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, urging them to pray for Nigeria and its leaders.

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Presidency clears misconceptions on New York Times report on Nigeria

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Mr Bayo Onanuga, Special Adviser to President Bola Tinubu on Information and Strategy, yesterday, reacted to a recent report published in New York Times on Nigeria’s economy.

He said Ruth Maclean and Ismail Auwal’s feature story titled, ‘Nigeria Confronts Its Worst Economic Crisis in a Generation,’ published on June 11, appeared typically predetermined and followed the usually denigrating way foreign media establishments reported African countries for several decades.

He said that because of the misleading slant of the report, there was need to clear up some misconceptions conveyed by the reporters as regards the economic policies of the Tinubu administration that came into power at the end of May 2023.

“Most significant about the report was that it painted the dire experiences of some Nigerians amid the inflationary spiral of last year, and blamed it all on the policies of the new administration.

“The report, based on several interviews, was all gloom and doom, as it never mentioned the positive aspects in the same economy as well as the ameliorative policies being implemented by the central and state governments,” said Onanuga.

According to him, President Tinubu did not create the economic problems Nigeria faces today.

“He inherited them. As a respected economist in our country once put it, Tinubu inherited a dead economy.

“The economy was bleeding and needed quick surgery to avoid being plunged into the abyss, as happened in Zimbabwe and Venezuela.

“This was the background to the policy direction taken by the government in May/June 2023, with the abrogation of the fuel subsidy regime and the unification of the multiple exchange rates standing out.”

The Special Adviser said that for decades, Nigeria had maintained a fuel subsidy regime that gulped 84.39 billion dollars between 2005 and 2022 from the public treasury in a country with huge infrastructural deficits and in high need of better social services.

He said the state oil firm, NNPC Ltd, the sole importer, had amassed trillions of naira in debts for absorbing the unsustainable subsidy payments in its books.

“By the time Tinubu took over the leadership of the country, there was no provision made for fuel subsidy payments in the national budget beyond June 2023.

“The budget itself had a striking feature: it planned to spend 97 per cent of revenue servicing debt, with little left for recurrent or capital expenditure. The previous government had resorted to massive borrowing to cover such costs.

“Like oil, the exchange rate was also being subsidised by the government, with an estimated 1.5 billion dollars spent monthly by the CBN to ‘defend’ the currency against the unquenchable demand for the dollar by the country’s import-dependent economy,” explained Onanuga.

He stated that by keeping the rate low, arbitrage grew as a gulf existed between the official rate and the rate used by over 5,000 Bureau de Change (BDCs) that were previously licensed by the Central Bank.

“What was more, the country was failing to fulfil its remittance obligations to airlines and other foreign businesses, such that FDIs and investment in the oil sector dried up, and notably Emirate Airlines cut off the Nigerian route.

“President Tinubu had to deal with the cancer of public finance on the first day by rolling back the subsidy regime and the generosity that spread to neighbouring countries. Then, his administration floated the naira,” said Onanuga.

He said that after some months of the storm, with the naira sliding as low as N1,900 to the US dollar, some stability was restored, though there remained some challenges.

“The exchange rate is now below N1,500 to the dollar, and there are prospects that the naira could regain its muscle and appreciate to between N1,000 and N1,200 before the end of the year.

“The economy recorded a trade surplus of N6.52 trillion in Q1, as against a deficit of N1.4 trillion in Q4 of 2023. Portfolio investors have streamed in as long-term investors.

“When Diageo wanted to sell its stake in Guinness Nigeria, it had the Singaporean conglomerate, Tolaram, ready for the uptake,” he said.

He was emphatic that with the World Bank extending a 2.25 billion dollar loan and other loans by the AfDB and Afreximbank coming in, Nigeria had become bankable again.

He explained that such was all because the reforms being implemented had restored some confidence.

“The inflationary rate is slowing down as shown in the figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics for April. Food inflation remains the biggest challenge, and the government is working very hard to rein it in with increased agricultural production.

“The Tinubu administration and the 36 states are working assiduously to produce food in abundance to reduce the cost. Some state governments, such as Lagos and Akwa Ibom, have set up retail shops to sell raw food items to residents at a lower price than the market price.

“The Tinubu government, in November last year, in consonance with its food emergency declaration, invested heavily in dry-season farming, giving farmers incentives to produce wheat, maize, and rice,” he said.

According to Onanuga, the CBN has donated N100 billion worth of fertiliser to farmers, and numerous incentives are being implemented, adding that in the western part of Nigeria, six governors had announced plans to invest massively in agriculture.

“With all the plans being executed, inflation, especially food inflation, will soon be tamed.

“Nigeria is not the only country in the world facing a rising cost of living crisis. The USA, too, is contending with a similar crisis, with families finding it hard to make ends meet. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen raised this concern recently.

“Europe is similarly in the throes of a cost-of-living crisis. As those countries are trying to confront the problem, the Tinubu administration is also working hard to overturn the economic problems in Nigeria.

“Our country faced economic difficulties in the past, an experience that has been captured in folk songs. Just like we overcame then, we shall overcome our present difficulties very soon,” said Onanuga.

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Rivers Tourism Agency, Mayor of Housing Seal Deal After Economic Summit

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…..Set to Restore Rivers Leadership Status In Tourism, Entertainment

The Rivers State Tourism Development Agency (RSTDA) has sealed partnership deal with the Mayor of Housing to boost tourism and entertainment.

