Chief John Okiyi Kalu is the Commissioner for Information in Abia State. In this interview with EMMANUEL IFEANYI, he talks about developmental strides in the state, including how Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration is tackling the age-long Ndiegoro Flood Zone (Aba Emergency Flood Mitigation Works for Ndiegoro, Uratta and Umuagbai Flood Plains) that earned late Governor Sam Mbakwe of old Imo State the “Weeping Governor” during his tenure
Thirty-nine years after the historic Ndiegoro flood disaster that moved Late Sam Mbakwe to tears, the area is still a flood zone. What is this government doing in this regard?
Some decades ago, Governor Sam Mbakwe was tagged weeping governor because of the disaster at Ndiegoro axis in 1982. Since then, no administration has engaged to solve that problem properly. Aba generally is flat land, but since 2015, our focus has always been on constructing drains and that was why we tried to dredge the Aba River so that floods will go there.
The work done by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu saved us a lot of disasters. We don’t have the technology to stop the rain. What we have achieved in major parts of Aba now is that after the rain, one hour later, the water will not be there anymore.
However, on Ndiegoro specifically, the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management (NEWMAP) has a huge project there and of course, you know their funding is from the World Bank in partnership with the state government. So, the Ndiegoro flood mitigation project is on.
There’s this notion that work at Ndiegoro isn’t moving at the required speed and you have less than two years in power. So, what is causing the perceived delay?
It was only after the elections in 2019 that we had a definite go-ahead on Ndiegoro. The definite go-ahead is to the extent that the designs have been approved by the World Bank. I want you to underline the following: the contract for the Ndiegoro Flood Mitigation Project was signed in April 2020.
That’s when the contract for the Ndiegoro Flood Control Project was signed. Remember, you can only use the international bidding process approved by the World Bank to select contractors.
The selected contractors of the World Bank for the project are two: NHH Dubai and Heartland Construction Company, Nigeria and they were handed over the project site on June 6, 2020.
Remember, as of June 6, 2020, we were all facing a serious COVID-19 period. It continued up till October when it seemed to be subsiding, then the EndSARS protest came. We all know what happened around the Ndiegoro especially the Ngwa Road axis.
The contractors couldn’t mobilise to start work. They also had international procurement issues. Because the Ndiegoro axis is fully built up, if you want to clear the area for the channel or tunnel for water flow, you’ll destroy many buildings.
Payment of compensation will even take the entire fund for the project. One of the designs presented by the contractor was to use equipment called Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) which will go underground from one location, go deep down and start forming the tunnel without affecting whatever you’re doing outside. That equipment has never been used in Nigeria. It was to be supplied by the Dubai company.
This company is aware that every TBM is produced according to specification. That’s to say, you have to look at the location, measure the depth and the size designation for the tunnel. So, it is produced to suit every project. You don’t just go to the market and say you want to buy a TBM. Because of COVID-19, businesses and companies shut down.
The company could not bring in the required TBM because they couldn’t procure it which was a procurement failure. Even though the government had medical equipment that we couldn’t clear until recently because of the large size of goods waiting for clearance at Apapa.
Meanwhile, NEWMAP’s projects are a term project of the World Bank which set terms for the beginning and the end of every project.
Since the TBM was not procured and the World Bank had terms for their projects, what is the way forward now?
Initially, the Ndiegoro Flood Mitigation Project had a term of two and half years. When it had encroached into the closing time of the term set by the World Bank due to obvious reasons something needed to be done. Get it right this didn’t only affect Abia as all NEWMAP states were affected.
So, a meeting was held in Abuja where all the states involved in NEWMAP pleaded with the World Bank to give them an extension. That extension was given for 11 months.
This means whatever you’re doing, you must complete it within 11 months as given by the World Bank. What that means is that we could no longer get the TBM as expected. Because by the time we bring it in, before we offload the 17 containers it will come on, fix them all, time would have gone. Again, remember it has not even been manufactured due to COVID-19 that made companies close down.
However, there is a new design that has surface drains which we have moved on which will be covered because we have 11 months. Today, we’re working on Ngwa Road. They’re working there establishing gutters.
No serious contractor will lay asphalt during the rainy season because it’s a waste of funds. What we say to our contractors is to create gutters during the rain because it even helps them to know the flow of water.
Everyone knows that the biggest problem with road construction is to establish good gutters. Once that’s established, the remaining part is not a huge issue. Before the end of this year, Ngwa Road will be commissioned. At Obohia, work is ongoing there as well.
There’s this confusion about who is in charge of road projects in Aba, can you separate NEWMAP’s projects from projects solely executed by the Abia government?
NEWMAP projects in Aba includes Uratta, Ngwa Road, Obohia, Umuagbai and some small Roads within the Ngwa Road area.
