Investigation

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

There were feelings of excitement among the people of Ohuru-Ndoki Community when three contractors were prequalified to bid for road projects in 2008. They were happy that after a long wait, their prayers were about to be answered. But, as days rolled into weeks and weeks into months and years without their dreams materialising, the people became disillusioned. ARINZE CHIJIOKE, who just returned from a tour of the area, reports that the projects initiated by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), have either been abandoned or poorly executed

If there was anything the people of Ohuru- Ndoki Community ever longed for, it was the re-construction of the Obohia-Ohuru-Aba Road with spur to Ohambele-Obeaku Road. Before it finally failed in the early 2000s, exactly two decades after it was constructed in 1980 by the then governor of Imo State, Samuel Mbakwe, the road boosted the economic activities of Ohuru and Obeaku communities, which majored in crude/palm oil operations and shipping businesses.

It served as the major gateway linking Abia, Akwa Ibom and Rivers states with parts of Ngwa land. But after it became unmotorable, economic activities for the people who are predominantly farmers were grounded, making life difficult for most of them.

It became hard for them to go out and sell their products just as it was difficult for people to come into the community. The road became a death trap for travelers too. According to the traditional ruler of Ohuru-Ndoki Autonomous Community, Ukwa East, Eze Obinna Nwagbara, “to use motorcycles, you would have to pay huge sums since cars can’t pass through the road. And so, after harvests, we can’t sell.”

In 2007, Nwagbara invited a contractor, Benjamin Nwosu, owner of Akomec Nigeria Limited, along with a Shell Engineer named only as Idowu, and both of them took the measurement of the road.

He said the decision was taken with the hope that something would be done about the state of the road, considering its huge economic importance and coupled with the fact that Obohia was/is one of the major oil producing communities in Ukwa East. A document made available to this reporter shows that after the visit, a proposal was submitted to the office of the former Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Timi Alaibe.

The proposal paid off when in 2008, a total of 48 mega projects for the oil producing states of the Niger Delta were advertised for tender by the Presidency on September 18, 2008, and in Vanguard newspaper edition of Friday, October 10, 2008. Out of a total of five mega projects approved for Abia State, the Obohia-Ohuru- Aba Road project was shortlisted for bid and subsequent award.

The project was captured as Obohia-Ohuru-Aba Road with spur to Ohambele Obeaku Road, with further details provided thus: “Contract struction of 16km of rural road with 1 no.3 span bridge, 10 culverts, drains along populated areas and crushed stone base course at marshy areas.”

A total of three contractors were prequalified to bid for the project in 2008, including Akomec Nigeria Limited, Herbertech Nigeria Limited and Atai Nigeria Limited. With feelings of excitement, members of the community waited for the contractor who won the contract to commence work on the road. But that was never to be. “We were happy that after a long wait, our prayer was answered. Little did we know that that was the beginning of another unending wait,” said Nwagbara.

Hopes dashed

As days ran into weeks and weeks into months and years, no contractor showed up for the job. It has now been 12 years but the project that was duly advertised in line with procurement processes has not commenced.

When Nwagbara and the people of Ohuru could not wait any longer, they invited Nwosu, who had measured the road and subsequently won the contract to explain reasons for the delay Nwabara said: “Nwosu told us he was not mobilised to commence work on the road.

But, how would they ask him to come and commence a project without giving him money?” The traditional ruler has been working with youths and other monarchs to ensure that the project is started, regardless of the contractor. He said there is a need to find out what happened to the money for the project. “We are not demanding anything from the government apart from this road. It is very important to us.

If NDDC has any problem with Akomec that won the contract, they can get another contractor to continue with the job,” he explained. When contacted for his reaction, Nwosu confirmed that the contract for the construction of the Obohia-Ohuru- Aba Road was awarded to his firm for N2.3 billion (two billion, three hundred million naira only). He said that he attracted and won the contract in 2009, with the influence of his in-law, former President Goodluck Jonathan, who was at that time, the Vice President of Nigeria. He, however, said that he was not given the letter of award for the contract, and the money to execute the project.

