The struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria from all forms of socioeconomic shackles that impede infrastructural development, environmental justice and social mobility has been on for years, but recently gained momentum.
Essentially, one leadership lesson from the present disposition in the region, which flows from, and largely consist of positive efforts by Mr. Chiedu Ebie-led governing board and management of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and significantly manifest in the consolidated peace and unity that envelopes the region and its people, is that the only difference between good and bad leaders lies in the number of obstacles such leaders remove from, or place on the path of their respective followers.

Interestingly too, going by comments from stakeholders as regards the sudden shift from excuses that have produced monuments of nothingness which is used to characterize the agency, to a season of resuscitation and strategic rejuvenation of the region by the agency’s new governing board and management, it has again confirmed that similar to war, leadership could be ‘Yin and Yang’ (meaning hot and cold), as used by Sun Tzu, a Chinese author and war lord, in his masterpiece, ‘Art of War’ a book that documented the Chinese military treaties dating from the late Spring and autumn period (roughly 5th Century BC).

Interpretatively, ‘Yin and Yang” are guiding laws in warfare, just as they are in all other aspects of life. The changing dynamic of the battlefield creates an ever-shifting flux of advantage and disadvantage, opportunity and threat for the wise. Sun shows that for each outcome there is an opposite outcome, and for every advantage, there is a disadvantage.

What this, in a nutshell, emphasizes is that leadership is the architect of the fate of man. Leadership well understood has the capacity to prime, position and create a mood in which Niger Deltans become keen to acquire skills and discipline of developed nations while preventing the region from going through the pang of underdevelopment.But when leadership fails in this role, the region and nation by extension can never hope to raise the standard of living of the people or achieve the hoped infrastructural development.
Thankfully, there are hopeful signs!
Recent reports abundantly find a clear link between people-focused projects/programmes and the present NDDC governing board and management.

Out of so many examples supporting the above assertion is the recent media report that leaders of ethnic nationalities, professional bodies, and critical stakeholders from the Niger Delta region recently applauded the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), for its massive electrification of rural communities through the Light Up the Niger Delta project.

The national chairman of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Senator Emmanuel Ibok-Essien, gave the plaudits when he led leaders of various groups to meet with the NDDC management team at the commission’s headquarters in Port Harcourt.

In an address read on behalf of the visiting delegation, Senator Ibok-Essien reportedly said that the leaders were delighted by the efforts of the NDDC to light up communities across the Niger Delta states, noting that it would help in fighting criminality in the region.

The leaders said: “The rural electrification projects have not only enhanced the aesthetics of these areas but also contributed to reducing nocturnal security challenges. We encourage the Commission to extend this initiative to all communities and ensure the training of local manpower for the effective maintenance of these facilities.

“We also appreciate the Commission’s efforts in road construction and rehabilitation, as well as human resources development through educational scholarships, women and youth development programmes, vocational and skills acquisition initiatives.”

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“We are glad to note the successes you have recorded, such as your Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Limited, NLNG, on shared aspirations and on corporate governance with KPMG. We do hope to see that these interactions and engagements will generate positive fruits of development soonest.” The visiting stakeholders concluded.

For me, one heartening development in this whole episode is that the same NDDC, that a few years ago ‘enjoyed’ more burden than goodwill and received devastating reputational blows than applause, is today celebrated.

Also, occasioned by the frustration from this previously not too impressive performance, many of its stakeholders and Developmental Professionals some years ago, argued that the agency does not have the capacity and what it takes to develop the Niger Delta region. This group predicated their argument on the fact that in the political history of Nigeria, development or regulatory agencies have often failed to achieve their mandate because of abuse of power and lack of democratic accountability.
Aside from being described as a mere political configuration set by the Federal Government to ease the tension in the area, others insisted that the NDDC Act should have created provisions that empower ordinary residents of the communities where the agency embarked on development work to request for disclosure of financial information about the project.

While noting that the Act should not have left consultation with community leaders a matter of disposition of NDDC officers, the group stressed that NDDC Act stipulates a varied functions for the governing board, including the responsibility to formulate policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta and to conceive and implement programmes and projects aimed at the sustainable economic and social development of the region but failed to include the communities in anyway in the decision making process.

Comparatively, when one juxtaposes these issues/complaints and other related development impasse experienced in the region years ago, with the current peace and cordial relationship being experienced in the region, one thing stands out; they (complaints) were all products of short changed expectations and dashed hopes.

Viewed broadly, aside from the new awareness that those hitherto worries and argument have today ended up in the dustbin of history with all critical stakeholders morphed from complaint to applaud and harmony, as things are positively looking up in the region under the incumbent NDDC leadership, one useful lesson we must not allow to go with political winds is that ‘region or nation fails not necessarily because of its geographical location or lack of mineral resource but primarily because leaders in charge make decisions that engineers poverty-most particularly as everything starts and end with leadership’.
To the agency’s credit, two factors in my view, are presently working in favour of the present board and management.

First, is their sincere recognition that in the road of survival and extinction, leadership goes a long way to signify that one will either be victorious or defeated. The second is closely related to the first and elaborates the governing board’s understanding that public order, economic and social programmes and prosperity is not the natural order of things but depends on the ceaseless efforts and attention from effective government.

This particular fact, in my view, should be another leadership lesson for all as the nation Nigeria continues its quest to build a Nigeria where peace, unity and coordinated development shall reign supreme.
Utomi is the programme coordinator (media and public policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos