Tuesday , September 14 2021

GHOST PROJECTS, LACK OF TRANSPARENCY, AND OVERSIGHT STALL FG’S WATER PROJECTS IN ENUGU STATE.

Ten years after the Federal Ministry of Water Resources awarded several water projects in Enugu State, many remain abandoned while others are non-existent. Our correspondent, Kenechukwu Andeh, visits some beneficiary communities in Enugu and reports on how poor oversight by government agencies spurs contractors to contravene the procurement law, thereby subjecting residents to hardship and poor water hygiene.

Bobby Edeh, a young graduate in his late 20s bent over two 25 liters of water containers and winced as he tried to lift them to his waiting motorcycle at the edge of a muddy green body of water formed on the floodplain of the Ivo River in Aninri Local Government Area of Enugu State. The water, formed as a result of a previous flooding in the area appeared murky but to Edeh, it was a better choice to buying water to perform simple house chores.

“We can’t drink the water, we only use it for washing and sometimes cooking because it has to go through fire,” he said.

He added: “The engineers initially told us that we will get portable water and light from the dam project when completed, but it’s more than six years now and we have nothing. We have no choice but to use this.”

Unlike Edeh and others in rural communities of Enugu State, those in the city have been left to the mercy of water tank drivers who have become synonymous with disappointments and exorbitant prices.

Bobby Edeh getting water from a murky green body of water on the floodplain of Ivo River.

Water is a necessity of life, but it is also a natural resource that is almost lacking in Enugu State, thus becoming a problem that has festered for decades. The problem dates back to the colonial era when the only source of water in the state was the Ekulu and the Iva headworks built in 1924 and located at the beginning of Milliken Hill.

The tales of suffering and long walks to get access to portable water, especially in communities spread across the three senatorial districts of the state continues to worry residents and stakeholders alike.

In February 2021, #NowaterinEnugu trended in Nigeria’s social media space, drawing attention to the plight of the more than 3,267,837 residents of the state in Nigeria’s southeast region. This is despite implementation records from the Budget Office of the Federation showing the state has witnessed several water projects initiated by the Federal Government.

Some of these projects which have remained unproductive overtime include the Adada River Dam Project at Nkpologwu in Uzo-Uwani LGA, Mgbowo Water Scheme at Mgbowo, Awgu LGA, the Ivo Dam at Mpu village of Aninri LGA, Amechi-Awkunanaw Dam at Amechi-Awkunanaw in Enugu South Local Government Area, and the Greater Oji River Water Project with the limited reticulation and other works for Oji RIver regional water supply.

Poorly constructed spillway at Ivo water dam project

At the agrarian border village of Mpu in Aniri Local Government Area, home to the Ivo Water Dam project, it was revealed that the scheme has since inception in 2009 seen more than N7billion earmarked for its completion as reported in an earlier investigation by the International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) in 2018.

The contract was reportedly withdrawn from the initial contractor, D. A Constructions Limited, due to incompetence and re-awarded to an indigenous company, Anbeez Services Limited in 2014, but the job has still not been completed.

With its source, the Ivo River, which cuts across Ebonyi and Enugu states, the water dam which has a structural height of more than 50 feet, is classified as an intermediate concrete dam with an ungated spillway that can carry between 1,000 to 50,000-acre feet of water. However, the project lay abandoned with the quality of some materials used for the dam way below standards obtained in civil construction. Rusted, frangible 4mm iron rods used for the concrete reinforcement were visibly seen on the collapsed spillway with 12mm iron rods protruding from a part of the training wall split in half.

Damaged training wall at the Ivo dam

This, according to experts, goes to show the low quality of materials used in the construction of appurtenant structures for the dam. “No wonder it collapsed. For a dam, you need thicker rods to resist the pressure from the water,” Mr. Uche Obasi, a civil engineer and member of the Nigeria Society of Engineers said. “Those rods are too small for a dam of such immensity,” he continued.  

The construction company, through its Managing Director Engr. Anayo Onwuegbu, however, attributed the damaged spillway to an error in the design by the consultants which he claimed has been corrected as the original concept did not capture the spillway which was proposed to use BRC wire mesh but failed.

This is contrary to section 16 (21) of Nigeria’s Public Procurement Act 2007 which clearly states that: “All procurement contracts shall contain warranties for durability of goods, exercise of requisite skills in service provision, and use of genuine materials and inputs in execution.”

Chief Alu Michael, the Traditional Prime Minister of the host community, Mpu, lamented how the project, perceived to be a blessing to the community at inception, had turned into a curse, owing to the overflow of the Ivo River due to the dam construction which has seen many farmlands and crops lost to flooding.

Farmland near Ivo dam damaged by flood

“We welcomed the speed with which they started the construction, but after a while, each time they build the dam, it will collapse. It has collapsed severally,” he said.

“If the government wants to complete the dam, they should bring a company that can build it, and it will stand, not like what we have here,” he stated further.

A section of the collapsed spillway at Ivo dam

Chief Alu also disclosed that since the construction started in 2014, the company was yet to complete compensation payment to most of the owners of the farmlands as earlier agreed before the project began. The total compensation outstanding on the project, which is almost a billion naira according to the company, is still being processed.

