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No longer a monument of shame

Published by The Nation on Wed, 07 Apr 2021

Former President Goodluck Jonathan used the phrase, monument of shame, in 2015 to describe the abandoned Tower Hotel project in Bayelsa State.At the time Jonathan used the description, the project was over nine years old. It is still at the same level of abandonment to date. The permanent office complex of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State took 25 years to complete, writes MIKE ODIEGWUThe project was in limbo for 25 years. The circumstances that surrounded the abandoned Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) permanent headquarters were typical reflections of the leadership gap and managerial loopholes that had led to the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta. The development lends credence to the claims in some quarters that the Niger Delta people are the major cause of the problems in the region.Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio, who coordinated the completion of the project gave embarrassing details of its abandonment.Akpabio recalled his first visit to the project site in 2019. He said he was told that he was the only government official that had visited the project site. None of the managers of NDDC had thought of inspecting the project site much less initiating a process to complete it. It was never part of their plans.The minister said he met the project site in a terrible condition. The land was mashy and the entire area was covered by vegetation. He could not bear the shame and he cried out to President Muhammadu Buhari.He said: The road to completion of the over N16 billion NDDC office edifice started when I visited the building in 2019 and learnt that the project commenced 25 years ago in 1996.After the visit, I briefed President Buhari and told him that we can make the building the focal achievement in his effort to reposition NDDC.Immediately, President Buhari graciously approved and work commenced on the building as part of his commitment and passion to the people of Niger Delta.The completion and inauguration of the building shows that government can work only if it has the right determination and focus.Akpabio said the cost of completing the building did not include furnishing adding that he would still meet with the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to approve a contract for the furnishing of the complex.He lambasted past administration and NDDC boards, which kept paying N300m annual rent instead of completing the complex.He said it was also unfortunate that for over 15 years NDDCs old office was not connected to the National Grid because there were rackets involved in diesel supply to generators..He said: We discovered that all that was needed to connect the building to the national grid was a mere N16 million.The complex is a masterpiece comprising 13-storey main office of the commission and other buildings designed to accommodate a hospital, banking hall, conference hall and restaurant.The inauguration attracted important leaders from the region and across the country. Officials of the Federal Government, federal and state lawmakers as well as captains of industries and contractors attended the occasion.The Interim Administrator, NDDC, Effiong Akwa, said the project suffered untold delyas, financial frustrations and technical challenges under 17 chief executive officers of NDDC before he was appointed an administrator in 2020.He said: In the intervening years, we have had 17 other chief executive officers before my appointment as interim administrator in the year 2020. In those intervening years, this project suffered untold delays, financial frustrations and technical challenges.It was a period when more projects were abandoned in Niger Delta than were completed and commissioned. It is imperative on me to humbly convey to President Muhammadu Buhari a depth of gratitude of members of the Niger Delta Development Commission and the good people of this great region.Mr. President has great love for the Niger Delta region. In a demonstration of remarkable political will Mr. President initiated three major policies that impacted on the speedy completion of this project. The President in his virtual address said the inauguration marked an important milestone in the history of his administrations efforts to make NDDC realise its mandate in the region. He said the building project, which started in 1996, went through series of redesigns and amendments but was later abandoned.He, however, said his administration reactivated the project and completed it commending the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs for providing the required leadership that led to the completion of the project.Buhari said his government embarked on holistic reforms of the NDDC, returned the supervision of the commission to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and ordered a forensic audit of the NDDC to ensure that money released to the commission commensurate with projects and programmes.He said the commission should channel money it hitherto paid as rents to other productive ventures in the region.The President ordered Akpabio to cut the tapes on his behalf and unveil the projects plaque saying it had been handed over to the people for present and future uses.Imo State Governor Hope Uzodimma, who spoke on behalf of Niger Delta governors, commended Buhari and the federal government for completing and inaugurating the project. Uzodimma said stakeholders were not satisfied with the performance of NDDC since its establishment 2000 despite receiving N946.19bn in 18 years.Though he said nobody could write off NDDC as a total failure, the financial scandals and corruption allegations that recently rocked the commission eroded some of its achievements.He said: I wish to express my gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari and the federal government of Nigeria for the realisation of the headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission. It took so long a time for this project to come to fruition almost two decades after the commission came to being by June 5th 2000.The credit must go to our President who in his usual result-oriented manner had made this abandoned project a reality. This project was started and for whatever reason was abandoned for a very long time. But with the inauguration of this building, NDDC will seize to waste a staggering sum of N200m to N300m annually on rent. The money will now be channeled to other productive ventures.We are aware why the NDDC was born. It was a direct response of the Federal Government to the agitation of the oil-producing communities and states for the establishment of an interventionist agency that will address the degradation in the area as well as tackle the infrastructural deficit because some stakeholders felt that the 13 per cent derivation funds may not adequately take care of the needs of oil-producing communities.Uzodimma asked the NDDC to leverage on its new office complex to turn a new leaf in attitude, performance and general operations adding that the commission must prove to oil-bearing communities that it was ready to address its needs and fears. He said nine governors in the region were behind the governments efforts to reposition the NDDC and make it responsive to the yearnings and aspirations of the people.But he said: To achieve this, will require a little tinkering with the NDDC Act. It is my view that to address the kind of contract scandal that rocked the NDDC in the past and the concomitant allegations of corruption that followed, there is need for more involvement of the people in the affairs of the commission.In this regard, the people should make inputs through town hall meetings thereafter NDDC should be mandated to adopt such inputs in its budget. The amended Act should make it mandatory for the commission to execute all the projects coming from the people of oil-bearing communities.The communities should also be empowered by law to monitor contracts awarded for projects in their communities and to certify the satisfactory executions before final payments are made. I believe that this will greatly reduce sharp practices in the execution of NDDC contracts and it will also reduce corruption.The suggested amendment which I call the NDDC Indigenous People Involvement Amendment Act is aimed at ensuring the participation of end users of the commissions funds in the contract protocol to check corruption. It will go a long way in sanitising the system.In their goodwill messages, the King of Twon Brass, Alfred Diette-Spiff, who spoke on behalf of tradition rulers and the chairmen of the two committees on NDDC in the National Assembly, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi and Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo commended President Buhari for the project.While Buhari, Akpabio and Akwa, rose up to the challenge to turn the NDDCs monument of shame into a world-class edifice, the people of Bayelsa believe that one day the abandoned Tower Hotel project will become a reality.
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