ON March 22 this year, the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Nsima Ekere, revealed the Federal Government’s plan to establish a Niger Delta Development Bank, ostensibly to speed up the development of the region. Addressing representatives of youth groups and ex-agitators at the NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Ekere expressed optimism that the proposed bank would assist people from the region, especially youths, in establishing modular refineries.
He said: “Instead of doing the small illegal refineries, government wants to help us with the technology to do this in a big manner so that we will be involved in refining, in such a way that the environment will not be destroyed. The challenge will be how the youth of the region will get enough money to buy into these modular refineries. The Federal Government has mandated the NDDC to work out the modalities with the Ministry of Petroleum Resources. We want to ensure that whether the youth have money or not, they can key into this. So, we are going to set up a Niger Delta Development Bank to drive the development of the region. An inter-ministerial committee has also been set up in the Presidency to look into all the issues raised during the visit of the vice president to the region. The NDDC has been mandated by the Federal Government to work out the framework with the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, so that youths of communities in the Niger Delta will be empowered through the establishment of modular refineries.”
No doubt, the Niger Delta remains a sore point in Nigeria’s history. Despite being the pillar of the nation’s economy, the region has suffered criminal neglect resulting in restiveness and other crises over the years. In this connection, we salute the resolve of the NDDC to facilitate the economic empowerment and development of the region. However, while we do not dispute the claim that the NDDC was set up by the Federal Government to address the problem of underdevelopment in the Niger Delta, we frankly do not think that establishing an NDD Bank is the right thing to do. This is because there is nothing in the government’s proposal that cannot be conviniently executed using the instrumentality of the existing banks. The NDD Bank, as currently proposed, can only add to the long list of failed or failing government institutions in the Niger Delta. There are extant institutions with mandates that are very similar to that of the proposed NDD Bank. To a large extent, those institutions have only empowered the political class. More fundamentally, a regional bank for the Niger Delta region has to be the handiwork of the states making up the zone, not a bank established by the Federal Government.
Indeed, implicated in the current issue is Nigeria’s convoluted federalism whose dire consequences manifest almost on a daily basis. The weird and unfathomable federal arrangement resulted in the abysmal neglect of the constituent units of the country with the attendant razor-sharp tension and conflicts that continuously dog the country’s steps. The proposal for an NDD Bank is just one of the frantic attempts to defuse tension in the region. But that is a short-sighted goal. What really are the inadequacies of the existing banks that constitute encumberances to the quest to fast-track the peace, progress and development in the Niger Delta?
With the prevalence of specialised banks in the country, most of which have failed to engender the anticipated effects on critical sectors of the economy, it is unwise to embark on another project that would only constitute a drain on a national economy that continues to gasp for breath. We urge the Federal Government to shelve the idea of establishing an NDD Bank. Instead, it should ensure that the existing federal institutions in the zone deliver on their core mandates.