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INVESTIGATION: Ten years after, communities count losses as AfDB, Cross River govt abandon road project

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Ten years after the Cross River State government and African Development Bank (AFDB) jointly awarded the Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue border road for construction under the Cross River Rural Access and Mobility Project (CR-RAMP), the project remains abandoned, while the supposed beneficiaries continue to lament deaths, loss of livelihoods and increasing poverty due to the deplorable state of the road, SUNDAY ELOM reports.

The road cuts across North and South Ukelle in Yala Local Government Area (LGA), Cross River State. The 49-minute journey on the 30.3 km road from Yahe Junction, Yahe Township to Wanikade in North Ukelle is a hellish experience. Not just because the fare is outrageous, but due to the attendant ill health that communities along the corridor of the abandoned road are exposed to.

The potholes concealed in thick layers of dust make travelling on the road stressful and risky as vehicles fall into them unknowingly. This causes accidents and often leads to breakdown of vehicles.

Awarded in 2011 but abandoned

Details of the CR-RAMP projects awarded in 2011.Photo credit: AFDB
Details of the CR-RAMP projects awarded in 2011.Photo credit: AFDB

The contract for the Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue border road was first advertised in December 2010 and awarded on May 18, 2011, under the Cross River Rural Access and Mobility Project (CR-RAMP) to Emamed Nigeria Limited (ENL) at the sum of N792.863 million by the African Development Bank Group. The project, pegged at 37.5km, was designed to be implemented through a special arrangement by the State Project Implementation Unit (SPIU) under the supervision of the Cross River State Ministry of Works.

Weeks after the contractor moved to site and tarred less than 5km of the 37.5km road, work ceased. Since then, the project has remained abandoned and communal efforts to get the contractor to return to site have proved abortive.

Emamed Nigeria Limited Site Office and plant along Yahe-Ebo road. Photo by Sunday Elom
Emamed Nigeria Limited Site Office and plant along Yahe-Ebo road. Photo by Sunday Elom

Evidence from worn out tarmacs observed by this newspaper showed that Emamed Nigeria Limited (ENL) only constructed the road from Yahe to Ebo, a neighbouring community.

Francis Usili, a resident of Wanikade, noted that Emamed Nigeria Limited (ENL) did not do much work on the project.

Hon. Francis Usili
Hon. Francis Usili speaking on the state of Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue border road. Photo by Sunday Elom N.

“They only succeeded in extending the culverts to Ebo. They didn’t even get to Wanokom. Nobody knows what happened but all of a sudden, the contractor packed and left the site,” he said.

When contacted on phone, a staff of ENL who identified himself as Adeyemi Adejo Gabriel, said the project was abandoned “because the state government refused to pay.”

Adejo declined to give additional details about the contract.

“If you want to know more about it, you should go to the ministry. There is a Ministry of Works in Cross River State and whatever story they tell you is okay,” he said.

Meanwhile, in February 2013, the Cross River State Project Coordinator Charles Okongoh, an engineer, disclosed that the state had committed N20.31 billion to the implementation of the CR-RAMP. The Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue border road is among the roads he claimed were ongoing with the implementation deadline pegged at June 2013.

However, Okongoh did not give any breakdown of the N20.31 billion he claimed the state government had spent on the CR-RAMP, hence, it is not clear how much was committed to the Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue border road.

Two months later, Okongoh beat a retreat, claiming that the June deadline for completion of projects under the CR-RAMP would not be feasible due to excessive rainfall and the topography of most project areas. Since then, there have been no reasons from the Cross River State government for abandoning the road.

The CR-RAMP is a pro-poor project meant to address the challenges of rural roads in the state jointly financed by the African Development Bank (AFDB) and the Cross River State government, with each accounting for 34.52 and 65.48  per cent of the total cost of civil works respectively.

Emamed Nigeria Limited was paid in full

Contrary to the claim by the staff member of Emamed Nigeria Limited, Adeyemi Gabriel, that the ENL abandoned Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue border road project because government refused to pay, documents and details obtained from the African Development Bank Group revealed that it released the complete contract amount, N792.863 million, to the contractor.

