The Completion of the N16 billion Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Headquarters Complex situated along Eastern By-Pass, Marine base, Port Harcourt has come after much toil and expectations.
President Muhammadu Buhari, while commissioning the building on March 11, 2021, said, the N300 million yearly rents for the former building of the Commission would henceforth, be deployed to other areas of need in the Niger Delta region. The Corporate Affairs department of the Commission admitted it had paid N300million annually since it took over the building in 2003/2004.
The then Oil and Mineral Producing Development Commission (OMPADEC) awarded the 13-story high-rise contract in June 1994, to Messrs Marshland Projects Nigeria Limited. The magnificent edifice, which stands out in the slump bunged Marine base in the City Local Government Area of Rivers State, started out for the sum of N4 billion.
Chief Albert K.Horsefall, the First Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), performed the groundbreaking ceremony. The project, which was in the works for 26 years suffered serious delays, financial frustrations, and technical challenges.
Before the appointment of Effiong Akwa as Interim Administrator under whose tenure the project was completed, it had lingered under about 16 Chief Executive Officers who varied the cost carried out several revisions, redesign, and amendments until it finally reached the N16 billion threshold.
Findings show that during its 26 years of existence, NDDC did not site industries in the Niger Delta, which is its sole mandate – to develop the oil-rich region; neither were hospitals built that could have catered for health emergencies like the COVID-19.
Piqued by the sad developments, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, berated previous administrations, which he said, preferred to pay N300 million yearly rent than finishing the complex and using that money to develop the region.
However, further probe on why building the Commission’s headquarters suffered this long delay, revealed that defaults in payments of accumulated interim payment certificates (IPCs) by OMPADEC led to Messrs. Marshland abandoning the site in March 1996. The project remained abandoned for 13 years until July 2009 when the then management decided to review the contract but re-awarded it to the same company.
Unfortunately, the company could not drive the project to completion, even with the review. The Commission was left stuck in a rented property along 167 Aba Road, which failed to meet the requirements of standard office accommodation.
Spurred to address the lingering accommodation challenge, a request was made to the federal government for the completion of the project. Following selective tendering, the Bureau for Public Procurement, BPP, gave approval for the project to be re-awarded to Messrs. Raycon Nigeria Limited and Messrs. Rodnab Nigeria Limited in 2016 at a cost of N16, 222,492,843.76.
However, the completion of the project was again stalled by non-payment of IPCs after 50 per cent of the sum had been paid. According to documents by the Public Affairs Unit of NDDC, that led to the contractors abandoning the site again in 2017.
With the emergence of the second term administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio visited the site in September 2019 and promised that he would end the bottlenecks that have stagnated the project.
The project resumed in earnest after the visit with the promise that no further bottlenecks or delays arising from any bureaucracy would affect it. Akpabio told journalists in Port Harcourt during a pre-inauguration inspection, that after his visit to the complex in 2019, he briefed the President and told him that he can make the building the focal point achievement in his effort to reposition NDDC.
He said, immediately, the President approved it, and work started as part of President Buhari’s commitment to repositioning the region.
The Project Manager, an architect, Clement Udie shortly after the Minister’s visit in 2019, pointed out that one of the critical areas that needed to be tackled to facilitate the pace of work was the payment of contractors who supplied equipment.
While the request received the needed attention at that moment, the project coordinator for the contractor, also an architect, Felix Darko, assured the NDDC that they were working according to set standards, stating that the contractors involved in the project were determined to complete the building by June 2020.
However, in March 2020, the main contractor said, the sequel to the coronavirus pandemic, they were unable to import some equipment to complete the project.
He noted that the complex suffered a setback on account of the ravaging novel COVID-19, which delayed the importation of essential components.
The then Acting Director of Projects, Cairo Ojougboh, accepted the excuse of the contractor’s inability to import equipment to round off the project at the stipulated deadline.
Consequently, March 31, 2020 deadline was abandoned. Agreeing to that, Ebiwene Bozimo, the Project Consultant, said though the site was saturated with men who worked round the clock, he regretted that the earlier deadline of March 2020 was no longer practicable due to circumstances beyond their control.
After the COVID -19 lockdowns, however, work resumed and as Akwa came in, he gave the contractors all the attention needed to increase the pace of work. This was what finally brought the 26-year-journey to a conclusion.
The complex, aside from the 13-story building, also housed another beautiful four-story meant for a canteen, a hospital, and a bank.
