South East governors, accompanied by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu met President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja yesterday.
The governors are Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), David Umahi (Ebonyi), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu) and the Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dr Nkem Okeke. The other South East Governor Rochas Okorocha was however not among the visitors.
The meeting, which lasted for about an hour at the President’s office, also had top government officials, including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, in attendance.
Speaking to State House reporters after the meeting, Governor Umahi, who is also the chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum, said they were in Villa to thank President Buhari on behalf of the region for the award of the second Niger bridge to Julius Berger at the sum of N206bn.
“We understand that N7bn has been paid as mobilization, so we came to ask Mr. President if there is the possibility of paying up to 50 percent 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.
“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,” he said.
Umahi said they also talked about the Enugu international Airport, adding that they appealed to the president to “deploy the cargo section of the airport, complete the building and extend the runway and also rebuild the runway because it is very bumpy and the tarmac light is not functioning.
“We also thanked him for the roads and we reminded him that the slow pace of work was attributed to the rains; now that the rains are gone the contractors are complaining of no funding. So we requested that he should do something about the funding.
“Of course we talked about the geometric power plant in Aba to assist in resolving whatever are the issues so that power will be deployed to the industrial clusters in Aba and environs,” he said.
He said they reminded the President that the Enugu State government had done quite a lot on the issue of relocating major infrastructure in the state.
“We requested that he should take over the compensations of the affected lands. And of course the issue of gas distribution should be linked to the five eastern states to the industrial clusters, so as to boost economic activities,” he said.
He said they complained that the western corridor of railway is going on and the eastern corridor has not been awarded. “And the eastern corridor goes through Port Harcourt, Aba, Ebonyi, Enugu, Maiduguri. We requested that the contract should be awarded so that we can benefit from that project.”
Asked whether the request was bargaining chip for 2019, Umahi said it had no political intentions because “these are economic issues and they are not new.”
On whether the President solicited for their support for his second term bid, he said, “there was no political discussion.”
At the meeting, President Buhari assured the South East leaders that all ongoing federal projects in their zone will be funded.
Buhari, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said the seven-month delay in passing this year’s budget will not serve as an excuse.
“I assure you that we are doing our best and will not default on the agreements signed on ongoing projects. 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.
On the undulating surface of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, the president assured his guests that it will be addressed in the new budget. He also spoke of government’s serious interest in the new Port-Harcourt-Maiduguri standard gauge railway which traverses several states including those in the South East.
Also speaking to State House reporters on the meeting, SGF Boss Mustapha said the quickest way to Igbo presidency come 2023 was President Buhari.
Mustapha, who was responding to a question on whether Buhari solicited for the support of the governors during the meeting, said “This obviously might not be most appropriate time. You remember there was a programme in the Southeast where Mr. President asked me to represent him and I threw the kite by telling the South Eastern states that their quickest and easiest means to presidency is to support President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term.
“Whatever they do in 2019 will determine what will happen thereafter because politics is a game of numbers and it is like a cooperative society. Whatever you bring as an investment when dividends are going to be shared, you will get proportionate to your investment and your investment in politics is what you bring to the table,” he said.
Urging the people of the South East to take the matter very serious, he said the presidency in the country was negotiated in different ways.
“Either negotiated by votes or what you bring to the table and you must negotiate from the position of strength. You can’t negotiate from the point of weakness and I believe that that message resonated with the people and their response now is attributable to the fact that even before the flag-off of the campaigns, we have laid it bare on the table for South Eastern states to consider the prospect of working with us to ensure that at least by the time President Buhari finishes his second tenure, they can make a shot at the presidency depending on what they bring to the table,” he said. He said the Southeast was an integral part of the country and that it must be accorded its appropriate place in the scheme of things.