Alabo Nengi James is a renowned Niger Delta activist. He is the Eriworio of Nembe Kingdom, Geseiye Mein-Owei of Bayelsa State and Sei-Ebi-Dou-Wei of Niger Delta. Currently, he is the national coordinator, Association of Rural Chiefs for Peace and Development. In this interview with JOHN ODHE, he expressed his satisfaction with the appointment of Maxwell Oko as the Executive Director of Finance and Administration at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and drops pieces of advice on how Oko can succeed in his new appointment.
What do you make of the appointment of Maxwell Oko as the new Executive Director of Finance and Administration at NDDC?
I believe that those who have the mental capability to grow will always work for themselves. Maxwell is one of such personality. We have been together in the Ijaw struggle. He was one of the leaders of Elemo-Otu Movement, one of the pioneer groups of the Kaiama Declaration and he was coordinating the Otuasega end and other oil bearing communities in Ogbia local government area of Bayelsa state. The movement was a voice between the communities and the oil companies. Maxwell is very versatile and he learns quickly too. He has mingled with so many great men in the struggle including Robert Azibola, Asari Dokubo and a host of others. He was the pioneer chairman of Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC) and he associated very well because he listens. Of course, IYC was not a one-man organization. It was through the struggle that he was recognized all over the world and was appointed Commissioner for Youth by Alamieyeseigha. He was later appointed Commissioner for Energy by Timipre Sylva and joined the business class thereafter and he is doing well.
Why do you think that Maxwell will do well in his new appointment?
From his antecedents, l know that he will do well. For instance, when Maxwell was commissioner for youths as well as commissioner for energy, he made some fantastic moves and things began flourishing. The gas turbine was working and the youths were booming. The state volunteers was incorporated into his ministry; the centre for youth employment was also incorporated into his ministry. So, it was ministry of employment, youth and conflict resolution. The young man was always busy, training our youths in India and other places. Scholarships and bursary were also pioneered by him through the ministry of education and he excelled. Maxwell is a very innovative and creative. Because of his profession as an architect, he is very creative and he always thinks outside the box. Recently, l heard that there were some problems in NDDC and I knew that somethings were going to change. There has been managerial problem in NDDC. Fortunately, l was the youth envoy selected among the Dagbabriye, E.K Clerk team that were kept in Rivers state annex for seven days to oversee the NDDC bill and return it to Mr. President. So, l am very conversant with NDDC matters especially the law that establishes it. When people are talking about NDDC issues, we only contribute. We don’t expect to gain from anything we are contributing. If you are working for the society or you call yourself a freedom fighter, you don’t have to be a capitalist. You must be a contended man. You cannot hold everybody to ransom and claim to be a freedom fighter. You cannot be fighting for the public and want to get it all because you are fighting for the public. I have contributed to the NDDC law. I have my recommendations still in the office signed by E.K Clerk and Dagbabreye but I am not benefiting and that doesn’t mean others should not benefit. Now that my close associate (Maxwell Oko) is going there, l am so happy, not because of what l am going to gain but because I know that the young man is competent. The immediate past M.D, Prof. Nelson Brambaifa is very close to me. We are all members of the Bayelsa state elders forum. He has contributed his best. Timi Alaibe was also there and so many others who have served there. Today is the turn of Maxwell Oko. I thank God for his appointment and I congratulate him.
What are your expectations from him?
I pray that he should use his office to do good things, not for the ljaw people alone, but for the Niger Delta and Nigeria. As a man who has been in the ljaw and Niger Delta struggle, he should go back to the drawing board and look at the Act that establishes the NDDC board and do accordingly. He is a man that has felt the pains of environmental degradation and the sufferings caused by the IOCs. He should let the people feel the blessings of the pains. As a young man, l expect that he will do things right and be accountable and transparent in his dealings. I don’t want him to be among those who will be investigated by the EFCC. He has to be careful. He has to make sure that any contract he is awarding is completed because NDDC has a lot of abandoned contracts especially in Bayelsa state. We have the highest number of abandoned projects in NDDC. We have not enjoyed but we expect better things that the young man should do. We are not forcing contracts on him but looking at the papers, he needs to correct this problem of getting money freely from NDDC without working. My advice is that he must follow up projects before complete payments are made. It shouldn’t be just for political patronage where monitoring and evaluation are not done but monies meant for mobilizations are being used for burial ceremonies and marriages. I think it is not fair for our money to be used for political activities. The monies are meant for the development of the whole region.
How do you expect Maxwell to use his office to effect payment of the debts owed many people by NDDC which is said to be to the tune of N2 trillion?
This indebtedness is due to the federal government refusing to release the money accruing to NDDC in years past. Some of these monies are not their money. It comes from the oil companies but because the federal government is not releasing the money to them, that is why they are owing. If contracts are awarded and the projects are properly executed, not just on paper, NDDC should be paid so they can pay their contractors. It is only when the federal government is having human face and having the concerns of the Niger Delta at heart and is not misusing the money that things can be done right. Even the NDDC too has been misusing money. Many projects are haphazardly done and they cut away the money. The monies should not be ceremonial, it should be used to pay for jobs done. I am praying that the federal government should release the NDDC cumulative funds that are still in government coffers. I am suggesting that Mr. President should release more money to the NDDC so that they can pay up those that are being owed so that there will be circulation of money and things will be better. If there is more money in society, life will always get better.
So, what should be done?
I will want Maxwell Oko to use his wealth of experience to liaise with the executive director for projects and other members of the board and have stakeholders meetings before projects are sited. They should not force projects on the people. Projects are meant to be used by the people. You cannot stay at NDDC office and say you want to build a market for Otuasega whereas the location of the market will not be useful to the people. Ask the people of Otuasega what they want and where it should be sited. For instance, the Okoroba people in Bayelsa state have been suffering because they are at the extreme of the boundary and they don’t have a road. They are always being attacked by sea pirates. It is obvious that what the people of Okoroba and other communities in that axis need most at the moment is a road which has been abandoned for years. NDDC has to also takeover the Brass road, the Southern Ijaw axis of the road and open up another road from Otuasega to Odua and other communities in that area to link Rivers state. They can also open up another road through Biseni to Imo and Anambra states. We can’t continue to be going round and covering long distances before reaching a nearby community. What we need most is road as well as shore protection. Look at Anyama, Famgbe, Ogu and other communities; they are being washed away by erosion. Some are man-made while others are ocean encroachment. These are the things Maxwell should do, liaising with the board, the state government and all stakeholders.