7 October 2007

Nigeria: Southern Senators, Presidency On War Path Over Budget

Abuja — Southern Senators are rising up in arms against the Presidency over proposals to skew 2008 budgetary proposals for water supply in favour of dams, authoritative sources in the Senate have told Sunday Vanguard.

The protest by the Senators stemmed from a proposal reportedly made by the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr. Sayyadi Ruma, to shift government's priority towards dams and irrigation projects as against the provision of boreholes across the country.

Dams and irrigation projects are considered helpful to the north's dry season farming culture. At least two hundred of the dams holding approximately thirty to forty billion cubic meters of water are spread across the country and mostly in the north.

Southern Senators are as such complaining that the new government focus of tilting most of the ministry's water supply budget towards dams would leave the south dry under the new dispensation. Until now, Senators from across the country have had equal opportunity of channelling water projects to their senatorial districts through the provision of mechanised and manual boreholes to their constituencies under the constituency project programme.

However, sources in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources said that the new minister had shown his disapproval of boreholes as a result of their repeated breakdowns.

"What we hear is that the minister is saying that boreholes have not proved useful and that many of those constructed in the past have broken down and so he now wants to focus on dams and other irrigation projects," one Senator said.

"But how do dams profit us in the South? What we need are boreholes and the fact that some broke down is not enough reason to scrap them".

The issue, Sunday Vanguard gathered, was muttered during a closed door session of the Senate last Tuesday.

Southern Senators who got to hear of the proposal complained that the proposal would leave the region in the cold as dams were not a channel for water supply to the region.

Adding to the anxiety of the southern lawmakers is the decision to cap the budget of the combined Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources at N90 billion with N48 billion going to Agriculture and N42 billion going to Water Resources.

The feeling of unease among the Southern Senators is further stretched by reports of a directive to the nation's River Basin Authorities to stop further activities towards the construction of boreholes.

While faulting the reported directive, another Southern Senator noted that the proposal would not address the nagging problems of disease control in the country.

"Diseases like guinea worms and other water borne problems cannot be addressed by the construction of dams, can they? What we need is potable water and this can be provided through the construction of boreholes and other water projects," the Senator who spoke on the condition of confidentiality said.

"It is ironic that with only about 10% of the available water in the nation's dams currently being utilised that someone can be proposing more focus on dams instead of boreholes that can satisfy everyone of us in the country."

Only last Wednesday, Senate President David Mark had, at the inauguration of the Senate Committee on Water Resources, lamented the repeated failure of past governments to provide potable water for the generality of Nigerians.

He thus gave a marching order to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Senate Committee on Water to ensure the availability of potable water to every Nigerian at the end of the administration's tenure failing which he said they would have been considered as having failed.

Ruma could not be reached at the weekend as he was said to have travelled out of the country

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