INVESTIGATION… How NDDC spent N2bn on abandoned, non-existent road projects in Edo communities
In 2014, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) awarded 10 road projects worth over N2 billion in various communities in Edo State, with a 12-month completion period. Five years after, our reporter, SUNDAY ELOM N., who visited the project sites in the four local government areas, found that many of the projects were awarded to front companies, and unregistered entities which did not have the capacity to execute them.
Poorly executed Amawu Street road
It was 2:27 pm on a sunny Tuesday in September when the reporter arrived at Deaconess Rose Arasomwan’s provision store on Amawu Street.
She had attended to only three customers since 6:00 am when she opened her small provision store in front of her house located along the road.
She told the reporter that her business crashed since the beginning of the 2020 rainy season as customers find it difficult to visit her provision store because the road was now waterlogged, from a failed NDDC road project.
The deep waterlogged portion starts a few meters away from the entrance of the street to Arasomwan’s provision store.
The problem is not just about her business. “Water from the road floods my entire house whenever it rains,” she lamented.
The signpost at the entrance of the street shows that the road project was awarded to Derants System Limited and the reporter confirmed it was awarded at the sum of N249 million. Residents said the contractor, completed work on it in July 2019. However, the road has become impassable.
Although the stretch of the road is less than two kilometers, commercial tricycle riders charge between N500 to N1000 for a trip.
Roseline Oliha who was identified as the first and oldest house owner in the area, said “Instead of using laterite to sand-fill the road, the contractor used sharp sand (grit)”
“They [the contractors] mixed 12 head-pans of grit, 12 head-pans of granite and half a bag of cement with some buckets of water for the construction,” the chairman of the residents association in the area, Kenneth Erhunmwunse, said.
He said they rejected the work but the contractor said if they don’t like it, he would abandon the job, and nobody would come again to do it.
Many parts of the road are completely waterlogged, making it impassable, even on foot. One of the waterlogged potions is so deep that it is almost knee – deep. To bypass the deep waterlogs, residents had to create tiny footpaths in people’s compounds, while in some places they have to jump over people’s fences.
Nosakhare Nowanagbe, one of the leaders of the area,complained that their children miss school almost every day during the rainy season.
“At a point, the road became so bad that any tricyclist who agrees to carry the students to the main road from inside the street charges from N500 to N700,” he said.
When the reporter contacted the contractor, Engr. Law Aniebonam, he said he completed the project many years ago and that NDDC had approved his work, adding “however it looks now does not concern me.”
Meanwhile, a search for Derants System Limited on the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) website did not turn up any result for the company.
Abandoned Upper Ekenwan road
The reporter visited the Upper Ekenwan road project site in Egor local government area and found that the project had been abandoned.
Awarded to First Gilt Limited in December 2014 at the sum of N145m, the road is in a terrible state.
Residents said that in 2018, Eghe Ogbemudia, the chairman of Egor local government, did a temporary rehabilitation on the road by grading and sand-filling it.
Again, in 2019, according to Michael Idemudia who owns a restaurant by the side of the road, an unidentified construction company started work on the road. The contractor could not be confirmed as there was no sign post at the project site.
However, Benjamin Iserhianrhian, one of the elders at Ugbighoko community said the construction company suspected to be an NDDC contractor abandoned the road when COVID-19 started.
“They started construction of drains but reached half and stopped. When they wanted to sand-fill it halfway without making it a complete drainage, we refused,” Iserhianrhian said.
He lamented that the road has become a threat to the lives of users and the surrounding communities, especially from Powerline Junction to Gelegele Army Barracks.
“Most families close to the road have been displaced by erosion and flood from the uncompleted drainage,” he said. Three to four accidents occur on the road every week, it was learnt.
Three to four accidents occur on the road every week, it was learnt.
Twenty three-year-old Joy Olagoke owns a salon along the road. She told our reporter that “at least three to four accidents occur on this road every week.
