INVESTIGATION…. ABIA STATE: Federal roads in bad shape, as run-away contractors abandon projects
Some months before the 2019 general elections, a number of governors in South East Nigeria indicted the federal government of negligence in implementation of capital projects. Promptly reacting, the Federal Government reeled out a 69-road and bridges projects’ list purportedly ongoing and at different stages of completion billed at over N100 billion purportedly drawn from Sukuk Bond and Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund under budgetary allocations.
Similar to an earlier fact finding mission by Ripples Nigeria, to verify the claims, PATRICK EGWU picked and visited 12 of the listed projects to ascertain the level of government’s commitment, and the level of completion of the projects.
Nkporo-Abriba-Ohafia Road project —Abandoned by Contractor
IT was about 12:46pm, midday Monday, February 4 on a sweltering afternoon when this reporter arrived the take-off point of the Nkporo-Abriba-Ohafia road project. The ride through a rough patchy stretch of road with a taxi was far from being adventurous.
As the reporter looked at the faces of a few residents walking by, their facial expression of disappointments said it all.
Continuing the trip via the only bridge in Nkporo linking the community with other communities and nearby states like Enugu, Ebonyi and Cross River, one is faced with an almost impassable motorway depicting a collapse waiting to happen.
Sadly, residents of this community have to make their way across this death trap each day of their lives.
Even students, who use the bridge every day to-and-from their schools, say the risk falling off the bridge because the handrails easily fall off at a light touch. In fact, motorists, who convey commuters and goods, lament attendant loss of lives in addition to damages incurred while navigating the bad roads with untold difficulty.
And to say this road project with contract No: 6130, had been awarded to Dutum Construction Nigeria Limited since May 30, 2012 at the huge cost of N2,739,105,600.20 billion, raises a lot of questions. Its construction was to be completed, sealed and commissioned for commuters’ use in two years; that was by 2014.
Seven years later, however, the road and bridge projects linger unfinished. Shockingly, contractors handling the projects were nowhere to be seen. When Ripples Nigeria visited the project sites, commuters and nearby residents bemoaned the sad reality that construction workers had since left the projects site and yet to return. Residents further expressed doubts if the contractors will ever return, given the way things are done in Nigeria as they shook their heads, waving their hands with resigned regrets.
Taking the reporter further into the projects site, a tour guide disclosed that the residents are not happy because, not only did the contractors abandon the projects; the bit they did was also shoddy and substandard.
On a bit-by-bit verification of the projects, it was clearly seen, despite the FG’s claim of ongoing works, that only a small portion of them were constructed and completed. It was also observed that these were works done years back, not in the recent times, as proved by the residents.
Till the time of visit in February 2019, the Okwoko part of the road leading to the bridge and only local market in the community, where diverse traders engage in sundry transactions, remained largely untouched, let alone done. In the milieu, this reporter witnessed first-hand, the strain motorists and cyclists wade through in their bid to navigate the bumpy road.
Speaking on their plights fueled by abandoned projects, a community resident, Kalu Akuma, said: “The road has made it difficult for our people to access other communities because equipment brought for the job by the contractors are fairly-used. Most times, they are not even working. Till present, compensations are yet to be paid to those whose houses, built along the road path, were demolished. It is for this and other reasons that we want the FG to hasten up and finish the road projects because that is very important to us.”
Also sighted by the road side are two stationed tractors nearly rickety, surrounded by grasses.
Expressing his disappointment at the slow pace of works, Hon Amb. Arunsi Nwankwo Uka, the traditional ruler, said it was quite unexpected. His words: “What the FG told us at the inception was that the timeline of the project was two years. But up till now, not much has been done.”
A shop owner along Okwoko road, added: “we wrote a petition to the federal ministry of works. They told us that the money released to them has not been fully utilized. So, I am highly disappointed with what we are seeing. They are supposed to complete this road to a certain level based on the money released to them. But if you go to that bridge, you will see how motorists struggle to pass through. It’s really a big challenge for us.”
