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Investigation: Inside Abia where Abandoned Constituency Projects Thrive –Part 2
BDSUNDAY publishes the concluding part of the corruption rot on how federal constituency projects are left uncompleted, abandoned and left to waste in various communities in Abia State. Last Sunday, the newspaper published the investigation conducted by CHINWE AGBEZE, who spent two weeks in some of Abia communities to monitor the decaying infrastructure.
Completed but not in Use
OKWOKO, Nkporo road in Ohafia LGA, where a solar borehole was to be constructed is in critical need of attention. The borehole water project, captured in the 2017 zonal intervention scheme at the cost of N10 million, was reportedly declared completed. Yet the same project reappeared in the 2018 budget at the same amount. This time, it is tagged an uncompleted project.
Upon a visit to the site on August 31, 2018, BDSUNDAY reporter learnt that a water scheme, which was yet to be commissioned, was provided for the village in the first quarter of 2018.
The initial plan, it was also learnt, was that a solar borehole was to be constructed, but the villagers requested for a water scheme instead.
Commenting on the developments, Prince Uka, Okwoko community secretary, said: “We have what is called Nkporo soil in geography. There is no depth you will dig that will make you to get water underneath the ground. Even the deputy governor of this state, Ude Oko Chukwu, who hails from Nkporo, does not have a borehole in his compound.”
Investigating deeply, it was observed that the site of the water scheme is overgrown with weeds, showing a clear indication that it hadn’t been used in a long while. Uka, however, said that their water scheme is working fine.
He explained that the water scheme is generator-powered and requires fuelling. But because they don’t often have the money to fuel it; they are making do with rainwater for now. “By October when the dry season sets in, we will start pumping water again for about three hours daily. We pump stream water into a reservoir where it is treated and distributed into two small-sized tanks for our use and it often lasts for one week. This is for drinking only. But we go fetch for other uses from the stream. But most residents still drink the water from the stream despite others washing and bathing in it,” he said.
However, the Okwoko Nkporo traditional ruler, Eze Nwankwo Uka, said the water scheme cannot serve the entire village unless one more, at least, is added. Residents of neighbouring villages fetch water from here and we cannot drive them away.”
Interestingly, this project under review is of one those re-budgeted for in the 2018 fiscal year. So, BDSUNDAY contacted Uko Nkole, House of Representative member in charge of the project on December 13, 2018, to know why the 2017 project recurred in 2018 budget.
Nkole’s stammered response: “The project has not been executed. Em em, I mean, it has not been awarded. If the borehole was constructed, it will not be rolled over. And if a project is not procured in a particular year, we roll it over to the next year. And I hope you know that the 2018 budget has not been implemented,? he quipped. On that note, he declined to answer further questions.
On-going but Slow Road Works
Just like most of the road works in Abia State which BDSUNDAY reporter had toured, the road leading to the bridge that connects Arochukwu and Ohafia, popularly known as ‘Omenuko Bridge’, is also ram-shackled.
The bridge project, which was proposed for N30 million, was contracted to Messrs Hi-Mansion Limited. On a visit to the site on September 1, 2018; construction workers were seen grading the surface.
When quizzed, Igwe Ezelu, project supervisor, told BDSUNDAY that the bridge project was flagged off on May 18, 2018, and construction commenced three weeks after. He said it was initially planned to be rehabilitated. But on realising that it was in ruins and could be injurious to users’ lives; the plan was upgraded to construction.
Reminding him that this was three months down the line, he said: “Initially, the target was to finish the project in four months. But due to weather challenges, we are thinking of finishing by November 2018.”
A construction worker, presenting a different view of his supervisor’s submission, told the reporter that they began works on the bridge recently in August 2018. And speaking in line with the construction worker’s leak, road users underscored the need to expedite work on the bridge as it had, in recent times, led to the loss of many lives.
A motorcyclist called Kalu, who frequently plies the road, also said: “Just last month, a bus loaded with passengers plunged into the river. Sadly, none of them survived.”
Another motorist who daily drives along the route lamented that no work was done on the bridge for several months. He noted: “The construction workers just park and jettison their work tools and caterpillars there. No works are done for several months. In fact, many people had died. The bridge needs to be completed fast.”
Meanwhile, Ezelu, who also said he once witnessed an accident that claimed one person’s life on the bridge; was freshly called on December 13, 2018, to get updated information on the project to know if it had been completed.
His response: “We are done with the piling of the bridge. But now, we have lack of funds’ challenges. Our target was to hang the bridge by November/December 2018, but we are yet to receive the money being expected from the ministry.”
