By Valentine Obienyem
The journey to Rome was pleasant and joyous: a Nigerian and the Bishop of Ekwulobia, Most Rev. Dr. Peter Okpaleke was among the 20 Cardinals so-created by Pope Francis. It was really a glorious interlude for a country where news items are subsumed in the shocking – kidnapping, beheading, rape and rapine. There is no vocabulary of decadence that is not accommodated by our dear country.
Indeed, one of those afore-mentioned shocking news was the rejection ten years ago (7th December, 2012) by Ahiara Diocese of Bishop Okpaleke’s appointment as their Bishop and his prevention from canonical possession of the Diocese. This led to his resignation on 19th February, 2018.
At a point, when seen through the prisms of the world, he was considered as the most tortured Bishop in Nigeria, he did not appear so, but continued to pursue his episcopate. When he was eventually appointed a Cardinal, joy was universal. It appears to be the Pope’s unique method of lifting one up as an example of Christian living, apostolic patience and deep humility.
It is by no means easy to appoint a Cardinal. During the 1563 Ecumenical Council of Trent, Pope Pius IV exposed to us the minds of Popes when appointing Cardinals. His words:”Nothing is more necessary to the Church of God than that the Holy Roman Pontiff apply that solicitude which by the duty of his office he owes the universal Church in a very special way by associating with himself as cardinals the most select persons only, and appoint to each church most eminently upright and competent shepherds; and this the more so, because our Lord Jesus Christ will require at his hands the blood of the sheep of Christ that perish through the evil government of shepherds who are negligent and forgetful of their office”. Cardinal Okpaleke was appointed due to the plenitude of Apostolic virtues.
The fore-going explains why over 300 Nigerians from across the Federation attended the Consistory at which Opkaleke received the Red Hat.
The organisation of the event was itself superb. Professor Fr. Anthony Chiegboka, Fr. Christian Umeojinaka, Fr. Lawrence Nwankwo, Fr. Michael Muonwe, Fr. Nicolas Abazie, among other priests were at their best. Even in a hurriedly written piece, my I recognize the presence of Fr. Emmanuel Udechukwu. Before other priests I did not mention their names including some of my old teachers will start raising objections, May I inform them that I served Fr. Emmanuel Udechukwu at mass in the early eighties. He in fact took me to the seminary for registrations at Akpu.
We must also respectfully appreciate the presence of our Governor, Prof. Charles Soludo. His actions at the event yet again mirrored his good wishes for the state. In fraternal spirit, he joined us at masses and shared our happiness as we celebrated Fr. Alphonsus Ezeoke at 60.
Many other distinguished Anambrarians and Nigerians were also in Rome, to mention everybody would empty the pen, but we remember, especially the presence of two traditional rulers the Cardinal specially recognized: Igwe Ohazulume of Amesi, Eze P. C Iwu from Ahiara and his own Igwe, Igwe Raphael Okpaleke.
Thanks to the organisers, some of who I had mentioned for maximizing the trip. Rather than pay millions of Naira to partake in the Consistory only, they artfully turned it into a pilgrimage. Thus, the opportunity was taken to visit the historic and religious sites of Rome. Some of us even sallied forth beyond Rome. I read what Fr. Augustine Nnadi wrote about the visit to his lover – St. Maria Goretti. Those of us in love with classics, went as far as Naples, where I visited the ruins of Pompeii, a UNESCO heritage site, as well as Mt. Vesuvius, which erupted in AD 79 and with the molten magma that escaped its confines, buried the city of Pompeii that was later excavated. In spite being an active volcano, why does the Italian Government still allow people to live within the vicinity of that catastrophe?
However, since our visit was primarily about the Cardinalet, let us do a little exposition for fuller understanding and appreciation of the lofty position our brother has been elevated to, being effectively the Prince of the Church.
Lend your ears to experts in Church history they would tell us that time was when even laymen were appointed Cardinals. They would tell us about so many changes that institution had undergone, with different Popes promulgating various bulls to effect those changes. An example was In 1059, when through the bull entitled “In Nomine Domini”, Pope Nicholas XII granted Cardinals the right to elect new Popes. We have even seen Popes exercising their powers to set aside Church Laws by appointing more Cardinals than prescribed.
The point to note here is that the Sacred College, also called the College of Cardinals, is very important in the lives of Popes. This body acts as advisers to the Pope. He, in the spirit of apostleship, asks their advice whenever needed.
We have three classes of Cardinals, namely: Cardinal Deacons, Cardinal Priests and Cardinal Bishops. Cardinal Deacons from where Francis Cardinal Arinze started, are either officials of Roman Curia or priests who at over 80 years are no longer qualified for the Conclave. Cardinal priests, which are the designations of other Nigerian Cardinals like our own Okpaleke, are mostly Diocesan bishops though some are also Curia Cardinals. Cardinal Bishops which Francis Cardinal Arinze eventually became are the highest-ranking cardinals who were appointed titular Bishops of one of what is called Suburbicarian Sees as in that of Velletri-Segni for Arinze.