A sum of N777.205 million was first allocated for the project. However, financial review and amendment were done and the sum of N15.657 million was added to the allocated funds, bringing the total contract funds to N792.863 million. The AFDB released the last tranche, N80 million of the contract funds, to Emamed Nigeria Limited on April 8, 2016.

“Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue border road was part of Lot 8, CR-RAMP/lot 8/2010/PRO/CW/vol.1, which included two other roads making a total length of 63.55km (37.5 km +24.85km +1.2km),” an official of the AfDB said.

The bank also confirmed that funds were released directly to the contractor based on monthly or periodic certificates for works completed and validated by the supervision consultants before submission to the bank.

According to the AfDB, a total of 406.7km, equivalent to 85 per cent of a total planned length of 477.5 km of CR-RAMP, were completed to final pavement level before the project was closed in 2016.

However, it is contradicting how AFDB certified and paid Emamed Nigeria Limited in full for an abandoned project. Furthermore, the abandoned 37.5km Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue border road is the evidence to disprove AfDB’s claim that 406.7km of the total 477.5km of CR-RAMP were completed.

The fact that Emamed Nigeria Limited received full payment for the project, therefore, means that AfDB included the abandoned Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue border road project in its 85 per cent completed projects.

Emamed Nigeria Limited is a consulting organisation in civil engineering, programme & resource management, water & sanitation. It was founded and registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) as a limited liability company on June 22, 1994, with registration No. RC-249184. Its registered address is at 33, Ada George Road, Off AGIP Road, Rumueme, Obio/Akpor, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Its status details on CAC show that the company is currently inactive. Gabriel is its Account Manager while Olanubi Olaniyi is the Senior Project Manager.

Governor Ayade re-awards the project to another contractor in 2017

General Manager, Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited, Mr. Fady Fady signing Yahe-Wanikade-Benue border road contract papers in Governor Ayade’s office. Photo credit: CrossRiverWatch
General Manager, Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited, Mr. Fady Fady signing Yahe-Wanikade-Benue border road contract papers in Governor Ayade’s office. Photo credit: CrossRiverWatch

Despite countless assurances that the road would be constructed, communities along the route are left with tales of unending groundbreaking ceremonies while they continue to experience nightmares on the road.

In 2017, residents of Ezekwe community, an agrarian settlement in Yala Local Government Area, thought a new dawn had arrived when Governor Ben Ayade re-awarded Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue border road to Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited at the sum of N3.8 billion.

During the official signing of the contract at the Government House in Calabar, the Commissioner for Works  Dane Osim-Asu told journalists that due to limited funds, the project “was not a direct contract per se,” but “a direct labour job.” He added that the state government only contracted Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited as a service provider to ensure that the works ministry did the job with direct labour.

The commissioner added that Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited was already on ground handling some of the state’s major projects covering five local government areas (LGAs), noting that the company did not require any form of mobilisation but was to move to site.

However, unlike Emamed Nigeria Limited, which constructed a few kilometres before abandoning the project, Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited never started work on the road.

The clan head of Wanokom community Denis Ugede said that almost every year, government officials promised that the road would be constructed but they  never witnessed contractors mobilised to site.

Residents of communities along the Cross River–Benue border road said they had become weary of government’s promises on the road.

Peter Okpako lives in Wanikade. He also had high hopes for the project in 2018 during a groundbreaking ceremony which never resulted in the execution of the project.

“We have had a series of groundbreaking ceremonies on that road, yet the road is nothing to write home about.”

Legislative interventions failed

Following the abandonment of the project by Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited, affected communities continued to cry for help on the road. In response to their cries, a member representing Yala II State Constituency Cynthia Nkasi moved a motion on the deplorable state of the road and its attendant impact on the people during one of the State House of Assembly’s plenaries in July 2019.

Reacting to Nkasi’s motion, the House ordered Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited to return to site, even though the contractor had never commenced work since it signed the contract agreement in 2017. The contractor neither acknowledged nor obeyed the House order.

