Niger Delta In A Mess As Ecological Funds fail

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Erosion ravages the Niger Delta as ecological fund projects are mired in corruption, politics and betrayal.

It may be the last act of defiance for 86 years old Ma Offia Akpan Udoh. Relatives, friends, well-wishers and even the chairman of her Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area Council in Akwa Ibom State have pleaded with her to abandon her one bedroom bungalow at the edge of Ikot Uneke Ravine, that is ravished by gully erosion, all to no avail.

The humble bungalow is not much as a real estate but it holds a world of dream for the octogenarian. She has lived here and raised seven children with late husband, and it is the only inheritance that keeps the memory alive. With all the children grown and gone, she clings to the memory of a past that holds more than the present. All attempts by her children to relocate her fell on deaf ears.

According to Sunday Akpan Ekpo, a relative and a patent medicine dealer who is popularly known as ‘Doctor,’ in the neighourhood, Ma Udoh had regrettably watched gully erosion take over the village footway that passed by her house. From a narrow harmless trail that the villagers shared with erosion when it rained, the water became greedier. It dung deeper and deeper, and gnawed at both sides of the divide until it became a gorge several metres deep. The trail originally led to the village stream called Idem Idem until erosion took it beyond the reach of the villagers.

Etoro-Obong Akpan, a journalist who doubles as a legislative aid to a member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly is from the embattled village. He recalled with nostalgia how he used the same village pathway to the stream about 25 years ago as a young boy growing up in the pastoral countryside of Ikot Usen. That nostalgia turned into bitterness and anger as he followed our team down to the ancient Idem Idem River, which is now all but buried under tons and tons of erosion silt, leaving a shallow pond where a few children bathed naked. From the pool a narrow belt of water stubbornly snaked into the ravine and disappeared down the groove.

“This stream was so deep that we were diving into it from the banks,” Etoro-Obong continued to lament; “now see what is left of it!” He scooped the water with both hands; perhaps to be sure it was real.

It might be the swan song for the embattled stream if help does not come fast enough. The government of Akwa Ibom State awarded a remedial contract to check the problem but the remedy ironically turned into a new malady as the drains were not properly terminated and became the trigger for worse gully erosion. One of those incompetently terminated drainages is just 200 metres to Ma Udoh’s treasured homestead. TELL did not meet her at home as she was said to have been ill and taken to a hospital by her children at Benin, Edo State. The villagers are praying she stays away until either the house is totally carried away, or help comes from the government.

Ibiono Ibom Local government area is erosion prone. Its undulating landscape leaves both flanks vulnerable to corrosive gully erosion. Construction companies build erosion works into their road contract procurements but these palliatives become new triggers for worse gullies. Julius Berger controlled the Ikot Adaidem Ravine erosion that was cutting the Ikot Ekpene Road into two at Ibiono Ibom but rather than solve the problem, it rather trapped the water. Without an immediate escape the erosion is now digging around the vegetation, looking for escape. Consequently, the natural stream that serves the neighbourhood is now subsumed in the stagnant water, which has been polluted by rotting vegetation and flood water.

Perhaps the predicament of Ibiono Ibom would have been less if the contract awarded by the federal government for erosion control in Ibiono Ibom was properly executed. In 2011, the government awarded a N6.1 billion contract to United Dominion Company Ltd under the supervision of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, for erosion control in the local government. The contract was to be completed in 104 weeks; that is two years. All things being equal, the project should have been completed in 2013 but three years after the delivery date, not much has been done.

There is controversy over the federal government agency that awarded the contract. In the list we got from the government, it is listed as Ecological Fund office with NDDC as the supervising agency. However, Ita Enang, special assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on the Senate who was the senator representing the senatorial district in the Seventh Senate when the contract was awarded insisted that the contract is an NDDC contract.

Incidentally, Enang’s village, Ididep, is part of the contract. In any case, what is relevant is whether the job was done to specification. And when asked if he was satisfied by the job done by United Dominion, Enang became evasive and rather asked if we knew the owners of the company. An indigene of Ididep who conducted the Magazine round the project sites but requested not to be mentioned described the attitude of the company to the execution of the contract as “reckless and insensitive.” He explained that their “presence was not felt” for such a massive contract. “You have seen our community and the erosion menace, let the federal government come and show us where the N6.1 billion was spent.” He, however, acknowledged that two other companies, which constructed the internal roads in Enang’s village in another NDDC contract “did well”.

