From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Elder statesman and chairman of Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Edwin Clark, has urged the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, to stop interfering in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), operations.
This is even as he as called on President Muhammadu Buhari to set aside a special fund to complete the East West Road started by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Clark, who spoke on Wednesday at his residence when he received the Interim Administrator of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Effiong Okon, and his team in Interim Management Committee (IMC), also wants the minister to live above personal interest and have the interest of the Niger Delta region at heart.
Clarke said: “There is a law governing NDDC which we all participated in producing and no one should bypass that law or bridge it. Even Mr. President has no power to bypass the law establishing NDDC except he has to go back to National Assembly for any amendment. So, any attempt to bridge the law will become illegal, null and void.
“Well, there has been many arguments about sole administrator or the legality and illegality which have been discussed…the NDDC was under the presidency and we know how it was used. But many of us never thought moving NDDC to Niger Delta ministry was the best thing to do because it would be misused. Niger Delta ministry is our own ministry, therefore, NDDC going to the ministry would not have been a bad idea so we supported it. But what we are opposed is that NDDC is an independent agency like any other one like NPA. In other agencies, the ministers did not abandon their own ministries to go and concentrate in these agencies, that is the problem we have. For sometime, some of us have been advising the minister, don’t abandon your ministry and concentrate on NDDC it is not fair. The minister of transportation does not concentrate on NPA or NIMASA or Railways. The minister of state petroleum did not concentrate on NNPC. So the problem we have therefore, is the constant interference with the affairs of NNDC by the minister of Niger Delta. So, I do hope that in your performance of duties you should have a free hand.
“I was shocked when the minister announced that the East West road must be completed, N18 billion was voted for the ministry for capital project. And the minister said we are going to spend about N16 billion on the east west road and you have just confirmed it. There’s no provision anywhere even in the NDDC budget that part of the budget is to be used in the completion of the east west road. East west road is one of the economic road in Nigeria, I see no reason why the Federal ministry of works should not be in charge of the East-West Road. That is not the duty of NDDC, east west road is the duty of the ministry of works. So we have been protesting that the federal government should make available special funds for that very important economic road. In the recent budget, Kano State alone has three roads within Kano costing about N60 billion to be constructed with our oil money. What is being done for us? Do we have to go and beg for money to build roads? So whoever is the minister should live above his own personal interest and put the interest of Niger Delta first.
“So, Mr. President should provide enough for the completion of the east-west road.”
Clark also appealed to the youths of the region to give peace a chance in order to allow for development.”
In his remarks earlier, the Interim Administrator of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Effiong Okon, gave assurance that the East-West road, will be completed and commissioned in six months.
This is even as he has appealed to Delta youths who last week blocked the Delta State axis of the East-West road, protesting his appointment by President Buhari, to allow peace to reign for the benefit of the region.
He said: “The east-west road that was initiated by the administration of President Obasanjo many years ago is still lingering. That is why the current minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio, took it as a responsibility that the east-west road must be completed and handed over for the use of the people of the Niger Delta. That enough of the accidents, enough of robbery on the road because of the non-completion of this road and bridges.
“He has also suggested that we collaborate with the federal ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, so with the budget we now have, we are going to collaborate. So, you are going to see within the next six months to one year, that the East-West Road stretching all the way from Warri upto Oron with the bridges will be completed and handed over for the use of the Niger Delta.”
Okon, who was appointed by President Buhari last December to oversee the affairs of the NDDC, also said the abandoned hostels in the universities in Delta, Ondo and Rivers states would be completed and commissioned in the next three months.
The NDDC Interim Administrator, while commending the National Assembly for approving the 2020 budget of N453.2 billion for the NDDC, last December after 12 months of not having a budget to work with, also assured that verified contracts that have not been attended to for years, will also be paid in phases.
Okon said: “Number one, we will identify some of the people that did contracts. Contractors for many years have not been paid, it is unfortunate what we met on ground but we want to say our some of our sons who ran the place some times did not follow the extant rules. So we have large volumes of jobs on ground not paid thereby subjecting our people to untold hardships. Individuals have lost their wives who could not afford money for delivery because, the contracts have been held down for many years. We have made this presentation to the National Assembly to make arrangement to give NDDC their funds from ecological funds, statutory deductions so that we can make money available to contractors that have done their jobs over time. That will alleviate the suffering of the people of Niger Delta. So we want to pursue payment of contractors that did their verified jobs so that their problems could be eased.”
The Interim Administrator also said the IMC will also intervene in the completion of hostels in some federal universities in the region.
He said: “During my visit to one of the universities, we discovered that a 750 bed hostel that has been abandoned for the past 20 years. I have told myself that this project ha to be completed in the next three months so that it would benefit the people. It is a federal university. We have one in Ondo, Delta, Rivers and others scattered like that but not yet completed. We want to sure these hostels are completed and made again let for students to move in. The COVID-19 rule would have been obeyed because there will be ease, enough room to give people social distancing otherwise our people will suffer, pay the supreme prize for COVID. We don’t want this and so we want to intervene.”