“Sometimes okada riders fall into potholes with passengers and loads. And many traders have lost goods worth hundreds of thousands of naira on this road,” she added.
Apart from the frequent accidents, Iserhianrhian said the current state of the road has increased the cost of living in the area because motorists have doubled the fare from Ugbighoko to Ring road and from Ring road to Gelegele Army Barracks.
Commercial motorcyclists said they spend more time at the mechanic workshops repairing their motorcycles than the time they spend working.
The chairman of the Commercial Motorcyclists Association, Bayero Hassan Babba, said that most of his colleagues are working on “hire purchase.” Here Babba refers to a business agreement whereby someone buys a motorcycle and gives it to another person to use for commercial purposes with a mutual understanding of a particular amount of money the user would be remitting to the owner on weekly or monthly basis.
“When we couldn’t meet up, the owners always took the motorcycles from us and sometimes it led to police cases.”
Bayero said although they can make N5,000 a day, they spend more than N7,000 repairing their motorcycles.
“So, you see that it’s better we are making N3,000 without the kind of damages we are experiencing now,” he reasoned.
All efforts to contact First Gilt Limited failed as a CAC search did not come up with any records on the company. Also, on October 2, 2020, a Freedom of Information request to provide details of the contractor, including its registration and contact details was sent to NDDC. The commission acknowledged receipt of the request on October 5, 2020, but never provided the information as requested.
On October 9, 2020, our reporter submitted a press interview letter at the office of the Director, NDDC Edo Office at Murtala Muhammed Way, Avbiama, Benin City, but till the time of this report, the commission did not grant the interview.
Akengbuda Youth Road, Amagba Community abandoned
The Akengbuda Youth Road project in Amagba Community of Oredo Local Government Area, was awarded to Supply & Transport Integrated Services on August 22, 2014 at the sum of N219 million. But the road has been abandoned after five years despite N40m paid to the contractor.
The contractor constructed only the drainage in 2015.
There are three engineers involved in the implementation of Akengbuda Youth road project: Kingsley Ukaegbu, Patrick Emmanuel and Ijeoma Samuel.
It was confirmed that Kingsley Ukaegbu is the contractor who got the contract from NDDC and engaged the services of Patrick Emmanuel and Ijeoma Samuel as partnering engineers.
Engr. Samuel said he signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ukaegbu to use their money and execute the project until NDDC pays them mobilization funds.
“One Mr Stanley signed as his guarantor while Engr Okoye signed as my guarantor. We opened an account in Ecobank for the project,” Samuel said.
Because NDDC had not paid them mobilization funds, Samuel said he gave Ukaegbu N800,000 for procurement of materials.
After constructing the drainage, “we submitted a certificate of progress and NDDC paid N40m for the contract in 2019,” Samuel confirmed.
After NDDC paid the N40m, Engr Ukaegbu abandoned the project. He also owes almost all the workers who worked with him.
“They owe everybody including the people who did the casting work,” a carpenter, Kenneth Iboyi told this reporter.
“At a certain point, we insisted that they must pay us or we stop working. They then paid each of us N20,000. As we speak, they are owing my brothers and I a total sum of N286,000,” he added.
When the contractor said there was no money to pay workers, Iboyi said “the same contractor started selling the cements we were using for the work.”
He said the contractor sent other workers away but asked him to stay at the site and monitor the materials,including 600 bags of cement and about 300 pieces of rods.
Also, a resident, Osaro Igbinidu, said he supplied some trips of grit which amounted to N365,000 to the contractor but he has not been paid.
As a Chief Liaison Officer (CLO), who supervised the project on behalf of the community, Thomas Oghodomwengbe, said the contractor ought to pay him for supervisory work but that he was not paid.
Iboyi said that when they finally stopped work, “we left seven trips of sand at the site but the last time I went there, I saw only one and a half trips of the sand, while all the other materials we left at the site are no longer there because people have taken them.”
