‘Everyone should join hands to tackle oil theft’

A few weeks ago, President Goodluck Jonathan appointed Dr. Christy Atako as the Acting Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. In an interview with UDEME AKPAN, Atako comments on many topical issues, including her areas of priority as well as the negative impact of oil theft and bunkering in the Niger Delta.

What encouraged you to join NDDC?

I joined the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC as far back as 1993. In 2001, I was absorbed into the present Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. Expectedly, I was passionate about the activities of NDDC because of my background in the Cross River State Ministry of Education and as a lecturer. While pursuing educational and other developmental issues, I had a close working relationship with many stakeholders, especially the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP and the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF. In other words, I like development and have always been involved in developing people and communities. That clearly explains why I was easily attracted to NDDC.

What major positions did you occupy and contributions made before the present elevation?

Before this appointment, I was the director of Education, Health and Social Services. Before then, I was assistant director and acting head of Community and Rural Development Directorate. Prior to that, I was assistant director and head of Public Affairs Department of the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission from 1995 to 2001. I was also deputy director, Community and Rural Development; head, Corporate Affairs and Director, Community and Rural Development. Each of the positions provided the platform for me and my team to make positive impacts targeted at improving the living standard of the people of the region in line with the mission of NDDC.

As the director in charge of education, health and social services, I was committed to manpower development and capacity building of youths, especially students. We have offered post graduate scholarships to over 600 students in various fields including medical sciences, engineering, ICT, geosciences, oil and gas engineering, environmental sciences, etc. The main intention was to ensure we have adequate personnel to boost the local content initiative of the Federal Government. We donated computer to all the polytechnics, selected colleges of education and secondary schools. We also donated science equipment to primary, secondary and tertiary institutions all in a bid to encourage and enhance the teaching and learning of ICT and the sciences in our schools.

In the area of health, we provided free and qualitative medical services to many people and communities in the region. We also provided quality social services to the people especially the orphanage homes and the physically challenged. In rural development, we did a lot to stimulate sustainable development in many communities through the provision of basic utilities, especially roads, hospitals, schools and electrification, among others. As the head of Public Affairs, my major concern was to design and implement proactive measures capable of forging and sustaining cordial relationships with many stakeholders or publics of the commission.

What does the position of Acting MD/CEO means to you, especially as you are the second woman to do so?

Basically, it is a call to duty or greater responsibility. It is a call to contribute my quota in the process of leading our various teams, departments and human capital to accomplish set goals and objectives of the commission, and by extension the Niger Delta. I consider it as an opportunity to ensure quality service delivery to our people, especially the less privileged. In doing so, we must keep our eyes properly focused on the vision and mission of the commission. It should be known that the commission was created in 2000 to facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful. Its vision is also to offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta Region. NDDC must strive to achieve all these.

What are your days like?

I am much busier now than I was in the past. I only know when I wake up in the morning and get to work but don’t know exactly when I close or get home. I ensure that I get to office early. I do that because it is the right thing to do but more importantly, because I must lead by example. I do not expect my staff to resume early if I go late to work. My going early will motivate others to do the same, thus collectively enabling us to succeed as a team.

In a typical day, I spend about two hours to attend to files and visitors and spend most of the time in the field. We inspect projects and ensure that the money we spend providing infrastructural development and other facilities is well utilised and used to achieve the purpose for which the commission was established. This is important because I refuse to sit in the office and expect contractors to tell me about their projects. They hardly will tell you the truth and most often over value their jobs. I must go out to inspect what they are doing. I also intend to encourage and keep contractors at the various sites to execute the projects they are paid to do. I must go out to ensure that the projects are of good quality. Our emphasis has shifted from just quantity of our projects. Quality is of great importance to the success and sustainability of our projects. I am not only concerned about projects and programmes; I am also interested in raising the morale of our staff for quality service delivery.

What specific projects and programmes are you going to give priority during your tenure?

Let me start by reiterating the need to keep our staff focused to ensure that our staff are delivering on set benchmarks. We need to ensure that different teams and departments meet the commission’s targets in different areas. Second, we need to focus on all projects, especially mega projects which huge funds have already been invested in to make positive impact on the people. I am particularly concerned with our university hostels because of my conviction that students who are our future leaders need to have conducive accommodation to study to enhance their intellectual and mental capacity to properly develop as responsible leaders of tomorrow. I am also concerned about roads as access to enable our people transport their agricultural products, especially in this era where agriculture has been widely seen and accepted as an alternative to oil. I am looking at cleaning up most of completed projects to get them ready for commissioning. The commission has over 1,400 completed and commissionable projects in different parts of the region which need to be commissioned and handed over to the end users so that they will be put into effective use.

How are you going to manage contractors that are not committed to executing high quality jobs?

I have started working to motivate contractors in order to execute high quality jobs. My intention is not to find fault at this stage. In the past few weeks, I have held various engagements with them to persuade and encourage the contractors to return and remain active at various sites. They should respect the agreements that they signed to work for the commission. If there are challenges, we will like to know and possibly confront them to enable contractors make progress. Otherwise, we will invoke the contents of such agreements to get them to work.

Does NDDC have enough resources to execute projects and programmes?

So far, we do not owe contractors who have done their jobs to scope and specification and who have their papers and documentations right. We encourage our contractors and partners to do exactly what they are required to do to make it easy for us to process their payments. We may not have enough resources because the demands are many and the expectations are high. We expect that more funds will be given to the commission and our funds would be released as and when due.

What are other problems you face in the commission?

One of such problems is the late passage of our budgets. This does not enable us record high budget performance. We are restricted and therefore cannot function maximally. Another worry to the commission is the lack of confidence our stakeholders express in us. People do not seem to have much confidence in us. We are seen as insincere and not doing well and not committed to harnessing available resources to stimulate the sustainable development of our region. This is sad and we are working to ensure that this impression changes. Our stakeholders need to believe in us. They need to believe and support efforts aimed at developing the region.

Are you worried about increased oil theft and illegal bunkering in the region?

Yes. I am worried. Every well meaning citizen should be worried because oil and gas belong to the nation. It is our collective wealth which should not be stolen by a few unknown persons. The Federal Government needs the resources to generate adequate funds for development, including the funding of NDDC activities. Consequently, we will support any efforts targeted at tackling not only oil theft but also illegal bunkering in the nation. Already, we are taking proactive measures against oil theft and illegal bunkering through increased training and capacity of our youths.

Generally, what approaches can the government take to realise sustainable development of the Niger Delta?

The present moves toward sustainable development are appropriate. The lapses can be traced to a few omissions of the past. In the past, beneficiaries were not part of the decision making process. In other words, they had no opportunity to decide what they wanted. But things are changing for good. There is the increased awareness that communities should be a part of the development process. They should participate in the conceptualisation, design, construction, monitoring and evaluation of the projects because they will eventually have to own and use the projects and maintain them for maximum value. But we need to continuously think through our projects and programmes. We need to target the real beneficiaries. We need to partner with all stakeholders instead of competing with them to develop the region. These and other strategies can assist to reduce cost while improving the quality and quantity of projects delivered to the people.

How do you balance your official functions with domestic duties as wife and mother?

It is all about good planning. The present position is demanding. But with good planning, I have been able to handle my responsibilities well. I also want to state that I have an understanding husband and wonderful children who are always willing to support me in many areas. My mother is also very supportive.

What about recreation?

I have not been able to do very serious exercises. But I always do minor exercises in the mornings and evenings. I also take time off to read, listen to music and watch interesting programmes on television.

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