NIGER DELTA MINISTRY : The quest to fulfill a distant mandate

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By MITAIRE IKPEN
The setting up of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs four years ago by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was expectedly greeted with mixed feelings. While some people hailed the move as a right decision bearing in mind the difficult terrain of the region which should require a special attention, others believed that the creation of the Ministry would unnecessarily slow down the pace of development because of bureaucratic bottlenecks.

Those who held the latter view felt that since the creation of the Ministry was a mere political gesture to placate the people of the region, its operations would be bedevilled by the bureaucratic hiccups that usually trail government establishments. Perhaps their fears have not been misguided thus far.

At inception, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs had the mandate to coordinate efforts at ensuring infrastructural development, environment protection and youth empowerment in the once-restive region. It promptly set out to satisfy the national clamour to remediate the region by embarking on numerous lofty projects all at once in a bid to fast track its mandate.

These include road construction projects chief of which is the 337-kilometre East-West road traversing the region which the Ministry inherited from the Ministry of Works; various land reclamation and shoreline protection projects, building of skill acquisition centres across the oil producing states; various housing, water and rural electrification projects in communities spread across the region, among others.

Sunday Vanguard investigations showed  that of a  list of 311 itemised projects embarked upon between 2009 and 2011 which span across the Ministry’s mandate, 17 road projects some of which have 2013 completion dates are between 1.5 to 69.5% completion; 27 skill acquisition centres spread across the nine oil producing states, most of which are meant to be completed this year, 2012, have reached between 5 – 70 % completion stages; 40 units of 1,2 and 3 bedroom bungalows in each of the nine oil producing states are still between 12 – 72 % completed; 4 water projects in Akwa Ibom, Imo, Cross River and Ondo have reached  40% completion while 4 electrification in Rivers, Bayelsa and Cross River at about 40% completion stage.

Most land reclamation, shoreline protection and canalisation projects across the Niger Delta are still at consultancy stages with millions of naira budgeted, while construction of jetties, dredging and seaports development, as well as conservation and development of coastal ecosystems in 7 states are yet to take off but have been budgeted for.

In the area of skill acquisition, over 34,004 youths were shortlisted for training in ten identified sectors ranging from oil and gas to maritime, but only 701 youths were sent to India, Benin Republic and Israel to be trained in just 3 out of 10 sectors, namely-agric (90 youths), oil and gas (341 youths) and maritime (270 youths).

In spite of these efforts and with over three years gone, the expectations of Niger Deltans and indeed the entire Nigerian citizenry keep growing just like the region’s problems. Stakeholders are irked that there has been no significant infrastructural facelift in the region. To worsen issues, of recent, there has been a sudden lull in project implementation by the Ministry. Could it be that in a bid to square up to its challenges, the Ministry had bitten more than it can chew?

The Ministry’s yearly receipts from the Federal Government revealed that in 2009, out of a total of N96bn budgeted for the Ministry in main and supplementary appropriations, a significant N94bn was released leaving a shortfall of N2bn.

It turned out to be that this huge allocation in 2009 was like a bride price for the Ministry as the story was not the same the following year. In 2010, out of a fat appropriation of N145.2bn, the Ministry got N58bn leaving a whooping shortfall of N86.3bn.

The deficit in releases from the Finance Ministry was repeated in 2011 as N35.6bn was released out of an approved budget N52bn, forcing a shortfall of N16.3bn. In all, there is a cumulative shortfall of N104bn, leaving projects already plunged into begging for progress and completion.

Aside the welcome achievement in youth training, stakeholders are bothered that as at today no single capital project is ready for commissioning despite the billions of naira allocated to the Ministry year after year since its creation. But this is not entirely the fault of the Ministry, argues Elder Godsday Orubebe, the Ministry’s helmsman.

Lamenting the huge differential between the yearly appropriations and actual sums released during the recent budget defence at the House of Representatives, Orubebe drew the attention of the House Committee on the Niger Delta to the fact that many projects could have been ready for commissioning if all monies captured in successive budgets were promptly released.

For the year 2012, with a budget proposal of N52billion, Orubebe says his Ministry will not venture into any new project but will focus on the completion of ongoing ones with emphasis on quick wins like water and electrification projects.

Corroborating what the Minister said, chairman, Senate Committee on the Niger Delta, Senator James Manager, noted that even the East West road alone can gulp the whole of the 2012 allocation of over N59bn. He promised to liaise with Mr. President to consider according the Niger Delta Ministry some preferential funding treatment like its FCT counterpart.

Though there is the allegation of project duplications against the Ministry, the Director of Environment at the Ministry, Mr. Andrew Ojogbo, said the allegation  could not have been true, adding that the Bureau for Public Procurement would have corrected perceived project duplication at the procurement stage should any such scenario erroneously occur.

The Ministry certainly needs to up its ante if it wishes to avert a looming resurgence of militancy in the region.

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