News Feature By Idris Abdulrahman
President Muhammadu Buhari recently raised the hope of Nigerians that the APC-led administration would pull out 100 million Nigerians from poverty in 10 years to boost the economy and ensure national development.
This is seen as a policy statement encapsulated in a wide range of approaches, not necessarily through the current cash grants and other casual approaches, but through unique systems that will engender and cement the strong public confidence in government structures, institutions and organs.
One of such institutions that occupy a pride of place remains the National Assembly, particularly the upper legislative arm of the parliament.
In line with this, the Senate Committee on Water Resources began the annual ritual of collaborative effort with stakeholders on the national budget and quickly invited the Ministry of Water Resources and its agencies to review their 2021 and defend the 2022 proposals.
This was a forum for deliberating on approaches to achieving national development through poverty alleviation.
According to the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Bello Mandiya, the session is meant to rub minds with the stakeholders in the national interest.
“Our meeting today (October 26, 2021) is in conformity with Sections 81(1&2), 66 and 88 (b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which empowers the NASS on the passage of the Federal Government Budget.
“Our duty is to complement the activities of the Ministry by helping to achieve the goals” of implementing Mr President’s June 12 promise to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years,“ Mandiya said at the opening session.
He added: “We are not unaware of the importance of this great ministry and we will do our best as legislators to assist, through the act of legislation, by ensuring that your budget sails through the Appropriation Committee.”
Therefore, there is no gainsaying the fact that the Committee, in collaboration with the Ministry of Water Resources and its agencies such as the 12 River Basing Development Authorities, has a lot in stock for Nigerians towards this direction.
That explains why Bello and other members of the committee minced no words in setting a pragmatic agenda of national development through water resources for the Ministry and its agencies, to chart a new course on National Development strategies.
Addressing the session, witnessed by the CEOs and Directors of strategic operations of the agencies, the Water Resources Minister, Engr Suleiman Adamu, said six priority areas in the ministry’s Mandate for a new Performance Management System would be applied to assess its performance from 2019 – 2023.
According to him, completion of all priority on-going dam and irrigation projects, implementation of Flood Management Master Plan for Rivers Niger and Benue, Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme and Open Defecation in Nigeria are on top priority list. These are new strategies on collaboration with the Private Sector to create a large number of well-paying jobs for the youth.
Agricultural experts believe this is a pragmatic approach to wealth creation, using water resources platform, to boost and actualise Mr President’s approach to pull out half of Nigeria’s population from poverty, squalor and perpetual starvation.
Engr Suleiman, a known key player in the water sector, further explained, while reeling out figures and facts in 2022 programme, that the ministry was determined to uplift projects of strategic importance such as irrigated agriculture. This will support food security, dam construction, drought mitigation, hydropower generation and ensure varied water impoundment capacities.
Elaborating plans for Sanitation and Hygiene of the Clean Nigeria Programme, he told the session, attended by Senators Adamu Aliero, Christopher Stephen, Sahabi Yau, Mohammed Sani Musa, Ibrahim Dan Baba and other committee members, that 71 local Government Areas have so far achieved the Open Defecation Free scheme with Katsina State on top while Jigawa is trailing.
But the Minister was emphatic on the need for state governments to take the initiative of the programme by supporting its implementation with finance while the ministry continued to provide annual update and information to the National Economic Council as a matter of priority.
Further collaborative efforts being evolved to alleviate poverty within a reasonable period is a directive issued by the ministry to all the River Basins to create a line item in their 2023 budgets for youth empowerment, to complement the Songhai Model Farms, one of which would be cited in each Senatorial District.
Analysts in the field, however, opine that these lofty programmes are obvious attempts and catalysts for the emancipation of the poor through mobilisation of the private sector participation in infrastructure development and socio-economic growth of the country.
Analysts further suggest that in order to achieve the national targets, it has become imperative for the provision of sufficient budgetary funds for a Public Private Partnership Unit as a stand-alone unit, to operate and ensure the most effective, productive, result-oriented and efficient use of resources for critical infrastructure.
A general overview of the 2021 financial year made towards the same target shows that the ministry and its agencies got about N169 Billion, comprising about N1.9 Billion Personnel Costs for the ministry alone and N6.7 Billion for the agencies.
In terms of real Development Funds, N73.8 Billion went to the ministry while N85 Billion was for the agencies, an amount that had not all been fully released. The Minister said so far, about N29,950,687,811.21 or 40% of its 2021 Capital Budget Appropriation has been utilised.
It is worthy of mention that in spite of projects on the ministry’s mandate, COVID-19 pandemic and Natural Resources Development were boosted through a special intervention fund allocation aimed at promoting the general welfare of Nigerians and facilitating growth of the sector.
The Senate Committee, determined to get the best of financial submission on the previous year’s performance and next financial year, was told of the ministry’s proposal for 2022 put at N151,658,706,600 Billion with a revenue expected to be collected largely from the licences and penalties on defaulters of programmes being implemented by the Nigerian Integrated Water Management Commission and other agencies.
It is on record that the interactive session strongly focussed on the importance of completing viable projects and ensuring that the water sector becomes a key driver in stimulating the economy, thereby saving foreign exchange for the country while contributing immensely to national development.
In line with this, an important project which emerged as a determinant factor in achieving the success of water development and agricultural resources, was the Songhai Farm Schemes scattered across some of the 12 River Basins where four are already engaged in a pilot commercialisation schemes.
Described as a unique scheme aimed at agricultural development and means of introducing new farming technologies, the scheme has taken off in 17 locations at the Basins with a National Committee already in place to ensure improved production and open up new techniques for farmers nationwide.
It is also a flagship programme to develop the Basins with a fantastic replica of it already playing significant roles in Minna, Niger state.
While the session lasted over a period of two days, the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of the 12 River Basin Development Authorities, including those of Upper, Lower Benue, Chad, Benin Owena, Niger Delta, Sokoto Rima and Hadejia Jama’are painted clear pictures of their mandates, achievements, setbacks, future proposals and challenges for the intervention of the Committee.
Government’s expectation, objectives and roles in the current commercialisation bid of the basins were fully captured as the Committee’s Chairman did not hesitate to pledge the cooperation and assistance, particularly by members, in working with them towards hitting the set national targets in the sector.
The sole aim of the pledge, according to Mandiya, is to fast track their efficiency, productivity and national development.
However, presentations and submissions of such magnitude did not go without proper scrutiny, observations and posers to the presenters by the committee members who insisted that more needed to be done in the areas of revenue generation, exploration of new viable platforms for productivity, prudent financial management and the need to fulfil contractual obligations promptly on fully funded and completed projects.
The Chairman was emphatically critical of the seemingly glaring slow pace and delay in payment to contractors, partial completion of Zonal Projects, misapplication of funds and frowned at low revenue generation.
“Let me emphasise that there will be no window for extending 2021 budget expenditures beyond December this year. Implementation of 2022 budget expenditures will begin from January, therefore all funds not spent will be returned to national treasury; therefore if there is unspent money with you, pay contractors and staff their entitlements to offset your liabilities on projects.”