This is aimed at rebooting the economy of the state  as the state government seeks to boost ease of doing business (EoDB).

The partnership was sealed after the Rivers State Economic and Investment Summit which ended on May 23, 2024.

The partnership was unveiled at an event at the GRA where the Director-General (DG) of the RSTDA, Mr Yibo Koko, gave details of what he called the low hanging fruits initiative to tap into obvious advantages.

He presented the Mayor of Housing, My-Ace China, the CEO of the Housing and Construction Limited, who has demonstrated capacity and willingness to join in the task.

It was gathered that some banks have also indicated interest in partnering with the Agency to achieve the objective of Sir Sim Fubara’s administration in the Tourism sub-sector.

It was gathered that tourism alone can restart the economy, based on what worked for the state in years past when the city led other states and cities in entertainment and tourism.

The new role of the RSTDA seemed to have been rediscovered at the economic summit and fresh mandates with marching orders may have been issued.

The DG of the Rivers State Tourism Development Agency (RSTDA) spoke glowingly about the gains of the Rivers State Economic Summit and the Creative Art, saying the Mayor of Housing was part of the panel on creative economy and his participation led to the decision to go back and start from the ‘Low Hanging Fruits Initiative’.

He said Gov Fubara’s body language suggests positivity and this has led to trickling effects on creative economy and the young people.

He gave insight into how reputations are ruined online, saying Algorithm or Artificial Intelligence (AI) picks what comes online most frequently and uses it to characterize a person or place for profiling.

“So, when people click on your name, what comes up is the thing AI says you are. For Rivers State, it’s the steady bad news in the media that AI picks to brand the state.

“The RSTDA wants to reverse that and we want the many good things happening in the state to be brought up deliberately.

“The state government wants entrepreneurs and investors to be the ones driving wealth creation and the growth of the economy. We want to bring back the vibrancy of the Garden City and we know the role tourism and entertainment can play.”

He took time to articulate what constitutes the low hanging fruits and how the RSTDA planned to harvest them with support from partners, especially the Mayor of Housing.

Speaking, the Mayor of Housing (My-ACE China) expressed delight working with the RSTDA.

He said: “I started estate business in Abuja. In 2021, we wanted to extend to Port Harcourt, but the first thing the CEO of our company then told me was all about insecurity in the Garden City and all the associated hypes.

“He asked me how I would need over five Mopol (Military Police Operatives) to move about in Port Harcourt. The narrative then was that Port Harcourt was unstable and unsafe. We argued and agreed I would be the one to go, and if I was killed, he would stay away.

“Coming into Port Harcourt at last, I was shocked at the peace and stability, at the hospitality, at the liveliness, cuisine, housing potentials, etc.

“In housing, we were more than 100 brands in Abuja hustling for space, but I came into Port Harcourt and saw only two active brands. It was like I could beat them ad be the topmost.

“I called my people and said, this is a deep market. I staged the biggest event in Port Harcourt. It was shocking. People came out because of the shouting I did.

“This was the same Port Harcourt they said would swallow me.

|When I went into the nitty-gritty of doing business in Port Harcourt, I found why the narrative was looking gloomy.”

He said there was a political dilution of people’s goodwill  and  most persons in the state were victims, including top people doing so well.

“I discovered that there are very many unsung people here that felt they would not make it unless they went to Lagos.

“So, I chose the comedy industry to start the push to sell Port Harcourt with positive narrative and restart of the story of the city.I began to sponsor them with whatever little I had.

“I am the first corporate body to scale Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) because others start CSR when they make it, but I started from the start or even before the start of my project.

According to him, as at this year, we have won ‘brand of the year’ for three years running just by doing little by little.”

“So, part of the fundamental things why we are here today is to tell everybody that the awareness and deliberate narrative change can start now and here; and we can begin to talk about the positives of Rivers State, we can skew the algorithm back in our favour.

“If Lagos State has 15 million people and they have less people talking about their potential, that would reduce visibility to the work of about three million people. Rivers with six million people need to work harder. If 50 per cent or more of our people talk about the positives of this state, it will beat that pattern or algorithm.

So, the idea is, who else will tell them. The good book said how will they hear, if somebody doesn’t preach to them. We thus put this meeting together so you can all preach the message of the positives of Rivers State.

“When this competition as outlined by the DG (of the RSTDA) begins, it would launch Rivers State back as the tourism capital of the world. By the story told by the DG, if the tourism promoters of Dubai could come to Port Harcourt to promote a show and only seven persons showed up, the small number was not because there was scarcity of talent or lack of interest from the youths of Rivers State, it was because of lack of narrative-pushing to tell the youths that there was opportunity somewhere.

“When I started my project in Alesa Eleme, I was told don’t go, they do worry. But today, I have not even started the project proper and I have got an award from the same Alesa Elele youths as ‘Hero of Development’ all because of little corporate social responsibility (CSR) things I did for them.

“It broke my heart when they came to me and said they could secure our facility. They said all we needed to give them were equipment and gears not costing up to N5m. We did that donation in December 2023 but I was weak when they said for 20 years, no company had donated those things.

“It is about the narrative being peddled around the state and around the communities. The story is not being told. If you don’t load the search engine with good stories, you won’t move up on the scale of attractive cities and investments.

“Let’s get to the level of knowing what to tell and what not to”, he said .

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