The Pope meets the Cardinals officially in the consistories. Consistories could be essentially ordinary or extra ordinary even if it is secret, semi-secret or public.
It is at secret consistories that new Cardinals are named; and the Pope gives them their sapphire rings as a symbol of their offices. If a Cardinal comes from a far country, the Pope assigns him an honorary position as the head of a diocese in Italy. Okpaleke is the Cardinal priest of Santi Martiri dell’ Uganda a Poggioreale Ameno, with which he would maintain a titular relationship. At secret consistories, the Pope creates Cardinal Camerlengo, that is, Chancellor of the Catholic Church. Assisted by the Vice-Camerlengo, they head the office known as the Apostolic Camera. The Camerlengo’s function is limited to the period of “Sede Vacante”, when he expectedly presents the state of the finances of the Papacy to the College of Cardinals, as they gather for the Conclave.
In semi-public consistories, the Pope, Cardinals and Bishops meet. This consistory discusses candidates for beatification and canonization. It took place on the 27th, immediately after the reception of red hats by the new princes.
It is pertinent to note here that Popes sometimes appoint Cardinals “in Pectore”; that is secretly to avoid his being victimized in places the Church is still under persecution. If not named publicly, his position expires with the death of the Pope, otherwise he takes position based on when he was appointed.
The major function of the College of Cardinals is the election of a new Pope. This was done by only Cardinal Bishops until 1179, when the Third Lateran Council extended it to the entire body of Cardinals.
When a Pope dies, a member of the College must verify his death. He touches the forehead of the Pope thrice with a silver mallet and calls him by his baptismal name. He then announces that “the Pope is truly dead”. In the interim, the Sacred College takes over his functions.
During the election of a new Pope, the College of Cardinals is known as “The Conclave”. While in the conclave, the Cardinals severe any relationship with the outside world. On the day of the election, mass of the Holy Ghost is celebrated for guidance in decision-making. The actual voting takes place in the Sistine Chapel (erected in the Palace of the Vatican by Pope Sixtus IV in 1473). Some of us had the privilege of visiting the Chapel while in Rome.
The Conclave begins between the 15th and 18th day after the death of a Pope. After voting, if a new Pope is not elected, the scrutinies (ballots) are burnt with a mixture of straw) to produce black smoke. When eventually a Pope is elected, the straw is burnt alone to produce white smoke. Then, outsiders will shout “Viva il Papa” (“Long Live the Pope”). The Cardinals will then pay their first homage to the Pope-Elect. The senior Cardinal Deacon (Protodeacon) will then step out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Church and announce to the people in Latin: “Habemus Papam” (“We have a Pope”). The Pope makes his first appearance and gives his blessing: “Urbi et Orbi” (to the City and to the World”).
The Pope-Elect chooses a day and a place for his installation – they have often chosen St. Peter’s Church. On that day, the Pope is carried on a portable throne in a procession from the Vatican to Saint Peter. The Protodeacon places the “Pallium” on the new Pope and after the mass, places a three-tiered crown (Tiara) on the Pope’s head. He then gives his blessing. The Cardinals will pay a second homage.
However, in 1978, Pope Paul I eliminated many of these traditional ceremonies. He walked in the procession and chose to have a pallium placed over his shoulders, symbolizing his pastoral responsibilities as the head of the Church. Later, Pope John Paul II and other Popes followed the Pauline example.
The foregoing partly represents the operation of the papacy, so wonderfully organized. In fact, if art were the organization of government, the Papacy is the most imposing master-piece in history.
This does not mean that the papacy is perfect. It has its own troubles like other institutions manned by the sons of Adam. We have had anti-Popes, Avignon Papacy, Popes who were epitomes of moral degeneracy amidst many achievements. A parody book was written by Erasmus – the famous man regarded as having laid the reformation egg that Martin Luther eventually hatched – about a Pope, Julius II who, when he got to Heaven was prevented by St. Peter from entrance on account of his poor representation. Erasmus said he took the name Julius II not in honour of Julius I, but in emulation of Julius Caesar. In his book, “The Prince”, Machiavelli held him up as an ideal Prince.
It was some of the troubles of the Papacy that led to the erection of its high wall, as well as produced the Concordant and Lateran Treaty.
Beyond witnessing on the 27th of August, 2022 with Cardinals Arinze, Onaiyekan , other bishops, priests and seminarians, the reception of the Red Hat by Peter Cardinal Okpaleke, we also explored the spiritual, political and artistic riches of Rome. It was another opportunity to observe how nations prepare themselves for greatness with whatever is available to them. Italians like the people of Isreal, are making full use of their rich historical past by packaging them in tourism through which they make billions of Dollars annually. Has Nigeria as a country tried to harness things unique to her?
