Senator Ita Enang is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, a former three-termed representative of Itu/Ibiono Federal Constituency and senator for Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District. Enang, who was until recently the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on National Assembly (Senate), speaks in this interview with TONY ANICHEBE on some salient issues, including Federal Government’s projects in Akwa Ibom and the planned citing of a nuclear plant in the state. Excerpts:
You said before the 2019 general election that the Calabar-Itu highway would be ready after the polls, but what we saw was the pulling out by the contractor. Why such action by the contractor?
I have spoken so much on the Calabar-Itu road, and until it is delivered, I still owe the people explanation and also assurances that it will be done. The problem is that the road was awarded at N54 billion, but the amount in the budget was not enough to mobilize the contractor for that year. The first year the road was awarded, we had N6 billion in the budget and by the time the documentation was completed, money had lapsed because Julius Berger refused to sign the contract saying that between the time it tendered and the time of the award, there should be consumer price index variations and it refused to append its signature until the period lapsed and the money was returned to the treasury. I have to hold a special meeting with the representatives of Julius Berger in the office of the Director of Federal Highways and explained to them that United African Company (UAC) was once owned by eight European countries, but today it is owned by Nigerians, I mean individual Nigerians.
I told Julius Berger that Lake Chad was 25,000sq/km, but today, it is about 4,000-5,000sqkm because it has shrinked. Every company, no matter how big, will come down unless they face the realities of the time. I said these as an appeal to them to sign the contract and start work. By the time they agreed to sign the contract after the consumer price index issues were addressed, the budget year elapsed and the N6 billion in the budget returned. Later, they had N4.7 billion and N3.2 billion in the end we were not able to mobilize them with N8 billion, which should have been the first installment of the mobilization for the project. So, they came to site and we have been struggling to get money to pay them through my singular efforts. The only person that has helped me is Senator Udo Udoma. I am saying this is my singular efforts because no other person from Akwa Ibom or Cross River will ever say he has contributed in this project. However, I am calling on all to join hands, so that we can get money to do this road.
The contractor pulled out of the site in June because it was on the 27th of May that the President signed the 2019 budget. When the budget was released in June, in the submission of Mr. President, it was N2.2 billion that was budgeted for the road, but the National Assembly approved only N1.1 billion. When Julius Berger saw that, it was taken aback because even the certificate they had generated on the road is more than N2.2billion, they could still manage to work with it but the National Assembly has slashed it to N1.1 billion, so it had no choice than to pull out because has its workers to pay, equipment to service and materials to buy. That is the reason for its pull out of the site.
Right now, I am looking at the multi-lateral sources of funding the road. I have written and solicited funding support from the ministry, Sukuk Bond, through the Debt Management Office, Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Works and Housing. I want them to rescue the road with funds from Sukuk Bond, which is one of the avenues of funding major projects. The Abuja-Lokoja road and some other roads across the country were funded through Sukuk bond to the tune of N100 billion. I am also writing the authorities to help sort for funds for the project as they are raising funds for other projects. I want to beg Akwa Ibom and Cross River people not to take the road issue as a personal project of Senator Ita Enang.
I have carried it this far since 2007. What I was not able to do on the floor of the House of Representatives and Senate, I am now able to do as an adviser to the President because I work directly under him. I want Akwa Ibom State government and that of Cross River State to also get involved. The state governments of other political parties do come and visit the Budget Ministry, some parastatals and also visit the project ministries to attract projects to their states. So, Akwa Ibom State government should follow suit. The President is ready to work with all Nigerians irrespective of political party. As a person, I am working round the clock to get employment for Nigerian youths irrespective of political party.
What exactly do you want the Akwa Ibom State government as regards this project?
Akwa Ibom people and government should not allow the project to suffer a set back because of partisan politics as everybody uses the road. It was the intention of the Federal Government that when they refund money to the state, it should be reinvested in other pressing federal road projects knowing that it will also be refunded. This is why the Federal Government refunded N78 billion to Akwa Ibom State government and N104 billion to Lagos State government and other state governments across the country. The data is in the public domain. All these states have reinvested the money in Federal Government roads.
I don’t know what Akwa Ibom is using theirs for. Again, Akwa Ibom State government is trying to apply this money on Uyo-Airport-Oron road. You have seen them trying to expand a road without any serious traffic; the volume of traffic is not even enough for the road. That is why I have raised a memo to the Federal Government and Federal Ministry of Works to stop Akwa Ibom state from interfering on that road to restore the tress they have destroyed because that is a federal road, and part of the road for which they got the refunded N78 billion. If they want to do any other thing on that road, they will come up with a design that is approved by the Federal Ministry of Works and must be according to specifications.