The views of House of Representative Uko Nkole, was sought on the bridge project. His response was that he reported what he saw to the works ministry sequel to appraising the jobs done. Then added: “In all, N200million was allocated for the project. Although, I am unaware of the actual amounts released as the monies were disbursed in phases. But on Wednesday, December 12, 2018, the ministry instructed the contractor to halt works on the bridge. So, it is assumed that the challenge isn’t only about funding. The main problem is that the contractor did a poor and shoddy job which is unacceptable because we will have to subject the job to integrity test. That’s the stage we currently are.”
According to findings, the importance of constituency projects is no trifling feat to the socio-economic prosperity of a nation’s polity. Hence, massive sums of money are allotted annually to ensure that these basic infrastructures are duly put in place. It can then be understood why the populace are often crestfallen when these basic amenities are not provided, especially as promised during electoral campaigns.
For three federal constituency developmental projects to be implemented in Bende community, a whooping N75million was allotted for -a primary healthcare centre (PHC) with a solar borehole projected at N45million, PHC staff quarters projected to cost N20million, and a solar borehole for N10 million; in their locale.
Alas! Locating the sites of the three N75million projects was another Herculean task. After curiously and rigorously searching for the sites; they still could not be located. It was indeed a mirage trailing the monies within the small community. Eventually, BDSUNDAY reporter beckoned on Patrick Ude, Chairman, Bende Council of Traditional Rulers, to direct her to the sites in order to ascertain the status of respective projects.
But rather than help, his response further compounded the invisibility of the non-existent constituency projects in that area.
Ude said: “Should there be such projects in this place; I’m supposed to know. But I don’t know where the FG or whoever is doing such for us in the whole of this small community, situate their projects. Even the solar borehole you mentioned, I don’t know where they are sinking that.”
Impulsively, Ude, putting his phone on speaker tune, called a man named Gabriel Elendu, Chairman, Bende LGA, to verify if he was aware of such projects.
Surprised, Elendu echoed: “Federal Government projects?”
Ude replied in the affirmative.
“Is it not that one Senator Mao Ohuabunwa is building?” Elendu queried.
“Where?” Ude asked.
“In Bende,” Elendu responded.
“But he is not building it,” Ude said questioningly.
Elendu then disclosed that the project “is not on-going yet.” Ude asked if the proposed site for the structures was actually in Bende. To this, Elendu replied: “Yes, in the headquarters.”
As soon as the telephone conversation was done with, Ude volunteered to take the reporter to Bende maternity, the proposed site for the projects.
Now on site, Ude said: “This is where Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, is supposed to build the health centre with the solar borehole, pointing to a dilapidated maternity centre. You see, I initially asked them to either renovate this health centre or build another one. They said they will build another one. Now as you are witnessing, they have not merely started.”
The rundown ancient maternity centre, BDSUNDAY learnt, was built about 1952 and 1954. Since then, it had been serving the people of Bende. Presently, it has become a totally sick health clinic, begging for healing.
From its caved-in ceilings to the delivery couch and the midwife’s residence, everything in the maternity centre shows no sign of wellness.
In fact, the condition of the health centre is so bad that a snake was reported to have sneaked in unaware and bitten a midwife on duty one afternoon.
Bemoaning the ugly situation, Ude said: “The sad aspect to all these is that the politicians would stay wherever they are, and keep lying that they have started works, finished works, do this and that; whereas, they didn’t do anything.
The midwife bitten by a snake said the ceiling almost killed her mother when she visited. “My mother was in the room when I called her. Immediately she stepped outside, the whole ceiling dropped on the floor. The worst aspect of all this is that both staff and patients now use a bucket to defecate and throw inside the pit.
The midwife said she was quite hopeful when the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), said they wanted the pictures of the centre urgently. Without wasting time, “I paid a photographer N5,000 to snap the pictures which I delivered to them promptly. Sadly, till present, nothing had been heard and done afterwards…”
As she talked, Ude, visibly livid, cuts in: “The politicians only used the pictures of the maternity centre for political campaigns. The last time the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) politicians came here; they snapped pictures of the maternity claiming that immediately they enter, they will come and renovate and make it a modern maternity centre. But they did not win and so, they have never returned here.
“However, Mao Ohaubunwa, who later won, had promised that within his first month in office, he would come and fix it. But rather than do that, he has brought his poster again. Oh, he thinks we are fools. He should just know that he is not going. He cannot go again,” Ude stressed angrily.
Just like others, several calls and messages had been made and sent to the direct mobile line of Nnenna Ukeje, Bende Federal Constituency Representative, to tell us what she knows of these projects. However, up till the time of this report, her response to BDSUNDAY’s quests information about the three projects are yet to be responded to.
Ecological Disaster Waiting to Happen
Some residents of Bende LGA narrated how they were gripped with the fear of losing their lives and modest property to BDSUNDAY. They said that their homes, situated not far away from the LGA headquarters, were almost submerged by a gully which had already buried another building in the vicinity two years before.
The occupants told BDSUNDAY that once the danger stares them in the face; they saw the signs of death and gloom, they packed away from that location without a second thought.
