By Emmanuel Nduka
Worried by the continuous delay in the completion of the East West Road, President Muhammadu Buhari has revoked the handling of the project from the Godswill Akpabio-led Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and handed it over to the Presidential Infrastructural Development Fund (PIDF).
Akpabio had told President Buhari at a Stakeholders Meeting at the Presidential Villa on Friday that the East West Road Project has reached 85 percent completion stage, a development that angered prominent Ogoni leaders at the meeting.
One of the Ogoni leaders who attended the meeting, told The Heritage Times that Akpabio’s claims angered the Ogoni leaders, and they immediately booed the Minister and shut him down before the eyes of President Buhari. “You are a liar! You have been mismanaging our resources,” they chided him, adding that he is a “disaster” to the Niger Delta as a Minister.
Prior to the Ogoni leaders meeting with Buhari, the Ijaw National Congress, (INC) had paid Buhari a courtesy visit. The group however, could not achieve the milestone achieved by the Ogoni leaders, as they barely brought the East West Road matter to the table.
Buhari’s directive means that the PIDF will now handle the project up till completion stage.
The source also informed that Buhari also ordered an immediate take-off of the University of Environment located in Ogoni land.
HOW THE EAST WEST ROAD HAS DRAGGED ON SINCE ON SINCE 2006
The Road Project which is a dual carriage four-lane way, spans about 361km across Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states. It was designed as a regional spine on the East West axis to provide free movement of goods, services and passengers.
It was awarded in 2006 by President Olusegun Obasanjo with the completion dateline of August 2009. The Yar’Adua government however came on board and moved to speed up the project. According to Akpabio, the project would be valued at N1 trillion upon completion.
While successive leaderships of the Niger Delta Ministry have used paucity of funds as excuse for non-completion of the project, those saddled with the responsibility of developing the region, have done nothing but mismanaged opportunities to develop the region. The project has turned sour, and has remained under construction since 2006.
During the Goodluck Jonathan era, the East West Road received funding from the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Subsidy Re-investment Empowerment Programme (SURE-P). Regrettably, Jonathan was misled by the Godsday Orubebe-led Niger Delta Ministry. In 2016, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), filed charges against Orubebe, alongside Oludare Lawrence Alaba, Ephraim Towelde Zaki and Gitto Construction Limited. The five-count charges bordered on corruption, perjury, and diversion of about N2bn meant for the dualisation of Section IV of the East West Road.
After acknowledging the failures of his predecessors, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs in 2017, Pastor Usani Uguru who himself did not do any better, concluded that the East West Road Project “was designed to fail”.
Earlier in July this year, the Federal Government had released the sum of N2.5 billion for compensation to pave ways for remedial works to be carried out on the deplorable Eleme-One Section of the East West Road.
Disclosing this, Akpabio appealed to protesting Niger Delta youths who were demanding completion of the project to vacate section 3 of the East West Road to enable contractors commence work. “The essence of this protest is to draw the attention of the government to the road, now we are here allow us to commence work,” the Minister pleaded, acknowledging that the youths were right to stage a protest over the delay. He also disclosed that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has also budgeted another N35 billion to support the project.