As we traversed Rome, we observed some key elements of the city. Determined that the Roman origin would not be outshone by rival lores, our guide told us how two twins, Remus and Romulus – half-history, half-myth, born at Castel Gandolfo by the mystery of history – came to Rome and established a city there.
The tale resonated when we visited the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, overlooking the beautiful and volcanic Lake Alban of 200 metres deep. For me, it was face-to-face with history having heard about Castel Gandolfo from our then Spiritual Director, the saintly Fr. Paul Nwaelom in the eighties. The scenic beauty of the lake tempts even those that do not know how to swim to jump into it. It has beautiful and attractive beaches. In Nigeria, such lakes would be centres of sacrifice to known and unknown gods!
At Castel Gandolfo we saw the old Church of St. Thomas of Villanova. Being on a Sunday, mass was going on. Our guide explained that the village is inhabited by 500 people and had, since 17th Century been used by the Popes until Pope Francis, who only visited the castle twice, turned it into a museum. This was how they stopped the customary complex and mystifying ceremony of installation of a new a Pope. Why strip the Church of little mysteries that clothe her with spiritual mystiques?
At Castel Gandolfo, we raised the issue of how meticulous Italians try to preserve their old landmarks. For Fr. John Umeojiakor that is the soul of tourism. He is pained, like most of us how Nigerians destroy old memories for no cogent reasons. Because Fr. Umeojiakor lived in Austria for a long time, he is conversant with conservation and restoration. Let him tell us his experience: “When I wanted to renovate the Church I shepherded, I had to, according to the law, inform the ‘Denkeschutz’. You do such subject to their approval which flows from one’s commitment to use a certified restorer for the renovation”. In Nigeria, we have seen priests demolish Churches that would have today become tourist attractions for bigger, unneeded Churches.
From Castel Gandolfo we visited the town of Fracasti which our all-knowing guide described as the most popular town in Alban Hills known for wine and olive oil. Relating the true position of things at home, one of us said that in Italy, they use olive oil to cook, while in Nigeria, we use it for “casting and binding” the ubiquitous Satan. Fracasti hosts one of the Suburbicarian dioceses within the Cathedral of St. Peter. We also saw the Villa of Tusculum which now hosts reception for events.
On the 2nd day after the consistory, we took off to the Catacomb of Domitilla. Catacombs are part of the history of Christianity and remind us of what early Christians suffered and how they propagated and held on to their faith regardless.
Recall that history which knows everything, told us that the nascent Christianity was troubled on many fronts, especially from Roman Emperors. Being pagans, they tried to exterminate Christians at all cost. It was so intense that in AD 67, Emperor Nero killed St. Peter and St. Paul. When Rome burnt (AD 64-65), Nero accused and persecuted Christians. In AD 96, Emperor Domitan tried to surpass the records of Nero by his brutal killing of Christians, some by brutal cudgeling. Emperor Diocletian in AD 303, 23rd February, published a general edict ordering the destruction of Christian Churches and writings and reduced Christians to slave status. The list of hostile acts, if one wishes, could go on ad-infinitum
The Catacomb of Domitilla was one of the places Christians secretly worshipped and buried their dead. It is the only Catacomb in Rome which has an underground Basilica dedicated to the Holy Martyrs, Nereo and Achilleo. There, we celebrated mass led by Fr. Anthony Chiegboka.
In spite of a brief relapse during the Emperorship of Julian nick-named the apostate, a turning point for Christians was, however, recorded in AD 314. With the help of his mother, St. Helena, Pope Sylvester (314-325) converted Constantine to Christianity. As a postscript, he initiated the transformation of pagan Rome into a Christian state. Constantine stopped the crucifixion and breaking of legs in the Roman Empire (AD 315); and declined to celebrate the “Ludi Saeculares” at Rome because of their pagan association (AD 314). Constantine exempted the clergy of Roman Empire from taxation (AD 315; recognized the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts (AD 318); forbade magic (AD 320); and prohibited heretical gatherings and divorce (AD 331). The culminating act of his conversion was the building of the first St. Peter’s Basilica above the crypt (tomb) of St. Peter in 325. The modern St. Peter’s Basilica was, however, started in 1506 by Pope Julius II and dedicated in 1626 by Pope Urban VIII. Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667) was to erect the magnificent colonnade of the plaza at St. Peter’s.
The tour of St. Peter really proved it as the biggest Church in the world. The inside is very expansive and magnificent. It is the burial site of over 100 persons, including Popes and notable individuals.
St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the papal Basilicas and among the four major Basilicas of Rome. The other Major Basilicas (all of which are also Papal Basilicas) are the Basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls.
We were exposed to the fact that the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran is highest in rank above St. Peter’s which is not actually a Cathedral. St. John Lateran is the seat of the Pope as the Bishop of Rome. The Pope holds most of the events that ordinarily should take place there at St. Peter’s because of its location – the Vatican. However, the other major basilicas and important buildings such as the Castel Gandolfo enjoy extra-territorial status.