NEWMAP does not do road projects, what they do is wherever they make any intervention on erosion or flood control, in the process of doing that, they pass through certain roads which they destroy and in the end, they’ll fix those roads that are contiguous to their projects.
That’s why Ngwa Road, Obohia Road and some parts of Uratta Road. Let me underline some points here, Port Harcourt Road is not a NEWMAP project. It’s an Abia State government project. Also, note that Ohanku Road is also not part of NEWMAP projects. It is an Abia State government project. If
Abia govt is in charge of Port Harcourt Road, why is there delay since 2018 it was flagged off? Again, what is it with the issue of refuse on that road?
The issue there is that the NEWMAP project which is coming from the Uratta axis and will move to Umuagbai Pond will cross some parts of Port Harcourt Road through Crystal Park Area. What that means is that if we continue with our work at Port Harcourt Road when NEWMAP gets there, they’ll destroy it with their flood control channel that’ll cross there.
We asked the contractor at Port Harcourt Road who had already done 90 per cent of the gutters to slow down so that NEWMAP will cross and we’ll continue. Port Harcourt Road was designed by Governor Ikpeazu as the first six-lane road in Abia with a BRT lane.
We’ll deliver a brand new Port Harcourt Road before we leave office. You’ll also recall that sometime in 2018, we deployed 400 tipper loads to evacuate waste within that Port Harcourt Road axis from Crystal Park Junction which is long years of rot as we even discovered an electronic transformer buried by waste for so many years.
After evacuating it, for some reason, the thing has returned and we can’t go back there now because of the rains and the nature of that road, otherwise we are interested in evacuating it.
We are creating alternative routes that will enable us to access and evacuate refuse there in the coming weeks in line with the recommencement of work at Port Harcourt Road. Before the end of this year, you’ll see asphalt overlay in one lane of Port Harcourt Road.
The member representing Aba South State Constituency in the Abia State House of Assembly, Hon. Obinna Ichita has questioned the usage of a certain $56 million released by World Bank for road construction in Aba South of which Ndiegoro is part, what is your reaction?
The so-called $56 million is not money only meant for Ndiegoro Flood Mitigation Project or roads in Aba South State Constituency. It is for all the World Bank (NEWMAP) Projects in Abia State. So, when somebody said we had the money since 2017 and have been spending it, the person is referring to other NEWMAP projects in Abia which aren’t just within Aba but include about six different projects all over the state.
There are work at gully erosion sites at Umuakwu and Umuezeukwu Nsulu in Isiala Ngwa North Local Government Area, Isingwu/Umuagu Ibeku and Amuzukwu Ibeku in Umuahia North Local Government Area and Amuda Achara in Umunneochi Local Government Area. Abia is the first flood intervention project the World Bank is doing in Nigeria. It is also their biggest single intervention ever in Nigeria.
You have explained the $56 million issue, but another issue raised by Ichita is that Aba South seems to have been abandoned by this government in terms of road infrastructure?
We started Port Harcourt before Hon. Obinna Ichita was voted into the Abia State House of Assembly. He was not the one that pushed us into the project. Up to date, he has not made one legislation in the House in support of any project we are doing in Aba South Constituency. Before he came to the House of Assembly, we have done Ochefu Road, clusters of roads in Azu-Aba including, Onyebuchi Street, Ibere Road, Ibadan Road and other roads within the Amammogho Business Cluster all in Aba South Constituency. It is malicious politics to accuse the Governor of Abia State of mismanaging $56 million. I have explained all these for the truth to be known. You can go and verify.
But he said that he presented the matter in the House and the House passed a resolution mandating the Abia govt to instruct contractors handling some roads in Aba South which inc-ludes Port Harcourt Road to go back to the site?
The House of Assembly Resolution has nothing to do with the $56 million or Ndiegoro flood mediation project. The resolution has to do with the evacuation of the waste along Port Harcourt Road.
If not for mischiefmaking, why is someone insinuating that the House of Assembly passed a resolution for a $56 million provided for the Aba South project when there was nothing as such? Nobody drops that kind of money in your laps. It goes with stages through replenishment of funds as you go along the project.
We cannot touch the money even if we want to because it is in a project account jointly managed by the World Bank which nobody is disputing. It is the same practice all over the NEWMAP states. Our own in Abia State is different because it is political.
Why do you say it is political?
Hon. Obinna Ichita is of APGA and it was Dr. Alex Otti who was of APGA then that first petitioned against this project. NEWMAP has had different consultation community meetings with people from the area they are working of which I am aware they have invited Hon. Obinna Ichita for so many but he did not attend.
NEWMAP has gone to the House of Assembly to give an account four times on this project and he is a member there. How come suddenly he is making moves trying to incite people against the government needlessly?
Let me underline this, we have no problems with legislators doing their oversight functions. I’m aware that the Chairman of the House Committee on Works, Hon. Ginger Onwusibe visited the site of the project at Ngwa Road to see the progress.