Likewise, Okuku Ime Udosoru, the Ibom of Ibiono Ibom and paramount ruler of the local government doubted the existence of the contract in his domain because he was not aware of it. “I cannot even spell United Dominion! I don’t know who they are or where they are located. It’s by the grace of TELL that I have been told of United Dominion for the first time!” Asked if a company that supposedly executed such an important project in his domain did not seek his royal input or local knowledge of the environment, he insisted he was not aware of the contract.

In the same vein, Albert Essien, Akwa Ibom State commissioner for environment, who also comes from the local government, said he had not been briefed about the project.

From 2005 to 2015, several contracts were awarded under the Ecological Fund by the federal government under the supervision of various agencies. In Akwa Ibom State, these contracts were supervised by the Cross River Basin Development Authority, CRBDA; NDDC, ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and Ministry of Environment. The following ecological fund projects were supervised by CRBDA in the state: The gully erosion at Itak Ikono Local Government which cost the federal government N264.8 million; Ndue Edue Eket Erosion Project at N283.5m; Ikot Nseyen Ukpom Road Erosion project at N180.7m and Afaha Attai-IkotAkpan Mkpe Road Erosion control at N204.9m.

All these are listed as “completed” by the Ecological Fund Office but due to either incompetence or corruption, or both, the jobs were not properly supervised by the federal government. As a result, the little that was done was shabbily done and the bad termination points have triggered fresh erosion more devastating than the first ones.

However, the erosion and Flood control at A Line, Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo, awarded at the cost of N70m was executed. Between 2007 and 2014, contracts for 19 ecological related projects in the six core Niger Delta states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers were awarded by the federal government at the cost of N38.6 billion.

Essien who conducted TELL round some erosion sites in Uyo and its environs said the state government is worried about the devastation being caused by relentless gully erosion. At the Umoetuk Avenue erosion site, which is being handled by the Federal government, he gave the job pass mark and attributed what is left to the slow pace of relocating the prison complex which is on the water way. Prior to the remediation, the avenue had been cut into two by relentless gully erosion, which threatened a number of real estates in the area. Down the ravine, a few houses had collapsed under the relentless erosion. The site engineer, Ubong Etuk said the remediation is for a total of 500 metres, out of which the first most critical 300 metres had been completed.

At St Luke’s Hospital Annua, a popular hospital being run by missionaries, which was massively rehabilitated by the state government, the northern limits of the premises recently collapsed into the Annua Ravine after a heavy rainfall. Unyime Robision, state desk officer for Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project, NEWMAP, who conducted the magazine round the site, explained that to save the hospital the state government hurriedly carried out an initial intervention to stop further encroachment. But even this had been mostly eroded when we inspected the site, meaning the hospital is still far from safety.

Essien said the Akwa Ibom State government has aggregated about 100 serious gully erosion sites in the state. Though the federal government has awarded contracts for some of these, about 10 percent, he said they were a far cry from the enormity of the menace. While the government is engaging the ecological fund office for further intervention, it is also seeking the assistance of multilateral agencies to assist. One of such agencies is NEWMAP, an agency of World Bank that is already on location in neighbouring Cross River State to a great relief.

However, what is not happening in Akwa Ibom is that the state government appears not to be following up on federal interventions on ecological problems in the state. Consequently, some contractors do shoddy jobs and get away with them. These come back to haunt the state as badly terminated drains become fresh triggers for worse erosion. An example is the case of the Ibiono Ibom Local Government contract.

Akwa Ibom State is bordered on the South by the Atlantic Ocean and is currently the highest oil producing state in the country. It has the longest shoreline in the country, measuring 129 kilometres. This long coastline exposes the State to the threats of coastal erosion and flooding. Heavy and prolonged rainfall and the loose nature of the soil have aggravated soil wash and accelerated formation of gullies in the state. At the moment, the state government has documented over 100 active gully erosion sites spread across the 31 local government areas of the state.

Like Akwa Ibom, Cross River has not followed up on the Ecological Fund projects in the State, leaving room for substandard jobs and outright abandonment of the projects. The biggest heist in the state is the contract for the gully erosion and flood control works at the Eastern Naval Command headquarters, Calabar, which was awarded to Ginscon Construction Limited at the cost of N3.798 billion. The contract is listed as “completed 100%” by the Ecological Fund office and supposedly ‘executed’ under the direct supervision of the Presidency/Ecological Fund Office.

