• Minister blames Jonathan on neglect of S’East on railway, proposes phase 2 rail project
The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways, Hon. Dr. Pat Asadu has decried the lack of investment in the transportation infrastructure in the South East.
Other representatives also equally noted what they described as uneven spread of infrastructure to the different geopolitical zones, particularly the S’East, adding that the Eastern ports, the Eastern roads and the Eastern airports and the North East were obviously short-changed..
Asadu frowned at the neglect of the other modes of transport, especially the inland waterways, in the Transport Ministry’s budgets and policy statements.
He further observed that a Government promoting national peace and harmony and the multi-modal transport policy cannot concentrate all its investments to the near total exclusion of a geopolitical zone where a high percentage of the overall cargo are traded, or neglect the inland waterways that provide 28 out of the 36 states of Nigeria and the FCT with cheap, fast and secure means of transportation of bulk cargo, including containers, agricultural and mining products.
Asadu was reacting to explanations from the Hon Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, on why the N213b of the Ministry’s 2017 budget was devoted to railway infrastructure alone, while only a paltry N4b was allocated to the inland waterways, and wondered why such railway projects do not extend to the South East at all.
He reminded the minister and the audience of the fact that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, clearly makes it mandatory that both appointments to public
offices and development of the country’s infrastructure must be spread evenly, so as to command national loyalty and that it is the non-adherence to this federal character principle as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution that sometimes generate ethnic and regional tensions, agitations and even militias.
Asadu, a three time member, representing Nsukka / Igbo – Eze South Federal Constituency of Enugu State made his remarks during the budget defence session by the Federal Ministry of Transportation and its agencies before the House of Representatives Joint Committees considering the Ministry’s 2017 budget estimates.
The joint committee comprises those of Aviation, chaired by Hon. Nkiru Onyejeocha ( Abia), Land Transport ; Hon. Aminu Sani Isah, ( Sokoto), Maritime Safety, Education and Administration ; Hon. Mohammed Bago ( Niger) and Ports, Harbours and Waterways ; Dr Pat Asadu ( Enugu).
He also lamented the very low budget releases to the Ministry-of only 24% of its 2o16 budget, according to the ministry had been cash backed ; and why even the meager releases were not yet even fully utilized.
He challenged the ministry to devote at least 10% of its railway budget to the inland waterways sector and see the effect on movement of bulk cargo and improved safety on our roads, affirming that the long completed Onitsha River Port, and the other River ports in Baro, Niger State, Lokoja, Kogi State and Oguta, Imo state would be wasted if the ministry cannot fund NIWA to create navigable waterways to take cargo to and from these ports.
He pointed out that the Onitsha River Port was already wasting due to disuse atrophy since its completion in 2012.
Disagreeing with the minister, he insisted that the Onitsha-River port had huge potentials considering the cargo loads to the South East which made this particular river port very viable, especially when the zone has been left out in the modern railway projects of government.
Other Chairmen and members of various committees present equally expressed displeasure with several aspects of the budget, ranging from observed lack of utilization of the released funds which many felt demonstrated lack of capacity by the ministry in procurement of critical infrastructure, even with funds at its disposal at a time other ministries were desperately seeking releases and using same timely.
The honourable members also raised issues of poor preparation of the presented budget documents, the inequitable and lopsided distribution of the ministry’s allocation to different modes of transportation.
They equally noted that rails were funded to the detriment of air and water and uneven spread of infrastructure to the different geopolitical zones where the Eastern ports, the Eastern roads and the Eastern airports are obviously short-changed, adding that even the North East was not any better.
The Chairman of the House committee on Land Transport, Engr Aminu Sani Isah warned the ministry not to deceive the parliament as the over N60b released to the ministry for its rail projects was not utilised up to now,
Although the minister told members that such funds had not been released to the ministry who only had gotten the Authority to incur expenditure for the funds .
The Chairperson of Aviation, Hon Nkiru Onyejeocha, alerted the minister that the runway at the Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu was as bad as the Abuja Airport runway presently undergoing rehabilitation and should be repaired immediately, to avert the inevitable eventual closure of the airport and the attendant hardship such would visit on its users.
She also informed the ministry that the terminal building of the airport which was blown off by rains in the last rainy season was neither budgeted for nor being repaired.
The minister, Hon. Rotimi Amechi, in his response explained that the ministry was expecting further releases in the 2016 budget that may take their overall budget releases to over 50% before the financial year ends.
He assured the members that the apparent neglect of the South East in the railway infrastructure was not the making of the present government as the projects were awarded by the previous governments of Late President Musa Yar Adua and former President Goodluck Jonathan and that the President Muhammad Buhari government only accepted to complete these projects to reduce the plethora of abandoned projects in Nigeria.
He affirmed that he has proposed a new initiative that would cover the South East and other major towns in the next phase of railway development and that this new initiative has gotten oral approval of Mr President who has a plan of taking rail transportation to all the state capitals.
He promised that he would take a memo to Mr President on this initiative and hoped to have a better report to the South East and other areas not covered by the present railway projects during the 2018 budget defence, claiming that he considers himself an Ibo as well.
He pleaded with the committees to retain the N80b proposed for Ajaokuta – Itakpe -Aladja standard gauge in the 2017 budget as this project would be very useful whenever the steel projects in these areas are completed.
On the lopsided allocation of the ministry’s budget to the railway sector, he insisted that the President is only interested in the railway development at the moment and that apart from the National Inland Waterways Authority, the other agencies in the maritime sector were revenue generating.
He also defended the issue of poor utilisation of funds released for low cost projects and items in the ministry’s 2016 budget, attributing it to those below him in the ministry as his focus as minister would not cover all the small items and project detailed in the budget.
The minister vehemently denied the question raised by the Chairman of the House Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration, Hon. Mohammed Bago on the allegations of hoarding of projects and delays in the procurement process in the ministry with the sole aim of allowing companies promoted by certain individuals in the ministry get fully registered, so as to be awarded such jobs, saying such assertions were meant to tarnish the image of his officers and himself as minister.
The joint committees resolved to undertake a joint oversight of the ministry as soon as possible to further interact with the minister and other officials and also satisfy members on the 2016 budget performance before passing the 2017 estimates.