By Willie Etim and Ifeatu Agbo
The sound of trumpets and drums filled the air at the headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, on Thursday, June 22, 2023, when Dr Samuel Ogbuku, returned to continue with his duties as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the interventionist agency.
It was a rousing reception for Ogbuku, who had been directed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Dr Shuaib Belgore, to continue to oversee the affairs of the Commission until a new board is constituted by the President and Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces.
There was palpable apprehension at the NDDC before Ogbuku got the nod to return to his duty post. Understandably, the termination of the Boards of Federal Government Parastatals by the President on June 19, 2023 kicked up speculations.
That uncertainty left many stakeholders anxious and expectant. From all indications, the atmosphere was charged and there were expectations for something to break the ice. So, when Ogbuku was given a return ticket, it was greeted with joy which was demonstrated by the jubilation at the NDDC headquarters.
Youth groups, including women, lined up at the NDDC main gate to welcome Ogbuku, whom they affectionately referred to as “a good man.”
The leader of one of the groups, the Wakirike Youth Leaders Forum, Comrade Anthony Josiah, said they came to show solidarity with the Managing Director for surviving the dissolution of the NDDC Board.
The youths, who danced to various solidarity songs, carried placards expressing support for Ogbuku, whom they described as a gift to the Niger Delta, noting: “He is humble, calm, and calculated in his vision to transform our region.
“We are grateful to President Bola Tinubu because one of the biggest problems of this Commission is the frequent changes in leadership. If this MD is allowed some more time, he will consolidate on the foundation of the reforms he has already started.
“The Wakirike group wants the NDDC to initiate programmes that would enable us acquire skills that can help us to fend for ourselves.”
Another youth leader, Comrade Ken Akpos, praised the NDDC boss for introducing programmes that would help in training youths and empowering them at a time unemployment was biting hard across the country.
According to him, training and empowerment are the areas that need the most attention from the NDDC because of the high levels of unemployment and poverty in the Niger Delta region.
He said: “As you know, Ogbuku’s appointment is a brain child of the agitations of youth groups and Civil Society Organisations. So, he cannot afford to disappoint us.
“The youths of the region are solidly behind the Managing Director and we have confidence in his leadership. We thank President Tinubu for giving Ogbuku another chance to prove his mettle.”
It is instructive to note that the Niger Delta region has a young population structure, with about 60 per cent of the population below the age of 30 years. The region also has a low dependency ratio of about 0.6, meaning there are more working-age people than dependents.
Akpos stressed the need for the NDDC to focus on training, empowerment and job creation, stating that it was critical for the region’s development and the creation of a more vibrant and sustainable economy.
He advised: “The NDDC should invest more in skills training and empowerment programs for the youths and women in the region. This will enable them to start businesses or get employed in existing ones.
“The NDDC should promote the growth and development of small and medium enterprises in the region. This will create more jobs and wealth for the people. It will also stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship in the region.”
Addressing the youths, the NDDC Managing Director, expressed delight that they came out in numbers to show solidarity with the Commission, observing that it showed they had the interest of the Niger Delta region at heart.
Ogbuku told the youths that with the recent passage of the NDDC 2023 budget, more youth programmes would be rolled out to ensure that they were meaningfully engaged.
He noted that besides physical infrastructure, the NDDC was making significant difference in the lives of youths through various human Capital development programmes.
The NDDC boss also held an interactive session with management and staff of the Commission after the reception at the gate. He told them that President Ahmed Bola Tinubu charged the Commission to do more to develop the Niger Delta region and impact positively on the lives of the people.
Ogbuku said that he was given “New Commandments” when he visited the President recently at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. He remarked that the President expressed disappointment at the level of underdevelopment in the Niger Delta region and the performance of the NDDC as an interventionist agency in the oil-rich region.
According to him, President Tinubu decried the mismanagement of resources of the Niger Delta region and directed the management team to return to the Commission and ensure that a new NDDC emerged.
The NDDC boss said that President Tinubu was anxious to reposition the NDDC to ensure that it worked in the interest of the people of the region, stating: “I made a pledge to Mr. President that all resources at the Commission’s disposal will be judiciously utilized to increase and improve the impact of the NDDC in the region.
“The President has the interest of the Niger Delta people at heart and is expecting us to bring out the best in the people of the region. I want to write my name in gold by building and raising people, and also make amends where necessary.”
The NDDC boss, who reiterated his commitment to building people and making indelible marks in the development of Niger Delta region, also solicited the cooperation of staff.
He announced that the Commission was planning to engage a multinational professional services consultant, KPMG to help the Commission set up a viable and sustainable Corporate Governance structure.
Speaking on behalf of the staff, the Chairman of NDDC Staff Union, Comrade Anthony Gbendo, appealed to the management to expedite action on the staff conditions of service, which he noted was long overdue for approval.
He told the Managing Director that the staff were happy that he was retained to continue to work for the development of Niger Delta region, assuring him of the loyalty and support of the work force.
Other members of staff, who were visibly delighted to see their boss back to work, applauded as their chairman expressed support for Ogbuku. One of them, Dr. Oscar Gbaishomore, spoke passionately on how the NDDC has been positively transformed in the last six months with Ogbuku on the saddle.
Another group that took interest in the leadership of Ogbuku is the Board of Trustees of Community Development Committees of Oil and Gas Producing Areas of the Niger Delta, CDC, which said it was delighted that the Chief Executive Officer was endorsed to continue.
In a statement signed by the Chairman Board of the CDC, Joseph Ambakederimo, said that the dissolution of the boards of government institutions and agencies was the right step, except for the NDDC board, which was inaugurated in January this year, adding that the Commission should have been spared taking into account the fact that it operated without a board for four years.
They stated: “While we applaud the Federal Government for retaining Dr. Samuel Ogbuku to take charge, it must have recognised that his vision for the Niger Delta region is in tandem with that of President Tinubu.
“Dr. Ogbuku is found fit and competent so far in handling development issues as it affects the region hence, he was asked to stay on.”
President Tinubu had authorised the dissolution of the boards of parastatals and government agencies while retaining chief executives to report to him directly through the Permanent Secretaries of the respective ministries.