© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Ecological Funds: Niger Delta In A Mess
This is the fifth in our series on ecological problems and the failure of government to address them in spite of billion so far spent for that purpose. Written by Anayochukwu Agbo of TELL, it is in two parts.
It may be the last act of defiance for 86 years old Ma Offia Akpan Udoh. Relatives, friends, well-wishers and even the chairman of her Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area Council in Akwa Ibom State have pleaded with her to abandon her one bedroom bungalow at the edge of Ikot Uneke Ravine, that is ravished by gully erosion, all to no avail.
The humble bungalow is not much as a real estate but it holds a world of dream for the octogenarian. She has lived here and raised seven children with late husband, and it is the only inheritance that keeps the memory alive. With all the children grown and gone, she clings to the memory of a past that holds more than the present.
For Ma Udoh, the threat of military occupation of the Niger Delta creeks, a response to the return of militancy in the region, may be a distant drum. She may actually be oblivious of the complexities that attend the campaign of the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA for the environment and the effect on national economy.
The present danger to which she refused to be cowed is the obvious hostility occasioned by nature. All attempts by her children to relocate her fell on deaf ears.
According to Sunday Akpan Ekpo, a relative and a patent medicine dealer who is popularly known as ‘Doctor,’ in the neighourhood, Ma Udoh had regrettably watched gully erosion take over the village footway that passed by her house.
From a narrow harmless trail that the villagers shared with erosion when it rained, the water became greedier. It dung deeper and deeper, and gnawed at both sides of the divide until it became a gorge several metres deep. The trail originally led to the village stream called Idem Idem until erosion took it beyond the reach of the villagers.
Etoro-Obong Akpan, a journalist who doubles as a legislative aid to a member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly is from the embattled village. He recalled with nostalgia how he used the same village pathway to the stream about 25 years ago as a young boy growing up in the pastoral countryside of Ikot Usen.
That nostalgia turned into bitterness and anger as he followed our team down to the ancient Idem Idem River, which is now all but buried under tons and tons of erosion silt, leaving a shallow pond where a few children bathed naked.
From the pool, a narrow belt of water stubbornly snaked into the ravine and disappeared down the groove.
“This stream was so deep that we were diving into it from the banks,” Etoro-Obong continued to lament; “now see what is left of it!” He scooped the water with both hands; perhaps to be sure it was real.
It might be the swan song for the embattled stream if help does not come fast enough. The government of Akwa Ibom State awarded a remedial contract to check the problem but the remedy ironically turned into a new malady as the drains were not properly terminated and became the trigger for worse gully erosion.
One of those incompetently terminated drainages is just 200 metres to Ma Udoh’s treasured homestead. TELL did not meet her at home as she was said to have been ill and taken to a hospital by her children at Benin, Edo State.
The villagers are praying she stays away until either the house is totally carried away, or help comes from the government.
Ibiono Ibom Local government area is erosion prone. Its undulating landscape leaves both flanks vulnerable to corrosive gully erosion. Construction companies build erosion works into their road contract procurements but these palliatives become new triggers for worse gullies.
Julius Berger controlled the Ikot Adaidem Ravine erosion that was cutting the Ikot Ekpene Road into two at Ibiono Ibom but rather than solve the problem, it rather trapped the water. Without an immediate escape the erosion is now digging around the vegetation, looking for escape.
Consequently, the natural stream that serves the neighbourhood is now subsumed in the stagnant water, which has been polluted by rotting vegetation and flood water.
Perhaps the predicament of Ibiono Ibom would have been mitigated if the contract awarded by the federal government for erosion control in Ibiono Ibom was properly executed.
In 2011, the government awarded a N6.1 billion contract to United Dominion Company Ltd under the supervision of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, for erosion control in the local government. The contract was to be completed in 104 weeks; that is two years.
All things being equal, the project should have been completed in 2013 but three years after the delivery date, not much has been done.
There is controversy over the federal government agency that awarded the contract. In the list we got from the government, it is listed as Ecological Fund office with NDDC as the supervising agency. However, Ita Enang, special assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on the Senate who was the senator representing the senatorial district in the Seventh Senate when the contract was awarded insisted that the contract is an NDDC contract.
