Fraud allegations rock NDDC’s N5.2b Road project

Fraud allegations rock NDDC’s N5.2b Road project

Ten years after the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), awarded the construction of the Isinweke–Onicha Uboma–Imo River Road, residents of Dimneze community, in Ihitte Uboma Local Government Area of Imo State, and other road users are left to groan over the deplorable state of the abandoned road project.

Our source reports that the Isinweke–Onicha Uboma–Imo River Road and Umuawuchi Ezinmba Road is a tale of neglect and abandonment.

The situation has crippled economic activities, as residents of the affected communities battle for survival. Tunji Adedeji, who has been following the story, reports.

The contract, which was awarded to Daeyun Nigeria Ltd, Wuse, Abuja, in 2012, at the approved sum of N5.2 billion was expected to be completed within three years. But 10 years later, the project remains a mere wish for the residents of the agrarian communities.

Umuawuchi Ezimba Road project, the worst portion in the area, was awarded to Marco-kings Nigeria Limited. It was totally abandoned after laying of foundation. Till date, the project site at Lowa, and Onicha Uboma-Imo River, which also connects the community to its neighbours and serves as links to Abia and Enugu States, has not received its deserved attention as specified in the contract agreement.

Moreover, the people living around the bad spots of the road have claimed not to have seen any movement of tractors and heavy duty vehicles as indication of construction activities or sign of ongoing work at the site.

Communities count their losses

The deplorable state of Lowa and Onicha Uboma-Imo River road has become a perpetual source of sorrow to residents of the affected communities. Comrade Eguzie Emeka Vincent, the Speaker/Liaison officer of Ntoloma autonomous community, and the immediate past Secretary of Ihitte Uboma Local Government Area, said the road has affected their livelihoods.

He said: “Our people find it almost impossible to take their farm produce and goods to markets in neighbouring communities. Access to markets outside the communities, especially in the rainy season, has become a daydream for them.

“The roads are in a deplorable state. At least you saw the sufferings and inconveniences faced by the communities living without any accessible road to their homes, markets, schools and other places. Nothing has been done.

“The road is in a bad shape, and ever since it was awarded to the contractor, nothing reasonable has been done. For us, we are helpless, and don’t know what to do next.

“I want the NDDC to follow up this road contract. When you award a contract, you should at least follow it up to see if it’s been done or not. I’m pleading with the NDDC and the Federal Government officials to pay an unscheduled visit to see the nature of the road they have contracted. That way, the contractors would be asked questions, and if need be, asked to return to site, depending on their findings.

“However, we’d like to see the road completed. Our community is the food basket of this LGA and beyond because we produce agricultural products in large quantities. But owing to the bad nature of the roads, our agricultural products can’t be transported beyond the community. We produce, consume and sell it to ourselves and many of the perishable ones get wasted because of the deplorable state of the roads. These roads mean a lot to this community.”

Another resident, a lawyer and youth leader in Ezinmba autonomous community, PC Obasi shared the same sentiment.

Obasi said that Ezinmba is one of the communities that made up the Dimneze political ward.

“This bad spot is called the Emelogara Road. As you can see, there is no vehicular presence here. I mean no vehicle tries to ply this road because any vehicle trying to ply the road is deemed to be on a suicide mission. To say the road is in a deplorable state is an understatement.

This road was awarded by the NDDC in 2012. This particular section of the road is less than 2km. The name of the contacting firm is Macho King Nigeria Limited, owned by Engr. Mark Uchendu, one of our son’s. To the greatest de-service to our people, the contractor came up to this point with his earth moving equipment and destroyed it.

“As a matter of fact, this road was manageable in the past, even though it took community efforts. But since 2012 when the contractor came, it has gone from bad to worse.

“On July 14, 2019, when I demanded in a forum for an explanation on why the road project was abandoned, the contractor, Hon. Mark Uchendu instead of explaining what happened to us, resorted to threats, saying ‘l’ll take a step that will shock you all’.

“It was at that point that it became obvious that this so-called contractor, who left office as the Secretary to the Government of Imo State under the immediate past governor, Rochas Okorocha, was hell bent on intimidating the people of Ezimba into a cowardly submission.

“In all his days in office, he had the ample opportunity to remedy his distasteful conduct against the people of Ezimba Community but chose to be adamant and bullheaded,” he claimed.

Obasi added: “The rains have completely washed away the entire road, which made it totally impassable for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

“Plying the road as a cyclist or motorist is simply a suicide mission. It is a fact that the road has become far worse than what it used to be before the disastrous presence of the contractor and his heavy machines.

“lt has become practically impossible for our people, who are predominantly farmers, to move their farm produce to the markets to receive medical attention from the nearby hospitals, especially in times of emergency, worst still, to convey corpses of our loved ones to the morgue, which is located at Isinweke, the local government headquarters. In effect, our people are only wishing that the road be restored, at least to its former manageable state.”

When contacted, the traditional ruler of Onicha Uboma Community, HRH Eze (Barr.) Abel Osuji, who spoke on the telephone, condemned the deplorable state of the Isinweke-Onicha-Imo River Road.

He said that the government was hiring the wrong people for the job.

He said that it is “very unfortunate” that the road, inaugurated by Former Deputy Speaker, Federal House of Representatives, Chief Emeka Ihedioha was still undone even though the contract was awarded to a son of Imo North senatorial zone.

“Government magnanimously awarded the contract through the Deputy Speaker of the Federal Republic. Government gave it to us, unfortunately, we couldn’t do anything for ourselves. We must be concerned about what we can give to ourselves,” Eze Osuji said.

