By Christiana Ekpa
The House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta Affairs yesterday faulted the allocation of N15 billion, out of the N19 billion proposed in the 2021 budget by the Ministry for capital expenditure, for the construction of East-West road.
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio who disclosed this while presenting his ministry’s 2021 budget proposal to the committee, said “N15 billion out of the N19 billion meant for capital expenditure will be used to construct the East-West road”
But the members angrily disagreed with the Minister, noting that the money is too much for just one project.
Hon. Edim Eta opined that the bulk of the money should go to youths programs rather than the road.
‘’If you’re budgeting N15 billion for East West Road, are you saying that only four billion is left other Niger Delta projects. I don’t think that’s fair. I believe the bulk of the funding that’s coming in 2021, should go to youth programs,
“We all witnessed the EndSARS protest, all these were from frustrations of staying at home from ASUU strike, unemployment, so can only four billion out of the total budget of Niger Delta will go to those projects. Hon minister, I don’t think that’s a good idea. If the East West road has been taken from the sovereign wealth fund, then the provision for that 15 billion should have been done separately to cover that.’’
The Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Essien Ayi while collaboratung with his colleagues said “with the current agitations, the lawmakers will not allow him to spend such amount only for one project.
‘’East west road has been there for over 14 years. We just finished with EndSARS, we know what happened, the whole of my state capital everywhere was turned upside down, the kind of devastation that I saw there, it would have taken us about ten years back. If the budget is youth oriented, then why are we going to use 15 billion for East West road. I listened to the news where the Senate President warned that we should be careful that if this thing resurfaces again it’s going to be very devastating. So minister, we have about three hundred and something projects in Niger Delta so how are you going to allocate the money to this kind of project, it’s not possible. We will not do it.’’
Responding, Akpabio said the amount spent so far on the road is about N423 billion, while amount paid till date is about N354billion.
He said that the total completion of the road is about 80%, saying that though release of funds are slow and annual rainfall affects the work, the Ministry is determined to surpass those challenges.
Speaking on why N15 billion was allocated to the project, he said, ‘’I want to deliver a road that will last, you may not like my state, but look at my records, the road I did 13 years ago in my state there’s no potholes in any of them. So I have a lot hope I will deliver same in the Niger Delta. So we will provide for you the details of designs and all. I have not allowed any single variation, because I have not seen the kind of quality of work, I would have loved to see, there was one that entered into Federal Executive Council and I had to step it down.
‘’I have not yet presented a single variation, let them do the original work so that we see, because this thing has taken too long. From 2006 up till date, when I was not part of government i use to think that the road was over priced, but now that I’m part of government, I think it was adequately priced, it’s just that the aggregate has gone up in terms of materials.
“For that road, I think it started with Afri nexim to Africa Development Bank, and it tried to go to Sovereign Wealth Fund, but not one Naira was released for that. I believe that working together, we can take 15 billion and spread all over and yet we will finish this administration without completing a single road, so let’s just close our eyes and do something.
“Even the four billion you’re talking about, we put some in youths empowerment and skill acquisition, but if there’s any major project that we think we should do let’s do it, otherwise we will be like NDDC that has about 12 thousand abandoned projects across Niger Delta yet they’ve spent trillions.’’