President Muhammadu Buhari has assured that all ongoing federal projects in the South East will be funded, saying that the seven-month delay in passing this year’s budget will not serve as an excuse.
Speaking at a meeting with South-East Governors and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, yesterday , at State House, President Buhari in a statement by his senior special assistant media, Garba Shehu pledged that the federal government will sustain the support to the South-East in terms of infrastructure.
‘‘I assure you that we are doing our best and will not default on the agreements signed on ongoing projects,’’ the President told the delegation led by Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu.
President Buhari explained that part of the noticeable problem in the delay in the execution of the capital projects was caused by the budget hold-up.
‘‘When you sign, and you don’t pay, they (contractors) can legally jerk up their costs. This is part of the problem.
‘‘The infrastructure budget is a deficit budget. The borrowing plan was only approved three weeks ago and all ministers and departments of government have been instructed to forge ahead. We must not find excuses for delaying the projects.
‘‘Developing infrastructure is the best thing we can do. When the roads are okay, the rails are established and there is power, Nigerians will flourish in their businesses,’’ he said.
President Buhari, who was accompanied to the meeting by the Secretary to the Federal Government, Boss Mustapha, the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr Okechukwu Enelemah, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and that of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, responded from point to point on all the issues raised by the governors to their satisfaction.
On the undulating surface of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, the President assured that it would be addressed in the new budget.
He also spoke of government’s serious interest in the new Port-Harcourt-Maiduguri standard gauge railway which transverses several states including those in the South East.
The minister of Transportation gave assurance that this project, the single most costly rail project at USD 12 billion, will soon be coming to the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
The ministers were directed to follow up with the private sector on key projects in the region, including the South East Dry Port and the Geometric Power Plant in Aba, with a view to untangling the problems causing their delayed take-off.
Speaking on behalf of the governors, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State said they had come specifically to thank the President for the award of the contract for the major component of the second Niger Bridge at the cost of N206 billion.
‘‘The project is the dream of our people and it has become a dream come true. Our people said we must come and thank you. Your Excellency, Mr President we are grateful Sir,’’ he said.
Thereafter, Governor Umahi while enumerating some challenges confronting the governors to the president said: ‘‘Out of mutual respect, we have come to you as a caring leader to listen to us.’’
Other governors on the delegation were Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State and the deputy governor of Anambra State, Dr Nkem Okeke.
Also speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, Governor Umahi said they came to seek the president’s consent if there is the possibility of paying up to 50 per cent and secure the other 50 per cent as bond for the Second Niger Bridge.
According to him, “We came to thank Mr. President on behalf of South East for the award of the Second Niger Bridge to Julius Berger at the sum of N206 billion. We understand that N7 billion has been paid as mobilisation, so we came to ask Mr. President if there is the possibility of paying up to 50 per cent of the sum and secure the other 50 percent as bond so that we can sleep with our two eyes closed and be assured that the job will not be abandoned.
“And we also asked that the construction period be reduced from 42 months to 24 months. We made it clear to Julius Berger that it is achievable.
“We are also asking for economic free trade zone in Enyimba in Abia and he promised to come and commission it, the license has been given. We also thanked him for that economic free trade zone.”
When asked if the requests are not a bargaining chip for 2019,he said, “It has no political intentions because these are economic issues and they are not new.”
On whether the president asked for the support of the governors ahead the 2019 elections, he said, “There was no political discussion.”
On other takeaways from the meeting, he said, “Well, he has assured us that he is going to look into the issues and of course in the railway we were given a cheering news that not only that the railway will be awarded that it will touch all states capitals in South East and it will also touch most of other state capitals as it move from South East to Maiduguri.”