Speaking on the state of the old Eke Umuawuchi-Umuawuchi Ezimba Road awarded to Mark Uchendu, a former Secretary to the State Government, the traditional ruler called for investigation of the awarded contracts.

He said: “Any ill-gotten money will never make anyone rich. The Federal Government will recover a lot of money if they inspect awarded contracts and probe contractors. Probing should be done by men and women of integrity who are not in government. The result, if done properly, will shock them.

“This ugly development has crippled economic activities of residents of the affected communities and their means of livelihood, thereby causing untold hardships for the people of Umuawuchi-Umuawuchi Ezimba Road.”

NDDC official speaks.

When our correspondent sought the NDDC’s explanation regarding the contract award, the Director, Imo State Office, Engr. Tony Okanne said the contract for Umuawuchi Ezinmba Road project was awarded to Marcho King Nigeria Limited on May 27, 2012.

He added that Marcho King Nigeria Limited constructed about 4.9 kilometre concrete drains and three number culverts before abandoning the project.

When asked if due process was adhered to in line with procurement laws, the NDDC boss responded in the affirmative.

He said that on May 27, 2010, Marcho King Nigeria Limited, cleared the Umuawuchi Ezinmba Road but had issues with the community.

On why the job was abandoned, he said the contractor’s reasons for abandoning the job were the inability of the NDDC to mobilise contractors to site and community issues between the contractors and the community.

According to him, “NDDC no longer mobilises contractors. It’s our policy. We no longer mobilise contractors and we can’t go about fighting someone for not being paid.”

On Isiweke-Onitsha Uboma-Imo River Road in Ihitte Uboma, he described the project as a regional project, noting that the commission did follow due process in the contract award and selection of the contractor.

When told that the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer Port Harcourt head office was not accessible, that all effort made to get commission’s reaction regarding the Isiweke-Onitsha Uboma-Imo River Road contract proved abortive as the soldiers at the gate refused our correspondent access on three different occasion, the NDDC boss said, “just write it like that…”

Meanwhile, Hon. Uchendu, when contacted on the telephone on why the old Eke Umuawuchi-Umuawuchi Ezimba Road awarded to his construction firm, Marcho King Nigeria Limited was abandoned, said the road project was not well funded.

“It was only funded up to the drainage stage, not beyond drainage,” he said.

Explaining further, he rhetorically asked if anybody would use N5.2 million to do a 2.5km road.

N5.2 million cannot even do a 10 metres road project. They had an issue with the bill of quantity and we were trying to resolve it. Till now it’s not yet resolved. I cannot do a job when I know I won’t be paid, even if they want to take it anywhere.

“Ezinmba Development Union does not want the matter resolved, so, let them continue with their petition. I have met with them; we would have jointly followed up the matter and get it resolved maybe through any of the National Assembly members, who will reintroduce it in the budget, because if it’s in the budget. I will do it, but if not, I cannot do anything because nobody will pay me.

“They had petitioned NDDC severely regarding this project and I went there with them and the NDDC explained to them what happened. This is not the first time. If anybody feels it’s a matter that must be resolved then the project must come in the budget.

“For now, there is no funding for the project and that is why we stopped. All efforts to get it funded proved unsuccessful. I have written several letters. I have spent a lot of money trying to get it resolved but I can’t use my money to do a project I’m not sure of being paid for.”

The contractors’ explanations

The Head of Construction, Daeyun Nigeria Ltd, Wuse, Abuja, Henry Iyoma, on why the Isinweke–Onicha Uboma–Imo River Road project was yet to be completed after 10 years, said: “We had difficulty with the executive the first time. In fact, there were clearly a lot of issues.

“First, we had issues with former governor Rochas Okorocha, allowing us to bulldoze the market.

“We also had difficulty with the community people aggrieved that the market would be removed and the NDDC performing the enumeration exercise, because the project was supposed to pass through the market.

“So, when we started, we didn’t start from the beginning because we cannot bulldoze the market or people’s property unless the owners of the job have compensated the people.”

Explaining further, he said when they commenced, the NDDC “said that they were discussing with the community in line with procurement laws. They also explained that they have appointed a surveyor.

The surveyor did what they call enumeration, which is the process of capturing those whose property was destroyed.”

“We, the contractor, do not compensate or bargain on how much to be paid for the destruction of people’s property. When the NDDC and the people finally agreed after many years, they gave us the list and asked us to pay them which we did but all these arrangements took many years,” he said.

When queried on how much was released by the NDDC for the project, he confirmed that the contract amount was N5.2 billion but that there were processes to follow.

He said: “We were working; we have worked and produced an Interim Procurement Certificate (IPC) for the NDDC to pay us for the job done. The NDDC awarded only 9 kilometres and not 16 kilometres as claimed by the people. We cleared the road from Isiweke to Imo River in anticipation that we would be given the phase 2. It’s that misconception that made people think it’s a 16km road.

“Those laying claim that we received N5.2billion, where and when is NDDC paying such money? It got to a point the new Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) State Director in Port Harcourt invited all the parties, the lawyer who wrote the petition, the NDDC surveyor and me.

“There and then, the NDDC told them they don’t give contractor money for compensation unless the valuer’s papers have been signed by the community and all parties agree on the valuation. It’s based on that valuation that we pay the value. We decided we’ll do the job when paid.

“At some point we left the site, particularly when the Federal Government and Godswill Akpabio started the forensic investigation. During their visit we told them why we weren’t working. When forensic came out, there were some misconceptions which we cleared and then they asked us to go back to work and we went back to the site.

“Even though one of the embankments failed during the rainy season and there was lots of outcry, when you go there now, there is massive work going on so that we get to kilometre 9. Many years after we have been accused of receiving billions, it was clear we didn’t get a dime.”

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