Federal govt alone cannot handle the problems of Niger Delta region- Akpabio
The ongoing defence of the 2020 Appropriation Bill by Ministries Departments and Agencies has thrown up a lot of issues. In this brief chat with which he had with New Telegragh, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio, says that there is not enough money to execute all the projects earmarked for the Niger Delta region.
What’s your reaction to the rejection of your budget?
The budget was not rejected. The senators feel that there ought to be completion of major projects that are ongoing across the states of the Niger Delta. I agree with them but unfortunately, we are working under a very tight envelope. The ministry was allocated about N23 billion and 60 per cent of that sum would go to already existing projects in the region and forty percent will probably go to new projects.
So if you look at it very well, it’s not possible for you to capture all the projects with that amount and it is not possible to even complete one kilometre of road in the region. So, I think that instead of saying that the budget was rejected, I think that the distinguished Senators should collectively make an appeal to the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning to expand the envelope and improve upon our budget a little so that it can capture substantially most of the yearnings and aspirations of the good people of the Niger Delta.
They should take into cognizance of the outstanding projects that we have already conceptualised since 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 which are yet to be paid for up till now. Again there is nothing we could have done about the 2019 because we are yet to receive even one naira for the capital projects.
The fund is still being processed at the Ministry of Finance Budget and National Planning and like we explained to them (lawmakers), once the fund is released we will fund part of the budget for the current year. Until then, we have no option than to roll them over into the 2020 budget. They’ve given us till Monday and we will go and work with the Ministry of Finance Budget and National Planning to see whether we can get capital releases for this year.
Minister but you’ve told them there is nothing you can do, are you not going to return with the same document on Monday?
We should also note that if we are to capture all the projects that our colleagues have asked us to capture we will be allocating a very paltry amount of money to all the projects and it will neither make sense nor favour anybody at the end of the day. It will then be a budget designed to fail like one of the Senators said. If we have 300 projects and we have money that can capture only 150, why should we allocate all the projects and allocate amounts of money that will not make any difference at the end of the day?
So, we have chosen very carefully some projects based on need, based on spread and so on and so forth. We have included 60 per cent of old projects to be rolled over and forty percent for new projects based on the demands of the people.
Having seen the enormity of the problems in the Niger Delta, what are you going to do differently to tackle them?
Well, I don’t think that the Federal Government alone can handle the entire problems of the Niger Delta. That is why there is the Ogoni Clean Up which is being funded outside the federal budget. Outside the multinational oil companies making contributions other international partners are going to come in with fund to assist in driving the process. Then we are going to handle a lot of the mediation as a result of the exploitation and pollution that have taken place over a long period. These oil exploration and exploitation activities have destroyed the ecosystem and the land mass over the years.
But it is not going to be possible for the Federal Government to channel all its resources to the Niger Delta alone. The terrain is difficult and the region needs a lot of infrastructural development. Maybe the Sukuk Fund and other international finding instruments that are coming into Nigeria may need to be channeled into the Niger Delta region.
What about the NDDC and its mandate of developing the region?
We also need to reposition the NDDC which is supposed to be the major intervention agency in the Niger Delta region. We have to distinguish between the Ministry of Niger Delta and the NDDC. What we are discussing now is the Ministry of Niger Delta and not the NDDC. On its own, the NDDC has almost 12,000 abandoned projects, hence we have advertised for capable firms to conduct a forensic audit not just on these projects but also on the finances of the organisation right from 2001 when it commenced operations to 2019.
(C) New Telegraph