OrderPaperToday – Senators have queried the zero allocation to the Mambilla hydro power project in the 2021 budget estimates.
The senators issued the query on Monday and wondered why the project was excluded for funding despite several promises by the federal government to finish it.
The 3050 megawatts Mambilla project in Taraba State was initiated in 1972 but progress on it has stalled over the years.
Senators tackled the minister of power, Mamman Saleh, on the zero allocation issue when he appeared before the senate committee on power to defend the ministry’s 2021 budget proposal.
Senators also discovered that aside a zero allocation in the 2021 budget, the Mambilla project has suffered inadequate fund releases in previous years.
For instance, out of the N165billion allocated for capital project in 2020, only N3billion was cash-backed, according to the managing director of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Sule Ahmed Abdulaziz, who was also present at the budget defence hearing.
Senator Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe) said he was not certain if the project is still a priority to the government.
Goje said: “Mr. President cannot just give money without that money being appropriated by us (National Assembly) and there is no provision for that in this year’s budget which means you have no plans to work on that project next year.”
Senator Shuaibu Isa Lau (PDP, Taraba) told his colleagues that one of the factors contributing to the delay is lack of access to the site.
Lau said: “Now this is my observation. For me, the way I am looking at it, this project will not see the light of the day. That is the truth about it. When you don’t have a road to go to Mambilla how do you start that project? How? There is no road leading to Mambilla and you have a court case that has not been settled and the Chinese company cannot come with the court case pending.
“What is the position of the court case? How do we resolve this issue? You could have seen from the budget that there is nothing in the budget (2021) that concerns the Mambilla project.
“For me, I don’t see commitment on the part of the government on this particular project. There is no commitment at all. Yes, you have gotten the land but what do you do with the land? This is just a total waste of time. We are just going round and round for the past 20 years for a particular project?
“We must be sincere by telling ourselves the honest truth. You cannot do a project when you don’t have a road to go Mambilla Plateau. If we want to do something, please let’s be honest and sincere to ourselves. Let us plan something and do it according to plan. I don’t think we are ready for this project.
“We must tell ourselves the truth and I will like to call on the minister to explain the proper position of the Mambilla Plateau. This is an opportunity for everybody to know.”
Senator James Manager (PDP, Delta) expressed concerns that investors might consider the country not serious when they know there is no allocation for the project in the 2021 budget.
Manager said: “I get very frustrated. Mr. Chairman sir, why are we like this? And we want to access a loan from China. The Chinese are very wonderful and careful investors all over the world.
“We are to fund this project to the tune of 15 per cent but you don’t have any provision for any amount in the budget. The proposal for this 2021 budget, I want to presume that it is already before them. They are studying it. There is no way they will make any move without seeing any seriousness on the part of Nigeria.
“I think the most crucial issue facing Nigeria today when the youths are on rampage, destroying so many things. I think Taraba was not also spared in these recent crisis.
“So Mr. Chairman, we need to find solution to this Mambilla issue. The governor of that state who promised to partner with the Federal Government, ideally, the governor has the responsibility of providing a road to Mambilla.
“Honourable Minister, my appeal is that today you have an opportunity, you may not have this opportunity tomorrow. Go and have a serious discussion with Mr. President and come back to this Committee. To solve the problem of Mambilla is in the interest of all Nigerians.”
Reacting to the submissions made by the senators, particularly to Senator Lau, the minister highlighted his efforts to get the project going.
He said: “To Senator Shaibu Lau, with due respect, God knows I am doing my best. I am trying my best and I have told the whole world when I assumed duty that as far as I am concerned that there is nothing like Mambilla.
“All these years people keep talking about Mambilla, it wasn’t reality. There was nothing on ground. Now I have come and I have started and I have told you how far I have gone. With due respect to Senator Shaibu Lau, to say that this project is coming is not coming to be, I am sorry, I don’t expect to hear that from him.”
According to Saleh, the federal government is trying its best to ensure the project gets completed, adding that money has been set aside as counterpart funding to the tune of $200 million.
“This money has been there for a very long time under the office of the Chief of Staff (to the President). I keep on pressing all the time that this money should be released to me so I can go to the site and start doing some clearance.
“It is with this money that we are going to do roads, site clearing and ground breaking so that we can show the whole world that we are ready. Any investor that is ready to come and invest, let him come.
“That is what the Chinese are waiting for. I told you that there is a lingering arbitration that is going on. I am still trying to convince Mr. President and he should know it is all our responsibility.
“And that is why we are coming to the Senate so that you can come and see the project and what the issues are so that together we can solve the problem.”
The senate suspended plenary earlier this month to focus on the budget defence exercises.