Everywhere we went in Rome, we were faced with classical history, especially for those of us that studied with the “A New Approach to Latin”. Talk about the Colosseum, the Forum, Trajan Column, the Tiber as central to Rome as Seine to Paris, Arcs of Constantine, it was a worthwhile experience.
With the knowledge of classics, one easily noticed that some of the streets in Rome were named after famous people in Roman history, such as Aurelius, the philosopher-Emperor, and Gracchi, among others. I did not see the names of those who, in spite fighting to re-barbarise Rome like Julian, being conferred with such honour like in our clime, where the devil’s incarnates even achieve post-humous honour through the strength of the Naira.
Throughout our stay in Rome, most of us lamented the state of Nigeria, how a chasm exists between the development in Italy and our country. Some even made it a point of prayer that Mr. Peter Obi who was also in Rome should succeed as President and start building Nigeria as other statesmen do for their countries. “Imagine, since we arrived, I have not heard any driver sound the horn”, one of us observed. He was also marvelled at how vehicle drivers respect Pedestals.
A town of endless sounding of the bells, we do not know what some of those bells represent. As the tourism capital of Italy, one could see how concerned the Italians are about Rome. I noticed no black man drives taxi in Rome!
Well-planned and very neat, one observed the mature taste of Italians. The music in their taxis are always calm and mellifluous, without any tinge of “ayaga yaga”. The are heavy smokers and some of them, tongue in cheek, appear to have learnt smoking before weaning. Jealous and over protective of their women, they are also proud of their country and appear not to be interested in knowing about other countries. They remind us of a Moroccan traveller, who, after returning from a trip to Europe, exclaimed “ What a comfort to return to civilization.”
Rome is about developing one’s strong points. They have so much developed tourism by realizing that it is its own unique investment. Even their tour guides are properly trained such that they understand the import of their trade. Beyond provision of employment, they talk about their country with cheeks bursting with pride.
All in all, the journey to Rome was fulfilling and humbling. Some of us who attended the reception at Urban University were moved to tears when Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor spoke of the Cardinal as his son and assured him of his continued support and goodwill. Thought the highest ranking active prelate in Nigeria today, the Cardinal spoke at the occasion, and stylishly answered the most perplexing question that before then left enquirers scratching their heads in perplexity when he said “Archbishop Valerian Okeke remains my Metropolitan.” And the Metropolitan assured him of the support from Nigerian Bishops. Here in remembered St. Paul’s “ecce quam bonum, et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum.”
At this juncture, we ask: what lessons do we learn from the trip to Rome? Like the wise one said, education comes one-fourth from school, one-fourth from others, one-fourth from ourselves and one-fourth from travel. As we return to Nigeria, may those of us privileged to ascend positions of leadership learn positive lessons from the trip.
What else, however lengthy, this piece would not capture the impressive edifice of Catholicism nor say all that needed to be said. Therefore, a weary writer may sympathize with Tai T’ung, who in the thirteenth century issued his “History of Chinese Writing” with this words: “were I to await perfection, my book would never be finished”.
Minister Momoh and Ogbuku: Guardians of NDDC’s Integrity
By John Mayaki
The urgent need for national attention to address the absence of development and the decay of infrastructure in the oil-rich Niger Delta region cannot be overstated. This is precisely why the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was established with the crucial mission of driving progress and development in the area. However, over time, this agency has seemingly lost credibility.
Now, two prominent figures have stepped forward as staunch defenders of the agency’s integrity. Hon. Engr. Abubakar Momoh, the Minister of Niger Delta Development, and Dr. Samuel Ogbuku, the Managing Director of the NDDC, have taken on the mantle of guardians, determined to combat the perception of a corruption-ridden commission.
These two leaders, with their unwavering commitment and resolute spirit, have accepted the challenge to dispel any notion of the NDDC as a cesspool of corruption. In the spotlight, they understand the critical importance of upholding transparency, accountability, and ethical conduct within the organization.
Minister Abubakar Momoh, who heads the ministry overseeing the NDDC, has declared an end to the era of tolerating corruption within the commission. He said the era before the Samuel Ogbuku’s leadership of the NDDC, it is understandable. His pledge to depart from the shadows of malfeasance and embrace transparency is not mere rhetoric but a resounding call to action. He stands ready to tread where others might fear to step, and his determination to restore the NDDC’s tarnished image remains unwavering.
The voice of the Minister resonates with unwavering commitment. With steadfast determination, he stands as a guardian, shielding the integrity of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) from the scourge of corruption.
Having traversed the landscapes of Rivers and Bayelsa States and witnessed the yet-to-be completed and deteriorating state of the East West Road firsthand, Minister Momoh’s heart resonates with a call to action. The dire state of vital infrastructure serves as a poignant reminder of the pressing needs of the Niger Delta region. His commitment to champion the realization of this road project underscores its pivotal role as a catalyst for regional development.