However, it was found that the contract has not been executed. When TELL visited the naval facility, an officer who spoke off the record said that “the contractor has not mobilized to site.” He reasoned that “maybe the contractor has not been mobilized for the job.” Unknown to him, the job has been completed on paper. He referred the magazine to the Cross River State government as he said it was not a military contract. Had the State government been up to its game in monitoring the project it would have known that the erosion control job had been ‘completed’ without getting started.

The Naval facility is on the shores of the Calabar River and all the flood water from the state secretariat, G.U. Esuene Stadium, Government House and environs scud down the steep landscape to the Calabar River by the naval headquarters, eating away at the coastline. Naval platforms anchor on the threatened shoreline from where they take control of all maritime security in the Eastern water ways. The contract was supposed to secure this important military facility, the nearby Cross River State House of Assembly and other security and civil infrastructure.

The Naval authority declined to officially speak on the project, insisting only the state ministry of environment should do that. However, Mike Eraye, an engineer and commissioner for environment said he did not know enough about the project yet to confirm the degree of completion. He promised to ascertain the state of completion and get back to us, which he had not done when the magazine went to bed.

Contract for Erosion Control Works at Convention Centre, Calabar, was also awarded by the federal government at the cost of N200m. On inspection, it was found that the drains were not properly terminated and the necessary landscaping to secure the approaches and exits were not properly done. It is only a matter of time before the floods re-establish its right of way at worse consequences and greater cost.

Likewise, contract for land reclamation and erosion control at Esseien Town, Ekorinin Community was awarded to A. G. Vision Construction Nigeria Ltd on May 12, 2011 at N1.948 billion, under the supervision of Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. It was supposed to be delivered in 12 months, but when TELL visited the community it appeared the contract had been abandoned. Erosion is still ravishing their land and the threat of landslides is increasing daily. The indigenes of the community have no idea of what is happening to the contract. The Niger Delta Ministry doesn’t appear to know either. The change of government is taking its toll on the ministry as an audit of projects it inherited is still going on. A senior staff of the ministry said only the minister, Usani Uguru, can give a status report on the projects inherited. Our request for interview is still with the minister. He gave an appointment once but could not make it due to state duties and promised to reschedule it, which he has not done at press time.

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It is not the only project the minister is expected to give an update on. The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs also supervised the N1.479 billion contract for land reclamation and erosion control at Ibakang Nssit-Ikot Ekpo- Unyehe Road in Nsit Attai Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, awarded to Apogee Engineering Ltd on November 10, 2010. It was to be completed 12 months later in November 2011 but though it is officially ‘completed’ the problems it was supposed to solve are still on the ground.

The Cross River Basin Development Authority, CRBDA, supervised several Ecological Fund projects in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states between 2007 and 2015, which were found to have been executed shoddily.

The Magazine visited the headquarters of the agency in Calabar and requested for status update on the ecological fund projects under its supervision and the challenges hampering the completion of projects according to schedule. The managing director, Etta Eyo-Ita, was evasive and requested for an official letter to enable her respond to our enquiry. The letter was promptly dispatched. But even at that, she has not responded as press time. Cross River, according to the state ministry of environment has documented over 50 serious gully erosion sites.

When confronted with the enormity of the challenge on assumption of office last year, Ben Ayade, a professor and governor of Cross River State sent an SOS to President Muhammadu Buhari. He asked for a special intervention to rescue the state from gully erosion. Buhari reacted swiftly, sending a joint team of the Ecological Fund Office, Committee on ecological problems, ministry of environment and the Presidency to do a four-day critical erosion and flood assessment of the situation. However, no other action has been taken by the federal government since the report was submitted by the team.

In October 2015 more than 1,220 families were displaced and 4,501 farms destroyed by flood in some coastline communities in Cross River. Vincent Aquah, the director general of Cross River State Emergency Management Agency, said the flood displaced 686 families in 50 communities in Odukpani Local Government Area; 503 in 16 communities in Biase and 31 in Okpodon Village in Yala Local Government Area.

Cross River is among the first batch of seven states in Nigeria to qualify for the World Bank funded-NEWMAP, with counterpart funding from the benefitting states. Due to the success of the agency in the seven states, its activities have been expanded to seven additional states, making 14.

Fidelis Anukwa is the Cross River project coordinator of NEWMAP. Hear him: “In Cross River, we presently have five sites. We have over 50 gully erosion sites across the state. The intervention work has begun in the state and we are beginning to show results in locations where we are already intervening.”

He described Calabar metropolis as “a city under siege by gully erosion”. This, he says, is because Calabar is drained by two very important rivers – the Qua River and Calabar River. Its sausage shaped landscape is sandwiched between the two big rivers and all plans of the City drain into these two rivers that eventually empty into the Atlantic Ocean.

