An analysis by Isaiah Eka, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) stakeholders’ conference on the implementable budget for the commission in 2024 has come and gone but its essence lingers.
The NDDC was created to accelerate the development of the Niger Delta region the source of Nigeria’s crude oil and by extension, the engine of the nation’s economy.
The failure of the commission to deliver on its mandates will have an enormous impact on the nation’s economic and social life.
This is because it was designed to compensate for the infrastructure deficit in the area, one of the reasons advanced for restiveness that disrupts oil production in the region.
The effective budgeting and implementation of the commission’s budget is therefore critical, hence the need for stakeholders to brainstorm on the commission’s 2024 budget.
The two-day conference with the theme, “Partners for sustainable development forum -NDDC 2024 Budget Conference’’, was attended by stakeholders and representatives of governments of the nine Niger Delta states.
International oil companies, traditional rulers, youth groups and civil society organisations, among others, also graced the conference.
According to the NDDC’s Managing Director/CEO, Dr Samuel Ogbuku, the stakeholders’ engagement aims to achieve an effective budgeting system in line with the Federal Government’s “Renewed Hope’’ Agenda.
The NDDC, has, over the years, been challenged by inadequate funding for its projects and poor budgeting which adversely affected project execution in the region.
Addressing stakeholders, Ogbuku said the partnership with them was required to facilitate regional sustainable development of the Niger Delta.
Ogbuku said: “This conference is very vital. For one, it helps to revive the platform of the partners for the sustainable development forum, which was created as part of the regional masterplan implementation guideline.
“It also helps to bring all service providers and project implementers to the same table to fashion a common pathway based on a shared vision for the development of the region.
“For another, it affords all of us the incentive and opportunity to pool our resources together and initiate projects and programmes within the obligatory goal of building a better region and empowering our people.
“By so doing, we would, arising from the conference, galvanise our energies for a common purpose, eliminate duplications and institutional suspicions in the development process.’’
He said the conference was also expected to offer solutions to reduce the incidence of working at cross purposes and reduce wastage of resources allocated for regional development initiatives.
“And to succeed, we must remain committed to doing things differently from the past. We must move from the era where we express a determination to make a difference. There is no better time than now.
“We are improving and strengthening our internal processes and institutional protocols. We are taking definitive and definite steps towards following due process in all our operations.
“We must be more mindful in the allocation of funds to projects and programmes and remove all areas of waste,’’ he said.
The budget of the reconstruction conference’s philosophy is that the full budgetary cycle of the commission is strictly followed.
It mandates the full commitment of its Executive Management to do what is right for the first time since 2018.
The NDDC’s Executive Director, Finance and Administration, retired Maj.-Gen. Charles Airhiavbere said the participatory budgeting involved all stakeholders – internal and external- in its budgeting process.
“The entire budgeting process of the Commission is being restructured in order to achieve a realistic and implementable budget.
“The approved budget cycle will be adhered to as much as possible so that the NDDC 2024 Budget will get to the National Assembly via the Presidency by Sept. 30, 2023,’’ he said.
Airhiavbere said the commission had set out strategic goals and objectives for 2024 centred on the drive to implementation of legacy projects and programmes.
He said this could be done through the Private-Public-Partnership (PPP), setting aside 20 per cent of each state’s revenue for payment of legacy debts and 10 per cent for counterpart funding.
“This NDDC Budget is a product of a participatory budgeting process, which was done by the State Project Committees in conjunction with their respective stakeholders.
“The stakeholders will also be key into the quarterly performance implementation process of the Commission.
“As critical stakeholders, we are to review, harmonise and adopt the budget for onward transmission.
“It is our expectation that by the end of this exercise, duplications of projects will be completely eradicated while having Regional projects ownership,’’ he said.
Similarly, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Niger Delta Development, Dr Shuaib Belgore, urged the commission to evolve budgets to meet the development needs of the states and communities in the region.
Belgore said that NDDC budgets over the years had challenges, including belated submission and delayed approvals, adding that those challenges led to low as well as poor implementation, which the conference hoped to address.
He said: “The commission is procedurally to submit the budget proposal to the ministry, which would in turn submit to the Presidency, after scrutiny and review.
“Upon submission, the Presidency then transmits it to the National Assembly. The way forward is to embrace robust and innovative pathways anchored on transparency and stakeholders’ participation towards right-budgeting.
He also said that they were expected to maximize available resources to address the most critical needs of the people of the Niger Delta.
The conference was inspired by the desire to entrench collaboration, cooperation, partnership and synergy in the development of the Niger Delta Region by all key stakeholders and management.
They also resolved in their communique that the NDDC’s budget should have spread to cover the several ethnic nationalities and communities in the region.
“It is the wish of the management and stakeholders that the Commission should operate a lean budget that will allow and enable her to commence and complete projects within a certain and realistic budget cycle in of abandoned projects littered all over the region.’’
At the end of the conference participants said the strategic importance of the Partners for Sustainable Development (PSD) forum in the budgetary process aimed at eliminating duplications and institutional suspicions in the development process.
In a communiqué the conference for a reduction of the incidence of working at cross purposes and wastage of scarce resources allocated for regional development initiatives by all stakeholders.
It also resolved that the PSD forum be held quarterly for the various stages of budgeting, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
It commended the NDDC’s executive management for resuscitating the PSD forum, which was last held in 2016.
It stressed the need for the Commission to strike a balance between meeting the political demands and serving the people of the region by executing a people-centric projects.
“For the 2025 Budget, less of new projects should be captured in order to ensure the quick completion of all ongoing projects under the 2024 budget.
“The timeline for payment of contractors should not exceed 45 days, allowing for 15 days buffer after which penalties will accrue for non-payment of contractors.
“That a town hall meeting and engagement of the several ethnic nationalities of the region be convoked prior to budget sessions. This is to ensure that the budget receives inputs from the people directly,’’ the communiqué stated.
It also emphasised the need to remove all completed projects from the budget to allow for more new projects to be introduced into the budget.
The conference called for provisions for flood control measures in the 2024 Budget under regional provision and provision of IDP camps in the LGAs of the region for flood impact reduction.
It stated that to ensure equity among all the LGAs regarding the 2024 budget, the commission should identify deserving ongoing projects with significant completion status.
It stated that where the funds committed to such projects are insufficient, funds may be drawn from the legacy debt to augment for completion.
Stakeholders and governments of the Niger Delta region, are no doubt, supportive and committed to partnering with the NDDC to ensure an implementable budget in 2024 to enhance the sustainable development of the region.