When  Nkasi was contacted on the phone to find out why the project still remained abandoned and why the contractor did not obey the House’s order, she had no answer..

“Well, I don’t know why the contractor abandoned the project. I can’t give any reason why the road was abandoned. My duty as a legislator is to draw the attention of the government to it, which I have done,” she said.

“The work I know is under Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited and Sydney works is supervised by the Ministry of Works. So, our resolution at the House goes to the ministry of works who should call the contractors.”

Communities count their losses

The deplorable state of Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue border road has become a perpetual source of sorrow to residents of the affected communities, including Ebo, Okpodon, Ezekwe, Igede, Wanokom, Wanikade, and Wanehim. Smallholder farmers and traders in these communities say the road has affected their livelihoods.

They find it almost impossible to take their farm produce and goods to markets in neighbouring communities. Access to markets outside the state, including the neighbouring Benue and Ebonyi states, especially in the rainy season, has become a daydream for them.

In the rainy season, the road becomes completely non-motorable. Many parts of the road have been cut off by gully erosion, making it difficult for vehicles to ply the route even in the dry season. While trying to maneuver the road, motorists are often stuck in potholes, the majority of which have become deep like pits.

Eric Ujiji is a lorry driver who regularly plies the Yahe-Wanokom-Benue border route. Narrating his ordeal during his trips to the communities, Eric said he often spent a minimum of N20,000 repairing his truck each time it developed faults after plying the road.

“For instance, I’m changing a broken spring at N12,000; two new hangers at N2,000 per one and then workmanship N4,000, making everything N20,000, which is the lowest I often spend.”

Eric, who said he only drove through the road to markets in the communities in the rainy season with his tipper truck, lamented how miscreants blocked the road and extorted truck drivers N1,000 to N1,500 every market day.

Wanihem part of the abandoned project. Photo by Sunday Elom
Wanihem part of the abandoned project. Photo by Sunday Elom

Also speaking, Gabriel Obok, who owns a provision store at Wanikade market, where he sells different brands of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, said his business had taken a hit.

“A trip that ought to take me 90 minutes from Wanikadeto Abakaliki often takes the whole day due to the bad state of the road.”

Obok said he would make about N10,000 profit weekly during the dry season and N4,000 during the rainy season because of the state of the road.

Similarly,  Stephenie Okike, a businesswoman who lives in Wanihem community, said she could not quantify the monetary value of yams and garri (cassava flake) she had lost on the road while moving them to markets in Yahe and Ebonyi State. Likewise when she brought in the ones she bought from those places.

“In June 2020, a tipper truck bringing in fresh corn and the pears I bought at Ikom fell on the road at Ezekwe axis. All the pears and more than half of the corn were damaged. We left Yahe at 6p.m but reached Wanihem at 12am the following day,” Okike remembered.

In the same vein, Ugede lamented that the agrarian communities along the road often grappled with food wastage due to poor road networks to the markets.

Although some transporters make brisk business, charging exorbitant fees due to the nature of the road, the consequences for them far outweighed the gain. Christian Samson, a motorcyclist in the area, said he charged about N2,500 during the dry season and as high as N5,000 for a single passenger without luggage when it was the rainy season. Samson lamented that this had led to quick wear and tear of automobiles and increase in the prices of food and other commodities in the area.

Another resident, Vincent Ikong, shared the same sentiment. He said it cost at least N30,000 to carry a 50kg or 100kg bag of cassava flakes (garri) on a commercial motorcycle from Wanihem market to Yahe during the rainy season. This, according to him, was because the journey was often haphazard.

“They carry it from here to Ibobom, then to Wanokom, from there to Okpodon, then to Ebo and from Ebo to Yahe,” he said.