He attributes the erosion menace to human factors: “With the fast development going on in Calabar, most of the new layouts sit on flood hills that drain freely. It is a challenge brought about by people building without following development control programmes. Some build anyhow, on water channels and so on.” Anukwa recalled an incident where a whole family perished in 2013 when their building collapsed following a landslide.

NEWMAP is presently intervening in five erosion sites in Cross River. These are: Ikot Anwatim gully; which has a main gully with five threatening fingers; Ikot Ekpo gully; Nyangasa gully; Edim Etop gully; and Atakpa gully.

The difference between NEWMAP projects and those of the agencies of federal government is quality in the design and execution. “NEWMAP is bringing on the table ‘a new dimension’ to solving erosion problem, wherever you go to our site it is very obvious that the site belongs to NEWMAP. In most of NEWMAP sites there is a mix of hard structure, flexible structures and robust incorporation of vegetal components. The use of flexible structures like gibbon and running mattresses were not very common in Nigeria before now but that is what NEWMAP is bringing to the table when addressing erosion problems today,” affirmed the coordinator.

Perhaps that is what is missing in the ecological fund projects, which makes it easy for some contractors to do shoddy jobs or walk away with the project money.

Most of the responses to the ecological threats in Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta states are routed thorough the NDDC and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. Between 2007 and 2015, not much intervention was done in Rivers by the federal government, may be due to the frosty relationship between the then governor of the state, Chibuike Amaechi, and then president, Goodluck Jonathan. However, in 2012 a contract of N4.878billion was awarded to Burnsville Nig Ltd for erosion control at Oruama, Engem, Ahaoda West. If fully executed the contract should have reclaimed 77.35 Hectares of land and protected 3,200m shore line, among others. The contract duration was 104 weeks – two years. In other words, the job should have been delivered in 2014. But two years after the deadline, the contract has not been completed and erosion continues to ravage the community.

Johnson Ibe, a teacher and native of the town said that he believes the contractor was not properly funded by the government. “Most NDDC projects are always abandoned because of lack of money; we believe this contractor was not paid enough money to handle the job.”

TELL compiled a list of ecological contracts in the Niger Delta, which the federal government put under the supervision of the NDDC and requested the intervention agency to respond to the abandonment of most of these projects. Some of these include: Erosion control at Oruama, Engem, Ahaoda West at N4.8 billion; Shore protection and erosion control at Obama, Nembe at the cost of N2.7 billion awarded in 2012 for 78 weeks; Erosion Control Ariam – IkotEkpene Road for N6.4bn in 2012 for 104 weeks; Otuan Erosion Project, Bayelsa State at the cost of N2.6bn; erosion control and sand filling of Onuegbum, Bayelsa at the cost of N2.679bn awarded in 2011 for a duration for 98 weeks; and Ugheli flood remediation awarded at the cost of N1.6 billion on April 20, 2011 for the duration of 78 weeks. These are part of a long list of contracts that Ibim Semenitari, acting managing director of NDDC and her management team are investigating. As at press time, the official status of these projects and disbursements made were still being expected from NDDC.

Apart from NDDC, other federal government agencies also supervised ecological projects in the Niger Delta. The Shore erosion control works at Akipelai, Ayakoro and Otuoke was awarded on May 2, 2012 under the supervision of the ministry of transport at the cost of N7.5billion; Sagbama Erosion control and rehabilitation works, Bayelsa State, was awarded under the supervision of the ministry of environment on May 9, 2012 at the cost of N1.5bn; Land reclamation and erosion control at IbakangNssit-IkotEkpo-Unyehe Road, Nsit Attai, Akwa Ibom State, was awarded under the supervision of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs at the cost of N1.47bn, Likewise the N1.9bn land reclamation/erosion control at Essien Town in Calabar. The Niger Delta River Basin Development Authority supervised the Aleibiri shore protection in Ekeremoh Local Government of Bayelsa State, which was awarded on February 16, 2008 at the cost of N267.5m. Eight years after; the project status is still at 15 percent completion.

Edo State, for reasons known to the federal authority has not benefited much from the ecological fund despite abundance of erosion menace in the state. Three ecological projects awarded in the State are the Afashio Erosion project in Etsako West Local Government awarded to Isoye Construction co. Ltd. at the cost of N126.7m and completed in 2008; Contract for the construction of erosion and flood control project at Jattu Road/Otaru Grammar School Auchi, at the cost of N246, 246, 540 executed by Setraco; and Auchi-Igara erosion control project, also awarded to Setraco on October 22, 2010 at the cost of N598.7million. These projects are already completed by the Federal government.

