© 2018 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Ecological Funds: Community Rejects Badly Executed Govt Project
By Samuel Malik
In about 10 days, residents of Shagari Estate, Yola in Adamawa State, were forced to abandon their houses twice in the middle of the night and seek shelter in churches and a primary school because their estate and houses were flooded with water.
The first incident occurred on June 20, 2015 around midnight. While people still counted their losses, the second one happened 10 days later at the same time. Like they did the first time, parents woke their children up and picked whatever they could as they scampered in the heavy rain to a Baptist Church in the estate which was not too impacted by the deluge. Others headed to a primary school in the area.
Streets were flooded, houses filled and properties damaged, including foodstuff and important documents. Livestock and poultries were also affected. The total value of properties damaged is over N25 million, residents estimated.
“That of today is worse than the last one. Virtually every house in the estate is affected. Our properties have been damaged, including vital documents. We have never had it this bad. We were far better off before work was done in the estate,” Linus Kwache, a resident and lecturer with the Federal University of Technology, Yola, said.
The work Kwache referred to was a contract awarded for the construction of flood and erosion control structures in the community. The N224 million contract was awarded in 2011 to Ecosystems Consults Limited by the Ecological Fund Office, EFO, under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Environment.
An investigation by the icirnigeira.org revealed how funds under the EFO were squandered and diverted, leaving thousands of Nigerians exposed to serious consequences, including loss of livelihood and death.
Established in 1981, the EFO was created to solve serious ecological problems such as soil erosion, flooding, drought, desertification, oil spillage, general environmental pollution, storms, tornadoes, bush fires, crop pests, landslides, earthquakes, as well as prevent suffering and possible deaths from these natural disasters.
EFO is domiciled in the Presidency and money is released only with the approval of the President. Also, a contractor does not get paid, despite the issuance of Interim Payment Certificate, unless EFO gives the go – ahead after sending its staff to monitor and inspect the project, that work has been done.
However, all these are mere theories, as investigations showed that the ecological fund is more of a slush fund than succour to distressed communities.
In the case of Shagari Estate, Ecosystems Consults only moved to site in 2013 and by the end of 2014, its work was curiously certified 100 percent complete by EFO and money was fully paid. However, just as the saying goes that he who wears the shoe knows where it pinches; the residents knew the contractor did a bad job.
“We told the contractor that there was need for the drainages to be made in such a way to make flow of water easy but he refused,” a resident, Anthony Sawa, said.
They knew that judging by the quality of work done they would be in trouble whenever it rained heavily. Thus, they tried to convince the contractor, sometimes applying pressure, to reason with them and do a good job but he refused, boasting that they had no power to make him do the work their own way.
Thus, they decided to seek the intervention of the supervising ministry and in 2014 they wrote to the ministry of environment.
“The work is characterised by poor, shoddy and substandard quality; low depth of drainage; poor foundation and inadequate mixture of concrete; lack of consistency and continuation of drainage leading to blockage and over flooding; water retention from undispersed heaps of soil,” the letter, dated October 24, 2014, read in part.
Nothing was heard from the ministry and in 2015, they wrote another letter signed by 143 landlords calling on the ministry to come to their aid, as they feared they were in grave danger. Someone was sent from the ministry to the estate and promises were made that the contractor would be asked to return and correct the anomalies.
Shockingly, the residents claimed the contractor boldly told them nothing would come out of the promises because once he gave the ministry official money, that would be the end of the matter.
Truly, nothing was done but due to late commencement of rain in 2015, the only problem the estate faced was over flooded drainages and streets. It was still bad because the drainages were not built in such a way to make for easy flow of water, leaving stagnant water as breeding ground for mosquitoes. Also, there is stench to contend with.
Curiously, the ministry of Environment has so far left the residents of the estate to their fate.
Our reporter was informed that a letter was sent to the minister around March this year calling on her to prevail on the contractor to rectify the work but no response was received.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, Obed Atuora, an Assistant Director, declined making a statement because, according to him, he needed to get the facts correct before making any statement.
He, however, collected information about the contract, including the contractor and the complaints of the residents and said he would make the relevant enquiries and contact the reporter. He also expressed surprise when told that we submitted a letter to the minister in May this year but got no response, adding that the minister is very passionate about the environment.
Investigations at the CAC revealed that Ecosystems and its shareholders’ address is Plot 17, Garki Village, Opposite Garki Primary School, Abuja, but when the reporter visited there, he could neither locate Plot 17 nor find anyone who knew a company by that name.
Our reporter was able to get the phone number of the person who executed the contract. Using the call application, Truecaller, the name Alhaji Giwa Giwa showed up. When called by name on phone, Giwa responded in the affirmative. He also affirmed that his company, Ecosystems Consults Nigeria Limited, executed the flood and erosion control project in Shagari Estate but when told that residents complained that the work done was substandard and that flood was affecting them, he said he could he could not hear the reporter, as he was driving. He said he would park to call the reporter back and hung up.
He did not call back and when the reporter called his mobile, he did not pick the call. The reporter called with another number and when he answered and discovered it was the reporter, he became angry and yelled at the reporter.
“My friend, what is your problem?” he barked. The reporter told him about the complaints of the residents and he cut in, “My friend, tell them to stop dumping dirt in the drainages and the water would flow.
The reporter told him he was at the estate and that the drainages were free of refuse.
“My friend, listen to me. Tell the people what I told you. They should be still and the water will pass,” he said before hanging up.
The people are worried that the worse may still lie ahead, as we approach August when rainfall increases. Parents are also wary of leaving their children at home.
“Are we asking for too much, that the contractor should come back and undo what he has done?” a distraught woman asked our reporter amid tears. “Please come and see what we are going through. We never asked for this. We were better off before the government came with its fake help.”
Kwacha said they are not asking the government for money. All they want is for the work to be rectified.
“Our prayer is that the government sends a professional engineer to rectify the problem. We are more interested in the problem solved than any financial assistance,” he noted.