The shoulders of Elder Godsday Orubebe, second Minister in charge of the new Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs are indeed broad and he has his job cut out for him: created in September 2008 with operations commencing in February, 2009 under the pioneer minister, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation Obong Ufot Ekaete, the mandate of the Ministry is to formulate and execute programmes, projects and policies for the development and security in the nine states of the Niger Delta region, namely Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers states. The Ministry also has the responsibility to coordinate the activities of Agencies, Communities, Donors and other stakeholders involved in the development of the region.
However, funding may yet be the bane of the ministry’s ability or otherwise to meet its own deadlines for completion of many of its projects, chief among which is what the minister described as “the flagship of its infrastructure projects is the dualization of the East-West Road, inherited from the Federal Ministry of Works since 2009. When the new ministry took it over the job was at 10% completion.
As the minister explained to the concerned South-South monarchs led by the Jaja of Opobo His Majesty King Douglas Jaja, who had come to meet Elder Orubebe and his Management team to find out what is holding the project down, work is at 50 per cent completion, with some 43 bridges along the route substantially completed. The minister says the current cost of the East-West road project is close to N350billion, while to-date a total of nearly N134billion has been expending even as an outstanding liability of over N24 billion remains.
The minister has been requested by the visiting monarchs to convene another, enlarged Stakeholders’ meeting of traditional rulers, legislators and other interest groups from the Niger Delta to discuss and dictate their pressing needs for consideration in subsequent budgets as a way of enhancing a bottoms-up approach to development of the area.
The project which commenced in 2006 and was initially slated for completion in 2010 has suffered perennial funding constraint, such that completion date has had to change many times. By the last count before the meeting with the region’s monarchs in Abuja, 2013 had been fixed for concluding work. However since the finance constraints persist, a new date of December 2014 was being considered, but even at that, except something drastic is done urgently to shore up implementation cash flow, that date too as Orubebe says, “is also being threatened by inadequate funding” and still not be delivery date.
The minister is therefore in the middle of frantic efforts, given the importance of the road to development in the region in particular and Nigeria in general, to secure alternative sources of funding. To be able to meet the 2014 new date, the ministry is looking at the Infrastructure Bank Plc. (the old Urban development Bank of Nigeria), to act as Transaction Advisor and Finance Arranger (TAFA) and work with the ministry as well as the Ministry of Finance for the goal of sourcing alternative funding for the completion of the East-West Road Project.
As if the ministry did not have enough on its plate as it were, on hearing the mooting of the new source of project funding, threats of violent opposition to it were engineered by some youths in the area which stalled further consideration.
Although the minister of Niger Delta Affairs told the Royal Fathers about other on-going projects such as nine Skills Acquisition Centres in the areas of Oil and Gas, Commerce, Tourism, Entertainment Maritime business and Agriculture. Other such centres in Imo, Cross River, Rivers and Bayelsa states are scheduled for completion this year.
The monarchs also left Orubebe with a copy of the report of their 2011 South-South Monarchs’ Retreat.
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