However, they are a far cry from addressing the ecological challenges in the state, especially Auchi. Dissatisfied with the Federal Government’s disbursement of the ecological fund, Adams Oshiomhole, governor of the state, secured a N5.7bn loan from the World Bank under the auspices of NEWMAP, to tackle erosion-related challenges in Auchi. Prior to this intervention, the community had lost some of its members, farmlands and roads to erosion.

Oladipo Airenakho, communication assistant of Edo State NEWMAP confirmed gully erosion contracts are being funded by Edo State Government with the assistance of the agency. Sunday Imolode, a lawyer and spokesman of the community, regretted that if the government had tackled Auchi erosion 25 years ago when it was little, it would have cost much less. The Auchi erosion gully spans kilometres of Warrake Road, cutting though the topography down to Inu Umoru Street from where it extends to Igarra Road.

Tony Momoh, a former minister of information and an indigene of Auchi, lamented that, “the whole of Auchi Kingdom is going under” and argued that it was beyond the Edo State government. Momoh, who is a chieftain of the All progressives Congress, APC said, “It is not what a state government can do alone. If I were the President, I would channel Ecological Funds to save this community. People have come; World Bank, federal government and agencies are always coming and going but nothing is happening. I came with our party leaders to see and they wept. People have to see before they believe what is happening here. The whole community is going under.”

Corruption is the bane of the ecological fund projects in the Niger Delta. And this sleaze is said to be orchestrated from the presidency where the Ecological Fund Office is located. The Ecological Fund was created in 1981 by the Federation Account Act 1981. Its establishment was based on the recommendation of the Okigbo Commission to act as an agency to address serious ecological problems around the country. At inception, the Fund was empowered to receive and manage one percent of revenue accruing to the federal government from the federation account for this purpose. This was later increased to two percent. The Act establishing the Fund has been amended three times in 1984, 1992 and 2002 to accommodate emerging realities across the country.

The two percent ecological fund and one percent derivation are shared among the federal, state and local governments according the agreed formula. The National Committee on Ecological Problems, NCEP, an inter-ministerial committee, was created in 1985 to advise the president on the disbursement and management of the Fund.

The Ecological Fund Office, EFO, is in the office of the secretary to government of the federation, OSGF. It has the mandate to manage the federal government’s one cent share of the ecological fund which is domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. The EFO is responsible for funding and monitoring of projects, screens requests for intervention, and provides administrative and secretarial support for NCEP, which recommends projects to be funded to the President. The executing agencies for approved projects are: federal ministries of agriculture, environment, water resources and river basin development authorities. Between 2007 and 2011, N217 billion accrued to the Fund. Within this period, disbursements were made from the fund to projects outside the mandate of the Fund, according a report published by NEITI.

In the Niger Delta, The NDDC, ministries or Niger Delta Affairs and Transportation also act as supervising agencies. It was found that the cost of interventions galloped from a few millions to billions between 2010 and 2015. Even worse, most of the contracts were abandoned after huge sums of money had been paid out. In some cases, it was found that jobs that the contractors have not mobilized to site are listed as ‘completed 100%’ and paid for by the ecological fund office.

There are situations where state governments complain that Abuja does not involve them in projects within their jurisdiction, thus hindering informed choices in priority projects and effective quality control. For instance, Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, lamented, “the federal government award contracts under the ecological fund without informing states or even requesting their inputs especially on sites that are more critical. The implication is that powerful individuals from the state go to Abuja and are awarded contract for erosion projects, which are either non-existent or outside priority areas begging for attention.”

The Ecological Fund Office, after a request under the Freedom of Information Act, provided a list of 231 projects it funded from 2005 to 2015. However, out of 80 pages, the agency released only 40 and withheld 40, representing 50 percent. TELL has written an official letter to the permanent secretary, Ecological Fund Office, Office of the Secretary of the Federation, for details of all the ecological fund projects from 1999 to 2015, and also an interview for him to address some loose ends identified during the field work. His response was not received as at press time.

Official requests for their side of the story were sent to Burnsville Nigeria Limited through the company secretary, Mbewu Esther Ogechi, and A. G. Vision Construction Company Limited through the company secretary, Toufic Kachoue but their responses were still being expected as at press time and would be taken as an update when they are ready. Efforts to reach Apogee Engineering, Ginscon and United Dominion proved abortive.

This story was done with support from Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

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