Umuahia-Bende-Ohafia Road —Rehabilitation ongoing
IN 2018, when Prosper Kalu sighted tractors’ movements in front of his residence, he dismissed it as the usual elections and votes-hungry politicians’ gimmick. Little did he know then that they were tractors to be used for the rehabilitation of the Umuahia-Bende-Ohafia road.
Kalu noted that prior to the rehabilitation, the road was impassable. He added that if anyone visited during a rainy season, it was always very impossible to get any means of transportation as commercial transporters would decline plying the route. That’s to stress how bad the road was.
Listed as the oldest project under investigation, the Umuahia-Bende-Ohafia Road was awarded on October 3, 2005 to Niger Construction Limited at N2, 093,033,385.88 billion. With contract No 5821, its rehabilitation had been previously stalled for about 15 years.
Residents noted that it was the recent intervention in fixing bad spots with asphalt along most parts of the road linking it to Umuahia and Bende that gave some signs of rehabilitation. Yet, motorists and tricycles were seen as they struggle to dodge patched spots on the roads.
On a drive from the state capital in Umuahia to Bende and Ohafia, pockets of craters and pot-holes remain, causing a nightmarish ride for road users. Stuck on a lonely patched road leading to Umuahia was a motorcyclist. He had a heavy load on his back seat, but looking at the bad road ahead, he disembarked and began to manually maneuver the motorbike to get to the other end of the terrible portion.
Whilst a large portion of this road had been rehabilitated, some parts are yet to be attended to. Responding to an email enquiry sent to Niger Construction Limited, the Managing Director, Engr Elie Chedid, asked this reporter to provide his phone number so he could call. Minutes later, he called and said that the project in question was completed years back.
He, however, said he has directed the Area Manager of the company to search for the project’s contract and make it available. About an hour later, he sent an email that they have lost the documents of the contract.
“The project you are asking for is as old as 2005 (14 years old), so I am afraid to inform you that we have lost most of the documents related to the project. Moreover, the whole management team has been completely changed since that time, thus even story-telling may not be available,” part of the email read.
Arochukwu-Ohafia Road —Works ongoing at Bende
Sounds of heavy duty tractors bellowed as the ground shook at the level hilly grounds opposite the Army Barracks in Ohafia. Trucks toot their horns as danger’ signals as they drop off the contents on the project site.
With a section of the road barricaded, on-coming vehicles are prevented from obstructing the construction works. This was complemented with the regular “Slow down, men at work” sign-posts.
To show they meant serious business, workers, with their crested vests, were seen working on a construction yard few meters away from the project site. Also seen were some heavy duty tractors conveying granite and asphalt to the field at intervals.
A few other field workers not yet too busy surrounded a nearby make-shift kiosk where a middle-aged woman sold food and drinks to them.
Efforts to speak with the contractor-in-charge of the site was stalled as he was said not to be at the construction yard. However, a senior staff of the engineering company, Bilal Ahmed, head, mechanical section, gave assurances that the project will be completed before 2021, which is the agreed date for completion.
“The work is moving efficiently and we are going to end the work in Arochukwu which we normally call kilometer 00. As you can see, a lot of machines are on ground to make sure the work will be faster. Initially, we said the project will take up to four years to be completed. But from my personal observation, it cannot get to that point before we complete it,” Ahmed said.
He however, claimed not be competent to speak on the monies allocated or spent on the project.
At the Bende-Arochukwu-Ohafia Road, major construction works could be seen going on at the project sites. Water ways and drainages were being constructed at both ends of the road to allow for easy flow of water during the rainy season or in cases of flooding.
A jointly awarded rehabilitation project in July 2018 to Hartland Nigeria Limited. Whilst N5,490,680,078.33 was budgeted for the Bende-Arochukwu-Ohafia Road, the sum of N199,475,325.00 was allotted for the Bende-Arochukwu-Ohafia Road Phase II. A section of Ohafia towards the beginning of the road leading to Arochukwu has been constructed. But works remain ongoing at another section of the road.
A regular road user, Sunday Ogah, noted: “We are happy with the ongoing works. Before it’s a nightmare passing through here because of the bumps, but things are different now. The rehabilitation work is such a big relief for us.”
