New Telegraph

Corruption: Inside Abia’s abandoned, poorly executed NDDC road projects (2)

In this concluding part of Abia’s abandoned, poorly executed NDDC road projects, ARINZE CHIJIOKE, highlights the corrupt allegations that may have prompted President Muhammadu Buhari to order a forensic audit of the NDDC from 2001 to 2019 in October 2019. He also made efforts at getting those concerned to state their case

The probe

The NDDC was established under the Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration by the NDDC Act of 2000, to among other things, birth plans and implement programmes and projects for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta and other oil producing regions.

Sadly, however, the Commission has been on the spotlight, following a series of allegations of corruption in the award and execution of contracts, including road construction, electricity, water and schools across the oil producing states.

These corrupt allegations may have been what prompted President Muhammadu Buhari, to order a forensic audit of the Commission from 2001 to 2019 in October 2019. He was worried that what was on ground in the oil regions did not justify the huge resources that had been made available to the Commission. The President said: “I try to follow the Act setting up these institutions, especially the NDDC.

With the amount of money that the Federal Government has religiously allocated to the NDDC, we will like to see the results on ground; those that are responsible for that have to explain certain issues.”

Prior to 2011, indigenes of Akwete, one of the oil producing communities in Abia State, could comfortably bury their dead because passing through the road that leads to the Akwete cemetery was without stress. The people had always wanted a road constructed to link the Cemetery Road to Ohanso, one of the villages.

But since no one seemed to care, they had to make do with the road, which had only been graded. In February 2011, the NDDC decided to award a contract for the construction of the Akwete Cemetery Road Linking Ohanso –Obunkwu Ukwa East to Rustech Nig. Ent Ltd at a contract sum of ₦245,000,000.

The sum of N36,750,000 (Thirty Six Million, Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand naira) was committed to the project in 2012. In the same year when the contractor arrived, he began the construction of drainage on one of the roads and the people hoped he would complete the project. But their hopes were dashed as the contractor suddenly stopped coming to site.

The traditional ruler of Amakam, one of the villages in Akwete, Okere Eruba, said that apart from failure to finish the drainage, it was also poorly constructed. He was dismayed that no one had seen or heard from the contractor ever since.

“Today, the road has become completely impassable, worse than a shadow of its old self. Each time it rains, the road is flooded owing to the poor construction of the drainage, which is usually filled with filth. It has been turned into a refuse dump site and the people wish the contract was not awarded in the first instance,” the monarch further said.

Eruba said that apart from the Cemetery Road project, Akwete does not have any project by NDDC that has been completed and that they have either been abandoned or not even started at all. “We do not feel the presence of the Federal Government in our community.

We had high expectations. But now, they have been dashed. We have been crying out for help. Our people are suffering as a result of the filth near our market which has become unbearable,” he added. Meanwhile, the NDDC indicates on its PMIS portal, a database which has the commission’s projects since early 2000s, that the contract for the construction of the Akwete Cemetery Road linking Ohanso –Obunkwu Ukwa East is “ongoing” To bury their dead now, the people of Akwete have to hire and pay youths that will clear the road that leads to the cemetery. Visibly irked by the inconveniencies, Chima Okeke, a community member, said the NDDC has to go in search of the contractor so he can finish it up because, according to him, “it’d be unfair to abandon the project after collecting money for it. That will amount to man inhumanity to man.”

Uncompleted, porthole-ridden

Cynthia Abraham has not walked on a well-constructed road in her community since she was born in 1982, except on occasions when she travelled out. And so, she always hoped for the day when the adjoining tarred roads would be constructed in her Umuwaga community in Ukwa West. Abraham’s community happens to be one of the major oil producing areas in Ukwa West, in Abia State.

In 2011, the NDDC awarded a contract for the construction of the Umuwaga Internal roads in Ukwa West at a sum of N124,039,000 to Kenchez Nig. Ltd. That meant answered prayers for Abraham. When she first saw the contractor, she heaved a huge sigh of relief. “The entire community was happy. We danced and celebrated because we had waited to see this for years,” she said, with her voice switching between contempt and rage. Youths in Umuwaga were mobilised to help construct the drainages for the roads in 2011.

As work progressed in the construction of the drainages, their hope burned out like flames. In 2012, the contractor came and graded the roads and poured gravel on them. The drainages had not been fully constructed though. Their expectations were beginning to come to life before their eyes. But they were soon cut short when the contractor suddenly stopped coming to site.

Members of the community waited throughout 2012, hoping that he would return to site. But that did not happen. That was the last time Abraham and other members of her community saw or heard from him. “We all thought he had finished working on the road and we began to make use of it,” she said. After six months however, the reality began to unfold. The roads developed potholes, creating waterlogs and becoming almost impassable anytime it rains.

