The immediate past Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba has explained why the Benin-Auchi-Okene-Obajana Road has yet to be completed.
Agba spoke on the road project while sharing his thoughts with audience at the grand reception and dinner night organised in his honour by the Edo State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Benin recently.
He said that insufficient funds were responsible for the non-completion of the road, fifteen years after the contracts for the four sections of the road were awarded to the respective contractors.
According to him, budgetary provisions had always been spread thin on projects that were usually inserted in the budget by the National Assembly such that money budgeted could not accomplish the projects.
He said that “with the national budget, there had been a lot of challenges. Yes, there had been improvements in terms of the cycle, but particularly as a person, I am not very happy with the content because we seem to spread ourselves so thin that we don’t have enough to do work.
“I hear people say that the National Assembly pads the budget. I wish they pad the budget because what they are doing is un-padding the budget. If they pad the budget, that means they are putting more money in it, right? And, so, you have more money to work? Right? But what they are doing is that they are removing from what have been provided and then creating other projects, making us spread too thin, and not having enough money to work.
“This is one of the things that had affected the Benin-Auchi-Okene-Obajana road, which started 15 years ago. Have I been a minister for fifteen years? I was only minister for three and a half years, yet I was the cause of the problem on that road because I tried to offer a solution.
“I found out that the problem of that road was insufficient funding, and each time budgetary provisions are made, our representatives from the State do not protect what is there. So, when the budget comes back, the amounts are lower and insufficient to do the work.
“We started with trying to use SUKUK funding, which is the Islamic interest-free loan to do it. But with that we had to spread the amount across the country and I realized we moved very fast with the second Niger Bridge; we moved very fast with the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and we also moved very fast with the Kano-Kaduna road.”
Agba told the audience that there was a presidential infrastructure development fund and the sovereign wealth fund that was making contribution into the fund and all the funds that were returned from corruption issues like the Abacha loot were going into these three projects.
According to him: “That was how we were able to practically complete the projects. I thought that was one of the things we needed to do to fast track the work on the Benin-Auchi-Okene-Obajana road where there are three sections by three contractors that have been on the road for the last fifteen years.
“So, I approached my colleague, the minister of Works, on the need for us to use the tax credits and we spoke to the Chairman of the FIRS and he started working with the NNPC Ltd on this. But the NNPC Ltd report, I must say, did not include that road. So, it was a big battle for me, fighting to ensure that Edo State was included.
“I want to especially thank my two colleagues and brothers (Mr Sunday Dare and Prince Goddy Jeddy Agba) that are here because they joined me in that fight and in the lobby to get funding for it. In the end, each section got an approval of N25 billion, which means N75 billion, and I was also able to get another N10 billion in budget 2023 for two sections.”
Agba continued: “So, it means the issue of funding has been taken care of largely with N85 billion available, However, that is the much I could do. This is where my pitch would take me to. I am not the one responsible for operations. So, it had to go to the Ministry of Works. As you know, contractors had already been awarded the road contracts, and they refused to go back to the road until their rates are changed due to inflation and other things that are happening.
“There is a process for doing this. If the augmented rate is above 15 per cent, it must go to the president for approval to come to FEC. I found out very late that the letter did not get to the president. It was still kept in the Chief of Staff’s office, and very late, he sent a letter to my sister, Minister of Finance, Hajia Zainab.
I was in London when I got a copy of that. I did the response in London, did electronic signature, sent it to my Secretary to print and send it to the Chef of Staff, just to ensure that we were able to get it to the FEC. This was just two weeks before we left. But it did not happen.
“You will recall that the first motion that HE Comrade Adams Oshiomhole moved as a Senator was for the senate to approve a motion that Mr President should give approval for the 15 per cent and get Ministry of Works to start work while await the constitution of FEC for ratification. That is because that work has been done.
“We have a procurement law that we must follow. We Nigerians asked for it because we don’t trust ourselves. I have always said that as long as we continue to have that procurement law, we will be having very slow progress because you are asked to run, and a rope is tied to your legs without knowing.
As a manager of Chevron in charge of procurement as far as back as 2001 to 2006 before I left for Kazakhstan, I could sign N600m on a PO without going to anybody but I would account for it. But as a minister, I could not. The process, what it takes, is so long. You have to first advertise for six weeks. Before you do this and do that and all the things they try to prevent, and at the end of the day, still happen; ultimately, the country loses.”
It would be recalled that the grand reception and award dinner hosted by the Festus Alenkhe-led Edo Council of the NUJ had in attendance, among others, the immediate past minister of state for power, Prince Goddy Jeddy Agba, immediate past minister of youth and sports development, Mr Sunday Dare, High Priest Osemwengie Ebohon and former National President of Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), High Chief Shehu Musa Isiwele, who chaired the occasion.