“What we’ve lost from the dam is much. Once it’s raining season, the flood returns and covers everywhere. The last time it happened, our farmlands stretching all the way to Ishiagu were destroyed, the rice I planted was wasted. For more than two years now, we’ve not seen anyone from Anbeez at that dam,” Mr. Anthony Ani, a farmer in the community lamented.  

Anthony’s experience reflects that of many farmers in the community who have suffered from several flood incidents chiefly attributed to the dam. Investigations reveal that despite promises from the company for speedy completion of the project which will also serve as a source of irrigation and electricity, representatives of Anbeez Services Limited who rarely visit the project site always complain to the villagers that government was to blame for the delay, as funds were yet to be fully released to them.

After several attempts to confirm this, including an earlier visit to the office of Anbeez Services Limited along Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, our correspondent finally contacted the Managing Director of the company who in a phone conversation affirmed that, indeed, they were being owed by the Federal Government.

“If money was fully released to my company for the project it won’t be at the stage where it is,” Engr. Anayo Onwuegbu said. He disclosed that the Federal Government through the Federal Executive Council (FEC) only recently approved an additional N2.5 Billion for the Ivo Dam project.

Wasted funds at Mgbowo earth project.

The story was no different in neighboring Awgu Local Government Area where Anbeez Nigerian limited also handled the construction of the Mgbowo Earth Dam and water supply project awarded since 2006. Awarded at the cost of N720 million, under the supervision of Anambra-Imo River Basin Development Authority, more than N329.6 million has been released in the first trench of the project in 2009 according to the Budget Office of the federation.

Though structures were erected at the project site at Ezioha Mgbowo, our correspondent observed that it was almost deserted at the time of visit. The project remains abandoned with the only completed portion, the technical part that comprises of the electro-mechanical component turbine for the dam, executed by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), laying fallow.

Abandoned ICT building and generator house at Mgbowo Dam

The proposed Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) building provided by the host community as part of the agreement for the project and generator house have now been converted to a goat pen and poultry farm. Molds of block and abandoned pipes littered the site with a narrow spillway bearing the signature of a rebuilt structure which had earlier collapsed, arguably due to its training walls measuring about 6 inches thick; similar to the size used mainly for the construction of fences.

A building at Mgbowo Dam project site converted into a goat pen

Efforts made to speak to a representative of the company or the site engineer proved abortive as Mr. Eddy Ibeaga, who secures the facility claimed to have no contact with the persons in charge. He, however, requested the reporter’s phone number and promised to transmit it to the supervisor anytime he visits. No one ever called.

When quizzed about the state of the dam project, the Managing Director of Anbeez Services Limited, Engineer Anayo Onwuegbu, disclosed that the Mbowo Dam is not in use because the REPP which they submitted in 2009 is yet to be processed till date.

He claimed that the Federal Government owed his company on the two projects, adding that their input on the project was more than the amount of money released. This, he pointed out, could be gotten from the ministry as there was nothing hidden.

A one-time governorship aspirant in Enugu State, Befford Anayo Onwuegbu, an engineer and also a political big-wig in the state’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) founded Anbeez Services limited on March 28, 1990. Over the years, numerous construction projects have been awarded to the company by both the state and federal government like the construction of the Jada multipurpose dam, Agbani-Afor-Amurri road and external works at the Enugu State Medical Diagnostic Centre.

Ghost projects at Greater Oji River and Amechi-Akwunanaw water project

In Oji River, Oji River Local Government Area, it was a case of the Greater Oji River water project existing only in the people’s imagination after then Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, announced that the Federal Government had approved the award of a N986 Million water project for the town, perhaps, to score a political point before the 2015 general elections.

Decades old water supply tank at Oji River

Residents of the town are not aware of any water project initiated in 2015 as the only known water project is the decade-old water supply base built during the colonial era.

“That tank you see there is the only water supply that feeds water to the whole of Oji. People come with their cars and their bikes and pay a token to fetch. Even tanker drivers pay as little as N400 for maintenance, then sell to people at N5,000 or more,” said Ndubuisi Okeke, a motorcyclist in the area.

The workers at the water treatment plant located at the outskirts of the town, on the Oji River section of the dilapidated Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, also disclosed that they were not aware of any water supply project or reticulation work carried out in the last five years.

This is after documents from the Ministry of Water Resources made available to Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), in 2018 shows that N45.8million was expended on the limited reticulation and other works for Oji River regional water supply with the project said to be completed.

Document showing contract for limited reticulation in Oji River made available to Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) by the Ministry of Water Resources.

Efforts made to speak with Senator Ike Ekweremadu on the projects were futile as he did not respond to several calls and text messages sent to him. Eventually, when the senator responded to a final text message, he simply said “ask the ministry.”

In the same vein, the local government chairman, Franklin Udemezue, also shifted the responsibility from himself when asked about the existence of the projects in his reply via a text message, as he advised our correspondent to start his enquiries with the Federal Government and others.

