By Emmanuel Uffot
Indications are rife, that there is uneasy calm among youths and stakeholders in the Niger Delta region which has been enjoying relative peace in recent times. The feelers of uneasy tension believed to be bubbling in the area could be seen by the continuous clamour by the youths of the area that government should experdise action in re-constitution of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. Again, the youths backed by concerned citizens of the region are angered by the mind-boggling revelation of fraud and blatant looting of funds meant for the development of the region by subsistent NDDC management dating back to the inception of the Commission.
The fraud that had been going on in the NDDC which had ingloriously served as a conduit pipe by management to siphon funds and feather the nest of political cronies was consequent to a forensic audit masterminded by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio. The audit which unearths the milking of the NDDC funds through inflated contracts and frivolous bogus expenditure with abandoned projects littering the region, is what has given much concern to some notable stakeholders hence the call for more funds for the Ministry.
This call for more funds for the Ministry was re-echoed recently during the 2022 budget defense of the ministry by the minister Senator Akpabio. For Senator James Manager, the budget allocated to the ministry in 2021 and 2022 was too meagre to achieve anything meaningful in the region. He had stressed that anything humanly possible should be done in that regard to sustain the current peace enjoyed in the region.
“The ministry budget is too small to sustain the current peace we are enjoying in the region. It is the zone that keeps the economy of this country moving. The Niger Delta region is the most peaceful now and to keep that peace, something drastic must be done for the budget of the ministry.
Also expressing concern like Senator Manager, Senator George Sekibo pointedly questioned why roads with no economic value in the area were given more priority than the East-West Road which he noted, carries the economic burden of the nation. “Let us address the issue of the issue of the East-West Road squarely as we do to other roads, we are not being fair to the region”.
It is also instructive to note that one other reason why the legislators who appear to be on the hot seat as representative of the people want more funds for the ministry now than before, is believed to be hinged the pedigree of the Ministry whose performing record while being Governor of Akwa Ibom stands tall as his testimonial. They believed that with his development strides in his state, if given more funds he will replicate same in the ministry for the benefit of the people of the region. This notion was echoed by Senator Sekibo when he said they count on his antecedents as governor and believe he will do same in the region by ensuring that people- oriented projects agelong ones like the East – Road will be given priority attention by him. Sekibo “We know you as a former governor and former minority leader of the senate and we believe you are capable of handling this East- West Road, but we have to do something of the region (Ministry)”.
Indeed, the position of the senators was consequent of the earlier presentation made by Senator Akpabio at the Senator Peter Nwaoboshi led Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs. He had noted that the 2022 budgetary allocation to the ministry in the sum N26,592,560,184 billion is considered meagre and inadequate considering the mandate and goals of the ministry to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the people. He reiterated the fact that the impact of Covid-19 pandemic which has necessitated the intervention of the ministry to ameliorate the infrastructural and human capital development of the people amidst the dwindling budgetary allocation to the ministry prompt the need for budgetary increase.
“Mr chairman, arising from the dwindling budget allocation and the increasing liabilities, we wish to solicit for additional funding to enable the ministry deliver on the administration mandate for the Niger Delta Region”.
It could be recalled that the minister had earlier before the budget defense presented a budget proposal of N28, 131,295,396 billion before it was slashed to N26,592,560,184 billon.
Indeed, when Senator Akpabio was appointed Minister of Niger Delta, it elicited a growing expectation from the people that he will replicate his landmark achievements in his state while governor to the region, that expectation has not dwindled especially the agelong East-West Road which has been begging for completion for over 10 years now.
However, the Minister has promised in different for a, that the road will be his priority and he will make sure it is completed and delivered before the end of the administration if funds are available. During his budget presentation at the senate, he had disclosed that over N359 billion has so far been expended on the 361-kilometre dual carriage East- West Road which cuts across Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states, noting that there should be a terminal date for the completion of the road. The East- West was initiated in 2006.
Indeed, pending the re-constitution of the board of the NDDC which is hinged on the president action over the forensic audit report which was out, the minister is said to have put in machinery in motion to ensure completion of already abandoned projects. One of which was the commissioning of NDDC headquarters and abandoned 1,050 bed-space hostel in the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, an NDDC project abandoned since 2005.