By Uche Igwe, Ph.D.
I met him many years ago in Abuja. That must have been more than twenty years ago now. He was in Abuja with his cousin, Maxwell, and they both worked on a pet project called Ijaw House together. We had a few civil society engagements, and friendships developed. We later went our separate ways as I traveled for further studies. Our paths only crossed again closely many years later when he became chief of staff to the governor in his home state, Bayelsa. One day, I ran into him, and we chatted briefly. I teased him that I had been trying to reach him, and he challenged me to show him the missed calls, insisting that he had my number on his phone. I took mental note of his calm response, openness, and humility. I was surprised. These qualities are difficult to find in a public official of his stature.
I was on a short visit to Yenagoa for a seminar and had to return after a few days. I did not meet him again, but I read about him regularly in the media. However, some of the things I read were in sharp contrast to the individuals I thought and knew, including one I met while in office. I kept looking out for him until I read that his name was submitted as one of those to head the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). I did not take much interest when he was appointed, but I looked for his number from a mutual friend and later sent him a congratulatory message. That was all. Whenever I came across anything I felt would be helpful to him, I forwarded it to his phone.
A few weeks later, I was visiting Port Harcourt and dropped by the Commission to greet my friend, Patrick. He had been appointed Director in the MD’s office and graciously volunteered to introduce me to the Managing Director. I waited for a while until he stepped out at the end of work. About nineteen people were waiting, and the room was pretty crowded. It would be impossible to get a chance to greet him—at least that’s how I felt. However, he stood patiently and tried to attend to everyone. I was told that he was one of the first MDs (probably the only one so far) to provide the public with such a level of access to himself. As he listened to one person after another, he attended to the problem or referred you to the relevant officer. Finally, my friend made way for me to meet the MD to make an introduction. I waited as the Director tried to explain who I was to him. The managing director retorted and stopped my friend midway, saying there was no need to introduce him to someone he knew very well. I was surprised at his recollection. Instantly, we reconnected, and he even showed the Director some of the messages I sent him on some relevant subjects. That is Samuel Ogbuku, managing director of the NDDC.
Since taking over the mantle of leadership, he has turned things around in an organization with so much reputational baggage that contract papers that emanated from there became almost worthless on the streets. NDDC was a reference point for all that is wrong with Nigerian public service. Seven months later, things are changing—rather rapidly. Sammy is working to ensure the restoration of the positive image of the Commission. He is not in denial but acknowledges past mistakes and is firmly determined to take the organization positively. He has overhauled the organization’s systems and processes to the staff’s admiration. Many testify that the management has become fairer and more inclusive, working to eliminate nepotism. Two words describe the current managing director of NDDC: calm but calculated. In ensuring that no one is excluded, he maintains an administrative style that is magnanimous but firm.
To bring private sector players and donor partners to complement and support the Commission, the managing director launched a raft of outreach programs and stakeholder engagement events to get the ongoing reforms into the consciousness of staff and stakeholders. He is succeeding. Slowly but increasingly, many international partners are coming on board. Staff members are now sufficiently motivated to discharge their duties professionally. He has asked everyone to put the past behind them, learn from it, and create a future where NDDC will provide evidence of sustainable infrastructural development in the Niger Delta while the oil lasts.
Dr. Samuel Ogbuku will turn 48 on Saturday. He has, however, placed an embargo on any form of celebration, insisting that he prefers to focus on his work. I agree with him that such resources should be committed to supporting those in need. As a leader who understands the pulse of the street, nothing can be more exemplary. The moment calls for quiet introspection as Nigerians struggle to overcome the temporary hardship arising from the higher cost of everything due to the removal of fuel subsidies. But this noble Prince of Ayakoro has done a lot in a short time and is likely to do more. His political sagacity and creative acumen make him an excellent asset to the Tinubu administration in the Niger Delta. I am hopeful that, given sufficient time, Sammy will leave indelible footprints impervious to time. Join me in wishing him a happy and fabulous birthday in advance, Bro. At 48, he obviously has a great future ahead of him with energy, good health, and the grace to triumph.