This is to correct the false impression being created in some quarters that the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, allegedly diverted the sum of N19billion from the River Niger Dredging project, into shore protection and land reclamation projects in the Niger Delta. The other variant of the story is that Dr. Jonathan has out rightly cancelled the dredging of the River Niger, which was flagged off September last year by President Umaru Musa Yar’adua.
Both stories are entirely false, and are being sponsored by desperate persons who are determined to tamper with the peace and unity of our dear country.
There is no relationship whatsoever between the River Niger dredging project and the proposed shore protection and land reclamation projects proposed for the Niger Delta states. These projects are part of the post Amnesty projects planned for the region, and are to be funded from a “ring fenced” fund dedicated to the Niger Delta amnesty programme.
In the instant case, the sum of N5.5 billion, part of the dedicated amnesty fund under the 2009 supplementary appropriation, was set aside by the Ministry of Transportation for improvement of waterways and related issues in the Niger Delta. The ministry therefore proposed to dredge a channel through the River Nun, taking off from Onya in Delta through Odoni, Kalama, Tombia, Yenagoa, Okodogu, Okokiri, Nembe ( with a spur to Brass), Apiama, Ndukiri, Sand Village, Ekulama, Idama, Tombiabok(with a spur to Degema), Bobake, Ndorokiri, Obekiri, Yekiri, Okungba up to Port Harcourt.
The total cost of this project was estimated at N19 billion, and was set out as follows:
1. Onya (Delta) to Nembe (Bayelsa), with a spur to Brass.
2. Nembe to Port Harcourt(120 kilometres), with a spur to Degema (Rivers)
By this arrangement the entire funds would have been spent on Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers, with the bulk going to Bayelsa, the home state of the Acting President. But in reviewing the decision, even more states of the Niger Delta, notably Ondo and Akwa Ibom, now stand to benefit.
Another factor that guided the decision to take a second look at the plan was the fact that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was yet to be carried out, and for a project of this magnitude that affects navigation and the ecology of aquatic organisms, an EIA is mandatory.
However, from conception through completion and approval, an EIA would take between one and a half to two years to complete. So, should funds earmarked for urgent post amnesty intervention projects be left unutilised for two years even as the Niger Delta Amnesty was threatening to unravel before our eyes?
There was a further consideration. Even with an EIA, the deepening of the channel would result in a faster flow, and worsen river bank erosion for communities on the route. This has always been a significant challenge for riverine development planning in the Niger Delta.
Therefore, in his usual consultative manner, Dr. Jonathan invited the governors of the Niger Delta states and asked them to consult with the people and find a way forward.
When the governors returned for the next meeting, their position was clear: some of the greatest challenges confronting the Niger Delta riverine communities were shore protection and land reclamation, since many of them are steadily being washed away by erosion. There was also complete agreement that the Federal Government moves quickly to consolidate the gains of the amnesty, and be seen to be delivering on its commitments to the people of the area.
Following the presentation of the governors, a unanimous decision was taken to embark on a vigorous effort to protect the shores of vulnerable communities, and reclaim lands that have been washed away.
The Acting President subsequently directed the Finance Minister to begin a virement process to move the N5.5 billion provided in the supplementary appropriation for this project, under the Amnesty initiative, to the Niger Delta ministry. This is a detailed administrative process that would naturally have to pass through the National Assembly before it is concluded.
We wish to restate that there was no time we announced that the dredging of the River Niger has been stopped. Indeed, that project remains on course, and site reports indicate that things are going on just fine.
This gigantic N36 billion project takes off from Forcados, through Warri and Onitsha, and terminates in Baro, Niger State. We are totally committed to completing and delivering it as one of the priority projects of this government.
SSA Media and Publicity to the Acting President
28th February, 2010.