The renaming of the agency, transitioning from “Niger Delta Affairs” to “Niger Delta Development,” carries profound significance. It signals a shift in focus, from mundane administrative affairs to the pursuit of genuine development by President Bola Tinubu. This transformation aligns with the evolving mission of the NDDC and signifies a commitment to bring about meaningful change.
The minister’s assurance that the NDDC will undergo a transformation under his leadership typifies a man who embodies hope for a brighter future in the Niger Delta. His words reverberate through the annals of policy-making, promising an era marked by accountability, progress, and prosperity for a region that has long yearned for change.
As the minister’s unwavering resolve takes root, it symbolizes the enduring spirit of leadership and transformation in the pursuit of a better future for the Niger Delta and its people. His words offer a glimpse into the potential for a region once plagued by corruption to rise anew, guided by the spirit of integrity and development.
The Minister is not alone in this resolve – Dr. Samuel Ogbuku, as the Managing Director, also reinforces this commitment. His sagacious counsel reminds all stakeholders of the importance of refraining from casting doubt on the institution he leads. He understands that in today’s global landscape, transparency and credibility are the bedrock of successful collaborations. Doubt, whether founded or unfounded, can tarnish the NDDC’s reputation and hinder its ability to deliver on its promises.
Samuel Ogbuku, a prominent figure in the intricate landscape of Niger Delta politics, stepped into the spotlight with his appointment as the CEO of the Commission. Hailing from Bayelsa State, his ascent to a leadership role within the NDDC mirrors the complex dynamics of power and influence.
Ogbuku’s appointment occurred during the tenure of former President Muhammadu Buhari in December 2022. However, as political tides shifted and President Bola Ahmed Tinubu assumed office, the NDDC board faced dissolution. In an unexpected turn of events, Ogbuku was reappointed to serve his full term, a decision that elicited diverse reactions across the political spectrum.
While some advocated for his removal to accommodate loyalists of the new president, Ogbuku’s continued leadership garnered support from influential quarters. Rivers State Governor, Sir, Siminalayi Fubara, and Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State, in particular, commended President Tinubu for this reappointment. Diri’s endorsement underscored Ogbuku’s significance as an “illustrious son” of the Niger Delta region, indicating that his leadership was perceived as beneficial for addressing the region’s challenges.
Ogbuku’s narrative serves as a compelling illustration of the intricacies and shifting dynamics of political appointments, as well as the delicate equilibrium of regional interests. In this ever-evolving landscape, his tenure as CEO of the NDDC stands as a testament to the complexities of governance in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region.
Ogbuku, the man who imparts sagacious advice, wants people to refrain from casting doubt on the institution he leads. His words carry the weight of wisdom, for they illuminate a fundamental truth in the sphere of public service and international cooperation.
In our modern global landscape, transparency and credibility have become the cornerstones of successful collaborations. The NDDC, entrusted with the formidable mission of propelling progress and development in the Niger Delta region, cannot afford to bear the stain of skepticism or uncertainty. Aspersions, whether founded or baseless, cast upon it can reverberate through the corridors of perception, tarnishing its reputation.
The significance of preserving an untarnished image for institutions like the NDDC cannot be overstated. In an interconnected world where partnerships with international organizations, governments, and donors play a pivotal role in shaping regional development, credibility emerges as the most valuable asset. Skepticism can discourage potential allies, sowing seeds of doubt about the NDDC’s ability to deliver on its commitments.
Dr. Ogbuku’s counsel serves as a poignant reminder that nurturing trust and confidence in the NDDC’s operations is not solely an internal concern but a prerequisite for attracting the support and collaboration essential for fulfilling its ambitious goals. The Niger Delta region, with its distinct challenges and opportunities, necessitates a robust, esteemed, and trusted institution to steer its transformation.
In essence, Ogbuku’s words resound as an appeal for unity of purpose and an unwavering commitment to transparency. They underscore the profound interconnection between perception and reality, emphasizing that building a positive reputation stands as an indispensable facet of the N DDC’s mandate. As it endeavors to unlock the region’s potential and enhance the well-being of its people, the NDDC’s image assumes the role of a guiding beacon, lighting the path toward fruitful partnerships and sustainable development.
Together, Minister Abubakar Momoh and Dr. Samuel Ogbuku embody the spirit of guardianship and accountability within the NDDC. Their actions and words echo a profound truth: safeguarding the integrity of the interventionist agency is not just a matter of internal concern but a prerequisite for attracting the support and collaboration necessary for achieving the ambitious goals set forth for the Niger Delta region.
In this shared endeavor, they exemplify leadership’s resilience and the enduring commitment to a brighter future for the Niger Delta and its people. They illuminate a path forward, where the NDDC’s image serves as a beacon, guiding the way toward fruitful collaborations, sustainable development, and an agency free from the shadows of corruption.
Ogbuku, NDDC and the journey ahead
By Chijioke Amu-Nnadi
The appointment by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Dr. Samuel Ogbuku, the managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, to a fresh term in the newly announced governing board of the interventionist agency offers a few important lessons on how to manage opportunity and promise.
