…Initial plan expired in 2020 without leaving drawing board
Ben Eguzozie, in Port Harcourt
If both parties tie up a partnership deal, Belgium may assist the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in developing and designing a second Niger Delta regional development master plan (NDRDMP), a project the federal government quango is seeking technical assistance from willing offshore partners.
The commission is looking to revise the old master plan, but does not seem to possess the expertise in designing the document which would require structural, engineering and spatial designs.
NDDC’s interim administrator Efiong Akwa is requesting for technical support on the new master plan from the Belgian ambassador to Nigeria, Daniel Bertrand who visited the commission’s new headquarters in Port Harcourt. He said he hopes the new plan would drive rapid development of the oil region.
The first master plan drawn up in 2005, with major assistance from the international oil companies (IOCs) and donor agencies, expired in 2020 without it ever leaving the drawing board. For 15 years, the federal government, NDDC states, and the IOCs prevaricated on the implementation model of the plan. At the end, no ground was broken, no block was laid, no structure erected; while the harried oil communities’ folks continued to degrade.
“We want collaboration in the areas of health, environment, training, agriculture and developing a new Master Plan (for the Niger Delta region),” Akwa told Bertrand, who said that the Belgian Government was interested in deepening the bilateral ties with development agencies in Nigeria.
Belgium is European Union’s sixth largest economy by ranking. Its exports according to the country’s foreign trade as of 2015 stood at EUR359.5 billion.
Nigeria’s imports from Belgium were $2.38 billion during 2019, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade. The balance of trade between Nigeria and Belgium is tilted in favour of the West European country.
The Belgian ambassador also told the NDDC interim administrator that his country is looking for areas of collaboration with Nigeria. “I am looking forward to working together with the NDDC to deepen our excellent relationship,” Bertrand said.
Akwa called for collaboration and support of Belgium in areas of health, environment, youth empowerment and development of critical infrastructure in the Niger Delta region. He commended the ambassador for visiting the NDDC because of its strategic role in development of the Niger Delta region.
“Health is a major challenge in the Niger Delta region, and Belgium has what it takes to assist us, considering the way it was able to successfully tackle the COVID-19 pandemic,” Akwa said.
He observed that Belgium, as the headquarters of European Union, was in a vantaged position to coordinate other multi-national companies doing business in the Niger Delta region to partner with the NDDC to speed up development of the region. He said physical infrastructural development, and boosting agriculture, aquaculture and training of the youths in various vocations, were prime issues that called for collaborative efforts.
The NDDC boss noted that part of the health challenges emanated from environmental degradation due to oil spill and gas flaring; stressing the need for assistance and co-operation of multinational companies operating in the Niger Delta region to stop gas flaring and check environmental degradation through collaborative efforts. “Our environment has been put in jeopardy because of oil and gas exploration and exploitation of multinational companies in the region,” he said.