Incidentally, Enang’s village, Ididep, is part of the contract. In any case, what is relevant is whether the job was done to specification. And when asked if he was satisfied by the job done by United Dominion, Enang became evasive and rather asked if we knew the owners of the company.
An indigene of Ididep who conducted the Magazine round the project sites but requested not to be mentioned described the attitude of the company to the execution of the contract as “reckless and insensitive.”
He explained that their “presence was not felt” for such a massive contract. “You have seen our community and the erosion menace, let the federal government come and show us where the N6.1 billion was spent.”
He, however, acknowledged that two other companies, which constructed the internal roads in Enang’s village in another NDDC contract “did well”.
Likewise, Okuku Ime Udosoru, the Ibom of Ibiono Ibom and paramount ruler of the local government doubted the existence of the contract in his domain because he was not aware of it.
“I cannot even spell United Dominion! I don’t know who they are or where they are located. It’s by the grace of TELL that I have been told of United Dominion for the first time!”
Asked if a company that supposedly executed such an important project in his domain did not seek his royal input or local knowledge of the environment, he insisted he was not aware of the contract.
In the same vein, Albert Essien, Akwa Ibom State commissioner for environment, who also comes from the local government, said he had not been briefed about the project.
From 2005 to 2015, several contracts were awarded under the Ecological Fund by the federal government under the supervision of various agencies.
In Akwa Ibom State, these contracts were supervised by the Cross River Basin Development Authority, CRBDA; NDDC, ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and Ministry of Environment.
The following ecological fund projects were supervised by CRBDA in the state: the gully erosion at Itak Ikono Local Government which cost the federal government N264.8 million; Ndue Edue Eket Erosion Project at N283.5m; Ikot Nseyen Ukpom Road Erosion project at N180.7m and Afaha Attai-IkotAkpan Mkpe Road Erosion control at N204.9m.
All these are listed as “completed” by the Ecological Fund Office but due to either incompetence or corruption, or both, the jobs were not properly supervised by the federal government. As a result, the little that was done was shabbily done and the bad termination points have triggered fresh erosion more devastating than the first ones.
However, the erosion and Flood control at A Line, Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo, awarded at the cost of N70m was executed. Between 2007 and 2014, contracts for 19 ecological related projects in the six core Niger Delta states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers were awarded by the federal government at the cost of N38.6 billion.
Essien who conducted TELL round some erosion sites in Uyo and its environs said the state government is worried about the devastation being caused by relentless gully erosion. At the Umoetuk Avenue erosion site, which is being handled by the Federal government, he gave the job pass mark and attributed what is left to the slow pace of relocating the prison complex which is on the water way.
Prior to the remediation, the avenue had been cut into two by relentless gully erosion, which threatened a number of real estates in the area. Down the ravine, a few houses had collapsed under the relentless erosion.
The site engineer, Ubong Etuk said the remediation is for a total of 500 metres, out of which the first most critical 300 metres had been completed.
At St Luke’s Hospital Annua, a popular hospital being run by missionaries, which was massively rehabilitated by the state government, the northern limits of the premises recently collapsed into the Annua Ravine after a heavy rainfall.
Unyime Robison, state desk officer for Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project, NEWMAP, who conducted the magazine round the site, explained that to save the hospital the state government hurriedly carried out an initial intervention to stop further encroachment. But even this had been mostly eroded when we inspected the site, meaning the hospital is still far from safety.
Essien said the Akwa Ibom State government has aggregated about 100 serious gully erosion sites in the state. Though the federal government has awarded contracts for some of these, about 10 percent, he said they were a far cry from the enormity of the menace.
While the government is engaging the ecological fund office for further intervention, it is also seeking the assistance of multilateral agencies to assist. One of such agencies is NEWMAP, an agency of World Bank that is already on location in neighbouring Cross River State to a great relief.
However, what is not happening in Akwa Ibom is that the state government appears not to be following up on federal interventions on ecological problems in the state.
Consequently, some contractors do shoddy jobs and get away with them. These come back to haunt the state as badly terminated drains become fresh triggers for worse erosion. An example is the case of the Ibiono Ibom Local Government contract.
