By Jonathan Ugbal: Government House Correspondent
Cross River Governor, Senator Ben Ayade has declared support for two regional projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which seeks to integrate the region’s economy.
Mr. Ayade is also requesting the commission to support the construction of the 270 kilometers superhighway and the Bakassi deep seaport embarked upon by his administration by speaking out in the open as the state is the “weakest partner” due to its stature.
He disclosed this Thursday, in Calabar when he hosted a delegation of the governing board and management of the commission led by the Board Chairman, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba where he decried the poor support the state enjoys from the NDDC.
The Governor said the projects were aimed at opening up the state to ensure prompt export of goods and services from the North East and North Central regions and wondered why the commission has gone against the true “Afrocentric way” of providing for the weaker child as well as why the past Boards had made the Board “competitors” with the states rather than “co-petitors.”
However, he said he admired the fact that the current board has “charted a new course which sounds very bright and is in line with our plans.” He called for the advisory committee which comprises of the governors of the nine member states to be set up and challenged the commission to engage on projects with regional focus and stop playing politics “otherwise the spirit and philosophy of change may have failed.”
“NDDC should be a rallying point for peace in the region,” Ayade said and urged the commission to look into modern means of power generation since oil was fast losing steam. On the projects, Mr. Ayade who pointed out that Ndoma-Egba did not disclose whether the current Board has initiated new ones said he was in full support of the regional projects embarked upon by the commission.
Ndoma-Egba in his remarks disclosed that the NDDC has completed 168 projects with 157 projects ongoing, 26 stalled, 2 terminated while 75 projects all under NGN250 million were yet to commence in the state.
He lamented that the current Board was being judged “based on the sins of our fathers,” and called for a cease in the “needless” hostilities with most of the flak due to projects.
“Let it not be driven by politics. Let it rather be driven by a common agreement for the development of our people,” he said and maintained that a lot was being done to change the perception people have towards the NDDC.
These measures include meeting the governors of the nine member states of that make up the NDDC, writing to President Muhammadu Buhari to activate the committees enshrined in the act that created the commission.
Ndoma-Egba who said that the visit to Mr. Ayade was deliberately kept for last, pointed out that the board is “taking every step envisaged by the act to guarantee transparency and accountability,” and called for a new model in project financing where the states and the commission share costs so that there will be ownership of the projects upon completion.
He lamented that there was almost nothing to show for the amount that has gone through the commission and submitted that; “I think the NDDC has too many projects”; a situation he blamed on the fact that the commission had been focusing on smaller projects and needed to shift to initiative projects that are bigger and regional in scale.
He announced two projects embarked upon by the current board which is the creation of the Niger Delta Development Bank that will finance bankable projects of the commission and the ringing of the Niger Delta region with fibre optic cables where excess will be taken from neighboring Sao Tome and Principe to create “our own Silicon Valley.”
This, according to him was preparing the region to survive beyond oil especially as the commission was being financed by crude oil sales.
Following Mr. Ayade’s plea, the Managing Director of the NDDC, Nsima Ekere said that the NDDC was very mindful of its partnership and engagements with stakeholders and promised that the commission will do much more in the state.
“I want to assure you that we shall go backwards, we shall re-engineer our processes so that we can give a little bit more to Cross River State,” he said and added that: “We will give you more projects.”
He said the commission was also looking beyond projects as manpower development was also key in the development of the region.
Ekere who said that: “We believe in sustainable empowerment of our people,” disclosed that the commission will, in partnership with the NEXIM bank set up a NGN5 billion “Export Development Initiative,” where people will be trained on skills, given seed funds for startups of export based businesses.
He said the contribution for the fund will be equal between the NDDC and NEXIM bank.
Mr. Ndoma-Egba and Mr. Ekere later had a private meeting with Mr. Ayade in his office before departing.