Only recently, an unprecedented tragedy unfolded in the Niger Delta Region, with surging flood spreading through the East-West Road which is the flagship project of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
Terrified by the surging water which rendered distressed commuters plying the road stranded, Nigerians expressed fears that apart from the ministry's cry for poor funding, the project may never see the light. But the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, in this interview with CHRISTIANA ESEBONU after an on the spot assessment tour, dismissed these fears, saying his people will have cause to smile come 2014.
Sir, a few months ago, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs clocked four years which affectively means four years of consistent battle against underdevelopment of the region. How would you access your performance?
Well, four years after, today we are here again. For the past two weeks, the engineers of the Ministry of Niger Delta and the three contractors working on the East-West road have been making assessments after the flood. Specifically as at last week we held a meeting with contractors and gave a directive that they should do some quick recovery work to fill the bad portions of the roads so that traffic can flow.
As you can see, today, we have gone through the East- West road from Onne in Rivers state down to Owerem in Delta State and you have seen the work that has been done by the contractors and you can see traffic flowing. This is just a temporary measure to allow free traffic flow but the intention of Mr. president is to ensure that contractors work round the clock to ensure some solid work is done between now and the yuletide period.
Four years ago, this ministry was created to fast tract development in the Niger Delta and the East-West road which we are standing on now has been one of the flagship projects of the ministry and of course, because of funding gaps, we have only done about fifty one percent (51%) .
When we came in, we took it over when it was less than ten percent (10%). Today, we have made major attainment, and we had hoped that what the contractors had done, we were going to continue from there after the floods. But you can see that the floods have done a lot of damage to the road itself. This notwithstanding, my contractors, at my last meeting with them, assured me that with funds available, aftermath of the floods will not stop us from completing this road by the agreed deadline of December , 2014.
And so, we are still on course. We have told Mr. president that if availed with the needed funds, we will not fail to deliver this road to the people of the Niger Delta and Nigerians generally by December 2014. And so, this is what we have done so far with regards to our flagship project.
Of course, the ministry of Niger Delta as at today is constructing eight skills centers. Nine of them were awarded but one was later cancelled because the contractors were not performing.
Out of the eight that are going on, we are very optimistic that about four of them will be put into use by the second quarter of 2013 and when that is done, these skills acquisition centers will train our youths in oil and gas, maritime, agriculture, tourism. In fact, the one in Cross River state, the Governor, His Excellency, Senator Liyel Imoke and the minister himself, are eager that it be put into use. This is because, Cross River State is a tourist haven and that center is meant to train people on tourism.
Outside the East- West Road, we have also done eleven road projects with three attaining over eighty percent completion level. We also have seven environmental projects out of which four of them are due for commissioning by the first quarter of 2013.
We have also trained over 700 non- militant youths in various fields-in oil and gas, maritime, agriculture, construction, to mention but a few sectors and we have assisted some of them to gain employment in certain areas. We also hope to train more next year when the budget is passed.
By the time this skills centers are completed, we will no longer send people outside the shores of Nigeria for training. All of them will be trained in the country. We have been discussing with the office of the adviser to the president on Niger Delta on the people he has been sending out for training.
Once this centers are completed, we hope to give them to private consultants to train both the ex-militants and youths generally We have also, over the period, felt that there is need for the ministry of Niger Delta and stakeholders to have a forum where issues bordering on the region would be discussed.
Mr. President has also approved a council on Niger Delta which will formally meet between now and next month (December) for the first time. To discuss how far we have gone, where we are now and where we should be. That council is put in place.
We have also developed a kind of framework where all the stakeholders are coming together to put their resources in one basket to see what we can do.
The essence of that is to ensure that projects are not duplicated, resources are managed very well and so the UNDP is acting on behalf of the donor agencies and other bodies that are interested in developing the Niger Delta. That framework is ready and it will also be presented to the Council of Niger Delta.
A number of things are being done and I think so far so good. We have started very well. We have laid a solid foundation and the Ministry of Niger Delta is on track. This government is on track.
Mr. President is determined to see that after his tenure, the people of Niger Delta will beat their chest and say yes, government 'came, promised and delivered'. And I think so far I can say that we are on track, and will deliver to the people of Niger Delta and Nigerians in general.
Hon. Minister Sir, I saw some structures that were brought down. To this effect, can you tell us the sections you have inspected today? How far you have gone with paying compensation to those affected by the dualisation of the East- West road?
I think the only area where we are talking about compensation is section 2. That is the area around Port Harcourt. Yes, within Port Harcourt, structures are being demolished now. We have already paid compensations and contractors are clearing that area now. We have also provided the framework for work to commence at full swing. Now, that the floods are over but what is being done, is to see that the road is patched in a way that traffic is not disturbed.
So far, we don't have any problems with compensations. The monies have been released to contractors to pay compensations. It is left for contractors to go in full swing to see that the date Mr. President has set for us is met. But of course, you will see that a lot of the work, like the pavement have been destroyed. But like I said earlier, contractors have at our last meeting assured us that with funds availability, the 2014 completion date is attainable.