He said: “The former MD of the NDDC when the contract was awarded, Timi Alaibe, told me that I won the contract. But I did not get the award letter till his administration was dissolved and since then, no one is saying anything.” A board member representing Abia State in the NDDC at the time of the contract award between 2007 and 2009, Aloysius Nwagboso, confirmed that the con-ract for Obohia-Ohuru Road was indeed awarded by the NDDC.

He nonetheless refused to comment on the controversy surrounding the award of the contract and why work has not started on the road. He insisted that he would not want to be drawn into the unnecessary controversy. According to him, “Akomec cannot claim to have won the contract when he does not have an award letter from the commission.

The project was awarded in 2009, and by that year, in April, our tenure terminated. I know that the project was part of the budget. I defended it. But who won the project is what I don’t know. It is a very controversial issue.”

Deluge of petitions

Comrade Henry Nwaigwe, who doubles as the youth leader of Ohuru- Ndoki Community and Zonal Coordinator, Ndoki Youth Federation, told our reporter that between 2010 and 2015, his community and Akomec, the supposed winner of the contract, wrote a series of petitions demanding the mobilisation of contractor to site.

He said they also wrote to the Presidential Probe Committee on NDDC, the Executive Directorate Department of the Commission, the Bureau of Public Procurement and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).

“We want the NDDC to allow us access to the award letter and also explain to us the reason behind the non-execution of the project since 2008, because the continued delay in its execution does not encourage us to trust the intervention policy of the commission,” he said.

He maintained that the Obohia-Ohuru- Aba Road is an authentic project under NDDC’s project execution list and that documentary record with the National Assembly Committee on NDDC, BPP, and the Due process office of the Commission in Port Harcourt are there to verify the fact.

Allegations of re-alignment

However, there are suspicions in Ohuru – Ndoki that the contract for the construction of the Obahi-Ohuru-Aba Road may somehow have been awarded to another contractor, but for another road, This is because HERBERTECH NIG Ltd,one of the prequalified contractors for the Obohia-Ohuru-Aba Road project resumed work on a nearby project, the Obohia- Ohanku Aba Road. There have been allegations that he changed the alignment of the original road to fit the new one.

In fact, Nwosu, owner of Akomec who said he won the contract, alleged that the Obohia-Ohuru Road was doctored along the bidding process in November 2008, for the Obohia-Ohanku-Aba Road in favour of one of the bidder contractors in the contract sum of N2,0,80,000,000 (two billion and eighty million Naira only).

Nwaigwe, the youth leader of Ohuru- Ndoki, also alleged that funds released for the execution of the Ohuru Road project from the presidency were being appropriated by the NDDC staff and Herbert who used it to work on a road project that was not legally procured.

He said: “While we were making efforts to ensure that the contractor was mobilised to site, we noticed that one of the contractors who lost out in the bidding of the Obohia-Ohuru-Aba Road project, had started working on a farm road between Obohia-Ndoki Round about, with the inscription, Obohia-Ohanku Aba Road.”

He however, revealed that the funding of the Obohia-Ohanku Aba Road has since been suspended after the petitions. Following allegations that he changed the alignment of the Obohia-Ohuru Road, Herbert said that what he was given by the NDDC was the construction of the Obohia-Ohanku Aba Road and that all the contract details and agreements signed are available.

“If the NDDC advertised that they were going to do a particular project and later, failed to follow it up, you cannot slap them. You did not give them money to do any road for you,” he said.

Herbert said he went, picked and filled the tender when it was published after which the bid analysis was done and they went straight to the BPP for no objection certification after which agreements were signed.

He told this reporter that as a contractor, he does not have the capacity to change the alignment of a road and have the NDDC to access it, do bid analysis, obtain certificate of no objection, write award letter, mobilise and pay the interim pay-ment certificate, one, two, three and four.

When asked whether the contract for the road was published in line with the procurement processes, he said: “As a registered contractor, I was asked to come and collect a tender; I have the original copy of the tender that said Obohia- Ohanku.

I took what I saw and went away.” Herbert said he had two options, to collect the project or reject it, adding that the project was tendered in 2008, awarded in 2009, and the site handed over to him in 2010.

“I could not have asked them why it is Ohanku and not Ohuru. The extent I have gone on the project, I can’t go back,” he said. He said that the NDDC has not paid him since 2017 when he finished about 20km of the Obohia-Ohanku Road out of 32.30km in the contract, adding that the development has slowed the pace of work on the road.

