(First published in BD Sunday)
On Thursday, February 20, 2020, a professor of Pharmacology from the Niger Delta University (NDU) in Bayelsa State, took over as the managing director of the always-in-the-news Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The presidency replaced Joi Nunieh, an Ogoni-born lawyer and activist who is the daughter of the first Ogoni lawyer, with Pondei to head the Interim Management Committee expected to conduct a forensic audit.
What seems to stir the oil region is the fact that Pondei is the fifth MD of the Commission in one year. By this time last year, Akwa Ibom-born Msima Ekere who took over from Ibim Semenitari to begin a substantive term, resigned to take a shot at the governorship seat in his state.
Brambaifa, a professor of Pharmacology, who in 1982 earned his doctorate in Pharmacology, Biochemistry, Clinical Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry, was removed in September 2019 in the heat of massive contracts of over one trillion naira when the budget of the Commission was only about N300Bn.
Akwagaga Enyia, a PhD holder who was a director in the Commission, was drafted in to return the Commission to its original mandate with focus.
By January 2020, she was replaced with Nunieh who began contract verification and exposing of unverifiable contracts. Her work allegedly reduced the debts from trillions to about N500Bn due to contractors that could not come near the NDDC because of fake contract papers and other odious rackets. Just when the ovation was getting high, she was kicked out.
Many said she refused to compromise anything in the face of big lords who collected tens and hundreds of jobs and payments without lifting a digger. Corruption seemed to fight back and she lost out.
Now, another professor from the NDU in Bayelsa has emerged. Pondei obtained the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery MBBS, from the University of Lagos and later proceeded to the School of Molecular Medical Sciences, University of Nottingham for his PhD in Microbiology. Pondei is a professor of Medical Microbiology with specialty in Virology and was the Provost of the College of Health Sciences, Niger Delta University, until his latest appointment.
Pondei is described “as skilled in epidemiology, life sciences, data analysis, program evaluation, and lecturing.” He delivered the 36th Lecture Series of the Niger Delta University on 17th April, 2019 with topic, “Viruses: Ignored, Neglected, Poorly Understood with Resulting Devastating Consequences”.
Pondei has considerable academic administrative experience, having been Acting Head, Department of Medical Microbiology and Parasitology, and Acting Dean, Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, College of Health Sciences, Niger Delta University.
Many eyes are on Pondei to see if he would remain radically strong like Nunieh or mellow down on forensic and contract verification schemes. Many would want to know whether he would play down on the contract verification result or go ahead with what Nunieh did. Also, many would want to know whether
Pondei has however assured that the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Commission would work with all stakeholders, including youths, to fast track the development of the Niger Delta region.
Pondei, who was accompanied by the Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Ibanga Bassey Etang and the Acting Executive Director, Projects, Cairo Ojougboh, addressed Niger Delta youths that paid a solidarity visit to the IMC at the NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt.
The new NDDC helmsman said that the new team would ensure that the resources of the region were put it into good use, not only for projects, but also for the empowerment of the people, including the youths and women.
Pondei said: “We must go back to time-tested activities like agriculture. We have left agriculture behind and other people are now coming to Niger Delta to farm and fish for us. Going forward, the NDDC is going to put more efforts to make sure that people who are going into agriculture and any form of businesses are empowered and given the opportunity to succeed.”
He stressed the need for peace in the region as that was a sure way of encouraging development, adding: “You must organize yourselves and be ready to work hard. President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is not happy about some of the activities of youths in the region. I want to encourage all of you to organize yourselves and be ready to work together.
“We want to make sure that development trickles down to every community in the Niger Delta. For that to happen, we need to work together. I urge you to sit up and share ideas with us on ways we can do things differently.”
He said: “Let us come together to ensure that NDDC is known for progress. We want a situation where in the next ten years, you will be proud to say that you are from the Niger Delta. So, let us stop all these fighting and other social vices because we are the ones killing ourselves. Let us try to do things differently.”
Radical changes coming?
Pondei has pledged to make a radical change in the activities of the Commission to enhance its service delivery. He made the promise on Thursday during a meeting with management and staff of the NDDC, shortly after assuming office at the Commission’s headquarters in Port Harcourt.
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, had on Wednesday inaugurated the enlarged Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC as approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.
At the meeting with Pondei, were the Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Chief Ibanga Bassey Etang; the Acting Executive Director Projects, Cairo Ojougboh; Caroline Nagbo and Cecilia Bukola Akintomide, who constitute the five-member committee.
The new CE) harped on the need to change a number of things at NDDC, noting: “We need to have quality assurance because we must have measurable performance indicators in every unit and department.”
According to Pondei: “By my training, I am a problem-solver and I pray that members of the IMC will work together to solve problems. The NDDC has existed for about 20 years, rising from the ashes of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC).”
He stated: “A 20-year-old child that still needs to take breast milk is in trouble. By extension, the NDDC is in trouble. Luckily, President Buhari feels for the Niger Delta. This feeling is also shared by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. Their concerns led to the decision to try to adopt new methods in tackling the problems of the Niger Delta. They decided that since we have done the same thing, using the same method over and over, and getting the same result, it was time to try something different.”
Pondei said that members of the new NDDC Interim Management had resolved to work together as an indivisible team. He, however, remarked that the IMC needed to also work in harmony with the NDDC management and staff.
The Acting Managing Director said that feelers from members of the public show that NDDC staff were seen as contributing to the problems of the region. He added: “I am not here for a blame game. I would rather that we do a soul-search. Majority of us are from the Niger Delta and I am sure they are not happy with the poor state of affairs in the region.
“We are not supposed to be the way we are. We are not supposed to be at the same level with other parts of the country. We are supposed to be different, considering what we contribute to the economy of this country.”
Pondei declared: “We must come up with ways of improving on our service delivery. We need to drive this seriously. We must pay serious attention to efficiency and quality. Every department will need to come up with new work plans and we need to have measurable indices in those work plans.
“There must be a way of showing what the NDDC has been able to achieve over time. We need to do things that are totally different from what obtains now.”