So, how much has the Federal Government committed into this project?
Well, the East - West road project, I think is something we have said repeatedly. This project is gulping over N350 bn. That is what the federal government is using to complete this road. Of course, you know the economic importance of this road. It is linking the oil producing states of Nigeria.
This is a presidential project that was promised in 2006, awarded in 2006 and this is where we are. And we are very confident that with the determination of Mr. President, this project will be delivered to the people of Niger Delta and Nigerians as a whole by December 2014.
Hon. Minister Sir, you have always complained of underfunding of the Ministry, particularly, allocations and actual releases for the East/West Road project. I have observed that not much work has been done on the bridges at section 1. Being that the intention is to make it a dual carriage way, scheduled to be completed by 2014. How can this be achieved given this new development?
Well, I know the last time I toured this road with the press, particularly the bridge that we just inspected. What is on ground is over 80 percent of what was there as at that time. Everything about the bridge has been casted. What is left is to launch it. Almost all the bridges have been completed. The structure, the framework is completed. What is left is the completion of the general road work to be completed to put everything on course.
You talked about the financial situation. The last time I toured with the press, I also told you that the normal budgetary allocation by the federal government will not be in any away adequate for the completion of the project.
I vowed to look for alternative sources of funding which are now available. The framework is done. And that is why am telling everybody that we are on course, This project will be delivered. And so, funding will not be a problem as far as this government is concerned. We are working to meet the deadline as promised Mr. President,
Aside the fact that your Projects are not community based, are you not disturbed by the continuous call for the scrapping of the ministry of Niger Delta Affairs by the Niger Deltans?
Well, I am not unaware that the expectations are very high. Particularly, when you look at where we are coming from. From 1957 we have been in this dream of how Niger Delta region could be developed. And we have had so many Boards, we have had Commissions. What people expect to see is Abuja in Niger Delta. That is the expectations of our people. Until you see Abuja in Niger Delta, the people of Niger Delta and Nigerians will not be satisfied that government has done anything.
I assure you that the cries will not stop. The expectations are high. The ministry was created because the people of Niger Delta were still crying. That not enough work has been done in spite of the commissions that were in place prior to our coming on board.
Their cry was that they had needed development to the standard of Abuja, Amsterdam and Houston in the United States. That is what people are expecting to see and of course, the minister of Niger Delta came and they expected that there will be an immediate turn around.
I have also told people that development takes some time. For development to come, first, you have to put the framework and structure in place. And proceed to look for the resources.
What I tell people is that they should give Mr. President some time. He is going to deliver. And I have said it over and over that as a son of the soil, Mr. President is not unaware of the problems of the region.
He schooled here and understands the language of underdevelopment and cry for the region's development. And the minister of Niger Delta Affairs is also from the Niger Delta, born and bred here. We are very well interested in the development of the region.
Remember Mr. President worked in the OMPADEC when it was created. I am not boasting. But it will be difficult to find somebody who will beat the feelings of President Goodluck Jonathan with regards to the development of the long neglected Niger Delta region.
We cannot find a better period than this. Mr. President is determined, this government is determined to ensure that a difference is made. To this effect, let me restate that this road and all other activities will be completed by the set date.
Mr. President has told everybody that by the time he will leave office, people will remember that these things were done during his administration. We will not disappoint the people of this country. All am asking for is that they should exercise a little more patience. Development takes time but we are determining to make a positive change in Niger Delta.
Do you think contractors are actually matching government investment with result?
What I will tell you is that the contractors we have on ground are grade A contractors in this country. To be sincere, what they have even put on ground is more than what government have put in.
Only recently, we appealed to them to make the flood impacted road useable before the yuletide period and they immediately responded in spite of the fact that we are owing them over twenty billion naira.
I think the people of the region and Nigerians in general should commend them for their sacrifice. If not for anything , for joining us in the quest to develop our once neglected region.
Look at what is on ground now. As we speak now, there is no budget for these contractors this year. I mean between now and the end of December. We have no money to pay them but we called them to an emergency meeting and reminded them that, 'look, you are co- partners in the development of the Niger Delta. Let us see how we can repair the damaged section of the East-West road and they responded promptly without us giving them one kobo.
They are still going to their banks to borrow money to come and do the work. That is to tell you that they are committed to this task. We have very credible contractors and we meet from time to time. I also think they should really be appreciated.
To be honest, we are satisfied with what they have done so far. We are on course. We will be able to deliver this road. Now, I want to condemn the recent naming of the flooded area in the East-West Road, 'River ORUBEBE'. That was very unfair. The floods were not caused by Orubebe. This is a natural phenomenon. All over the world, flooding is taking place.
People were paddling on the spot we are standing here today the last time we came. And so flooding is not something that you can plan to meet. This are natural occurrences that will come at any given point in time. Some weeks before the election in the US, Hurricane Sandy was recorded, will anybody say it was Obama that caused it?