Investigation: Inside Abia where constituency projects lay waste – Part 1— 8mins read
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Federal constituency projects awarded to improve the condition of living of the residents across the various communities in Abia State lie incomplete or abandoned. Some of the projects are out-rightly non-existent despite millions already expended by the government. BDSUNDAY Investigative Journalist, CHINWE AGBEZE, who visited the sites of these projects in Abia State, reports.
RESIDENTS of the communities in Abia State are lamenting about the broken promises of politicians who pledged to site constituency projects in their areas but failed to fulfil their promise after the election.
A traditional ruler in one of the communities in Abia Central Senatorial Zone, who does not wish to be named, lamented that his community has never benefited from any developmental projects in a long time.
He said his people are yet to see any visible changes in their community despite huge sums of money allegedly released for a number of projects. Politicians come with promises to initiate and implement projects that would better their lives. But, they all end up abandoning the projects or never started one as promised, he said.
According to him, huge sums were released to drill a borehole in his community, but the residents still drink water from the same stream where they bathe, thereby posing grave dangers to their health.
Few months after his public protests, a Community Service Organisation (CSO), Women in Aid Collective (WACOL), conducted a survey on constituency projects in Abia State. WACOL found out that the significant number of federal constituency projects in the state are abandoned or not-started-at-all.
Visits to project sites
This reporter visited sites of the projects awarded between 2015 and 2017 in Aba, Abia State. The first port of call was the Ukwa West Local Government Area, the site of a proposed sports centre awarded in 2017 at the cost of N50 million.
The proposed sports centre located by the roadside is currently overgrown with grass. It is a walking distance from the Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC) office in Ukwa West LGA. Close by was a barely visible signpost tucked inside the bush. It had neither the name of the project nor that of the contractor. On careful scrutiny, the diagram of a stadium could be faintly seen.
To get official details on the project, this reporter was referred to one Ogechukwu (aka Okwute), at the Ukwa West LGA headquarters, Oke-Ikpe. He is said to be the supervisor-in-charge of sports projects in the area.
But arriving Ogechukwu’s office about 10.00am, he was yet to report for work. The reporter obtained his phone number and called; he asked the reporter to wait until 2.00pm.
As later realised, however, Ogechukwu never intended to show up for work as he confessed to his colleague who called him 30 minutes afterwards. From that point on, calls to his line were diverted to no other number in particular. Worse still, he didn’t respond to the text messages sent to him.
And till the filing of this report months after, Ogechukwu’s clarifications on the status of the sports centre in Ukwa West LGA, are yet to be received.
In all, BDSUNDAY visited twelve federal constituency projects to verify their status. Projects located in Umuelem Central School, Isuochi in Umunneochi LGA, Bende Secondary Grammar School, Bende LGA, and another school in Amankwu, in Ohafia, Ohafia LGA are captured in the 2017 zonal intervention/constituency projects. A visit to these schools showed that the projects were abandoned midway, and there was no evidence that the work would continue soon.
Then, the next port of call was Umuelem Central School, Isuochi, where N13million was allocated for the renovation of a classroom block. Everywhere was quiet because schools were on vacation. The reporter saw the inscription ‘FGN/UBEC/ZIP 2017 Constituency Project’ on a classroom marked ‘Basic 2’. But there was no sign of construction anywhere in the school premises. There is a block of five classrooms and a smaller room which looked like an office.
The second, third and fourth rooms marked ‘Basic 1’, ‘Basic 2’ and ‘Basic 3’, respectively, are painted yellow and green with a matching green roof. All the classrooms were locked with the exception of one whose door had fallen off. Entering the classroom, few of its windows had also fallen off. Then, at the backside, there were piles of planks from broken chairs and doors and the surroundings covered in thick bush. A rickety table stood in the middle of the classroom.
From what could be read on the blackboard, the last time learning took place in this classroom was on June 29, 2018. It was also evident that pupils sat on building block during classes. One of the blocks was positioned in front of the blackboard, apparently for the teacher, while others were neatly lined close to the side walls.
Now, with N30million budgeted in the 2017 zonal intervention/constituency projects for the construction of classroom blocks in Bende and Ohafia LGAs in Abia North senatorial districts, construction remains half completed.
At Secondary Grammar School in Bende, no new classroom was constructed. In its place, four classroom blocks were renovated. Under the half painted block was written, ‘Renovated Under ETF 2010 Normal Intervention Project’. Some of the doors still need to be replaced while the roofs which had caved in, require urgent attention.
The ride to Amankwu, Ohafia in Ohafia LGA, where a classroom block was to be constructed, was a terrifying experience. Motorists and motorcyclists avoid the narrow, bumpy road. The motorcycle rider, who braved the ordeal to take this journalist to Amankwu village, ended up regretting his decision.
On arrival, the villagers mistook this reporter and her guide for politicians who only visit few months to elections to make promises they never fulfil. They were only convinced otherwise after a long explanation.
The uncompleted block of five classrooms was hidden amidst thick bushes as if it was ashamed of itself. It was later revealed that the classroom had been abandoned since 2017 when the construction began.
When asked why the project was abandoned, Elekwa Akuma, Special Assistant to the state Governor on Grassroots Mobilisation, who is also a resident in the community, responded: “Actually, this is an FG project. But we are still projecting for them to continue. It’s just that you have to bid, bid and bid again before they will do it. You know all politicians, we start projects; once you hear the initial notices, politicians finish their projects on the air, in the radio and papers.”