Most of the time, because of the poor construction of the drainage system, water finds its way into wrong places and sweeps confusion into people’s homes. Another community member, Abraham Uchenna, confirmed to this reporter that other roads that were awarded at the same time to the contractor have become bad and impassable to road users too.

“We are calling on the government to intervene because we need the roads, especially for our economic activities. Cars cannot come in and go out, not even motorcycles,” he said. John Nwabueze clearly remembers when workers with Estuary Integrated Service arrived in Ụmụaka, a community in Ukwa West, another oil producing area in Abia State in early 2015.

The NDDC had awarded to the company the contract for the construction of Umuodeke – Uzomkpuri – Railway Road, Asa South at a contract sum of N94,537,775. When they arrived, they had a major challenge where to stay, while work was going on. But Nwabueze offered his home.

And they promised to pay him some money at the end of the project. “The money they were going to pay me was not my major concern. We have always had a great need for the road and so, I was happy that they were here to work on it.” To show their level of excitement with the project, youths from Ụmụaka Community had also offered to help dig gutter for drainages at the request of the contractor. They even helped clear the bushes for the grading of the road.

When they commenced the drainage construction, everyone in the community was happy. Yet, after sometime, like others before it, they said their materials had finished and that they had to go and get more. They were away for several months, he said, before they came back again and continued with the drainage. But “they did not get to the end of the road.

They also did a bit of the grading and stopped.” When community members tried to find out what was slowing down the pace of work, the contractor said he had been using his money since he had not been paid by the NDDC for the project and so, he couldn’t continue to work.

“They took what was left of their materials from my house without even paying me and left,” Nwabueze said, adding, “they got another project to work on. Since then, we have not heard from them.

Some of their materials are still with me-their shovel and head pans,” for instance. Now, the road has become completely impassable, discouraging many people who would have come into the community for their businesses. This hurts Nwabueze really bad because he had expected the road to be completed so it can open up more opportunities for the people. “NDDC should look into the matter so the contractor can return to site,” he said.

Another community, same problem

When workers with Sidney Construction Company arrived in Ohanso in 2014, after the NDDC awarded the contract for the construction of the Ohanso- Obunku Road, the people were happy. They had prayed and waited to have their road reconstructed, years after it fell. Chief Nwokoma, who was then the youth leader of the community, said he provided them with a place to stay and went as far as mobilising some youths in the community who helped in digging the drainage. He also made sure the workers were comfortable. Nwokoma said: “When some people came to demand a matching grant from the contractor, I refused because we needed the road.

I made sure they were not disturbed while working.” But after constructing 1.3km of drainage, the engineer stopped working and went away and when Nwokoma made enquiries, he was told by Emmanuel Udah, the engineer, that he had finished his own milestone for the job.

In a bid to unearth the truth behind the project, which has been left unattended to since 2015, this reporter contacted Udah, who worked on the project for Sidney Construction Company.

Udah, who focuses majorly on drainage construction, revealed that Moshor African Co. Ltd, the original owner of the contract, approached Sidney and Sublet the drainage construction contract to it. After discussing how much the project will cost with Moshor, an agreement was reached and Moshor provided the materials needed for the job, including sand, chippings, rods, cement and other materials. Udah explained: “We went to the site and started work with some youths from the community after they insisted and some workers with my company.

After some time, money for the workers finished and I asked Moshor but he refused. So, we had to leave after constructing 1.3km of th drainage.” The director of Sidney Construction, Sidney Oji, said that his company had to take part of the work on the drainage but Moshor failed to pay for the construction till 2018, three years after. He was surprised that the road has not been completed since 2015, after his company worked on the drainage, which was the first milestone for the project.

“That means that Moshor lacked the capacity to do the job that he collected from the NDDC. If he had paid us, we would have completed our own part of the project,” he added. Now, the road is worse than it used to be, with most of it washed away by erosion. This is due to the non-completion of the 1.5km drainage and failure of the original contractor, Moshor African Co. Ltd, to come to site. Nwokoma blamed the poor state of the road which was awarded at a sum of N238,019,535 on the fact that the original contractor, Moshor, sublet his contract to a different company. In its PMIS portal, the NDDC said that the project for the construction of the Ohanso-Obunku Road in Ukwa East has not started.

Erosion threatening community

The poor construction of the drainage and sudden abandonment of the road project in Ohanso has continued to threaten the existence of several households in the community. The traditional ruler of Ohanso, where the project is located, Eze D.I.C Nwankwo, said that the poor construction of the drainage, which makes it impossible for water to pass, has created different erosion channels in the community.

He said: “We are afraid houses might begin to fall with time. Our people are predominantly farmers. But they can’t take their goods to the market whenever it rains here. I was not even informed when the project started.” Nwankwo, along with other leaders in his community, have written several letters to both the state government and the NDDC, seeking intervention, but nothing has been done yet.