Appointed first in January, 2023, by the outgone administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, Ogbuku, who as the managing director served with the former chairman, Mrs. Lauretta Onochie, the former executive directors of projects and finance and administration, Mr. Charles Ogunmola and Major General Charles Airhiavbere (rtd.), respectively, as well as a slew of other members in the old board, established a management style of technocratic governance, inclusiveness and openness that has endeared him to Niger Delta stakeholders and the Commission’s staff alike.
The announcement of his name to his old position, for a fresh tenure, was indeed greeted by affirmation and celebration across the region and along the corridors of an agency that has, over the years, yearned for a leadership that is committed to the efficient and effective discharge of its mandate to facilitate regional development. Having been accused repeatedly over the years of failing to rise to the call of their duty to serve their own people, the Commission’s staff, it has been reported, has thrown their collective weight behind Ogbuku’s drive to build a stronger workforce and a more efficient organization.
For someone whose first sojourn can best be described as brief, the spontaneous outburst of approval may have come as a surprise to many. But there must be many more who understand his commitment to excellence, and to delivering on his assignment to the NDDC and the Niger Delta. But the question to ask would be: how did Samuel Ogbuku earn the confidence of the new President, as well as the plaudits and admiration of the people of the Niger Delta, whose best interest he serves?
The answer is easily unveiled in the lessons his time as managing director of a Commission, which has been heavily criticised in the past for poor delivery on its opportunities and promises. The first May easily be deduced from his history, pursuits and antecedents. And is his vision and passion for a Niger Delta region whose natural wealth makes its lands and people prosperous and peaceful.
As an activist in the quest for a better Niger Delta that meets the long-standing needs of the people and satisfies their expectations, Ogbuku has continued to identify with the challenges of regional development and the difficult living conditions of Niger Deltans. The Niger Delta region, which produces the bulk of Nigeria’s wealth, has long been known for the unfortunate paradox of widespread poverty, high unemployment, poor infrastructure, embattled landscape and coastal areas, as well as poor social services, poor skills base and youth restiveness. In the past few decades, Ogbuku has been an important part of the intellectual agitation that continues to call attention on what needs to be done to develop the region, as well as positively impact the people.
His emergence, therefore, as the managing director of an agency whose core mandate is to facilitate rapid, even and sustainable development in the region, must have come as the needed platform, and impetus, to help him transform some of his ideas and vision, part of which helped earn him a PhD in political and administrative studies, as well as the lessons learnt in advocating for a better Niger Delta, into reality.
As the managing director of the NDDC, Ogbuku has spearheaded a number of landmark changes, new ideas, renewed enthusiasm and accomplishments. While working to strengthen institutional structures and processes within the Commission, he is working to improve due process, financial discipline and transparency. He is working to improve the implementation of projects and programmes, so that they can adequately serve the needs of the people for longer, more sustained periods. And he is improving staff morale by addressing salient issues of commitment to professional conduct of an efficient workforce.
In instituting the public private partnership (PPP) model for the Commission, for which several engagements within and outside the country has already been organised, Ogbuku was reported to have said: “In the 22 years since its establishment, the NDDC has not achieved this mandate, despite what may be described as its best efforts. While the Commission developed strategies, as well as facilitated a regional master plan meant to tackle existent challenges, the core of those challenges remain. While the master plan, which aggregated the vision and expectations of the people into a roadmap, offered lofty prescriptions, it was largely ignored by most stakeholders. The expected buy-in did not happen, even though the plan was launched to much fanfare on March 27, 2007, by then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
“The years between its launch and expiry witnessed many setbacks to the mandate of building the Niger Delta into the region of our shared dream. Besides the failure by stakeholders to own the Niger Delta regional Master Plan, inadequate funding, political interference, leadership instability, delays in passage of the Commission’s budgets, as well as institutional lapses created, by 2019, a Commission embroiled in its own identity and statutory crisis. Consequently, over the years, the Niger Delta witnessed a rise in uncompleted, or poorly executed projects, while the Commission buckled under the weight of debts and financial exposure.
“The inauguration of the board, on January 4, 2023, therefore, is seen as part of government’s efforts to reposition the NDDC to operate optimally, effectively and professionally. We believe that (we have) been mandated to follow the trajectory of institutional reforms initiated by (the forensic) audit. We are committed to reordering and strengthening what has been initiated by government, it has become imperative for us to, indeed, ensure that there is a paradigm shift in the way the Commission conducts its business. And be committed to it.
“While the Commission has made some visible impact over the years, a lot still has to be done. To achieve this object, therefore, the current board is unfolding a new initiative for sustainable development. Our “Rewind to Rebirth” is a strategic initiative designed to recalibrate our engagement with the Niger Delta and the Commission’s overall intervention implementation plan. Embedded in this initiative include exploring more avenues for funding, as well as opportunities for collaboration and investment in the Niger Delta region.
