HOW IBIM SEMENITARI TOOK NDDC BACK TO THE COMMUNITIES part 1

Akeodi Ali

Mrs Ibim Semenitari is a Rivers woman and a devoted Christian whose 20-year marriage to Mr Henry Semenitari is blessed with four lovely children.

Having cut a niche for herself in private service, she has had a rich career in journalism spanning 20 years with concentration in investigative journalism and has worked as an editor and publisher for some top brands in Nigeria and abroad.

As a journalist, she became the first female journalist to win the CNN African Journalist Award. In 1997, she became the first runner-up in the CNN African Journalist of the year Award for her outstanding investigative journalism for print media. She won the Nigerian Media Merit Award (NMMA) and has also won the Diamond Award for Media Excellence (DAME) three times. She has worked with the BBC as a Journalism trainer/Editor with the BBC World Service Trust.

READY SET GO!!!

On the 18th of December 2015, the announcement came that President Muhammadu Buhari has appointed Mrs Ibim Semenitari as Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission NDDC replacing the Dan Abia led management team.

The announcement came with mixed reactions. On one side was the argument the following the rotational leadership arrangement in the Commission, the appointment should have come from Akwa Ibom State. On the other hand, some background voices, apparently influenced by sexist orientations held that owing to the volatility of the region, the office of the NDDC boss would be too big for her to handle. However, those who knew her pedigree, zeal and longstanding activism for the development of the Niger Delta couldn’t be more convinced that her appointment was a confluence of passion and opportunity.

Mrs Semenitari knew she didn’t have the luxury of time to expend on analysing public reactions so she hit the road running, rolling up her sleeves and getting down to the business of making a difference for the communities of the region.

Appointed as an interim executive and saddled with the political and environmental pressure to dramatize the CHANGE mantra of her party, the All Progressives Congress, as well as the expectations of those who have known her Niger Delta activism, the accomplished wordsmith couldn’t afford a stretched learning curve. She just had to resume work and begin work! And this she did to the admiration of all.

In a recent interview she granted OYSTER, a quarterly magazine of the NDDC, Mrs Semenitari revealed her secret advantage. Giving credit to her training and work as a journalist she said:

“First, journalists are jack of all trades, by virtue of profession and demands of the trade. Every Journalist has to be prepared. In our days, we went through every beat. I covered everything and eventually pitched my tent with financial journalism. I was very interested in investigative journalism”

Also, pointing to her ‘Niger Deltaness’ she said “I come from the Niger Delta”

“Along my career path, I got into a lot of activism in the region. So, whether you are talking about Kaiama Declaration or the Ogoni Struggle I was deeply steeped in activism. So I came with a clear passion and understanding of the region. “

Of her strong grasp of the vision of the Commission, Mrs Semenitari told OYSTER of how her job as media personnel offered her the privilege of working with the NDDC in the formulation of the Niger Delta Master Plan. With all the commitment and experience around the Region and the NDDC, she described her coming to the Commission as both “intriguing and fortuitous”. With the announcement of her appointment coming as a pleasant surprise, she “it felt like God saying to me, you have talked a lot about this, now go and do something about this”

 

AN ACTIVIST ON THE SADDLE

In 2008, BUSINESS EYE, a magazine where she was the editor in Chief, dedicated its entire May edition to the course of the Niger Delta with a banging header “Niger Delta: Deprived and Depressed”, unveiling her burning passion for improvement of the lives of the peoples and communities of Nigeria’s goose that lays her black gold whose lives have been caught in the development contradictions of extreme poverty in the midst of enormous wealth.

Mrs Semenitari’s background as an activist has blended well with the President Buhari’s resolve to get things done in a new and better way to produce an air of urgency in pursuing the core mandate of the regional interventionist agency. To achieve her set goals, she knew that the staff at the NDDC had to be a critical part of her work plan and so she quickly began to consciously infect the workforce with discipline through exemplary leadership. Shortly After assuming office as Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, she stressed the necessity to dedication to duties and professionalism for both staff and management. She frowned at the nonchalant attitude of staff towards their work and responsibilities.

“staff are seen coming to work after 8.am without any sense of remorse for coming late. Others close at will, while some loiter around the offices through the working hours, yet some do not come at all. To curb this ugly trend, she introduced new work ethics, addressing staff attendance to work, staff visits to the office of the Acting MD/CEO, wearing of the official identification card by staff and hand carrying of documents.  To show that she was serious with the reforms, she ensured that she signed the staff attendance herself at the stipulated time.

FROM HAROLD DAPPA BIRIYE HOUSE TO THE COMMUNITIES

If there is one word that has featured prominently in her official interactions and communications, it would be ‘community’. The Acting MD understands well that the NDDC was not created for anything other than the communities of the Niger Delta, little wonder she talks about wealth creation in the communities with a rock solid resolve.

Mrs Semenitari has left no one in doubt of her commitment to return the NDDC to the communities for which it was created as she continues to exchange the cosiness of her big office in Port Harcourt for precarious journeys through towns, villages, rivers, creeks and forest across the nine states covered by the NDDC Act to interact with governments, community leaders and contractors with a view to finding first-hand information on development needs of communities the true state of  ongoing projects for which huge sums are being committed to.

As she traverses ‘bush and creeks’, the enormity of the NDDC burden as well as its importance to the impoverished and neglected communities becomes even clearer. In a recent interview she captured her experiences succinctly :

“In some communities, the NDDC is the only government that they know. I was in a community they said that for seven years they had not witnessed anything from any government, local state or federal apart from the NDDC” she observed.  The outgoing NDDC boss believes the communities have a part to play in ensuring that the commission lives up to its core mandate. On several fora, she has repeatedly said she hopes to see that “communities are more aware and more ready to demand service, probity, action and development from government.”

Mrs Semenitari’s travel around the 9 NDDC states has a three pronged benefit. First it pumped energy into the state offices, helping to refocus the staff for service delivery. Second it afforded the commission the opportunity to meet with contactors at the contract site so as to appreciate the challenges faced by the contractors and also take action against erring contractors. She believes that a productive NDDC would require a committed cream of staff and contractors who are passionate about the region and committed to the communities. Little wonder she celebrated the completion and opening of the ultra-modern Rivers state office in Port Harcourt. At Delta State, the AMD was shocked to find that the contractor handling the set of hostels being built by the commission for the Delta State University had abandoned the project and the entire project had been overgrown with weeds. In Bayelsa State, the all-important Ogbia-Nembe road project had been brought to a halt after armed men attacked the site killing two soldiers and taking away expatriate workers. Mrs Semenitari quickly moved into action, meeting with Governor Seriake Dickson, traditional rulers and the Ijaw Youth Congress to find a way to rescue the abducted workers and return to site. Today, tat road has been completed and is ready for commissioning. Finally, the journey through the communities worked like a magic wand in the repair of the corporate image of the Commission that had not only alienated itself from its core mandate and was been battered by inefficiency and corruption.

“As I went from Government House to Government House, it was clear that there was some weariness, some lethargy. Governors were saying to me, ‘oh NDDC, we have given up on you.’ But now I think everyone is infected by this new passion arising from staff and contractors, that want to do things differently.”

Even though the CEO of this interventionist agency likes to leave assessments to the public it is clear that with six months of being on the saddle, her objective of repositioning staff and contractors to deliver quality service to the oil producing communities has been largely met even in the face of the current economic situation which is made worse by the fact that she operated an almost exhausted budget.

Akeodi Ali is the CEO and Publisher of Feel Rivers

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