Mr. Vincent Ikong speaking on the state of the road. Photo by Sunday Elom
Mr._Vincent_Ikong_speaking_on_the_state_of_the_road._Photo_by_Sunday_Elom_N[1]
Chairman of Wanikade Rice Mill Ekusu Unya also lamented the low patronage and profit margin his company was confronted with due to the state of the road. “We are suffering too much here. In the rainy season we close down and pack everything we produce inside because buyers don’t come due to the state of the road. Sometimes we spend a week trying to move the rice to the main road at Yahe.”

In the same voice, a farmer cum teacher Veronica Oben, who lives in Wanihem community, narrated the effects of the abandoned road on her farming business and the education in her community.

Oben often produced beniseed, cocoyams, yams and cassava, but she complained that most times, truck drivers carrying her farm produce to Yahe market would sleep on the road till the next day before they could reach, as their vehicles usually developed faults on the road.

“The most painful part is that I buy farm inputs, especially herbicides and seedlings at a high price, but after harvest, I do not make much gain because it is always difficult to take them to markets outside my community due to the condition of the road. When I even manage to transport them to markets outside here, the cost of transportation is always very high,” she said.

Oben, who also teaches at Seat of Wisdom School, Wanikade, further lamented that the bad state of the road had adversely affected education in Wanihem community and other communities along Yahe-Benue border route. According to her, “Children from Ibenta and other neighbouring communities who were attending schools in Wanikade and Wanihem no longer go to school during the rainy season.

“Also, no teacher transferred from other places to Wanihem or Wanikade ever accepted to stay. Most public schools in my community are empty. Some of them have only headmasters, principals and few indigenous teachers recruited within the community. As the road gets worse, life becomes more miserable for us.”

Tales of deaths, accidents and near misses

A cut part of the road at Wanihem. Photo by Sunday Elom
A cut part of the road at Wanihem. Photo by Sunday Elom

The poor state of the road has added to the statistics of preventable deaths in most communities along the corridor.

According to Francis Lukpata, a civil servant from the area, out of 100 recorded deaths annually, 95 could be attributed to the bad state of the road. He said it was often difficult to access healthcare in neighboring communities when emergency needs arose.

“For one to get proper healthcare services, the person has to go to Ogoja or Ojudu. It can take about three hours during the dry season and six hours when it’s the rainy season,” he said.

Ugede said three persons from Wanokom died on the road in January this year when they were being rushed to hospital at Yahe.

Cecilia Igbam is from the Wanokom community. She recounted how her closest friend, Angela Peter Okpabom, almost died in May 2020 during child delivery because of a delay on their way to a maternity hospital in Yahe.

Wanokom to Yahe is about 23 minutes by bike but Igbam said it took her three, hours to take her friend to hospital. “We experienced hell before we reached the hospital. We tried using a car, but the car got stuck on the road. We used a bike but there was a delay on the road and before we reached the hospital, the woman had fainted three times. She almost died on our way to the hospital but it is only God who knows how he saved her that day,” she recounted.

Also narrating her ugly experience on the road, Cynthia Joshua from Igede community, amidst weeping, said she lost her one and a half year old daughter on the road on July 7, 2019. Joshua told this newspaper that her daughter, “Jane suddenly fell ill in the midnight of July 6, 2019 and early in the morning of the following day we tried to take her to the hospital at Yahe but because it rained heavily that night, the road to Yahe was too bad.

“The bike that carried us fell down two times. She died before we reached the hospital,” she said.

Government shields construction company with controversial history

Unfortunately, efforts to get the contract details of the Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue border road project from the state government proved abortive.

Emamed Nigeria Limited Site Office and plant along Yahe-Ebo road. Photo by Sunday Elom
Emamed Nigeria Limited Site Office and plant along Yahe-Ebo road. Photo by Sunday Elom

This correspondent requested an interview in a letter dated March 2, 2021, to discuss the details of the project with the Commissioner for Works Dane Osim-asu. His office acknowledged receipt of the letter but refused to grant the interview.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) application sent to the state government was greeted with silence. The application dated 15th March, 2021, requested details of the project, specifically name and address of the contractor approved for the construction of the road; the contract sum; duration and completion date; releases so far made to the contractor, including time and amount of each release and the contract document signed with the contractor.