The 13 story features a basement parking lot; with office spaces for the upper floors. The site layout covers 39,116 sqm; the beautiful space serenaded with flowers can take a 500-vehicle capacity paved parking lot.
The President, while Commissioning the project virtually on March 11, commended the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio, for his steadfastness in ending many years of waste, and the attendant profligacy.
MEANWHILE, the South-South Governors who had earlier expressed reservation over the way the Federal Government was handling issues of the Commission, especially the refusal to inaugurate a Board and how that has affected development in the region shunned the Commissioning ceremony.
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Sen.Douye Diri (Bayelsa), Udom Emmanuel (Akwa-Ibom), and Benedict Ayade (Cross Rivers) were absent; only Governor Hope Uzodima (Imo State) was at the event and he assured the President that the nine governors under NDDC would continue to support his vision in developing the region.
Governor Wike later responded that the NDDC management did not seek the consent of the governors to know their convenient time before fixing the inauguration date. This further escalated war of words between the Governor and Akpabio as Wike asked the Minister to keep Rivers State out of his discussions, else, he would expose him.
Akwa, while speaking at the commissioning ceremony said, the new NDDC building announced the end of a difficult journey.
He recalled, that in the intervening years, the were 17 chief executive officers beginning from Professor Eric Opia in 1996 until his appointment as the Interim Administrator last year. He said it was imperative to appreciate President Buhari’s determination and policy in completing all abandoned projects in the region, especially the new Commission’s headquarters.
Speaking with The Guardian, a senior Citizen of Niger Delta, an Industrialist, Mrs. Emelia Akpan urged NDDC to cooperate with Niger Delta governors to make the region business-friendly.
She stressed the need for NDDC to collaborate with the governors in the region to build roads, encourage small-scale businesses, adding that everybody cannot work in companies and government offices.
She added: “There is a need to invest in agriculture and other ventures for which the region has a competitive advantage. There is high unemployment in the region, give attention to rural industrialization, address insecurity. People should not continue to come in the congested Port Harcourt city but those villages should also be industrialised, electricity and good roads should be provided to get the people engaged in rural communities.”
She added: “ Investors cannot come to a place where there are challenges of insecurity. There is a need to look at the skills and manpower, if we don’t have people with the required manpower and skill, it means people from other regions will come here and benefit from the industries. Let NDDC and our governor’s partner introduce people-oriented policies that will make sure that the people from the region benefit from development in the region. Government policies that are not favourable to them should be looked into and addressed”.
Similarly, Styvn Obodoekwe, the Zonal Director of Civil Liberty Organisations in the South-South, said the plan by the Federal Government to Channel the N300 million NNDC yearly rents to the development of the region is a welcome development but he prayed that the government makes real its promises.
According to Obodoekwe: “It is a good thing to hear that they want to channel the money used for rent to projects, I hope they keep to their words because, sometimes, they tell us one fantastic thing and do the different thing altogether”.
He said: “ The development of Niger Delta is something that troubles any right-thinking human being because this is the area where the bulk of the nation’s wealth comes from, yet there are slums everywhere. NDDC was supposed to be driving development, but corruption is affecting its development capacity. It’s not too late to start anyway, if they start now, it’s a welcome development.”
He however urged the Commission to focus on internal road developments, linking communities together, poverty alleviation, training and empowerment of youths and women.”
On his part, the President-General, Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC), Peter Igbifa, said for a commission vested with a lot of funds to do a project for 26 years was ridiculous.
He insisted that the major yearning of the people is to present the forensic audit report to the President and the inauguration of the NNDC board to enable stakeholders to come together to ensure that projects are implemented timely.
He said: “My task for the president is to hearken to the calls of the people in the region so that the issue of the Board doesn’t turn into crisis because if the people get tired, they may react.”
“If this Board comes on board, it will ensure that every of NDDC’s responsibilities is properly executed on time. Both physical projects and human capacity projects, we shall get involved to see that the monies that are being put in there, we see it working”.
“We are Niger Delta people, we should not be our own problem, and we want to see our region develop. The forensic audit cannot last forever, it’s already one year. Following the passion of Mr., President on the audit, they should pace it up, hurriedly get the report out and pass it over to Mr. President, let’s work like people who need results. Even the children born before the forensic audit started, are already starting schools today,” said the IYC President.
It is however hoped, that government would make real its promises by changing the sad narrative in the oil-rich Niger Delta Region and work towards poverty eradication, job creations, and empowerment.