From Joe Effiong, Uyo
Chairman of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, has alleged that the South-South and South-East geo-political zones were not accomodated in the 2017 national budget.
Consequently, he has recommended that a six-member expert committee be set up to, immediately, examine the 2017 budget before it is passed into law by the National Assembly.
Addressing PANDEF General Assembly in Uyo, yesterday, Clark, who condemned what he described as the seeming lopsidedness of the 2017 budget and some recent budgets against the Niger Delta region, said: “For some time now, since the creation of the interventionist agencies for the Niger Delta region such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) and the Ministry of Niger Delta, I think there has been a deliberate attempt to shortchange the region.
“There does not seem to be any significant allocation in the national budget in any of the sectors in the area. In most cases, what is voted for one major infrastructural project in the other regions is far more than the entire budget for one of the interventionist agencies in the Niger Delta.
“For instance, this year, the total budget for the Niger Delta, including salaries, wages and projects is N33 billion, out of which N6.55 billion is for the completion of the East-West Road.
“This amount is just about 61 percent of the N54.2 billion allocated to the Lagos State by only one ministry, the Ministry of Works.
“As a matter of fact, the amount allocated to Lagos State Government by the Federal Ministry of Works is more than that allocated to the South-East and South-South geo-political zones which comprises 11 states which got N52.8 billion.
“This is worrisome. I am, therefore, recommending that an expert committee, not more than six persons should be set up to examine the present budget before it is passed into law.”
He. however. appealed to the Federal Government to re-visit some appointments made earlier by President Muhammadu Buhari, and said such lopsided appointments are “detrimental and unfavourable to the people of Niger Delta as well as in the interest of national unity and peace in the region.”
Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, who described the Niger Delta as the economic live-wire of the country, regretted the lackadaisical approach of his fellow governors in the region in addressing issues of the area; but said he would not relent in his effort in ensuring that his colleagues see reasons to shelve their political sentiments and come together to build a better region.
Commending the effort of the federal government in solving the problems of the area, Udom said he does not see reason why an oil and gas-producing region would lack power and even a refinery.
“With the challenges we have as a people, today, we need to speak with one voice.
“Those of us from this region are in the right position to say what hurt us. I think and I believe that all governors from the Niger Delta region will be at the fore front.
“We will not relent in talking to our colleagues, on the need for us to come together, for the benefit of the region.
A former governor of the state and co-chairman of PANDEF, Otuekong Idongesit Nkanga, urged the people of the region to find new ways to make known their concerns, saying dialogue was a better means of airing their views as opposed to radicalism. He, however, expressed his gratitude to the federal government, which he opined, had positively changed its attitude towards the region.
“Since when we met the president, we have seen tremendous change in their attitude. We can see that the East-West Road has been done to an extent but let us not forget that the road that leads from Oron to Calabar has still not been done,” he stated.