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Crisis forces suspension of World Bank erosion projects in C’River

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Gully erosion sites at Ikot Nkebre, Calabar Municipal Council PHOTOS: ANIETE AKPAN

Work on the multi-billion naira World Bank erosion projects in Calabar, Cross River State has been suspended following alleged interference from the state government and armed thugs.

Officials of the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) and Federal Ministry of Environment from Abuja allegedly escaped death yesterday in Calabar, as armed thugs invaded the office of Akpaven Integrated Services Limited, contractors to the Ikot Nkebre and Ikot Ekpo World Bank erosion sites.

The Guardian learnt that officials of NEWMAP and Federal Ministry of Environment were in Calabar on the directives of the World Bank to verify issues raised by the people of lower Ikot Nkebre on the N3 billion erosion project design and execution and report back accordingly.

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But thugs, who arrived the contractor’s office about 10:00a.m., stopped work at Ikot Nkebre and Ikot Ekpo on the outskirts of Calabar, insisting that any company truck found outside would be impounded and the driver manhandled.

They also insisted that the contractor should settle with the state government before they could be allowed to start work or even lift sand for the erosion site.

Community sources alleged that the state government might have sponsored the thugs, as government officials had demanded payment of N600 million from Akpaven Integrated Services before the contractor could lift laterite from anywhere in the state even when the company had settled with the community from where it takes laterite.

Following the demands and threats, work stopped and fears are rife that the World Bank might be forced to pull out permanently from the projects if the interference and harassment continued, while over 1,000 houses in the area might be adversely impacted.

A resident of Ikot Nkebre Community who pleaded anonymity, said: “As we went for the meeting at 10:00a.m., the Chief Security Officer (CSO) of Akpaven informed us that some hoodlums had taken over the premises.

“We went outside and saw them and they were saying that AKPAVEN should not allow any of their trucks outside the premises, otherwise their trucks will be impounded and the driver beaten up.

“When they were asked why the directives and threats, they said the company should go and sort out their problem with the state government.

“When the officials of NEWMAP and Federal Ministry of Environment arrived the company’s office at Ikot Nkebre to meet the community leaders that earlier wrote a petition against the projects, the thugs forcibly entered the premises and slapped Special Adviser to the Governor on NEWMAP for taking photographs of them and was forced to delete the pictures.

The Guardian further learnt that in the confusion, mobile policemen threw canisters of tear gas before the thugs jumped into their vehicles and motorcycles and ran away before the officials left for the Ikot Nkebre.

Commissioner for International Development and Cooperation, Dr. Ephraim Inyang, confirmed the attack on the contractor’s office, but said she was not on ground at the time of the incident and denied government’s involvement in the attack.

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