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Abubakar Momoh ‘shines’ as NASS summons 2 ministers over Niger Delta ministry’s budget

The joint committee of the Senate and House of Representatives has summoned the Minister of Finance, Wale Edun, and his counterpart in the Budget and Economic Planning Ministry, Abubakar Bagudu, to appear before it in furtherance of the budget defence for the Ministry of Niger Delta Development.

The summon is a sequel to the appearance of the Minister for Niger Delta Development, Abubakar Momoh, before the joint committee chaired by Senator Jide Ipinsagba on Thursday.

During the interface, a member of the committee, Senator Seriake Dickson, raised a motion to adjourn the sitting indefinitely until both Ministers of Finance and Budget and Economic Planning appear with the Minister of Niger Delta Development to shed more light on the poor budgetary envelope for the Ministry of Niger Delta Development, fund released for projects among others.

Earlier, Momoh, in a brilliant presentation, had shared with the joint committee, the 2023 budget performance and answered questions about project execution, project abandonment, fund releases, and a commutative debt portfolio of the ministry totaling over N50 billion.

Momoh said for the 2023 budgetary provision of N11bn only N4bn was released from the capital budget which represents about 37% which he described as inadequate to meet the challenges of the region.

He said, “This gross inadequate budget has led to project abandonment and unpaid projects and so, this paucity of funds can lead to the derailment of the mission and vision of the ministry.”

While answering questions on training and empowerment for women and youths in the region, the minister said there was nothing the ministry could do, if money is not released for training and empowerment and as such, the training and acquisition of knowledge is slowed down.

He said, “We have signed a performance bond with the president but with a paucity of funds there’s nothing we can do. The purse of the nation is in your hands as lawmakers; we need you to empower the ministry to deliver. We do hope that with your approval, you will give us support for more and better funds release in the 2024 budget.”

On whether Mr. President was aware of the situation in the Ministry of Niger Delta Development, the minister said, “I cannot say he’s aware – it would be pretty difficult for the president to know all the details of happenings in all the ministries.”

The minister agreed with the legislators on why the government cannot award contracts without payments amidst a litany of abandoned projects.

He said, “I share your view. The government cannot continue to award contracts to people and would not pay.

“The system of securing cash is cumbersome. Sometimes you award a contract without knowing how much you have in your purse.

“I am talking of a cash plan system which is giving a lot of headaches. If a contractor completes his job, it’s expected that within one or two weeks they should get payment but you have to apply for it and upload it to the Ministry of Finance, which delays the system. You need you to intervene in this regard.”

The minister added, “When I was outside, I saw things the way you’re seeing it now but now that am inside, I now understand. On poor budget performance of 37%, I agree it’s poor. It’s a statement of fact. I also share the issues you raised on the procurement process.

“I agree with that in entirety. I want to say one thing – we are in a transition year, and you cannot expect performance to be higher than 40%.

“I came on board in August when they were still running the 2022 budget and not quite a while ago they started running the 2023 budget. Once the National Assembly passes this appropriation, we will start work in earnest. You can be sure of speedy completion of projects.”

On the 2023 budgetary provision of N10bn, the minister said, “This sum cannot construct 3km of road in the heart of the Niger Delta. We need to also ask if there were adequate resources for all of these. The answer is no. We have requested additional funding even through Sukuk but we are still waiting for a reply.”

He said, “The staff in the ministry know how I operate. If you give me money today to complete a project, give me 3 months and see action if I will not deliver. On the 2024 budget, I will monitor them to make sure they are executed and I will hold my directors responsible if anything fails.

“On signature projects – we need to ask ourselves what we mean. The Ministry of Niger Delta has a star project which is the East-West road which was my focus when I came on board. But I was told that since 2021 it has been reversed to the ministry of works which should be a star of signature project for the ministry.

“This is an interventionist ministry such as maintaining peace in the region which doesn’t signify a signature project. Left to me, the sum of N18B being the envelope for the year 2024 can be put on three signature projects and I will ask the president to come and commission projects but we cannot do that because being an interventionist ministry handling 9 states, we have to spread the projects”.

Momoh concluded by saying, “What I can assure you is that with me in the Ministry of Niger Delta Development, things will be done differently, I can tell you authoritatively”, he assured.

Dickson in commendation said, “You’re a very experienced person and we know that with you, the ministry is in good hands. We are ready to encourage and support you.”

He moved the motion for the suspension of the budget defence and it was seconded by Senator Mudashiru Lukeman.

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