Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
Ijaw youths on Monday kicked against the setting aside of about $1 billion to fight insurgency in the North-east, insisting that the Niger Delta devastated by years of oil exploration and neglect needs the funds more urgently.
The National Economic Council (NEC) had given the nod to the federal government to withdraw the fund from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to boost the fight against Boko Haram insurgency by the military, a move the youths said was suspicious.
Coming under the banner of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide, the youths argued that it was not only unfair to vote the whopping sum to fight a war the government said it already won, but that it was also a disservice to the people of the Niger Delta where a large part of the revenue comes from.
A statement issued by the national spokesman of the IYC, Daniel Dasimaka, described the NEC decision as â€˜reckless and wastefulâ€™ at a time when scarce resources are needed to meet the nationâ€™s other pressing developmental needs.
The group said: â€œThe proposed move by the National Economic Council to withdraw the $1 billion from the $2.3billion in the ECA leaving the account with a balance of $1.31 billion, under the guise of funding the war on an already defeated Boko Haram is not only reckless, but economically senseless.
â€œThis is because going by the current dollar to naira exchange rate of N361 to $1, it means we are about to spend N361 billion, which is greater than the combined sums earmarked for education, health, North-east Intervention Fund, Niger Delta Ministry, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the East-WestrRoad in the proposed 2018 National Budget presented by the president to a joint session of the National Assembly last month.â€
According to the IYC, allotting such a humongous sum for that single project means that federal government does not get its priorities right.
â€œFor clarity, the following are the sums allotted to the above mentioned items: education N61.73 billion; Health: N71.11 billion; North East Intervention fund N45.00 billion; Niger Delta Ministry: N53.89 billion; NDDC: N71.20 billion and East-West Road: N17.32 billion.
â€œWe, therefore call on the federal government to spend the $1billion oil money from the Niger Delta on projects like the East-West road, second Niger Bridge, Brass LNG project, speedy completion of the rehabilitation of Port Harcourt International Airport and the proper kick-off of the cleaning of Ogoni land and the entire Niger Delta,â€ the group demanded.
The IYC maintained that despite the noise over the clean-up of Ogoni land and the much touted new vision for the Niger Delta region, there was nothing much to show, stressing that it was only fair that the money should be spent in the region where the revenues come from.
â€œWe are calling on the federal government to spend that $1billion ECA funds in the promotion of developmental projects and programmes in the Niger Delta where the vast majority of the crude oil that earned the funds are derived from.
â€œExploration and exploitation of crude oil in the region come with many negative environmental and socio-economic impacts. This can be remedied, instead of squandering it on an already defeated Boko Haram,â€ the IYC argued.