Attempts to speak with the contractor handling the project on the status of the contract and monies released were not successful. The administrative manager at the construction yard who identified himself as Muritala, told this reporter to write to the ministry of works for approval. Knowing that this would take a longer process due to the bureaucratic bottlenecks, this reporter sought another way of getting a hold of the contractor. Using his contact at the yard, the phone number of the project manager, Hishan Yass, who doubles as the contractor, was obtained. During a telephone conversation, Mr Yass told this reporter to also write to the ministry to get approval before he can release the contract details and other such information.
“We are not hiding anything. There is nothing to hide; but you have to either speak with our public relations officer or write to the ministry of works through the controller before I can give you any information,” Yass said at the other end of the telephone. When asked how much the company has received so far, he said “I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything.”
Works stopped at the Umuahia-Ariam-Ikot Ekpene Road
AT the failed section of the Umuahia-Ariam-Ikot Ekpene Road, motorists and cyclists hoot their horns as they jostle to drive past. Commuters inside one of the buses were audibly heard mumbling with impatience at motorists on the other end as they all bellowed on one another to clear the obstruction so they could navigate out of the commotion.
No works were seen going on during the reporter’s visit to the site. By the road side, a heap of granite and sharp sand could be seen as motorists plying the road try to dodge it. Also, pot-holes and bumps spread across the road prevent easy and safe navigations of vehicles.
But whilst majority of the road remain in a very bad shape and in need of very urgent intervention, the section leading to the Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike, remains passable for road users. Stones and gravels were also sighted used to fill up the bad spots, with pot-holes further compounding shuttling through the roads for motorists.
An elderly man who lives along the road, Pa Michael Udoka, lamented his agony to the reporter. He retorted: “I don’t care whether it is PDP or APC, all I want them to do is to come and fix this road. Every four years during elections, they will come and make promises to us and give us money to vote for them. But after the election, that is the end of the story. We continue facing our challenges by ourselves.”
While taking pictures and videos of the bad spots of the road which were filled up with stones, a commuter who was in a moving bus, sneaked through the window and shouted: “Please snap all the pictures and do the video recordings. Perhaps, that will compel them to come and fix our road for us.” About the same time, another commuter in the bus added: “I hope this is still not for campaigns?”
Other residents also informed the reporter that for the emergency repairs of the Umuahia-Ariam-Ikot Ekpene road failed sections, in February 2018, an amount of N156,469,825.05 was awarded to Desak Construction Company Nigeria Limited. Sadly, till date, nothing has been done on the road despite the fact that it connects to neighbouring states like Cross River for example.
Efforts to speak with the contractors or other officials of the company were unsuccessful as they had moved from the construction site. Information on their website did not give details on how they can be reached. A Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) registration search on the company reveals that it was incorporated on December 21, 2012 with the purpose to “carry on business of construction works and maintenance, plumbing works both conduit and surface plumbing materials, suppliers, electrical installations among others.”
Partly done, Ahiaukwu-Amangwo-Umuahia Road still needs rehabilitation
Nine years ago, in December 2010, the road project for Ahiaukwu-Amangwo in Umuahia-Ngwa, was awarded to La Ann Engineering Nigeria Limited at the sum of N589,544, 3017.65. Then, it was meant to be completed in one year. Today, it still lingers.
The project remains partly done with only a few of the sections partly motorable while a larger part remains untouched.
At the time of the reporter’s visit, no signpost was seen to hint on its details, neither was there any indication of ongoing works, nor signals that constructions may likely start anytime soon.
A shop operator close to the failed section of the road, John Chike, bemoaned to the reporter that: “It is only in that area of the road project that one witnesses such a situation. If you move up a bit, you’ll see that it is fair enough. So, I really don’t know why they don’t want to come and finish the work.”
As the reporter vividly experienced, while the road from Ahiaukwu is travelable, the Umuahia section remains in a very bad shape, begging for urgent repairs and intervention, as most parts of the road are pot-holed and washed up.