If they must work on the road, there must be a bidding for that road through a tender and there has to be a selection of the contractor because it is a federal road and that has not be done. What we saw were bulldozers with head pans and wheel barrows, working with part of the N78 billion we refunded. That money ought to have been reinvested on the more critical Calabar-Itu-Aba highway; we have asked them to stop further work on that Uyo –Airport-Oron road.
Is the money you are requesting the Federal Government to raise captured in the budget?
If the money is raised and it is for that road, that is budgeting allocation for that road in 2020, but it is not enough. I actually don’t know how much there is now.
Is belonging to a different political party by Akwa Ibom State governor and some of you affecting the progress of the job and other development expected in the state?
No! What I said is that Akwa Ibom State government because of being in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) doesn’t go to the Federal Government to seek projects and programmes that will help the state. I am doing much as a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and appointee of the President, using my position and connections to attract these things, but the Akwa Ibom State government is a bit reluctant perhaps because they have a lot of money coming into their coffers and they are now complacent.
Why was the road awarded in a staggered manner; some portions were awarded and others were not?
I did it that way. What I did was this, part of the reasons why we lost the first money was that when I gave the description of the road as Calabar-Odukpani-Itu-IkotEkpene highway, the contractors and the ministry went and started at Tinapa junction and took it to Akamkpa with only five kilometres coming towards Akwa Ibom from the Odukpani junction and they created a big round about at Odukpani junction, it did not touch Akwa Ibom because they have to design within the context of what was available in the budget. I told them that I cannot be the proprietor or arrowhead of the project.
What will the President show Akwa Ibom people as his achievements on roads?
I told them that I did not say Calabar-Itu-Ikot Ekpene, but Odukpani-Itu highway. By the time they came; they said 22km will not even get to Itu Head Bridge, but will stop around Okurikang. I advised them to do the major bad portions in Cross River and the major bad portions in Akwa Ibom so that the President will have what to show in Cross River and what to show in Akwa Ibom states. Secondly, the portion from T Junction to where you have the power plant is bad and because it has a depth of two meters of unsuitable swamp and must be excavated deep before actual construction, so they are to do eight kilometres there and 12 kilometres in Akwa Ibom. The eight kilometres could only start at Odukpani T Junction and end at the power, plant, where we have the very bad portions in the Cross River end of the road.
From Okurikang junction to the head bridge is motorable because it has been worked on by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and other agencies. They have to also start 1.2km away from Itu Bridge to Anyadeghe, the place that enters Oku Iboku. If they had started at Itu Head Bridge the depth of the swamp would have consumed all the funds and will not have something substantive to show on the Akwa Ibom side. That is why the area in particular involves so many bridges that ought to be dualised. Therefore we took it from Anyadeghe up to Mbak Itam, where 12 km stopped. We did this road in three sections.
There is another procurement awaiting funds which is from where Julius Berger stops at Mbak Itam to Ikot Ekpene. That is the unawarded but procured section. We have the money in the budget which is 11billion in 2018 but the procurement and the design was not completed. The consultant given the job did not complete the work until the 2018 budget lapsed in 2019. I was almost sleeping in the ministry shouting on them to bring the design, so that the project can be taken to the Federal Executive Council to award before the end of the first term of the president but it came late.
I even wrote to the Accountant-General of the Federation, asking that N11 billion be warehoused. That particular job is ready now and presently at the Bureau for Public Procurement. So, from Mbak Itam, where Julius Berger jobs stops to Ikot Ekpene, is pending procurement. The one that is not paid but pending procurement which I have provided in the budget of the Niger Delta Development Commission is the point from the power plant near Odukpani Cross River 2.2km Calabar-Itu bridge and 2.1km Itu Bridge end coming to terminate where Julius Berger’s work in Akwa Ibom begins.
The Executive Director, Project of NDDC, Dr. Kairoo Ojugbo and I have had a meeting with the Minister, permanent secretary and all the team from the Ministry of Works on the NDDC taking up the job. What we agreed is that the NDDC will not do the design because we want it to be the standard design of the Ministry of Works. Procurement will be done through that process while the NDDC provides the funding. What I have done is to sectorise this, but it appears as if I am working on my personal estate because of my commitment and everybody abandoning it for me.
What is the level of your synergy with the National Assembly members from the state and what is the fate of the East-West road, which is yet to be completed?
On the East-West road, it is one of the presidential initiative projects and they were three presidential initiative projects, East-West road; Kano-Maidugri and Lagos-Ibadan roads. The East-West road was transferred to the Ministry of Niger Delta, while the other two remain with the Ministry of Works. The Niger Delta Ministry was created in 2009, that project is under Ministry of Niger Delta and has been provided for in the budget of the Ministry and would not have much problem except insufficiency of the funds.