Akwa Ibom State is bordered on the South by the Atlantic Ocean and is currently the highest oil producing state in the country. It has the longest shoreline in the country, measuring 129 kilometres. This long coastline exposes the State to the threats of coastal erosion and flooding. Heavy and prolonged rainfall and the loose nature of the soil have aggravated soil wash and accelerated formation of gullies in the state.
At the moment, the state government has documented over 100 active gully erosion sites spread across the 31 local government areas of the state.
Like Akwa Ibom, Cross River has not followed up on the Ecological Fund projects in the State, leaving room for substandard jobs and outright abandonment of the projects. The biggest heist in the state is the contract for the gully erosion and flood control works at the Eastern Naval Command headquarters, Calabar, which was awarded to Ginscon Construction Limited at the cost of N3.798 billion.
The contract is listed as “completed 100%” by the Ecological Fund office and supposedly ‘executed’ under the direct supervision of the Presidency/Ecological Fund Office.
However, it was found that the contract has not been executed. When TELL visited the naval facility, an officer who spoke off the record said that “the contractor has not mobilized to site.” He reasoned that “maybe the contractor has not been mobilized for the job.”
Unknown to him, the job has been completed on paper. He referred the magazine to the Cross River State government as he said it was not a military contract. Had the State government been up to its game in monitoring the project it would have known that the erosion control job had been ‘completed’ without getting started.
The Naval facility is on the shores of the Calabar River and all the flood water from the state secretariat, G.U. Esuene Stadium, Government House and environs scud down the steep landscape to the Calabar River by the naval headquarters, eating away at the coastline. Naval platforms anchor on the threatened shoreline from where they take control of all maritime security in the Eastern water ways.
The contract was supposed to secure this important military facility, the nearby Cross River State House of Assembly and other security and civil infrastructure.
The naval authorities declined to officially speak on the project, insisting only the state ministry of environment should do that. However, Mike Eraye, an engineer and commissioner for environment said he did not know enough about the project yet to confirm the degree of completion. He promised to ascertain the state of completion and get back to us, which he had not done when the magazine went to bed.
Contract for Erosion Control Works at Convention Centre, Calabar, was also awarded by the federal government at the cost of N200m. On inspection, it was found that the drains were not properly terminated and the necessary landscaping to secure the approaches and exits were not properly done. It is only a matter of time before the floods re-establish its right of way at worse consequences and greater cost.
Likewise, contract for land reclamation and erosion control at Esseien Town, Ekorinin Community was awarded to A. G. Vision Construction Nigeria Ltd on May 12, 2011 at N1.948 billion, under the supervision of Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
It was supposed to be delivered in 12 months, but when TELL visited the community it appeared the contract had been abandoned. Erosion is still ravishing their land and the threat of landslides is increasing daily. The indigenes of the community have no idea of what is happening to the contract. The Niger Delta Ministry doesn’t appear to know either. The change of government is taking its toll on the ministry as an audit of projects it inherited is still going on.
A senior staff of the ministry said only the minister, Usani Uguru, can give a status report on the projects inherited. Our request for interview is still with the minister. He gave an appointment once but could not make it due to state duties and promised to reschedule it, which he has not done at press time.
It is not the only project the minister is expected to give an update on. The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs also supervised the N1.479 billion contract for land reclamation and erosion control at Ibakang Nssit-Ikot Ekpo- Unyehe Road in Nsit Attai Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, awarded to Apogee Engineering Ltd on November 10, 2010.
It was to be completed 12 months later in November 2011 but though it is officially ‘completed’ the problems it was supposed to solve are still on the ground.
The Cross River Basin Development Authority, CRBDA, supervised several Ecological Fund projects in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states between 2007 and 2015, which were found to have been executed shoddily.
The Magazine visited the headquarters of the agency in Calabar and requested for status update on the ecological fund projects under its supervision and the challenges hampering the completion of projects according to schedule.
The managing director, Etta Eyo-Ita, was evasive and requested for an official letter to enable her respond to our enquiry. The letter was promptly dispatched. But even at that, she has not responded as press time. Cross River, according to the state ministry of environment, has documented over 50 serious gully erosion sites.
The second and concluding part of this report will be published tomorrow