By Kehinde Ogunyale
Just like Odupkani, health centres in Akpabuyo local government in Cross River State have been abandoned after construction. Kehinde Ogunyale reports how this has affected the community’s healthcare.
Reading the first part of this report here
Every two months, Etim Ekpenyong, a businessman and farmer, earmarks N20,000 for the clinical and medical needs of his aged father. The father, Etinyin Ekpenyong, 93, is the clan head of Eneyo south-ward in Akpabuyo local government area, Cross River state. He is assailed by some recurrent illnesses, including glycomer and other age-induced incapacitations.
This regular need for medical attention takes the 93-year-old village head to General hospital in Calabar, a 45 minutes journey from his community, every two weeks.
“The last time he had an issue, I took him to Akwa Ibom, (a neighbouring state to Cross River). I had gotten to the general hospital in Calabar but was referred to another hospital in the neighbouring state,” he added.
Several residents of the Eneyo-Akpabuyo village find themselves in similar health conditions but are unable to access the right health facility. Ekpenyong expressed concern that the community is paying for the cost of this lack of access to health facility in grave outcomes.
“Recently, we lost a very young man because he could not get proper health care. He had gone to the maternity centre to complain but was told to go to the general hospital. He came back home since he did not have enough money to go there, and days after, he died in his house,” Ekpenyong narrated.
In April 2021, the Federal government paid 12.3 million naira as part of the payment for the construction of a health centre at Akwa Obio inwang, Eneyo south-ward in Akpabuyo. The contractors, Ufuma Contractors Ltd, had earlier received a part payment of 34.9 million naira in December 2020 to commence construction.
The project has evidently been completed by the contractor but is yet to be put to use due to lingering controversies as well as footdragging in commissioning the facility by concerned government agencies.
Ekpenyong told this reporter that the closest access to a hospital is a maternity health care located– 15 minutes drive away – on the outskirts, emphasising that any health complication that does not relate to pregnancy is redirected to the general hospital in Calabar.
A health centre laying to waste
According to Francis Edet, a community resident who was engaged by the contractor as local security responsible for watching over the construction materials and assets, the construction of the health centre was completed within four months and was slated to be commissioned in April 2022.
“People had gathered around on the commissioning day. Canopies were erected, and some village heads were present, but then I learned that there was an issue with the generator, so we did not commission the project that day,” Edet explained to this reporter.
Ekpenyong, however, offered additional insight, stating that the generating set was part of several items of equipment budgeted for but which had not been installed in the centre at the time of scheduled commissioning.
“Some of the youths in the community were opportune to see the list of things to be supplied into the centre by the contractors before commissioning. They noticed that this equipment was not supplied and stopped the event from holding,” he said.
He added that the contractors promised to supply the equipment within two weeks but have yet to live up to their promise.
During a visit to the health centre, it was observed that the bushes around the site had just been cleared. On further enquiry, one of the community leaders, Etim Okon, told the reporter that they had received a message that the contractor was coming to install some equipment.
He, however, asserted that this was not the first time such a message was received by the community, but it turned out in the end that nobody showed up.
He added that the community had taken it upon itself to maintain the surroundings of the health centre in expectation of the completion and installation of the remaining equipment.
Another health centre abandoned
Similarly, another 13.8 million naira primary health project fund released to Accubiz limited has been lying fallow even after its completion and full equipment installation, including a solar-powered borehole in Nkaket, Ikot Effiong Essien Akpabuyo.
During a visit, it was observed that community members had access to the borehole and have been depending on the facility for potable water.
Umo Ita, the clan head of the community who spoke with the reporter, traced the origin of a primary health care project in the community to 2019 when representatives of the Border Communities Development Agency visited Nkaket and had interactions with the community.
Ita said two residents volunteered their parcels of land for the project, although, according to him, construction did not commence until last year. He further told the reporter that upon completion, the representatives of the federal government handed the operations of the health centre to the state government.
“On the day of commissioning, representatives from the state’s border commission were present alongside that of the local government secretary, who acted as representative to the chairman. All keys were handed over to the local government secretary. Some health officials have also visited the centre, but operations have not commenced because, I learned, some materials are still not available,” he narrated.
Ita emphasised that the community was yet to receive any communication from the local government office on the functionality of the health centre since the official transfer was done.
“Some nurses have come down and told us that they were assigned to resume work here. We told them to go back to the local government council to get access to the centre. That is all we have heard since then,” Ita added.
The village has a primary health care facility that was built through a collaboration between the state government and the Tulsi chanrai foundation situated directly opposite the residence of the paramount ruler of Akpabuyo.
The paramount ruler, Etinyin Edet, told the reporter that following a span of abandonment, the government had started reconstruction work on the facility.
“There was a building erected here for years; just some months ago, it was pulled down, and reconstruction began. It has not been commissioned at all, but we hope it will, “ he said.
When this reporter contacted the director general of the state’s border commission, Noel Ugbong, he said the primary health care project awaiting commissioning was not abandoned but was only handed over to the Akpabuyo local government council.
“My commission does not have details of the contract. We do not know the scope of the work. The Border Communities Development Agency handed it over to us, and we, in turn, handed it over to the council. The secretary to the council stood in for the chairman,” he said.
When contacted, the local government chairman, Emmanuel Bassey, rather pointed in the direction of the state’s ministry of health who, according to him, was expected to provide resources to the local government for running the health centre
“The responsibility has been lifted from us to the department of primary health centre under the state’s ministry of health. I am not aware that nurses have been assigned to this PHC,” he said.
Meanwhile, efforts were made to contact the contractors of the project in Eneyo south-ward, but no sufficient information was found during the search.
According to the Corporate Affairs Commission, Ufuma Contractors Ltd was registered in Oct 2017 with its location in Abuja. On the CAC website, the company status is inactive.
However, a further search showed that the company is owned by one Raymond Okoli and directed by Emeka Okoli and Blessing Chisom Okoli, who are also shareholders in the organisation.
Also, an email was sent to the NDDC questioning the delay in commissioning the PHC project, but no response was received.
Community needs for regular health care attention are mounting, particularly with an ageing local population, but the non-operational state of these facilities in both communities continues to compound the anxiety and distress experiences of the people.
“We expect that the government fast tracks the commissioning and operations of this project as it would be of more benefit to the community,” Ekpenyong stressed.
However, while residents anticipate the operations of these PHCs, the situation continues to force them to either depend on local herbs or spend hours on the road in search of health care.