Ekere reworks NDDC systems to eliminate opaqueness

Nsima Ekere, MD, NDDC

Nsima Ekere, Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), attacks the commission with a new vision and different strategy writes ACHILLEUS-CHUD UCHEGBU

There is a feeling that actions so far taken by the Nsima Ekere-led management of the Niger Delta Development commission (NDDC), will turn out to be the best so far in the effort to enthrone accountability and transparency in the management of the commission’s financials. It is also believed that the new measures would help streamline NDDC’s budgeting system and ensure accountability in project delivery.

Prior to Ekere’s appointment as managing director and chief executive, the commission, had in its 16 years of existence, been notorious for opaqueness. Many of its dealings had been shadowy leaving the Niger Delta state reeling under the yoke of under-development and abandoned structured –the same problem it was set up to cure.

As oil-bearing communities, the Niger Delta states suffer high infrastructure deficit and huge environmental issues. Environmental questions hanging over the oil bearing communities have remained unresolved despite intervention efforts by the past military regimes, including the Directorate for Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI).

The turn of events in 1999 brought to the front burner again, the question of infrastructure development in the Niger Delta region. The need to address the question led to the establishment of the NDDC in 2000 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration with specific mandate to include: Formulation of policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta area; Conception, planning and implementation, in accordance with set rules and regulations, of projects and programs for sustainable development of the Niger Delta area in the field of transportation, including roads, jetties and waterways, health, employment, industrialization, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications.

The mandate also include: Surveying the Niger Delta in order to ascertain measures necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development; Preparing master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger Delta region and the estimation of the member states of the Commission; Implementation of all the measures approved for the development of the Niger Delta region by the Federal Government and the states of the Commission; Identify factors inhibiting the development of the Niger Delta region and assisting the member states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger Delta region; Assessing and reporting on any project being funded or carried out in the region by oil and gas companies and any other company, including non-governmental organizations, as well as ensuring that funds released for such projects are properly utilized; Tackling ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil mineral in the Niger Delta region and advising the Federal Government and the member states on the prevention and control of oil spillages, gas flaring and environmental pollution and; Liaising with the various oil mineral and gas prospecting and producing companies on all matters of pollution, prevention and control.

To execute and achieve the core mandates, NDDC has passed through several managements, which made efforts to lead change in the region. However, none of the managements took concrete steps to institutionalise transparency in the commission’s accounting system like Ekere is currently doing.

Since assuming office, Ekere has not left anyone in doubt about his commitment to drive change in the commission and also impact positively on the states under the NDDC focus. To this effect, Ekere has led management of the commission to sign some critical memoranda of understanding, with some organisations, aimed at assisting the commission eliminate opaqueness, ensure judicious use of resources and benchmarking spending against projects. Organisations, which had entered into such agreements with NDDC include BudgIT, Made Nigeria and Oxford Policy Management Limited.

In the agreement with BudgIT, the organisation is to assist NDDC “to develop an online portal for the NDDC Open Budget System, effectively communicate the transparency initiatives of the NDDC, engage policymakers, private sector actors and the general public about initiatives of NDDC, encourage NDDC to take steps which will institutionalized proactive disclosure of public data and information, and partner with NDDC to develop and execute relevant engagement program in the communities of the region.”

Restating NDDC’s “commitment to continuously engage with key stakeholders and partners towards the overarching goal of the development of the people and the region of the Niger Delta” at the agreement signing, Ekere said also that with the MoU, the commission “aligns with the Federal Government in its membership of the Open Government Partnership and its commitments to ensure that government and its institutions make a strong commitment to, promote transparency and accountability; fight corruption and use new technologies to strengthen governance and empower citizens. The expected outcomes of this initiative are to ensure that not only is real change happening within the NDDC and in the Niger Delta region but that this change is benefitting citizens.”

He also noted that the “initiative with BudgIT serves as a unique platform for public governance transparency reforms and illustrates our determination and readiness for openness in our operations. It is also a framework of much needed change, and will help the NDDC and its stakeholders decide what is most relevant in their regional contexts thereby leading to the successive tackling of a diversity of issues and a multiplicity of approaches taken,” adding that “our preference for collaboration with BudgIT is well thought out having noted BudgIT’s extensive work in redefining participatory government based on the notion that in a democracy, every citizen has the right to know how their taxes are expended in the delivery of public infrastructure and services”.