“It is public knowledge that inadequate funding ranks very high among the numerous challenges of the Commission. Against this backdrop, the current Governing Board and management is promoting the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, in order to provide an alternative source for key development projects and programmes. This initiative aligns with the NDDC mandate, as well as the sustainable development goals 17, which focuses on partnerships.
“The NDDC-PPP summit was conceived as a strategic stakeholder meeting to launch the NDDC PPP initiative. It is designed to communicate a new phase for the Commission that will create a gateway of opportunities for foreign and local investors, captains of industry and multilateral agencies. Working together, we will build a new Niger Delta that fulfills the mandate of NDDC, of a region that is indeed socially stable, economically prosperous, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.
“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 making a difference in the Niger Delta, to actually making 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 become transparent in ways that build confidence among our partners and stakeholders. We must be more mindful in the allocation of funds to projects and programmes, and remove all areas of waste.
“Ultimately, it is our belief that this new initiative will help build needed consensus among partners and across the Niger Delta, to ensure that we can, together, truly implement visible projects and programmes with far-reaching impact in our communities, in our shared and unwavering commitment to rebuilding the Niger Delta, and bequeathing to ourselves and our future a region of which we all can be proud.”
As part of his engagements, Ogbuku has given life again to the Partners for Sustainable Development (PSD) Forum. Only recently, at a budget harmonisation and reconstruction conference in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, he brought together a number of important stakeholders involved in regional development efforts, in order to collaborate in delivering quality projects and programmes for the region, at considerably reduced cost. He has rebuilt the relationship between the NDDC and relevant institutions and is creating a new Commission that is better equipped to deliver on its mandate.
The people have noticed. Governments in the region have noticed, as well as the National Assembly, the OICs and the diplomatic corps representing international development agencies. But, more importantly, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has obviously noticed, by reappointing him to “continue fashioning a veritable path to ensuring an NDDC that delivers on the president’s Agenda of Hope,” by helping to restore hope to the region and its people. That is the journey ahead.
100 days in office: Mbah’s audacious restoration of hope in Enugu State
By Prince Ejeh Josh
Over the past 100 days in Enugu State since Peter Mbah took the oath of office as the Executive Governor of the state, the people of the state, and by extension, interacting people within the global sphere of cybernetics, could have observed the glaring evidence targeted at redefining the historical trajectory of the state and shaping the shared values and common destiny of the citizens in terms of what the state could achieve in the next four to eight years that would span the tenure of the administration.
Rather than bask in the euphoria that associates with the ascension of office of the governor and the command he enjoys, Governor Mbah literally set agenda for his administration even long before his election as governor. He was clear as to what the shape of leadership his government would take. He understands that the journey to arriving at the destination which he had set for himself would be tortuous, rough and tough to navigate if he must reach there with his governance philosophy being achieved.
Before Mbah took over office as governor, the state and the Southeast zone had been brooded over by hydra-headed challenges arising from insecurity, economic comatose, alarming rate of poverty, infrastructural decay, dwindling revenue, youth restiveness and leadership deficiency. These were consequential issues that deserved immediate antidotes and determined political will to solve.
One would have no doubt that the hope of rescuing the state from this multifaceted asphyxiation was farfetched given the trend of leadership culture, self-glorification and primal accumulation over altruistic gesture and lack of empathy by leaders. However, for the governor, tackling these menaces would go beyond commitment to marshaling actionable plans phased with measurable indicators and citizen-participation in governance.
In the midst of this deeming hope, Mbah pulled the string in a swift move he called disruptive innovation. Keen watchers of the emerging development, although described the actions as an unpredictable shift in the norm of governance in the country, submitted that such audacity to confront the contemporary challenges frontally would figure out the governance as the “last man standing” who had refused to be cowed by monstrous threats consuming the state like a deadly cancer.
In order to leave nobody in doubt as to his resolve to bring an array of hope to his people, who had been plagued by the holocaust of insecurity fundamentally manifesting in different variants such as the illegal sit-at-home declared by some criminal non-state actors, frightening spate of kidnapping and terrorist activities, Mbah had spared no time to identify that as an elephant to be escorted out of the state.
He explained why his administration would not cower to blackmail or be deterred by social media terrorism in the efforts to rid the state of insecurity. That explanation directly went to the threshold of his governance philosophy and promise to drive the state out of economic doldrums, eradicate poverty through exponential growth, industrialise the state with the deliberate agro-allied policy the administration had put in place. All these lofty dreams would not see the light of the day if insecurity was not dealt a fatal blow.
This led to the immediate cancellation of the much dreaded illegal sit-at-home order by criminals who had been holding the people by the jugular. The governor rallied the security architecture by building a formidable synergy among the security agencies. Fighting and winning the war against insecurity, especially the self-inflicted sit-at-home order driven by propaganda, acute ignorance and indoctrination, could be stormy and exhausting. The governor was reminded of the attempts made by different states to dismantle the chain of slavery called “sit-at-home” and how they cowardly recoiled back to their shell. Mbah would not be deterred. It was no retreat! His passion to liberate his people from implosion, starvation, ignorance and extinction saw him pledging to make the ultimate sacrifice such as his personal comfort and the reputation he had painstakingly built as a global citizen.