Along the busy impassable section of the road, road users especially tricycles and vehicles find it difficult to pass through the bumpy spots.
A CAC search on the company shows that it was incorporated on May 10, 2002 with the purpose of “carrying out business as traders and builders and contractors for construction works of any kind.”
At Enugu-PH Expressway, road works ongoing
When the reporter arrived a section of the road leading to the popular Umuahia Tower by 7:30a.m on February 6, a group of construction workers were seen fixing their equipment and getting ready for the day’s task. About five heavy duty and pickup trucks were stationed along the busy road as regular cars and commercial buses drove by.
After a few minutes, the reporter saw two of the tractors parked along the road leave for the construction site. They were then followed to their yard where he witnessed as they carried granite and sand.
Sighting the road beginning from Lokpanta leading to Okigwe, Umahia Tower and Aba; works could be seen currently ongoing up to where it connects with the Enugu-PH Dual Carriageway Sections 1 and 2.
The Section 1, with contract Number 6208, for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Enugu-Port Harcourt dual carriageway all the way from Lokpanta to Umuahia Tower was awarded to Setraco Nigeria Limited for N39,548,900,597.79 billion, on August 21, 2018.
As at the time of investigation in February 2019, the project had reached about 50 percent completion.
At the site, tractors and heavy duty vehicles were seen parked along the road close to the Tower. Construction workers were also seen moving about the project site and handling different equipment while some were directing the tractor unloading granite and sand to the exact spot to unload.
The site’s project manager, Mohammed Yusuf, said workers are ready to ensure speedy completion of the ongoing works on the project. When asked of the timeline for completion, he directed the reporter to the Federal Controller of Works in the state.
The situation is not different at the Section 2 of the road project. With Contract Number 6209, rehabilitation and reconstruction of Enugu-Port Harcourt dual carriageway which spans from Umuahia Tower to Aba Township Rail Road Bridge crossing at the cost of N50,892,770,722.04 billion which was awarded to Arab Contractors Nigeria Limited on August 21, 2018.
It was found to have been awarded on the same date with the Section 1 and has reached an appreciable level of completion.
When contacted for comments, the deputy project manager handling the project who gave his name as Hussein, said he was at the airport waiting for his flight to Egypt for his annual leave. He, however, gave the phone number of the project technical manager, Engr Ahmed who was acting in his place.
Engr Ahmed did not respond to several calls put across to his phone.
Olokoro-Isiala-Oboro-Nnono Junction – deserted
Findings reveal that this is, perhaps, another abandoned road project. A drive along the road from Olokoro to Isiala to Oboro and Nnono showed no works going on at the site. There was also no project signpost to indicate the exact spot of the project.
It was a project awarded on December 21, 2010 to Bok Company Nigeria Limited at the sum of N515,315,493.00 with Contract Number 6091.
Till date, investigation reveals, it has not received its deserved attention as specified in the contract agreement. Except for a small section of the road, which was rehabilitated to a point in 2018, the reporter saw that a larger portion has been washed up by rainfall. However, most part of the road remains untouched, creating havoc for users.
When the residents living around the bad spots of the road were asked if they have seen works ongoing at the site, or movement of tractors and heavy duty vehicles as indication of construction activities, they responded in the negative.
In unison, they informed the reporter that they have not seen anything of road works in their vicinity. They also pointed out to the reporter if he could see any sign of life. But they all agreed that they want the government to help them build the road as lack of it is badly affecting their movements and businesses.
Olokoro-Ahiaukwu-Itaja-Obuohia-Ikwuano project abandoned
The sight of the reporter’s camera nearly drew the ire of some young men and cyclists who were converged at a community square. Typical of a communal life, they were seen engrossed in some conversation while other passersby went about their daily routine.
As they saw the reporter attempting to snap pictures and do video recording of the spot where the road project stopped, a cutlass wielding young man came closer and demanded why he didn’t first seek their permission. The reporter introduced himself and despite that, the young chap insisted he should have sought permission “from the boys around”. He intoned: “If not, they will see you as working for somebody or your personal interest.” Thereafter, the reporter continued on his mission to the location.
