Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
A week after the acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, visited Bayelsa, with the promise of a new vision for the Niger Delta region, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, yesterday in Yenagoa, urged all stakeholders to work towards changing the ongoing negative conversation around the region.
Fashola, who inspected some federal road projects in the state, including the Okarki-Yenigwe-Kolo road leading to Ogbia, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s local government and the popular East-West road, called on governors of the oil-rich area to ‘step up’ in collaboration with the federal government and change the face of the Niger Delta.
He admitted that the government at the centre has not had as much impact as it should in the region, even with substantial resources at its disposal, but promised that with the renewed attention on the Niger Delta, things would soon change.
While noting that development can only take place in an atmosphere of peace, the former Lagos governor vowed to complete major road projects in the state, working closely with all stakeholders.
“We need to find peace here very quickly and the story must change. This is one of the reasons we have come here; to see if what is being reported about this place is true. And this is not a place where the story suggests you can’t work.
“But we need to get more ambassadors who will say ‘I work here, I live here. This place is safe’. And that’s what encourages people to come out and address the infrastructure work that needs to be done here.
“But we can only do that by collaboration, by peace and partnership. Not only do the governor and I have our work cut out for us, but the governors and his colleagues in the South South must step up now and change the conversation around this place”, the Minister said.
Fashola, who acknowledged the difficulty of infrastructural development in the region because of the terrain, stressed that the Niger Delta remains of huge importance to the federal government and therefore deserves all the attention it can get.
“The collaboration that the governor spoke about in producing more energy from gas is something that I intend to take up. I understand the challenges of building in the creeks and the swamps. That’s how my state is like.
“It’s a difficult terrain. We all need to get our hands in the plough here. I see that the presence of the federal government has not been as impactful as it should have been over the years, especially in terms of infrastructure across the Delta, not just in Bayelsa.
“This place has great potential. It can create jobs for the youths of Nigeria. From gas and other by-products, creating industry and life defining infrastructure, connecting the sea. These are places where you can do a lot of tourism. The possibilities are endless. But we need to shake hands and that is why we are here”, he explained.
On the problems militating against the power stations in the Niger Delta, Fashola stated that shortage of gas and other associated reasons remain a major challenge.
He said: “The problem with Gbarain power plant is also the problem of gas supply to the gas pipeline, they shut the gas pipes where they are not good, sometimes the gas pipes are broken. Gbarain was off the greed till about two weeks ago. So, last two weeks, we started receiving power from there.
“These are problems we are solving and the strategic importance of the gas assets the states of the Niger Delta and the Niger Delta itself cannot be understated.
“If I recall correctly, Gbarain was built for over 400 Megawatts and is optimising only a quarter of that capacity because of gas. And it’s like that in in Geregu, Alaoji and the rest”, he said.
The minister, who paid a visit to Governor Seriake Dickson, in the new governor’s office, said with the road projects about to continue throughout the region, unemployment occasioned by the current recession would be substantially alleviated.
“We have been through the east-west road which is a federal road, although it is under the Niger Delta ministry through the NDDC, but there’s a lot we can do in terms of collaboration to complete this road.
“We need to collaborate to complete these roads, or from project to project. The contractors left site. Unfortunately, this happened in a period of relative prosperity in terms of resources coming in, but this government is determined that whatever the case, the infrastructure represents the way out of recession.
“Finishing them means getting contractors back to work, those living in those localities to have opportunities to get engaged and employed. And also connecting those facilities which will make it easier to transverse between Bayelsa and Rivers and to other states, not only in the South-south, but also in the South-east”, he added.
He told governor Dickson that the contractors have already been ordered back to site, pledging to pay them once certificates of work done have been presented.
“I have spoken to the contractors and I have charged them to come back to site. We will take control of the project in a much more different way such that there is a more generous provision for the work that is going on.
“This is a matter where your brother colleagues and representatives in the Senate and reps can make the budgeting process more flexible. And this will change the way we budget”, Fashola noted.
He also promised that sometime in the year, contractors will be able to start the housing project proposed in the state. “Our presence should be felt now much more than perhaps in the over the last two years”, he maintained.
In his remarks, Dickson, who listed some areas of challenges, told his visitor that Bayelsa remains the heart of the Niger Delta.
“Bayelsa is the centre of gravity. The story of Nigeria’s oil started just about ten minutes from here. Until you visit Bayelsa, you haven’t visited Niger Delta.
“All the issues there are in the Niger Delta are present here. If there’s any minister, I love like to take to the creeks of Bayelsa to appreciate the challenges of development, where you dig seven feet of earth and fill with sand of all sizes, then create land before putting anything it, it is you.
“Your appointment gave a lot of people hope. And we are very hopeful that with you in these critical ministries, it’s in the hands of someone we have confidence in and has capacity to deliver”, he told his visitor.
According to him, the ministries handled by Fashola remain critical. He, however added that the impact of the federal government was not being felt in the state.
“These are areas that we want to collaborate with the FG. Your ministry and FG have very little footprint in the area of road construction. We have talked about these roads for several years for even as long as old as Nigeria is. Now you have seen where they are.
“A road from Nembe to Brass is like building the third mainland bridge. Some of the roads we call roads here are actually bridges because the whole of Bayelsa is below sea level. So the cost of construction is twenty times what you have in other areas. We are available for collaboration. We can’t handle it alone”, he said.
Dickson accused the federal government of leaving the Niger Delta behind in terms of development, stressing that the sooner the government at the centre realised, the better.
“These roads are too expensive. Our country, unfortunately has left this part of Nigeria behind. Nigeria left Bayelsa and the Niger Delta behind. No road to Brass, yet crude is lifted daily. Same for forcados”, he added.