However, contrary to the provisions of the FOI Act, the state government did not respond to the request nor gave any reason for the denial weeks after acknowledging its receipt.

Furthermore, Osim-asu did not respond to text messages and calls to his official line. In a bid to get the needed information, the state Project Coordinator Charles Okongoh, an engineer, was contacted. While acknowledging that he had the information requested, Okongoh said that he could not speak with the reporter because he did not have the authority to do so, insisting that only the commissioner for works could provide the information needed.

A cut part of the road at Wanokom communities. Photo by Sunday Elom
A cut part of the road at Wanokom communities. Photo by Sunday Elom

Although the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted by the National Assembly, state governments have often argued over the legal backing of enforcing the Act in their states. However, this argument was subdued in a judgement by Justice Oke-Lawal of an Ikeja High Court in 2017, where he stressed that the FOI Act would apply to the government of the federation as well as to state governments and would not need ‘domestication’ by states.

Controversy over construction company

Several searches made on the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) official website for the details of Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited did not return any information. Further searches on the internet and social media platforms for the company or any of its officials were unsuccessful as no information about the contractor could be found.

Meanwhile, it has been alleged in media reports that Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited is an offshoot of Lophina Construction owned by Governor Ayade but is said to have folded up three years before he became the governor. This, however,  could not be verified.

However, the construction company appears to have had a controversial history and relationship with the Cross River State government in the past.

On February 19, 2019, in a letter written and signed by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Tina Banku Agbor, Governor Ayade requested that the State House of Assembly approve an Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO) of the sum of N648.8 billion in favour of Messrs Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited.

The letter addressed to the Speaker of the House sought the state lawmakers to consider and pass a resolution granting an approval for the state government to issue an ISPO of N300 million monthly through the United Bank for Africa (UBA) for Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited for the construction of the 275KM Calabar-Ikom-Katsina-Ala Super Highway.

Citizens will continue to suffer until MDAs and contractors adhere to the Procurement Act.

Experts have blamed the repeated abandonment of awarded projects on the indiscriminate violation of the Public Procurement Act by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) at the federal and state governments levels. Also, the nonchalant attitudes of the project implementing agencies have given contractors leverage to abandon projects at will.

Speaking with this reporter, Executive Director of the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) Nkem Ilo pointed out that the Public Procurement Act provided that every procurement must be accompanied by not just a plan but appropriate budgetary allocation.

“Before you award a contract, you should have created a budgetary procurement plan that is need-based. You must have done your need-based assessment and that will determine your procurement plan. And before you go through the procurement processes and award a contract, you are already aware that the project has the requisite cash backing,” she explained.

However, Ilo decried the fact that despite such explicit provision by the Procurement Act, oftentimes most procuring agencies would not follow the step-by-step guidelines that the Act had put in place.

This violation of the provision of the Act, according to her, was a huge problem as she noted that procurement was a vehicle to drive transparent, accountable and inclusive government. She also pointed out that the whole essence of procurement was to bring public service in a way that was competitive, fair, effective and efficient.

On the contrary, where procurement was wrongly used, public service would not be available to the people paying taxes which governments ought to use to provide resources, Ilo stressed.

She further maintained that when the implementing agencies failed to make proper budgetary plans before awarding projects, the projects would not be fully funded. Meanwhile, the implementing agencies might have mobilised contractors to the project site while they did not pay contractors. “When you do not pay contractors, they will not complete the project.”

The PPDC director further noted that MDAs were not the only the cause of abandonment of projects as there were also cases where contractors received mobilisation funds but would not execute the contract.

Ilo lamented the negative actions of government officials and contractors, saying that citizens were usually at the receiving end of such failures.

“The effects of the whole negligence and abandonment of projects often bounce back on the citizens, especially in the rural communities. It affects all aspects of our lives and that is how corrupt practices inflict undue difficulty, hardship and poverty on communities.  This eventually creates a country where there is distrust, failed infrastructure and services and chaos,” she concluded.

This investigation was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

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