However, enough money has been provided in this year’s budget. I have always engaged the National Assembly members from Akwa Ibom and Cross River states and it is sad that three of them recently came to one of the radio stations here to abuse me and that I deceived the people, but it is them that have a duty to appropriate the funds and one of them brought the National Assembly members to that road and used it to blackmail me.
Was the N78 billion you claimed paid to the state government expected to be ploughed back to federal roads?
What was the refund for in the first place? The refund of that N78 billion was for the federal roads that Obong Victor Attah and Senator Godswill Akpabio constructed as governors of this state and it was refunded to them. One of the roads is the Uyo-Ikot Ekpene road. Another is the Uyo Airport-Oron road. Other states have collected and put it back into other federal government roads challenging them.
We have you and Senator Akpabio working for the Niger Delta and there are plans to probe the NDDC, which may affect many Akwa Ibom people, who had either served or worked as contractors to the commission. Was this not borne out of internal wrangling?
With myself and Senator Akpabio, Akwa Ibom people should expect the best from the Federal Government under President Muhamadu Buhari. We are working together and we are delivering the dividends to the people of the Niger Delta, Nigerians and Akwa Ibom State in particular. There are no internal squabbles. On the NDDC audit, what is going on is not a probe, but forensic audit to find value for money for projects. It is intended to find out if there were projects, which were awarded, but not completed and how much is remaining to complete those projects and whether there were projects that were awarded, but not commenced.
It is intended to put pressure on the contractors to return to site or whether there were projects awarded by previous leadership of the NDDC and when the new leadership came that one was abandoned and the contractor under another name picked another job from the commission. It is meant to ensure value for money and not directed at anybody. It is not witch-hunting. That is why you have not seen any of the previous leaders harassed or questioned. Every question is directed to the management and not the political leaders. There is no question concerning Bassey Dan Abia, Ibim Sementari or Obong Nsima Ekere who completed the term of Sir Dan Abia.
It is not about persons or individuals, but value for money audit. That is why it is called forensic, that is why you are not having judicial commission of enquiry. That is why there is an advert calling on professional auditors to tender for the job. When you want to do a probe, you set up committee, nominate persons and give them power to invite people. The President is not after political office holders, but only interested in finding value for money. It is not correct to say that I and Akpabio are using the forensic audit to go after Akwa Ibom or Niger Delta people. It is the same political family.
Akwa Ibom State Government and the people of Itu have rejected the siting of a nuclear plant in their domain, but the Federal Government appears adamant. How would you react to that?
I have been involved in this nuclear plant matter. First it was to be located at the Cross River estuary where one of the legs of Cross River comes to join the river from Arochukwu and they merged to form a confluence that passes through Uruan to the Atlantic Ocean. That is where it was intended to be. I have engaged the Director-General of the Nuclear Regulating Agency on the safety of this project and I have told him that there are other alternative sources of energy that are safer, that he should convince me. The meeting was at my Abuja residence, but we did not complete the meeting before his tenure ended and he left and another person was appointed.
This project got me and Ita Ewa, the former Minister of Science and Technology, who also hails from Akwa Ibom to discuss exhaustively because he is a professor of Nuclear Science and Technology. We discussed at length, but we did not conclude. Where we are now is the point they are doing environmental impact analysis and the discussion we had with the former Director-General is that they will have to do environmental impact analysis and the whole people in the area evacuated in case of an accident.
I drew his attention to Chernobyl and the number of accident we are hearing in the world at that time. I drew his attention to the fact that around Chile or so, nuclear plant accident has sacked almost a whole clan. It is an ongoing discussion with the environmental impact assessment to determine the suitability or otherwise. What the public is doing now is still part of the environmental impact assessment as the reaction of the people will form the final verdict of the Federal Government.
This is my first time of publicly addressing this matter. I believe the Federal Government will take appropriate decision because in any place, a child does not ask for a fish and the father gives him a serpent. We must find out what the people want; the impact of what is to come and then take decision. I am very close to the nuclear regulatory agency and I want the people to speak their mind without violence. I am also gathering the input of the people and will take officially the input of the state government before we advise the federal government.
What is your take on the issue of power generation, which the APC government is still struggling to do five years after?
Soon, I will give you full details of the many matters in the budget, including what we are doing in the power sector. I will also tell you what my office is doing in the power sector. My office is multi-sectorial; it cuts across power, agriculture, energy, refinery, petroleum and every aspect of the Nigerian economy and political issues in the Niger Delta.