President Muhammadu Buhari has just sent in the name of the former Deputy Governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Obong Nsima Ekere, for confirmation as the new Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Also, former Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba has been primed to the chairmanship of the NDDC. I definitely have nothing against the two men being put forward for the high offices, but something happened recently in the selfsame NDDC that gripped my attention.
It is very hard these days to take any notice of significant things happening in the country when all the rage is on corruption. The newspapers, radio, television, internet, online media etc cannot have enough of crowing about corruption. Worthwhile events are hardly ever given a mention in the press. Only the other day it came to my attention that the NDDC had endowed a professorial chair for the Centre for Malaria Research and Phytomedicine (CMRAP) at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State. I had expected the media to run over all spaces with the great news, but nothing has been forthcoming thus far. It’s as though nothing happened. If it had been a case of corruption that was uncovered, no matter how speculative, it would have been highlighted all over the place. It is now incumbent on me to give the malaria research endowment its place in the sun.
The Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari deserves accolades for inaugurating the N25 million-per-year endowment fund. The professorial chair on malaria research for the sum of N25 million per annum will run for an initial period of two years in the Centre for Malaria Research and Phytomedicine. It clearly shows that there are people in government offices thinking progressively in Nigeria. The blighter though is that the thinking lot cannot be showcased to the world as the way to go. As Mrs Semenitari disclosed at the Council Chambers of the university while launching forth the grand initiative, malaria ranks as “one of the world’s greatest public health challenges with global estimates of 584,000 deaths in 2014 and 400,000 deaths in 2015.”
She revealed that the NDDC is as ever poised to partner “with stakeholders in its nine mandate states to seek various ways to intervene in disease control.” According to her, “As noted in the recent journal of malaria research and phytomedicine , Nigeria’s progress in the control and elimination of malaria requires expanded coverage and access to effective malaria control interventions such as insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying, intermittent preventive treatment, diagnostic testing and appropriate treatment.”
Given that Mrs Semenitari has her finger on the pulse of the health of the nation, she could not hide her immense regret that research on malaria had been relegated to the back burner due to funding challenges. In the spirit of the change mantra of the President Buhari government, Semenitari led the charge with the cognate support for research on malaria in the Niger Delta.
In the course of the inauguration, the UNIPORT Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration) Prof Anthony Ibe, who represented the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ndowa Lale, let out further goodies coming from Mrs Semenitari and her NDDC team thusly: “We know that you are going to give us another one million to support journal publications that will come out of the research that will be carried out at that centre. I was informed about an MOU to be signed, that NDDC has pledged not just to build the malaria house, but also to furnish it. So this NDDC malaria house will have offices for the chair occupant and so many other facilities such as laboratories, research facilities to take research to the next level.”
Giving insight to the NDDC initiative, the Chairman of the Board of CMRAP and a former Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof Nimi Briggs divulged that the malaria research centre at UNIPORT was established in 2001. The pre-eminent professor stated that “since the discovery of Quinine in the 16th century there had not been any other big finding to stem the growing menace of malaria, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.” He gave the commitment that “whatever the NDDC committed to the centre would be used judiciously.”
It is worth remarking that when I extolled Mrs Semenitari’s drive a colleague of mine dismissed it all as “ordinary N25 million!” That is indeed the trouble with Nigeria. We encourage our leaders to dole out contracts in billions and trillions that are neither here nor there. I daresay that any kobo put in malaria research will in the end yield more dividends than all the hedonistic acts of consumption embedded in doling out multi-billion Naira contracts. Mrs Semenitari has indeed shown that it is crucial to build from regenerative ideas. She ought to be seen as a positive force in upping the ante of the female gender in government. As she bows out, it is critical that her successor Obong Nsima Ekere brings to bear on the NDDC similar creative ideas.