He told Niger Deltans and all NDDC stakeholder that “key objectives and advantages of our collaboration with BudgIT are highlighted in these areas: Improvement to reporting, strengthen accountability, improvements to prioritization of projects and budgeting, improving transparency, disciplined spending, provide support for project monitoring and evaluation, engender stakeholder engagement and generally promote value for money. These are areas that are crucial to the core mandate of the commission which is to facilitate rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta region”.

He also stated that “beyond the deliverables outlined in the MOU, we at the NDDC hope that this collaboration with BudgIT, will result, amongst many other things, in assisting management focus efforts and resources on social outcomes that really matter to the people of the Niger Delta. We hope to build a strong and broad based transformative system that serves to provide citizens with more information about how NDDC functions and thereby enable them to be more informed and engaged and better able to hold NDDC to account. By this initiative, we hope to send a strong and clear message to the people of the Niger Delta, Nigerians at large and the international community that we at the NDDC are committed to doing the right thing regarding good governance”.

Clearly, NDDC intends to rework, and instill a transparent budgeting and accounting system such that projects financing would be streamlined and available resources tailored to need. This will eliminate such situations where projects are abandoned and also ensure that NDDC gets value for money. This is a task that Nsima Ekere has placed before himself with the active support of the commission’s board. This shows how effectively Ekere is driving change at the commission.

Ekere’s desire to have a more effective Commission also inspired his decision to further sign a MoU with MADE Nigeria which is intended to help strengthen the commission for strategic pursuit and achievement of its core mandate. According to Ekere, “MADE will work with the NDDC to boost our efforts at stimulating sustainable, pro-poor growth in selected agricultural and other input markets, and improving the position of economically active but disadvantaged men and women in these markets by making them more inclusive.”

Ekere said that “in so doing, the NDDC will enhance its delivery anchored on the five focus areas of but more particularly in the areas of: regional development and integration; human capital development and youth engagement and; developing the non-oil sector by attracting new industries.” These, no doubt are focused areas of need that would help address nagging issues that had held back the development of the Niger Delta region and also push for the diversification of the Nigerian economy away from oil.

Ekere explained the agreement further: He said the agreement became imperative “against the background of the fact that the urgent requirement to diversify the nation’s economy in general and that of the Niger Delta in particular has never been more imperative than now. Economic diversification is vital to Niger Delta region’s long-term economic growth and we at the NDDC align ourselves with any initiative that seeks to advance this cause. For this reason, agriculture and other factor markets must be given much needed attention in order to exploit latent opportunities that can result in the creation of vast number of jobs and the consequent employment Niger Deltans in their teeming millions”.

He said that “government partnership with the private sector in the non-oil sector especially agriculture and the fostering of an environment that promotes innovation, encourages creativity, attracts investments and engenders technological advancements will serve as the fulcrum upon which the economic and social advancement of the Niger Delta region can be driven.”

Ekere’s focus is to “build a strong and broad based support network for the expansion of the economy of the Niger Delta and promote an economy that is healthy, flexible, not tied to a single industry or market sector but contains a mix of small, medium, and large businesses”. For him, the effort will “send a strong and clear message to the people of the Niger Delta, Nigerians at large and the international community that we at the NDDC are committed to doing the right thing regarding good governance.”

In leading change at NDDC and “doing the right thing,” Ekere is leading the commission and Niger Delta states through a new era of development economics that will redefine the landscape of the region and also change the narrative of profligacy and waste. For this reason, he taps into the expertise of Oxford Policy Management Limited which is the implementers of Facility for Oil Sector Transparency and Reform in Nigeria, otherwise known as FOSTER, a DFID-funded project which will “provide support services to NDDC in order to achieve the desired objective”.

With Foster, Ekere hopes to achieve support needs that fall within the FOSTER’s mandate; improvements to reporting, support on the production of the quarterly report to ensure all salient information is incorporated in any easily understandable manner; improvements related to project selection and budgeting, strengthen transparency and control spending. This became necessary as “there needs to be an overhaul of the agencies internal systems and process particularly in relation to budget creation, contracting, and implementation.”

The latter has been a challenge to the NDDC system. However, the FOSTER agreement will further ensure technical support towards the development of a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation framework that tracks projects from the awarding of contracts to implementation and then finally their impact as well as enhance technical support towards the development of a communications strategy to ensure the agency is constantly engaging with people in the region which will help generate feedback for decision on project implementation.

For people of the NDDC states, the gains of these efforts may not be immediately seen. But the succeeding years will be proof that the change Ekere is leading at the commission was for their good. This change is devoid of rhetoric and propaganda. It is rather one that aims at delivering on core mandates and radically affecting the Niger Delta space positively. The story of NDDC promises never to be the same again after the Ekere touch.
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