Continuing, Akuma said, “When schools resume, pupils will start learning in the uncompleted building pending the time the FG would complete it. In fact, the FG actually asked if we wanted primary school or college. We said college because if it were primary, it would be only two classrooms. And who will come here to identify whether it is primary or secondary school?” he queried.
Another very salient but abandoned project is the construction of a fence at Aircraft Maintenance Engineering School, Isuochi contracted to Superplus Investment Services Limited. At the sum of N50 million allocated for its completion; the project was marked as ‘on-going’ in the 2017 budget. On visiting the site on August 29, 2018, work activities were still marked “on-going.” But nothing was seen being done on the fence. Six construction workers were sighted on what was later said to be the foundation and superstructure of the administrative block.
One of the workers who wouldn’t give his name said they last worked on the fence three years ago. He said works on the administrative block only commenced the previous day, Tuesday, August 28, 2018.
When the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), was contacted as the client company in-charge of the project, the engineer, who identified himself as Henry, said they had to suspend work on the fence owing to shortage of funds. Adding that the project commenced in December 2015; he said within six months, 1.5Km of the fence and the gatehouse was constructed.
“We only worked briefly on the fence in 2016 and it is not yet completed due to what was allocated to us to do it. And we have completed that. If funds are available, fencing the aircraft school won’t take more than a year.” He, however, declined to offer further information on the project.
To verify his claims, BDSUNDAY reporter visited the contractor’s office address at the Eleganza Plaza on No 1, Commercial Road, Apapa, in Lagos, as displayed on the project signboard. However, the plaza’s supervisor said they have no record of such a company.
The supervisor, a man called Felix, told BDSUNDAY: ‘‘We don’t have any company by that name here. I have been working here for more than five years. I know all the companies in this plaza. We have never had the company you are looking for.’’
According to a document obtained from the Federal Ministry of Aviation’s website; the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, received a total capital of N1.19 billion for the 2015 zonal intervention projects. It was under this that the construction of the fence at Aircraft Maintenance Engineering School, Isuochi, appeared.
On the quest for details, efforts were made to speak with Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, House of Representative member in charge of Isuikwato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency. Calls placed to her line were not answered up till the time of filing this report. Also, response to short messages sent to her mobile line requesting for information about the Aircraft Maintenance Engineering School and Umuelem Primary school is still being awaited.
Still in the bid to acquire official information on the project, on November 22, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), sent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to both the Ministries of Aviation and Education, asking for the actual amount of funds disbursed for the projects and to verify the status of works done. No official responses have been obtained from the two ministries concerned.
Procured but not installed transformers
For the procurement and installation of six transformers in the Abia Central Senatorial zone represented by Theodore Orji, immediate past governor of the state, N40million was apportioned in the 2017 zonal intervention/constituency projects, each to a specific community in the six local government areas of the district.
Representatives from each of the LGAs contacted said each procured transformers had been respectively installed in specific communities such as Amizi Olokoro in Umuahia South, Awomokwu in Ikwuano, Isingwu in Umuahia North, Nsulo in Isiala Ngwa North, and Isiala Okpu in Osisioma. The Isiala-Ngwa South representative could not be reached because his phone was switched off the two times he was called.
It was, however, a different story on visits to the other communities.
A transformer was procured but not installed at Amizi Olokoro community. Speaking with the traditional ruler on September 1, 2018; Eze Lawrence Eluwa, he said the transformer was procured three months earlier, but the community needs about N2.2million to get it installed. “They just supplied it to us. They have not installed it. So, we are looking for help to install it and it is capital-intensive for a small community as ours,” he said.
Also speaking, the traditional prime minister of Amizi, Francis Etuzu, said they are making efforts to raise the money for the installation.
“Our first intention is to approach well-to-do individuals in the community to assist us to install it. But, if we cannot raise it all from them, we can now task each person in the community.”
Etuzu said that the community contemplated writing to the Abia State Oil Producing Development Areas Development Commission (ASOPADEC); but they were uncertain their request would be granted.
“On Friday, August 31, 2018, the chairman of Umuahia South LGA, said we should do a letter to ASOPADEC requesting it to come and install the transformer. Every time the electricity is supplied, some people will have light while others will not because we have 10 villages in our community. We were even told we need two transformers for everyone to enjoy electricity at the same time. Till date, we are still stuck where we are.”
Awomokwu, a community in Ikwuano LGA, also received a transformer from former Governor Theodore Orji in 2017e, but the transformer has not been installed till date.
According to the president-general, Martin Omeruo, “the electricity contractors are waiting for wires and other amenities to commence the installation.”
Transformers not Procured
At Okpu Isingwu community in Umuahia North, no transformer was bought. The traditional ruler, Eze Kingsley Emekobum, said, “I don’t have the time to be chasing any officials up-and-down for them to do what they are supposed to do. And in the process of doing such, the little money that I have to feed myself I will use to give them a bribe.”
Emekobum noted that prior to this time, the community had only one existing transformer. But, that is not enough. “When we have light, it goes off the next minute because the transformer cannot carry everyone. This area requires two or three more transformers.” He also reiterated that sometimes, some people have light while others don’t have because of the overload on the transformer.
Unfortunately, due to security hitches and tough terrain of some of the surrounding localities, BDSUNDAY could not visit Nsulo community in Isiala Ngwa North and Isiala Okpu in Osisioma LGAs.
When former Gov. Theodore Orji was contacted, he did not pick the calls neither did he respond to messages seeking further information on the project in his area. However, several efforts are still being made to reach him.
This investigative project is sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.