By F. U. OSAMOR
OUR attention has been drawn to the photo news captioned: River Godsday Orubebe, published on the front page and page 15 of the Vanguard Newspaper, Thursday, October 25, 2012 edition.
Ordinarily, we would have not responded to the photo news as it affects the sections of the East West Road but dragging the Minister’s name into the issue is, to say the least malicious and detrimental to the image of the Minister and the ministry.
The gale of flooding which ravaged some communities across the country few weeks ago have been an issue of concern to all Nigerians including the Minister who had visited the sections affected by this flood and the various camps and communities. His on the spot inspection of the havoc wrecked by the flood had been well reported in the electronic and print media.
We wish to recall that the Minister, during his on the spot assessment tour of the affected areas, sympathised with the various communities while imploring them to be law abiding and not to resort to violence. He also informed them that the Federal Government was very concerned about their plight in taking stock in conjunction with the state government to move relief materials in order to ameliorate their sufferings.
The caption of your photo news sends a damaging message to the readers implying that the Minister of Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, was the cause of the flooding that devastated sections of the East West Road.
The people must be informed that there are sections of East West Road which are more upland that were not affected by the flood. However, the heavy rains at the end of August, coupled with water that were released from Lagdo dam in Cameroon, Kainji and Jebba dams led to serious floods in most parts of the country. This sad incident left many people, especially, inhabitants of the affected areas in harrowing and agonizing state.
It was sorrowful as lives, several hectares of farmland, crops and property worth billions of Naira were lost to the devastating flood. The 2012 rainy season in Nigeria has become a curse instead of blessings usually associated with the season for a country like Nigeria, which is an agrarian country. It was nightmare for millions of Nigerians, even as it is worse than earlier years. This flood has destroyed river banks and infrastructure, which culminated to loss of property and livestock and flash floods in many areas. By end of September, over 134,371 people were displaced, 64,473 injured and killed 148. The Internally Displaced People, IDPs, are either living with families or in makeshift camps. All the six geo-political zones in the country are affected, which included Adamawa, Katsina, Bauchi, Plateau, Benue, Kogi, Bayelsa, Edo, Port Harcourt, Delta to mention a few.
To suggest that the East West road was the hardest hit by the flood is not quite true since other federal highways were affected by the flood. For example, the Abuja-Lokoja Expressway had to be closed for vehicular traffic for nearly two weeks. Even as at this day, the Banda axis of the expressway which was height of the flash flood is still partially closed to traffic. This calls to mind the visual of the Minister of Aviation who had to travel by canoe to inspect her flooded home in Anambra State; to the closure of the Asaba-Okwe road and the camping of displaced persons due to the flooding on the compound of Saint Patrick’s College, Asaba. These all tell vivid stories of the impact of a natural disaster that befell most parts of Nigeria. Now to imply that the flooding of some sections of the East West Road was due to the non-completion of the dualisation project is unacceptable.
We are aware of the orchestrated attempts by faceless political forces hiding behind the media to malign the person of the Hon. Minister. We are therefore not surprised that the incidence of the flooding has provided another opportunity for these political opportunists to pour their venom on a man who is busy fashioning ways and structures to raise funds for the completion of the East West Road and numerous other on-going development projects in the region.
The Minister on numerous fora had cried out about the challenge of dwindling budgetary allocation/releases to the execution of the Ministry’s development projects in the region particularly the East West Road. For example, at take off in 2009, the approved Budget Allocation to the Ministry was N96 billion while the actual release was N94 billion with a short fall of N2 billion. In 2010, budget allocation was N145.2 billion while the actual release was N58.8 billion with a short fall of N86.3 billion. In 2011 budget allocation was N58 billion but the actual release was N35.6 billion, which resulted to a short fall of N16.3 billion.
It must be borne in mind that the East West Road comprises four sections running from Section 1:Warri-Kaiama in Delta and Bayelsa States which is 87 kilometres; Section II, 101km Kaiama-Port Harcourt road, in Bayelsa and Rivers States; Section III Port Harcourt-Eket, which covers 99 km and section IV Eket-Oron, Akwa Ibom State which covers 50 kilometres. Some of these sections have reached a fairly advanced stage which has brought the average completion stage to over 51 per cent.
The total budgetary allocation to the Ministry between 2009 and 2011 was N299 billion, while the actual releases stood at only N188 billion. The total shortfall for the three years was N104 billion. It can be observed that the major challenge faced by the Ministry from inception till date is that of inadequate funding and release of funds with which to execute major projects in the region. With regards to the 2012 budget proposal, the ministry got approved ceiling of N59.72 billion as capital and recurrent by the Budget office of the Federation.
The ministry is getting a paltry N59.72 billion as budgetary allocation for 2012, in spite of other ongoing projects, with the East West road dualisation projects alone requiring over N200 billion to be completed. However, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, recently rekindled the hope of the people in the region when he said, the multi-billion contracts for dualisation of the East West project would be completed by December 2014. Elder Orubebe who gave the assurance at a news briefing on the progress of ongoing projects in the region, said that all necessary steps that would fast track the completion of the projects have been put in place.
Budgetary provision to the ministry
According to him, a total of N156 billion has so far been spent on the East-West Road project and that another N193.8 billion is needed to complete the project, which has attained average 51 per cent completion.
Noting that the budgetary provision to the ministry could not cover the total cost of the project, Orubebe said the ministry, the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice and the Debt Management Office were working in collaboration with financial institutions to ensure accelerated funding of the road projects.
He said: “In order to complete the project by 2014 according to the programme of work and cash flow projections for the four sections, the additional funds required in 2012 is N34.4b, while funds required for 2013 will be N86.5 and funds finally required for 2014 will be N50 billion. From Sure-P budget for the ministry, the sum of N21.7billion is to be utilized for the East-West Road project this year. Going by these appropriations, it is not likely that these funds will be enough to complete the project by December 2014.”
To augment these sources a Collaborative Framework has been fashioned by the Ministry and the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, to set up a structure which will be used to raise and pool funds from which the Ministry can draw for the completion of the East West Road and other projects in the region. For this purpose, an all stakeholders conference which will involve the governors and governments of the nine states of the Niger Delta region, traditional rulers/opinion leaders, NGOs, Federal Ministry of Finance, National Planning Commission, Members of the National Assembly and other donor agencies is scheduled to hold in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital in November 2012.
It is most unfortunate that the Vanguard Newspaper which had in the past published reports enumerating the challenges facing the Ministry would suddenly indulge in championing the mischievous ploys to malign the person of the Minister and bring the good works of the Ministry into disrepute.
•F. U. OSAMOR is the Director ,Press & Public Relations of the Niger Delta Ministry. is the Director ,Press & Public Relations of the Niger Delta Ministry.