Chiedu Ebie’s Challenge to Bring Progress to NDDC

By Basil Okoh

After all the bonhomie, backslapping and happily worded congratulatory messages, Chiedu Ebie should now be settling down at his working desk as chairman of NDDC. Success is celebrated in the public space but the sweat and work to achieve success is an arduous and lonely undertaking. And Ebie should be poring through the papers for the long, lonely and arduous work ahead.

His appointment as NDDC chairman should pay tribute to trust and long term friendship of James Ibori, his friend and mentor. Ibori has always been a man of conviviality because of whom as governor the word “amiable” became popular in Nigeria. He keeps a coterie of loyal friends from everywhere and every ethnicity as a matter of learned habit. Ibori’s appetite for big money has sometimes been so he can help out a friend in need. James Ibori may not be your friend if he cannot find a way to help you. So it is no surprise that he referenced Chiedu Ebie his long term friend, for this job.

Chiedu Ebie was a victim of treachery from Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa who fired him as SSG just for being a friend of James Ibori. At a point in his tenure as Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa went wonky, seeing snakes in every cluster of bush. So Ebie’s brilliant performance at a command post in his government became a threat to his overlordship.

On an average day, Okowa does not like to associate with brilliant minds. Brilliant minds menace and challenge his deeply provincial character. He is “Ekwueme” after all, a provincial potentate, so he wants always to be the sage among dunces. And Chiedu Ebie is a brilliant mind from a family background of savvy technocrats. There was bound to be a cataclysmic clash at some point, particularly being of Agbor ethnicity, a hated rival . So Okowa had to ease him out.

Ebie’s job at NDDC is well cut out for a technocrat like him. He grew up in a home where managing big institutions was in the normal course of his upbringing experience. Running big institutions offered challenges for the intellect which he saw his parents pass through in his entire young life. Big institutions also offered opportunities for self actualization.

His father Professor John Ebie was the Chief Medical Director of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital in Benin City. It was a burgeoning teaching hospital at that time and Professor Ebie had to grow it to the range of care, complexity and professionalism to win both academic and public respect. His mother is a nurse and well respected matron who a colleague said, “you don’t play the fool in her presence”.

Chiedu Ebie had an uncle, Mr. (He refused ever to be called Chief) Fortune Ebie who was one of the founding architects of modern Nigeria, literally speaking. Mr. Fortune Ebie was the Director of the Federal Housing Authority who planned and executed the building of what still today is the biggest Housing Estate in Nigeria, the FESTAC Housing Estate in Lagos, Nigeria. Fortune Ebie was the head of the FHA with Brigadier Olu Obasanjo as Minister of Works and Housing and delivered a housing estate that remains even after a half century, the pride of the black man. It was showcased during the First World And African Festival Of Arts And Culture (FESTAC) in 1977and it brought admiration to Nigeria from the rest of the world.

So Chiedu Ebie comes from a background of achievement in public service especially after his stint as Secretary to the State Government of Delta State. Success in his management of a big institution as the NDDC is our valid expectation and the challenges should not be daunting to him.

The NDDC may appear different because it is a much bigger arena and a regional authority as it carries developmental and interventionist responsibilities for an entire region historically deprived of its just dues. The NDDC is a federal government institution set up to atone for the federal sin of exploiting and polluting the Oil producing states almost to the death, seizing their wealth and giving them tokens in atonement. NDDC has over the years become a whore house of sorts, taking all men and accepting to be ravaged by pleasure seekers of all sorts and from everywhere.

Every working day at NDDC is a market day with people gathered round a big beehive, with contract papers and files flying everywhere. Everybody in the premises is pursuing a signature, either on the cheque or on the contract paper and in the midst of the general mayhem, huge sums get stolen or missing. The general mayhem and lack of order galls the decent but then no decent man is expected to withstand the dissonance in NDDC.

The NDDC has gained the management reputation which does no credit to the oil producing region of Nigeria. So Chiedu Ebie has a tall order to create order and decency at NDDC and remake it into an agency of planned systems and ordered processes. Ebie must implement a tectonic shift of attitudes and respect for processes and order in NDDC. A technocratic order must be infused into the institution before it can be expected to deliver on its mandate of intervening in the developing of the region.

There must be a multi-year plan as we used to have development plans in Nigeria and the board of the agency must insist on staying faithful to that multi-year plan. As it is presently, every strong politician comes to impose its will on NDDC. The political influence on the agency is so overwhelming that the NDDC does not have a regional development plan of it’s own. The same budgets are repeated and presented as new every year. This must be corrected and a serious budgeting and monitoring regime must be implemented for the NDDC to make any impact on development in the region.

To make a difference and enforce a new order, the new chairman of the NDDC must work on big ideas that deliver lasting impact on the Niger Delta and that will bring further speed to development in the entire region. There are challenges like Port development, agricultural programmes, power projects or investments in the development of local industries and services that should bring the sense of collective wellbeing in the region. These projects must have utility and value across the region. NDDC must no longer allow itself to be condemned to working on every village road that reappears in its budgets every year.

Mr. Chiedu Ebie must also bring technology to bear on his work at NDDC. The reason for the gross abuse of its contracting and payment system is the absence of computerization and automation of these processes. He should not be naïve not to know that there are powerful forces aligned to stall these processes and make sure that computerization and fidelity does not work.

The shamefully disorganized and abused NDDC must be made to work again. It will be a tribute to his willpower and technocratic skills to ensure that automation of processes and orderliness is built into the establishment and work of the NDDC and help alleviate the suffering in the oil producing region.

*Basil Okoh writes from Delta State, South-south, Nigeria