•Fears mount funds might disappear like NDDC’s
By Wale Olaleye
Despite the controversy surrounding alleged fleecing of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) under his direct watch and supervision, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, is said to be making final plans to get N20 billion ” working capital” for the East-West Road whose completion date has become open-ended after costing the federal government some N600 billion since the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.
To get the road finished once and for all, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration had transferred the funding and project management to the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWI) along with The 2nd Niger Bridge, the Lagos Ibadan expressway and the Abuja Kano Highway at a reduced costs which Julius Berger and the SWI had earmarked a hundred billion to the East-West Road with a N20 billion contribution from the federal budget.
But Akpabio told officials he wanted the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to project manage the East-West Road without the tedious process of the SWI and blackmailed the presidency to have the funds released to him claiming the Niger Delta militants were protesting the process – in his usual tactics to get direct funding from the Buhari administration.
In fact, THISDAY gathered that Buhari had since granted the minister’s request to obtain funds from the Sovereign Wealth Fund. But the SWI would only release the N20 billion contribution from the Budget Office as the balance of N80 billion has a very different governance structure which is not in line with the free wheeling of the Niger Delta ministry.
Akpabio is currently enmeshed in stunning corruption allegations, including the misuse of funds allocated to NDDC for infrastructure development in the Niger Delta.
The fear now among stakeholders in the oil-rich but backward region, THISDAY learnt yesterday, is that the new N20 billion might disappear just like the billions of Naira of the NDDC funds that have been allegedly misappropriated in the last seven months and beyond. Experts say the Ministry of Niger Delta does not have the engineering support for such a project, so releasing the funds to Akpabio would be a waste as what is required is the proper funding structures of the SWI or the Federal Ministry of Works. And in any case releasing N20 billion only for a project requiring N100 billion will “almost certainly see the waste of the funds in all sorts of consultancies or reviews of even “forensic audit”, said a source in the presidency.
But the approval to release the N20 Billion to Akpabio, is generating concerns within government circles, with many questioning the purposes at a time of heightened public suspicion amid alleged massive mismanagement at NDDC under the supervision of the minister.
Particularly curious about the approval, observers say, is the possibility that the N20 billion may end up a waste, because the amount may not be sufficient to complete the construction of the road and could go the way of several other billions allocated to the project and the agency.
“The questions being asked now are: will N20 billion complete the construction of the road that had gulped over N600 Billion for several years and still in a perilous state? Why seek to take control of an amount that will not complete the road when the SWI had earmarked N100 billion to complete the project as is now been done with the 2nd Niger Bridge, the Lagos Ibadan Expressway and the Abuja Kano highway?
“Or is this just another pretext to feed the large appetite of consultants and fritter away the government’s resources on the altar of corruption and embezzlement?”
The East-West road project was first awarded in 2006 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration but driven by the YarAdua/ Jonathan administrations.
The project, a 657-kilometre dual carriageway, stretching from Calabar in Cross River State to Warri in Delta State, was, however, valued at N726 billion at the time and approved by the federal government at the height of agitations by youths in the Niger Delta.
In 2017, the Rivers State government called on the federal government to declare a state of emergency on the failed portion of the road, especially, the Akpajo-Eleme axis, saying it has become a death trap and huge embarrassment to the country.