Later, a community resident, James Emeaghara, informed the reporter that “since 2010 when the project was awarded, this is where they stopped their work (Pointing). And going down, you will see that because the bridge has not been completed and the road is very bad, we cannot connect the other community.”
On being awarded eight years ago since March 10, 2010, with contract Number 6063, to Rhas Nigeria Limited for N990,673,340.00 million, the construction of Olokoro-Ahiaukwu-Itaja-Okwu-Obuohia-Ikwuano Road, was expected to last five years.
It has, however, been abandoned while other sections worked on were poorly executed. Close observations also show that the initially completed sections are always crying for reconstruction as some parts have washed-out while flooding have damaged the waterway constructed along the road.
Prince Nweze, a cyclist who frequently plies the road conveying people to the neighbouring community said: “It’s been a long time they constructed the road but stopped at a point. It is incomplete, but the one they did was fine.”
Also, the bridge that links the area to other communities and states has remained uncompleted. Motorcyclists have to pass under the bridge to turn around to the drivable end of the road. When they turn around, they have to push their motorcycles up the hill before hopping on it to continue their journey.
Speaking on the situation, Site Manager, Rhas Nigeria, Moses Onyegbule, disclosed that main works on the project commenced about two years ago around May 2017 until August 2018. He noted that when they stopped at the bridge; he had hoped that within a few weeks’ time, the rest of the job will be completed quicker, according to the message received from his boss.
He told the reporter that he expects work to commence soon as the contractor informed him via text message that they are getting ready to return to the site. When this reporter asked for the contractor’s phone number to speak with him on the contract and monies released, he declined.
Probing further, Emeaghara who worked as part-time staff for the company during the early stage of their work, said he believes monies meant for the completion of the work has been embezzled as the contractors abandoned their equipment in his compound for some years now and are yet to complete his payment.
“They have stolen the money for the work. If not, why have they not come back to finish it up.”
A CAC search on the company shows that it was incorporated in December 16, 1991 with the purpose to “carry on business of general merchants, traders, importers, commission agents, carriers or in any other capacity in Nigeria.”
Sections of Abriba-Arochukwu-Ohafia remain unconstructed
NOW in its sixth year, the construction of Abriba-Arochukwu-Ohafia Road, awarded since 2012 to Beks Kimse Nigeria Limited at a budget of N2,265,982,372.50 billion with contract number 6158; remains a largely incomplete project.
Large chunks of the road are laced with pot-holes, while other areas are patched.
A commuter simply identified as Emmanuel said the contractors might have finished their work and left since last year. “But on plying the road, you’d see patched works. Then, two heaps of asphalt were seen dumped by the road side. Also, along the same road, a deep gully like an erosion spot, almost dividing the road into two, can be clearly seen.”
The reporter saw that a cordon was used to alert road users to the portion of danger for them to apply caution. On a closer look, the erosion site shows that no recent or previous work had been done on that road given the size of its expansion.
It is so bad that each motorist that gets to that point is forced to slow down to a snail speed as they try to gently traverse before they could dare attempt to increase their speed.
Ohafia-Oso Road in Abia/Ebonyi —project ongoing
SHARING a common boundary are the Ohafia-Oso road project linking Abia to Ebonyi state. It is sited along a border patrol check point between the two states.
It was awarded to Uniglobe Construction Engineering Limited in December 2012 at a budgeted sum of N2,293,965,030.00 with Contract No 6160. As at the time of visit, works was seen ongoing on the project.
It was however noted that most part of the works were being handled by the Ebonyi State Controller of Federal Works.
A motorcyclist, Sunday Uka, affirmed that the road runs from Abia to Ebonyi State. He said: “We stay here and see them carrying sand and moving their machines and going inside where they are working.”
The reporter also saw heavy duty tractors moving granite to the site while field workers were practically tying bolts to the knots.
A commercial cyclist, Chibuzor Chukwu, affirmed that works have been ongoing with trucks visibly conveying construction materials to the site. Pointing towards the site, he said: “If you just wait awhile, you’ll see how much works is being done. One only hopes they will finish it in time.”