A truck refilling its tank at decade old water supply tank at Oji River

Heading south to the hilly countryside of Amechi-Akwunanaw in Enugu South Local Government Area, it was all twisted narratives from the contractor of the dam project, Module Nigeria Limited.

An earlier visit to the community showed that the project was non-existent, but in a twist, the Managing Director of Module Nigeria Limited, Engineer Nwachukwu Obiechina, disclosed that there was a project but said the government stopped funding it. He promised to send the phone number of the engineer who started the work on-site to provide the necessary details about the project and its location.

After waiting for more than 24hours with no call or sign of any schedule officer, this reporter reached out to Engineer Obiechina again and this time asked if money was released to him by the ministry but his response was vague.

“I am sorry I have no business with you, go to the ministry, they have all the information there,” he said before dropping the call.

The refusal of the contractor, Obiechina, a retired engineer with the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) to come clean on the project raises questions on the status of N735.8 million contract which saw N255.9 million released for its kickoff in 2009 according to the budget implementation report from the Budget Office of the Federation.

After our correspondent reached out to him again following several failed attempts, he only disclosed that an investigative committee was set up by the Federal Government to look into the project and has since maintained silence by subsequently declining calls and did not reply text messages sent to him.

Members of the community affirmed that no such project was sited in Amechi-Akwunanaw as they would have been aware of such once the trucks start rolling in.

“The hardship is unbearable, especially during the dry season. We have the Nyaba River close to us, but we can’t drink the water. We buy water in tanks from 9th mile. A bag of water here in our village is more than N150. I have lived in this village all my life, so let them come and show us where they built the dam,” Uzochukwu Nnam, a resident in the area said.

Nyaba River at Amechi-Akwananaw

The non-existence of the project was also confirmed by the traditional ruler of the community, His Royal Highness Igwe A.O Okorie (Ohachirieze II of Amechi-Akwananaw) while speaking to this reporter in Enugu.

“I have been on this throne for years, and no such project exists. You saw the bridge done by the Army Engineering corps. They informed me and the community was also aware. There is no water dam project by the Federal Government in my community,” he maintained.

A little hope for residents of Nkpologu Community

Last among the lot, which seemed to offer a little consolation from most of the water dam projects in Enugu State, is the Adada River Dam project at Nkpologu Community in Uzo-Uwani LGA, awarded to Messers Roudo Nigerian Limited.

Adada river dam project at Nkpologu, Uzo-Uwani LGA, Enugu State.

Although the project is overdue for completion and commissioning with an initial due date of March 2015, a significant amount of work has been done on-site. The dam construction is complete with the only challenge being a recent erosion on the access road over the Adada River, which the company is currently fixing.

Workers were seen on-site at the time of visit. The site supervisor, who chose to remain anonymous as he did not have the clearance from the company to speak to the press, however, assured that soon the project will be completed as the company plans to sink the water storage tank once they rebuild the Uzoaku access road.

Ongoing bridge construction over the Adada River Dam access road.

Who is to blame for Enugu’s failed water projects?

Against the backdrop of numerous challenges facing the provision of water in Enugu State, it might be unfair to heap the whole blame on the contractors of the projects, some of who have received money without executing the project or resorted to using substandard material. The Federal Government has not diligently held up its end of the bargain by providing adequate funds for most of the projects.

However, a visit to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources in Enugu to ascertain the status of the projects awarded more than 10 years ago did not yield much success on the first day as the reporter was asked to return the next day to meet the Public Relations Officer, PRO.

After waiting for hours, the next day, this reporter was directed on phone to the office of the Special Assistant to the Governor on Water Matters. The governor’s aide later referred him to the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Mrs. Ada-John Nwonye, who stated that she was busy and could not entertain any inquiries at the time.

Mrs. Nwonye asked that the reporter return the following week but later, on request, opted for the enquiry to be sent by mail. She has failed to reply to the email sent to her several weeks ago. When contacted again, the PRO promised to meet Mrs. Nwonye to remind her of the mail. However, no response was received from any official of the ministry in Enugu State to date.

Freedom of Information Request (FOI) sent to Federal Ministry of Water Resources

In early June, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking for details of the various projects was sent to the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources in Abuja. The ministry replied on June 28th 2021 acknowledging that it received the FOI on June 8, 2021 but requested more time, citing the volume of records involved and the need to hold consultations among relevant departments and agencies of government as reasons behind the delay in processing the request.

Letter from the Federal Ministry of Water Resources

The delay in the completion of most of these water projects chiefly as a result of inadequate funding stemming to delayed payments to contractors and the silence of the state ministry probably shows that poor oversight, lack of transparency and accountability by the Federal Government on water projects in the state may be the spur for contractors to breach procurement laws. The Federal Ministry of Water Resources has a responsibility under section 16 of the Public Procurement Act 2007 to ensure that no procurement proceedings shall be formalized until it has established that funds are available to meet obligations. This shortcoming has critically affected infrastructures vital for the provision of constant and portable water for residents in Enugu State, Southeast Nigeria.

*This investigative report was supported by McArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.

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