Ude, speaking for the residents who lost a part of their house two years before, said: “There was nothing the owner of the house could do other than going back to the remaining the part of the building that was still standing. He had nowhere else to call home.”
That was in 2016. Now in 2018, the gully is about ravaging whatever little of the house left for the family.
The victim of the erosion, Onyinyechi Iroha, said: “Our parlour and two rooms close to the corridor of the remaining part of the house are condemned. The kitchen was also swallowed by the gully.
“However, when the contractors came for inspection, they said our house was on the map. But when they started work, they didn’t include our house. While we were still asking them why our home disappeared; suddenly, they stopped coming and abandoned the work since last year.”
Iroha also added that two days before BDSUNDAY reporter’s visit to their community, “My son fell from the house into the gully and got a swollen face. We didn’t know someone fell. It’s the loud noise we heard that made me go there. I thank God he did not land with his head.”
Recalling how the disaster happened to her home in particular in 2016, Iroha said they had gone to church on a Sunday only to return home to see that part of their house concealed under the ground. “Now, the doors cannot open. It gets creaky, cracking and extending with each use showing it could fall off anytime.”
In the course of further interrogations, BDSUNDAY learnt that the erosion had been wreaking havoc in the community since 2010 when the FG awarded the contract to Arab Contractors.
“Arab Contractors came in 2010, did whatever they considered their works and ran away. Then, after some time, the FG still re-awarded the contract to Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), but the agency abandoned the project without seeing it through since April 2017.
“These caterpillars (pointing) have been here since last year. When they get about N2million, they will come and work. When the money finishes, they stop. This has been our predicament,” Ude said.
The signboard close to the site shows that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is the client company for the project while the contractor is Ginscon Construction Company Limited.
Abandoned and Forgotten
Still inside Bende LGA is an uncompleted health centre with staff quarters, constructed and abandoned by the FG over five years ago. The buildings, which are now overgrown with wild bush almost its height, has become home to rodent and hoodlums and also serves as playground for children. It’s also nearly a dumpsite as massive debris and empty cigarette packs littered its floor.
Ude, who by now serves as both fixer and tour guide into the different areas of the community, offered more explanations.
“Federal Government does whatever they like and go away with all these so-called projects. They leave them incomplete and nobody can ask questions. And really, who do we ask? And it is certain that if you are able to check their records, they will write, ‘completed’! Then, the person supervising it will just approve the release of final part of the payment as it had been in Nigeria,” Ude said, shaking his head in disappointment.
Continuing, he added: “The health centre is not the only deserted structure inside this LGA. There is the borehole project abandoned by NDDC, a telecommunication centre, and several others.
“They claim to build the telecommunication centre from Abuja and abandoned it. It has not worked for one day. The contractor has collected his money and gone for more than five years. And now, as you can see, thick grass has taken over,” Patrick Ude, Chairman, Bende Council of Traditional Rulers, said with a heavy heart.
Ministries Unaware of Projects
On the need to ascertain the credibility of the Federal Constituency Projects being investigated; BDSUNDAY contacted the State Ministry of Sports in Umuahia, to obtain more information about the sports centre at Ukwa West.
In a meeting with the Abia State Sports Commissioner, Martins Okoji, who looked evidently surprised, and said: “I have not heard about such a project. If it was on, we would have the file here. It could be they have not started it.”
Similarly, the Special Adviser to the Sports Minister on Media, Nneka Ikem-Anibeze, said she is also unaware of such federal constituency project.
In her words: “I don’t know about such. I think it could be one of those constituency projects initiated by members of the National Assembly. You probably have to ask the Reps in charge of that area.”
When BDSUNDAY called Uzoma Abonta, House of Representative member, Ukwa West/East Federal Constituency, calls to his line were not picked.
But upon receiving a message from this reporter requesting for information on the Sports Centre project, he called back immediately and said: “I have not done any zonal intervention project on sports or anything near that at all. So, I don’t know anything about that project.”
Getting to the State Ministry of Education, BDSUNDAY reporter met with the Education Commissioner’s Public Relations Manager, Chris Ogbuehi. He said that his boss had long stopped granting interviews to focus on his campaign.
He said: “We don’t have much of FG presence here. So, whatever projects they do, they use to hide them. We never know what they are.”
He then referred the reporter to the constituency office of Mao Ohuabunwa, the Senator representing Abia North, along Bende Street, Umuahia. He was unavailable. His constituency manager, Ndubuisi Eke, was also not on the ground to receive the reporter. The office was locked and his number didn’t get connected either.
Since then, the bid to hear directly from Mao Ohuabunwa, for his own side of the stories, is yet to yield any positive result. Back in Lagos, this reporter has not relented in her efforts to reach Mao Ohuabunwa. However, he too has not responded by picking his calls or replying to the messages sent to both of his lines.
This investigation is sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.