Ukaegbu absconded with N40m
Iboyi said when NDDC paid the contractor, his partners “wanted them to share the money 50-50 but he [Ukaegbu] refused.”
Samuel said Ukaegbu “finally disappeared on December 2019,” and “we went to his apartment at Obigbo in Port Harcourt but he had relocated to an unknown destination while all his phone numbers have not been available.”
“We reported his disappearance with the money to the NDDC Edo office but they did not do anything,” he added.
When Ukaegbu could not be located, Samuel said he reported the case to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He said EFCC arrested Ukaegbu’s guarantor when he could not also produce him.
“EFCC went to the NDDC headquarters and the account department of the commission released all the documents concerning the project including the account details to the EFCC and from there, they discovered the account Kingsley diverted the money to.”
He said he has all the documents for the project but could not release them to our reporter as the EFCC officer in charge of the case warned him not to release them.
When the reporter contacted Patrick Emmanuel, the second partner, he refused to provide information.
“I don’t know what you want from this matter but I know you didn’t give me any job and you are not the one to question me in any way,” he shot at the reporter.
However Emmanuel later called this reporter back and claimed that he has all the information about the project because he did the job to some extent, adding that he was instructed not to say anything about it.
“I called the NDDC project supervisor who supervised the work and told him what you are saying but he said that I shouldn’t tell you anything,” Emmanuel submitted.
On October 9, 2020, this reporter requested for an interview through a letter to the office of the NDDC director in Edo State, located at Murtala Muhammed Way, Avbiama, Benin City, but till the time of filing this report, the commission had not responded to the letter.
Supply & Transport Integrated Services Ltd is not a Construction company
Engr. Samuel said although he is not sure, Ukaegbu claimed he owns Supply & Transport Integrated Services Ltd.
Known as S & T Integrated Services LTD, details of the company could not be found through a CAC search. However, information on its website showed that it is into sourcing, negotiating, procurement and delivering of marine transportation & logistics equipment.
When our reporter called the two phone numbers on the company’s website, the two different persons who answered the calls denied knowing Kingsley Ukaegbu.
Although Iboyi claimed that “Ukaegbu’s wife was working at NDDC headquarters, Port Harcourt and that she got the contract for her husband,” this claim was not confirmed as NDDC did not grant our reporter an interview to clarify many issues.
Abandoned Ikhi-Idumogo-NTA-Ora road is completely inaccessible
The abandoned Ikhi-Idumogo road in Esan West Local Government Area has become completely inaccessible.
Residents have to create narrow paths through people’s compounds, sometimes passing through passages in people’s homes.
It was confirmed that NDDC awarded Ikhi-Idumogo-NTA-Ora to Petony Technical Company Ltd in December 2014 at the sum of N244 million.
Chief Aigbojie 1 of Ekpoma Kingdom, who was the Chief Liarson Officer for the project said the NDDC’s Assistant Director, Project Management Department, Engr. Ray O. Okogbo, confirmed to him the award of the project.
But the contractor started the work in 2019 and only worked from Total Filling Station to NTA Road and from Idumogo Junction to Iruekpen Market square, leaving Ikhi-Idumogo Road unattended.
It was not confirmed why the contractor started implementation of a project awarded in 2014 in 2019. A freedom of information request for the details, including contact details of the contractor sent to NDDC on October 2, 2020, was denied, although the commission acknowledged the receipt of the request on October 5, 2020.
Also when our reporter contacted Engr. Okogbo on the phone, he said, “I am not in the position to speak to you in this regard. My director will be in a better position.”
Okogbo later sent a text message to our reporter saying that his director also said he cannot speak with the reporter.
Meanwhile, Chief Aigbojie said the contractor abandoned the project “because NDDC owes him N70 million.”
He however said he “confronted” the NDDC official, Engr. Okogbo, who told him that the commission could not release funds to the contractor because of COVID-19.
