Monday Column By Emmanuel Yawe
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Governors of the North East region met in Bauchi last week and at the end came out with a communiqué. Unlike other meetings before they took a swipe at the Federal government.
The 2021 budget they complained did not provide enough for the needs of the region among other things.
Specifically, they referred to the Mambila Hydroelectric Power Project as a project that exists only exists only on paper and not on ground. This is a multibillion Naira project that has been in the pipeline for half a century. For a gathering of state governors from different political parties to come together forget their political squabbles and describe it as nonexistent is serious,
Personally, I first heard of the Mambila Power Project in 1982 when in company of other reporters we followed President Shehu Shagaris Minister of Mines and Power, the youthful and urbane lawyer from Gombe state by the name Mohammed Ibrahim who was on official tour of the Mambila Plateau. In the course of the visit, he announced that the Federal Government was going to build a dam on the Mambila Plateau. The cost of the dam he put at one billion Naira. In those days, the Naira was rated much higher than the American dollar. The most expensive single project in Nigeria used to cost hundreds of millions of Naira. We hardly heard of a single project to be executed at One billion Naira.
We the reporters all agreed that this was big breaking news and scrambled to get across to our Editors. We did and the news was given wide publicity. Unfortunately, nothing significant has happened to the project all these years.
I have always felt betrayed and sad over the project. Not only is the project earmarked for Kakara village in Taraba my home state, the river to be dammed for the gigantic project answers the name Donga, same as my Local Government. But the significance of the project goes beyond my personal sentiments. This project is expected to on completion be the biggest power-generating installation in the country, and one of the largest hydroelectric power stations in Africa with 3,050 MW hydroelectric power capacity. In a country with epileptic power supply normally blamed on low generating capacity it is difficult to understand why successive governments have not given it the priority it deserves. It would also offer direct employment to over 50000 Nigerians.
The project could easily supply the needed power for Nigeria’s industrial take off and ease the inconveniences suffered by Nigerians in their private and official residences. Unfortunately the appropriate steps were not taken and the project has suffered avoidable hiccups and delays.
It remains doubtful if the Governor of Taraba state was present at the Bauchi meeting where the statement about the Mambila project was mentioned. If he were, he would have most likely advised his governor colleagues in writing the project off as existent only on paper. Certainly he is aware of the various steps taken by the present government particularly the current Minister of Power Alhaji Saleh Mamman who incidentally hails from Taraba state. In the first instance no responsible government will embark on the construction of a dam of such magnitude without a proper assessment of the environmental impact of the damming of such volume of water on the immediate environment.
Even though the project was conceived in 1972, about fifty years ago, no such study has been carried out in respect of it. It will be highly irresponsible if not criminal for any government to go ahead with such a project. All the governors of the North East should be aware of this elementary fact. The government of Taraba headed by Governor Darius Ishaku I am informed by people who should know has even received over one billion for surveys to be carried out on the project and sensitization. The money I was told was paid last year and work should have started already. The Taraba state government has however claimed that the survey work was delayed last year because of COVID 19. There is also the problem of difficult terrain and lack of good roads on the Plateau.
Without a survey of the area, there is no way compensation can be paid to the communities whose lands and properties will be swept away by the dammed water. The Federal Government can therefore only go ahead with the project in these circumstances at risk of sparing off another social unrest. These are necessary conditions which must be cleared by the federal government to make way for the foreigners who are going to take the risk and invest their money in the Mambila Power Project. Already Nigeria was taken to the international court over the project and only recently agreed to settle by arbitration.
Going by the number of Cabinet members from the North East and the kind of sensitive positions they hold, other political zones have always been envious of the zone. The complaints are that President Buhari has favored the North East above all the other zones. It is rather strange that the governors of the zone who should know better appear to be ignorant of the feelings about their favored relationship with the current Federal Government.
In Taraba state alone, apart from the fact that an indigene of the state is holding the strategic office of Minister of Power, the current Federal Government last year awarded a contract for the construction of a bridge across river Ibbi which will open the state to many other parts of the country. The Lau – Jalingo road is being constructed at a very fast pace by the federal government. With the Kashimbila hydroelectric power in Taraba completed it is difficult to understand why the state governor joined the other state governors in lampooning the federal government last week.