By Chris Ochayi
The Minister of State, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Darius Dickson Ishaku, is optimistic that the 2014 deadline for the completion of the East West Road project would be met.
Ishaku, in this interview, describes the road project as the flagship of the ministry, faulting critics who say the ministry is a drain pipe on the nation’s resources. Excerpts:
Many observers of the activities at the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs have come to a near conclusion that the ministry has failed to deliver on its mandate. Others have gone as far as describing it as a drain on the nation’s resources. Do you subscribe to this perception?
The Niger Delta Ministry was a well thought- out idea. The ministry was a mother of necessity. Before the creation, there were threats in the once neglected region. Oil production which, today, stands at 2.6 million barrels per day fell to 700,000 with rising trend of insecurity.
Inspite of the fact that budget performance in terms of releases to this coordinating mother ministry has been poor since 2009, the ministry, overseen by Elder Godsday Orubebe, can still boast of being one of the few extraordinarily performing ministries at the federal level.
The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s administration came up with a call for ceasefire in the Niger Delta which gave birth to amnesty for the region’s militants. After the amnesty, the next stage was putting projects to open up the region and engage the people meaningfully.
So, to me, the ministry is not a drain on the nation’s resources as critics are alleging. MNDA is doing well with regards to its assigned mandates. The issue of poor funding and continuous dwindling of budgetary allocation to the ministry, to a large extent, has slowed pace. There was no way these projects would have been completed without the fundamental resources.
The expected results would have come faster and quicker. But Mr. President has been kind to the ministry through his positive response as indicated in the 2013 budget allocation. This will, no doubt, spur us up and go a long way to achieving tangible results.
The ministry is also into agriculture. This year, we hope to do a lot more having received substantial amount in this year’s budget to promote agriculture in the region. To enhance this task and vision, we travelled to Israel on a fact- finding mission to adopt green houses agricultural production methods.
While in Israel, we considered adopting their fishery development method to put an end to a drain on our foreign exchange which comes as a result of importation of fish into our country. We all know that the Niger Delta is endowed with the wherewithal to produce fish in large quantities.
There is no way the ministry alone can ensure the Niger Delta bold transformation mandate. That is why we are calling on traditional rulers, youths and even the aggrieved as well as our critics, to step across criticism line and embrace this vision. The region belongs to all of us and we must restore it together.
Now, we also need a lot of resources to be able to do even more than this ministry intends to do. We intend to move a lot faster.
Apart from this plan to key into the agricultural sector, what stage are we today in terms of training and provision of other infrastructure in the region?
We have not achieved much in the area of training. We are hoping to do a lot this year. As you are aware, the budget was surrounded with issues, hence, our inability to commence our projects. We are hopeful that once we get what is due to us, we will spring into action, particularly on skill acquisition and on the proposed building of an industrial park.
Can you throw more light on the industrial park?
This is going to take the form of an industrial estate or call it trading park. It is going to be zoned and planned for the purpose of light industrial development .Turkey is a case study. Having weighed its advantage, we want to replicate it in the Niger Delta. The park will be located outside the main residential areas of the region.
We also hope to provide good transport access. Our major aim is to attract new businesses to the region by providing an integrated infrastructure in one location. It is also aimed at setting aside industrial uses from urban areas to try to reduce the environmental and social impact of the industrial uses. It will provide for localised environmental controls that are specific to the needs of an industrial area.
If I am to speak for Nigerians, the East West Road project is of great importance to the region and we all know that the dry season would have availed the ministry a great opportunity to expedite action on the project if it will meet its 2014 completion dateline. With the rainy season approaching, what excuse would the ministry give, if it fails to deliver on this project?
I visited the East- West Road project in December 2012 and January, February 2013 and will be there very shortly. This ministry has received commendations from various groups in the region over the progress of work. We have also done substantial payments to the contractors who are fully mobilised.
You should note that the critical areas such as section 1 and section 11 handled by Setraco have been almost completed. We are hoping that we will not fail Nigerians. Having completed most of the bridges and culverts, they have started laying the road. We are quite aware that the rainy season is around the corner. We are also aware of the promises we have made to deliver on the road. We will not disappoint Nigerians.
One other vital challenge we are facing in the region is insecurity. The contractors handling our projects have in many cases been kidnapped and their security men attacked. The kidnapping of expatriates from site in December and January, somehow, dampened the morale of other contractors.
Although our contractors are not quite willing to venture into site for fear of the unknown, we have, on our part, mobilised additional security to protect them. We have even gone as far as mobilising and sensitising the people that they cannot get development without peace.
So Setraco may not deliver on Sections 1 and 11of the road following security threats and the kidnapping of their workers?
They have promised that inspite of the security threats they are faced with, they will deliver on the project as agreed. Although we have doubled the security operatives attached to them, we know the kidnapping of their colleagues and the fact that they are surrounded by armed men affect their psyche. We are hoping that the situation will return to normal.
It might also interest you to know that although contractors kidnapped from our sites have been released, heavy ransoms were paid. I assure Nigerians that once there is calm, these contractors who are on top of the job will deliver. We are really maximising on the dry season to ensure that we achieve a lot before the rain sets in.
The rate of unemployment among the youths in the region is still high. What is the ministry doing to create jobs for unskilled youths in the region who mostly get involved in anti social acts as a result of idleness?
Given that most of these youths see criminality as a lucrative business, we have outlined result- oriented programmes for unskilled youths that will put them into legitimate businesses. The skill acquisition centres we are building are more or less like polytechnics. We want to give them skills to make them self- reliant.
We intend to train and empower them in building technology, commerce, maritime, etc. All we need is their undiluted trust and cooperation. We recognise the fact that they are assets and can be employable.
Unemployment has to be tackled. Consequently, jobs have to be created. Within the course of our administration, we intend to put the region‘s youths in agriculture, maritime, oil and gas, tourism and industry. We shall not provide a workshop for the devil and it is our intention to put the devil out of business in the region, permanently.
We need to put in place the machinery to effectively combat crime for peace in the region. We are building houses. We intend to do battle on this front, where some people still live in mud houses with thatched roofs. We are constructing rural roads linking up the urban areas to make life easier.
What is the mandate of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs?
The ministry was created to address the developmental challenges confronting the oil producing states in the South – South due to militancy. This ministry is tasked with the primary mandate of pursuing aggressive infrastructural development aimed at ensuring the creation of a vibrant economy for the region
Our focus is on the nine states of the region. Our policy thrust is to harness and optimise all available resources – both human and material – for the betterment of the people of the region.