By Udora Orizu
The House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta Affairs yesterday queried the allocation of N15 billion out of the N19 billion proposed in the 2021 budget by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs for capital expenditure for the construction of the East-West Road.
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, while presenting his ministry’s 2021 budget proposal to the committee, said N15 billion out of the N19 billion meant for capital expenditure would be used to construct the East-West Road.
But, members of the committee disagreed with him, saying the money is too much for just one project.
A member of the committee, Hon. Edim Eta, opined that the bulk of the money should go to youth programmes rather than the road.
According to him, “If you’re budgeting N15 billion for East-West Road, are you saying that only N4 billion is left for other Niger Delta projects. I don’t think that’s fair. I believe the bulk of the funding that’s coming in 2021 should go to youth programmes.
We all witnessed the #EndSARS protest; all these were from frustrations of staying at home from ASUU strike, unemploymentamong others, so can only N4 billion out of the total budget of the Niger Delta affairs go to those projects. Hon minister, I don’t think that’s a good idea. If the East-West Road money has been taken from the sovereign wealth fund, then the provision for that N15 billion should have been done separately to cover that.’’
Corroborating Eta’s question, the Chairman of the committee, Hon. Essien Ayi, said with the current agitations, the lawmakers would not allow him to spend such amount of money on only one project.
Ayi said: ‘’The East-West Road has been there for over 14 years. We just finished with #EndSARS, and we know what happened, as the whole of my state capital was turned upside down. The kind of devastation I saw there would have taken us about 10 years back. If the budget is youth-oriented, then why are we going to use N15 billion for East-West Road? I listened to the news where the Senate president warned that we should be careful that if this thing (protest) resurfaces again, it’s going to be very devastating. So minister, we have about three hundred and something projects in Niger Delta, so how are you going to allocate the money to this kind of project? It’s not possible, and we will not do it.’’
Responding, Akpabio said the amount spent so far on the road is about N423 billion, while amount paid till date is about N354billion.
He opined that the total completion of the road is about 80 percent, saying though release of funds is slow, and the annual rainfall has affected the work, the ministry is determined to surpass those challenges.
Speaking on why N15 billion was allocated to the project, the minister said: ‘’I want to deliver a road that will last for many years. You may not like my state, but look at my records; the roads I did 13 years ago in my state don’t have potholes. So I have the hope that I will deliver the same in the Niger Delta. We will provide for you the details of designs among others. I have not allowed any single variation, because I have not seen the kind of quality of work I would have loved to see, there was one that entered into Federal Executive Council and I had to step it down.”