“He said that the commission will soon disburse funds for the project for the contractor to return to site.”
Meanwhile, Petony Technical Company Limited did not respond to the interview request sent to it by email.
Abandoned Adolor road
Vehicular movement from Ojo Street to Atoe Junction has become a nightmare for the users of Adolor Road and residents of the community.
A tricycle operator, Stanley Osaze, said accidents, vehicle damages, injuries and loss of passengers’ properties, flood and displacement of residents of the community have become their accustomed experiences.
“Sometimes our passengers fall down from the ‘keke’ (tricycle) and get injured,” he said.
NDDC awarded Adolor Road project in Egor Local Government Area to Wintrakk Mega Limited on December 18, 2014, at the sum of N233 million.
Our reporter visited the project site and found out that,the contractor constructed only one kilometer of the road with drains. The road is over 3 kilometres.
Community leaders forbid people from talking to journalists about the road
A woman simply identified as the vice chairman of Adolor Community was visibly excited and willing to reveal everything about the project to this reporter but another leader of the community quickly winked her to silence.
The man, tall and fair in complexion, who simply introduced himself as a retired director in the civil service said that reporters are not welcomed in the community to investigate anything.
“We did not invite you to come. If we feel that we need the media, we would deliberate on it in our community monthly meeting which we hold on every last Saturday of the month.
“You can’t just come to a community uninvited and Investigate whatever that is going on in the community. We don’t permit that in our place here and you don’t expect me to make any mistake after retiring as a director in civil service,” he told the reporter.
Although the chairman and the secretary were not around, the man insisted that “in fact, the Odionwere [the chairman] does not even have the power on his own to grant you permission to take pictures or interview our people.”
When this reporter insisted on knowing exactly what happened with the project, he became visibly angry and said:
“What will happen is that in our meeting, I will raise the issue, tell the community leaders that you came and why you came. If we agree, then we can invite you,” and immediately dismissed the reporter and his fixer, repeatedly warning him not to do anything in the community.
When the reporter went back to the community to find out their decision at the monthly meeting, he was not around. Residents did not agree to direct him to any of the other leaders’ houses.
Meanwhile, before the retired director remembered to apply the community’s laws, he had confirmed that flood from the abandoned road had displaced many residents of the community.
“When the contractor stopped work after constructing one kilometer, I begged them to extend the work but they did not listen to me.”
Also, the vice chairman, while leading this reporter to the retired director’s house, had lamented that flood from the road has displaced more than five families completely. Flood in her own compound was just drying off.
“The last tenant that was in my house left last week,” she lamented, referring to the week before this reporter visited the community.
Contractor evades interview
Wintrakk Mega Ltd was registered with CAC on July 31, 2014, with the RC number: 1207539. Its registered location is No. 60 Mbonu Street D/Line, Port Harcourt, PHC, Rivers State.
The company was also registered with the Edo State Public Procurement Agency (EDPPA) with certificate number: EDPPA/CR/2018/A0488, as a civil engineering, construction, Dredging and Marine Logistics company, with Evans Ehi Okojie as its director.
Our reporter called the director’s phone number provided on the EDPPA website three times but the receiver of the calls who rather identified himself as Lucky Otite first said he would inform the person who would speak on the matter, subsequently, he kept saying, “I will call you back.”
Ero Maho Bakery Road project could be a ghost project
One of the NDDC awarded projects this reporter visited Edo State to track was the construction of Ero Maho Bakery Road, Off Ekenwan Road in Oredo Local Government Area.
The project was awarded to Amoster Integrated Services Ltd on December 18, 2014, at the sum of N145 million.
However, for three days, this reporter went round the entire Ekenwan axis, including Ero Drive, Maho Street and almost all the bakery factories in Ekenwan but residents, motorists and shop owners said they do not know about such a location in Benin City.
Amoster Integrated Services Ltd could not be reached as its details could not be found. Also NDDC denied the Freedom of Information request sent to it for the details of the contractor.