The commitment to provide a safe, secure and peaceful environment where investors could find attractive, sink their capital, move the state away from public sector to private sector driven economy carefully delineated to meet the $30 billion gross domestic product has seen the new administration supporting security agencies for the emerging new state. Arguably, today, Enugu State is one of the safest states for business, tourism and living. Within a short period of 100 days, Mbah was able to turn things around—moving Enugu from a state of dystopia to a state enviously standing tall amongst its contemporaries.
Sit-at-home, from all indications, has become a thing of history not only in Enugu State, but in the entire Southeast region. Mbah cracked and demystified the myth and restored sanity to the region. However, he has refused to take the credit, attributing the success to the cooperation he enjoyed from the people who elected him.
In the area of water, the state had hitherto become notorious and archetypal of an oasis without hope. Water was a luxury. It was years of agony for the residents of the state. Hope of having water flowing again in the premier state had not only dimmed but had also dissipated over the past decades.
When Mbah assumed office and said he wanted to do things differently by giving the people of the state clean water that would be taken for granted within 180 days of his administration, many had described it as a political joke taken too far. That promise sounded strange to their hearing. Perhaps, it was factual impossibility because they were used to bad governance.
The governor said it was a promise he must achieve, in fact, in less than that 180 days’ timeframe. He assembled the best of the engineers who identified the issues and the quick fix remedies. He understood that the daily consumption rate of water in the state metropolis is about 100,000 cubic metres, and the capacity each of the sources of water in the state could produce. With the intervention so far, in less than 100 days in office, the state is generating over 125,000 cubic metres of water. At the Ninth Mile crash programme, the target of producing 60,000 cubic metres has been met through over 18 industrial boreholes of 150 horsepower pumps each. The Oji and Ajali water schemes had been activated to a capacity of about 60,000 cubic metres, with the Iva Valley producing between 5,000 and 6,000 cubic metres of water. Harvesting water from these sources could mean sending rocket to the space for those that had previously tried it. But Mbah has done it through another means by disrupting the traditional space.
Currently, massive works are ongoing at some of the reservoir facilities, which had been abandoned for years. With the Abaja Ngwo pressure tank housing about 10,000 cubic metres, High Pressure Tank at Ugwu Peak with 3,000 cubic metres, North East Tank at Emene with 12,500 cubic metres, Nsude Break Pressure tanks with over 2,500 cubic metres and Milliken Hill storing 20,000 cubic metres of water, all now restored to good working condition, the state is set for the industrial revolution.
Presently, the state-of-the-art model school, which would be constructed in the 260 wards in the state with its pilot scheme at the verge of completion, the Mbah’s administration has set the pace for what is termed digital revolution. The model of the school is targeted at exposing every child in the state who has attained the age of three to information and communication technology (ICT). The idea of the education policy is to have our children compete with students in developed countries. This is a foundation for a generation that would drive the needed development in the international digital space.
The governor had earlier bemoaned the increasing poverty among the citizens and made it a matter of state policy to eradicate poverty by bringing the index to zero percent. This process has been activated with the payments of arrears of pensions, which his government inherited. He is as well taking further steps to clear the over 17 years of gratuities the state and local governments are owing its retirees. The development economists are already describing this step as a policy that would radically transform the economy of the state in a matter of time.
Enugu environment is now second to none in the country. Few months ago, the state was an object of ridicule, decked with stench and foul-smelling refuse and garbage. Every street and corner had a fair share of heaps of rubbish. It appeared the state had lost sense of urgency to governance. But the governor reasoned that things would not continue in that trend. Health, he noted, is wealth. To do things differently, in that very week he took office, he declared a state of emergency on the environment with his crack team. In just three months, with modern waste management system, refuse disposal compactor trucks and trained personnel, Enugu is breathing back to life. The aesthetics is back. Night life is also back in the state with the attention the streets had recently got in areas of street light, proper policing system, decent traffic management and assurances of safety.
The governor is known for his policy on innovation and digital transformation of the public service through e-governance. This is a key to efficiency and proactive response approach to meeting the people needs. In only 100 days, Enugu State has joined the comity of states with a platform of e-governance and automation of services. Most of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies have migrated from traditional pipeline of offering services to modern method where anyone can access the state’s services in any part of the world. All thanks to the innovative digital governor.
Several reforms that would ensure accountability, transparency, traceability and prudent management of the state resources had been taken by Governor Mbah in the past months. At least, 81 roads had also been identified to be constructed and completed before the end of 2023. Mbah’s audacity to do things differently even in the face of resistance by norms that had stunted growth is beaming an array of hope. Gradually, the state is inching closer to the tomorrow, which is already hovering around us.
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