“If the payment were coming as and when due, I would have finished the project. I can’t begin to talk about all of that because there will be a penalty for anything I say. Our agreement says that contractors are the employees while the NDDC is the employer and that means we are to act on the instructions of the employer,” he added. In its database, the NDDC admitted that the contract for the construction of Obohia – Ohanku – Aba Road with Spur to Ohambele- Obeaku (32.30km) Ukwa East has since been abandoned.

However, NNDC’s budget document seen by this reporter showed that between 2012 and 2016, over N1.5 billion has so far been committed to the construction of the road project, which has now been combined with the Obohia- Ohanku Road and captured as Obohia- Ohanku-Ohuru-Aba Road with spur to Ohambele-Obeaku Road. A budget sum of N6,580,262,907.19 (six billion five hundred and eighty million, two hundred and sixty two thousand nine hundred and seven thousand nineteen kobo) has been allocated for the two projects since they were brought together in 2012.

The Obohia-Ohuru-Aba Road with spur to Ohambele Obeaku Road, which was advertised by the NDDC had N3,980,626,907.19, while the Obohia-Ohanku- Aba Road had a budget of N2.6 billion. But while the Obohia-Ohanku- Aba Road with spur to Ohambele Obeaku Road has since commenced, with the contractor, Herbertech Nigeria Ltd constructing 20km, no contractor has been mobilised to the Obohia-Ohuru-Aba Road with spur to Ohambele Obeaku Road.

And the people of Ohuru-Ndoki continue to question the rationale behind the non-mobilisation of a contractor to the road after all available documents ranging from proposal, budget, approval stage and tender advertisement show that the road followed the due process.

No proper record keeping

One of the problems of the NDDC, which has often resulted in the nonexecution and abandonment of projects across the oil producing states, is poor record keeping by the commission. The Chief Technical Assistant to the Executive Director, Projects of the NDDC in 2015, Engineer Jerry Oritsejolone, said that he was asked to look into the controversy surrounding the Obohia-Ohuru Road project but added that the board was soon dissolved and he was transferred from the headquarters.

Oritsejolone, who is currently the Assistant Director, Projects, Delta State office of the commission, said that since 2015 after he left, the matter died down and successive boards have failed to look into it.

He blamed it on the failure of the NDDC to always keep records of contracts. He said that once a board leaves, another board comes in and they usually don’t know what happened in the previous administration. “Even if there are any records, politicians, who often are in charge of these projects, do not have the patience to check and projects die natural deaths,” he explained. He, however, said that it is possible that the Obohia-Ohuru Road contract was not awarded even after it was advertised by the commission.

“The people cannot protest against what we have advertised because a lot of projects were awarded because of the problems in the NDDC,” he said. Oritsejolone further explained that the commission may have used most funds for the execution of what it described as emergency awards instead of paying for projects that already exist.

According to him, “most of what we have now are emergency awards as the government has said no new contracts should be awarded. You will find that in our budgets and most of these emergency awards are fictitious (and) used to steal money in the commission.”

Politics of contract award and execution

Oritsejolone spoke of how contractors were usually asked to pay 10 per cent of contract sums before they were given contracts after winning bids. He said: “If you cannot pay the 10 per cent once they collect some percentage and when you work and get paid, you pay them because most of the projects belong to politicians who require you to pay.” He explained that contractors were required to sign agreements and pay part of the agreement first including three per cent to the facilitator and that any contractor who failed to provide the money would lose the job.

He said it was possible that Akomec, the supposed winner of the contract for Obohia-Ohuru Road, failed to provide the percentage required for him to get the award letter and was denied the contract.

“If the former MD told Akomec that he won the award, how do we believe that? There has to be an award letter and other necessary documents like the non-rejection letter from the due process office for us to believe,” he said.

Oritsejolone asked the people of Ohuru- Nkoki to write a protest letter to the MD of the commission as any letter they wrote before now may have expired and that once transferred, all members of a particular board leave, and nobody would know anything about the matter. “Nobody has time to go back to past documents. They need to write again and keep writing till something is done about the project. Since the last letter they wrote, about four boards have come and gone and they are still depending on that,” how, he asked.

To be continued

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

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