When this reporter did a Google search on the company, two addresses of the company; One in Nigeria, the other one in the US were seen. When the phone number on the website was dialed, the person who answered the phone said he no longer works with the company, but said they are still located in Port Harcourt. When asked if he could provide any information on the company when he worked with them, he declined.
The company was incorporated on July 11, 1985 but later changed its name from Uniglobe Construction Limited to Technical Systems Engineering Limited on September 1, 2011. According to its registration records, the objects of the company include; to manufacture all types of garden furniture and other types of furniture for export and domestic use; to borrow money and to guarantee the payment of performance of any debts, secure, mortgage among others. Nothing in its registration details shows that it is licensed to engage in construction work.
Erring contractors will be penalized —Government official
In the bid to grasp the level of government awareness of the rots in the road projects, the reporter spoke with Engr Nwankwo Chukwudike, Federal Controller of Works under Federal Ministry of Works. He is the official assigned to supervise all federal government projects in Abia State.
Chukwudike admitted that most of the projects under investigation were awarded by previous administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. He said that only a few were awarded by the current government. He added that most of the previously awarded projects were paid for by the present administration.
He also spoke on variation in costs, which he said were due to a rise in the cost of construction materials since the contracts were awarded. For instance, the prices of materials like cement, granite, oil and other site equipment have gone up since some of the projects were awarded years ago. He then lamented that it affects the progress of works.
He showed the reporter a file containing projects’ specification for each contract as he reiterated that though they were awarded as far back as 2010; some of the works done between 2010 and 2012 were not paid for until 2016. “And I can tell you that was when the contractors began to perform,” he said.
He was then promptly queried that if the contractors were performing at all, why were some of the projects abandoned and uncompleted? He responded that efforts are on to bring every contractor that abandoned any projects to book. “I assure you that their contracts would be revoked and awarded to new contractors,” he told the reporter.
Chukwudike then continued to stress on some of the challenges met on ground when the projects were re-awarded. He said: “By the time they were being paid, most of their previous rates became obsolete. You know what a bag of cement was sold for back then as different from what it is now; the price of petrol then and what it is now. I want to believe you now have a feel of what I am talking about. However, the FG is finding it difficult to make a blanket increase in rates. If such is done, it will be very difficult for any government to bear the weight. So, all the projects that are currently ongoing were the ones which were awarded newly,” he noted.
He further said that the government is looking at the possibility of an increase in their rates so that the contractors can come back to sites.
To do this, he added: “We are trying to see whether we can use a little variation of price in the increase of basic rates of items as cement, petrol, iron, bitumen –vitals for road construction -to cushion the effect of the lower prices. A meeting was held with most of them in Abuja recently to see how this will work. They also promised to do something. Some other projects are also on hold because of poor rates.”
Asked what happens to already paid monies to contractors should their contracts be revoked, Chukwudike said: “If any contractor had worked for the money paid, the work done is there already. Similarly, if you pay somebody for a job done, everyone sees it there on the road. For instance, if you visit the project site, you will see that some works had been done for the money paid. But if a contractor decides not to come, we will terminate the deal. And if there is anyone already paid but has damaged the works, such will make refunds. That’s the usual way things are done with government contracts. Because once we terminate, we determine, and thereafter, checks are done to verify who is owing whether it is the government or contractor.”
On the performance of respective projects, he said some contractors have achieved about 20 percent while that of Enugu-Port Harcourt are nearing completion. “They were awarded just in 2018 and are among the ones performing very well with about 50 percent in performance. Hopefully, they will complete it on their contracts specified period.”
Adding that the government cannot be totally absolved on the slow pace of works, Chukwudike said: “Due to late and incomplete payments, the little that contractors did in 2018 are yet to be paid for. So, they are not there because of poor rates which will affect cost of construction materials in the market as well as the last certificates they submitted. It is still being processed for payments. Hopefully, once they are paid, we expect them to come back to continue works, so they can speed up completion. More importantly, we hope that variation of prices will really enable them continue the work.”
This investigation was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.