Efforts to get Moshor to react on the state of the road did not yield results, as this reporter could not locate the company or its owners. Checks on the website of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), indicated that it was not registered.

That is a breach of the Procurement Act, which mandates that all government contractors must not only be registered with the commission but must be responsible organisations with a record of filing tax returns. B.C Nwafor hardly talks about the Umahala Road because he has always been angry each time he has to do so. The road, located in Ukwa West, was awarded by the NDDC to S.J. Odioka Solid Nig. Ltd at the sum of ₦243,698,750. Since March 2011, when the contract was awarded till 2020, the road has remained only but a shadow of its old self, creating several water channels and sending water into people’s homes anytime it rains.

It was observed that most of the chippings poured on it by the contractor had been washed off. The drainage constructed on both sides of the road has since been covered with sand. With several waterlogs, it has become almost impossible for cars and motorcycles to travel on the road, forcing the community to lose several investment opportunities.

Nwafor, who is the Community Development Councilor of Umahala, said the contractor only came in 2011 after the contract was awarded and graded the road, poured chippings and then he left. “The last time we saw the contractor was in 2015.

The road is not even motorable anymore. There are lots of uncompleted roads by the NDDC in our community. They went to the media and said they had finished the project,” he said. He, however, said the contractor called him in 2019, and promised they were coming to finish the project, but he did not show up. “We are very close to Rivers State yet, we are not developed, even though we are part of the communities that produce oil in Abia State,” he noted.

Completed, in use

However, unlike other project locations spread across Ukwa East, which were either not started or abandoned, the contract for the rehabilitation and reasphalting of Akwete – Umuagbai was completed and is being used by members of both Akwete and Umuagbai communities. Awarded at a cost of ₦300,000,000 to ALADEX Nigeria Limited on December 10, 2004, some residents said that the 8km road project, since it was completed, has brought some relief to both communities as they travel through it to transact their businesses. One of such residents, an Okada rider, identified himself simply as Eze, said that since the road was completed, it has not had any challenge.

“This is like the only completed project by the NDDC we have around here and so, we are lucky and happy at the same time. Who wouldn’t be,” he said. When contacted, the Executive Director of ALADEX, Abiodun Ajala, said that sincerity is the company’s signature. We are glad the people are happy with our effort in doing what we promised in our contractual agreement.

Since 2000, the Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy and Development (FENRAD), has been engaged in the monitoring of road projects awarded by the NDDC across local governments in Abia State. Using the instrument of the Freedom of Information (FOI), FENRAD has always made requests for such information as publications used in the procurement process. Questions are also asked about details of the bidding process, contractors who are supposed to execute such projects, executed /location of the projects as well as amount budgeted and the process of the disbursement.

The ED FENRAD, Comrade Nnanna Nwafor, however regretted that most of the NDDC projects monitored have either not been executed or poorly executed, even when funds were released for them. He confirmed that Abia State has a total of 628 projects captured in the NDDC but that years of corruption in the award and execution of the contract have undermined the development of the state. In early January, civil society organisations under the platform of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) set up a committee across the 17 local government areas in Abia State to document “failed” NDDC projects in the state.

The committee in its submission noted with disappointment the most worrisome fact of its investigations, the fact that the failed or abandoned projects were awarded to contractors, who hailed from Abia State. NDDC Abia refuses to respond, directs reporter to headquarters This reporter visited the state office of the commission, which is located at OkeikPe-Asa in Ukwa West LGA in a bid to get reactions of the NDDC, following a series of allegations of corruption in the execution of projects by indigenes of the two oil producing LGs. At the reception, the reporter was given a form to fill, indicating reasons for coming, what organisation he represents and whether or not the meeting was scheduled. After waiting for a couple of minutes, the reporter finally gained entry to the Director’s office.

He however, refused to take questions bothering on allegations of corruption, because, according to him, “I don’t have such a mandate to say anything concerning the projects.” The State Director of the NDDC, who gave his name as MassaLinus, told this reporter that the engineers that are supposed to respond to such enquiries are new and do not have the required details about projects in the area. He however, said they are not allowed to comment on projects except there is an approval from the commission’s headquarters in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. He said: “I can’t authorise anybody to comment on any project.

You would have to go to Port Harcourt and get a letter of approval asking me to speak. This is public service and you will not be happy with what will happen if I say anything without approval. We shall be willing to follow you to the locations to know what the problem is when you get the approval.”

FOI request denied

In order to get the contact details of the contractors who were handling the contracts being investigated, this reporter sent an FOI via the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), to the NDDC on October 5. But while the request was acknowledged three days later, on October 8, the Commission failed to respond, nearly a month after the request was sent.

This investigative report was supported by MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

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