Poorly constructed Limit Road has failed
Limit Road also known as Godwin Abbey Road in Oredo Local Government Area, was awarded to EWOSAT Integrated Services on December 18, 2014, at the sum of N219 million. However, the signpost at the project site shows that the contract was executed by Arowolo Group of Co. Limited.
Users said the road was constructed in 2018, but because it was poorly executed, some parts of the road, particularly from Negbenebor Secondary school, have failed.
“Sometimes these potholes cause accidents, especially at night,” a taxi driver, Johnson said.
Efforts to contact the contractor failed as our reporter could not trace the entity.
Of the 10 projects this reporter visited, only three projects have been completed.
These include construction of Owina Street/Efomo Lane, Off First East Circular Road in Oredo Local Government Area, awarded to Boloupesibo and Sons Ltd at the sum of N249m; construction of Uyi Aigbogun and Adjoining Streets Aigbogbun in Oredo Local Government Area, awarded to Northsea Nigeria at the sum of N199m and construction of Palace Road, Phase 1 Utek Ekoko Community, Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area, awarded to Shepherd Voice Universal Services Ltd at the sum of N249m.
All the completed projects were in good condition as they appeared solid and newly constructed when this reporter visited the sites. There was no failed portion noticed at Owina Street/Efomo Lane, Uyi Aigbogun and Adjoining streets and Palace Road, Phase 1.
However, only Shepherd Voice Universal Services Ltd was verified on the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) website. The company was registered in July 31, 2013 with the RC number: 1132450. Its registered address is B2 MEDIATRIXCOM P79 STADIUM RD, RIVERS, RIVERS. Northsea Nigeria and Boloupesibo and Sons Ltd were not found on (CAC) website.
Although the projects awarded to these three companies were completed and found in good state at the time of this report, no authentic information could justify whether they are qualified to execute road construction contracts or not.
Stakeholders call for withdrawal of funding of NDDC over corruption
Many stakeholders and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) across the region have complained that NDDC has been performing poorly.
In September 2020, a coalition of 30 civil society organisations drawn from across the Niger Delta region, under the aegis of Coalition for Sustainable Development in the Niger Delta (COSADNA), demanded that the federal government, multinational oil companies and development partners withdraw any form of funding to NDDC because of “massive corruption and pervasive culture of looting” going on in the Commission.
Speaking with our reporter, the Executive Director, African Network for Environment and Economic Justice(ANEEJ), Rev. David Ugolor, said that “it is such a bad record that for the past 10 years, the citizens who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of these projects cannot point out any visible projects done by the commission.”
“Few projects, particularly road projects the commission “managed to execute collapse after two years because of poor and substandard implementation.”
In 2019, ANEEJ had supported Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, when he called on the federal government to probe NDDC on the N20bn utilisation funds.
“Just recently, you need to spend at least 5-7 hours on average to be able to move from Benin City to Warri in the neighbouring Delta State. That distance used to take less than an hour,” Ugolor said.
He said the state of roads in the region has caused enormous economic damages. Citing loses and damages to hundreds of heavy duty vehicles supplying oil products and other goods from the region to other parts of the country.
“Many of these trucks have been involved in terrible accidents leading to loss of lives and products worth billions of naira. The effects of which are on both the individuals and the government,” he said.
Residents of these communities find it almost impossible to move their agricultural produce from their places to their closest neighbouring communities and towns. While school children have come to understand that the roads have imposed unsolicited holidays on them during the rainy season.
Good roads enable connectivity and enhance socio-economic growth. However this investigation, has revealed that the many abandoned and badly constructed NDDC roads in Edo State, rather than improve the living standards of the people have brought them additional hardship, discomfort and pain.
Also given NDDC’s refusal to grant press interviews and respond to the FOI inquiry letters, one is compelled to believe that there is indeed a lack of transparency in the award, funding and supervision of these NDDC contracts.
* This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.