Wednesday, 6th December 2023

When Udom raises more questions than answers

By Nsikak Ekanem
16 May 2023   |   3:44 am
Project commissioning in Nigeria, especially by state governments, are projects on their own. Humongous millions of naira, most times unbudgeted, are often sunk into commissioning.

[FILES] Udom. Photo/FACEBOOK//MrUdomEmmanuel

Project commissioning in Nigeria, especially by state governments, are projects on their own. Humongous millions of naira, most times unbudgeted, are often sunk into commissioning. Overdose injection of politics is not left out. Many times, commissioning of a project dovetails to other issues, including projects done or yet to be done.

The formal opening of Nabo Graham-Douglas Campus of the Nigerian Law School in Port Harcourt on November 18, 2022, by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, remains a shining example of many facets of project commissioning. Amidst the usual fanfare, what stole the show was Wike’s revelation that the Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government had released arrears of monthly allocation from the federal government on basis of 13 per cent derivation principle that were not paid to the country’s nine oil producing states since 1999 that the law came to force.

At the recent commissioning of a 12.5km rural road at Ukanafun local government area in Akwa Ibom, the anomalous but new normal characterising project commissioning came true to type. The usual cherishing effort of the state’s commissioner for Works, Prof. Eno Ibanga, of spicing professionalism on such events by stating material contents of projects could not take the shine off politicisation and its accompaniments.

The major takeout from the event shifted from the 12.5km road to an hospital project in Ukanafun that contract was awarded by immediate past administration of Godswill Akpabio, but which work ended following the termination of the contract by the same governor that awarded it. Since the Akpabio administration never bothered to advance reasons for termination of the contract, there is conjecture as to whether the project became deformation under the “uncommon transformation” era because Ukanafun or the project was so common in the eyes of the uncommon transformer. Guesses also abound that the project has become an incomplete agenda because the people of Ukanafun have failed to “Arise” as the Dakkada philosophy of the Udom Emmanuel admonishes.

But if those at the political leadership echelon from Ukanafun have failed to arise when occasions demand, it would be faulty generalisation and unfair not to exempt certain persons or group of persons from the group of the un-arising ones. Though from uninformed positions many times, so many have been talking in hushed tones every now and then about the abandoned project. Anywhere in the world where two or more Ukanafun persons gather on a table, the uncompleted project has always been an interesting topic for brotherly jollification while sipping beer and munching pepper soup. Others have been clamouring on social media.

At a ceremony marking 45th anniversary of creation of Ukanafun local government area on June 1, 2022, Ray Ekpu, who had arisen on national and international arenas for over four decades before the launching of Dakkada Creed, had to arise for the umpteen times. Premising on his assertion that the people of Ukanafun have been mocked over negligence by the state government as though they “live in Cameroons”, the frontline journalist sent a call with a plea to the governor to “bring” Ukanafun “into Akwa Ibom”. He mentioned the abandoned hospital project.

Likely, because of the oxymoronic declaration of the project as “failed completion agenda” by an advocacy group called Ukanafun Professionals’ Association (UK-PRO) that week, the governor considered the commissioning event an ample time to dwell on the contract. Unlike that of Wike, no revelation was made, but more questions than answers were raised by the governor.

His exact words: “As I am leaving, I am not too happy. I put everything in place that when I come today I will commission the General hospital in Ukanafun. But we have a very stubborn contractor. I want to assure the Ukanafun people that before I sign off from the office I will leave the money to complete that hospital with the Ministry of Health untouched. So that any day the contractor would come back … you know even the prodigal son the bible records it that he came back to his senses. I believe one day, very soon, the contractor would come back to his senses and know that that is a project for the people and then go ahead.”

The governor only succeeded in adding another controversy to a contract, which from inception has been moving from controversy to controversy. As can be seen, unlike Jesus’ parables that he made allusion to, the governor’s innuendo-full comment was obfuscating, just as it remains contradictory to statements issued by the government in recent times.

For instance, excerpts of the Akwa Ibom State executive council meeting of June 27, 2022 endorsed by Ini Ememobong, the Information and Strategy commissioner stated that “The contract for the construction of Cottage Hospital, Ukanafun was re-awarded and the contractor charged to execute the project within a period of 130 days.” On January 27, 2023, the government spokesman stated that the commissioner for health reported that “the work at the General Hospitals in Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo have reached advanced stages and will soon be commissioned.”

In September last year, the UK-PRO issued a statement and asked a number of questions that the government should have used as templates in clarifying the opaqueness that the announcement was laced with: “what is the state of the matter in court? Has there been a judicial decision or out-of-court settlement to ensure that further works would not be stalled by legal injunction? Which company is the contract re-awarded to, and at what amount of money?” Till date, the government has not provided answers to any of the basic questions, just as work of any kind has resumed at the site of the project.

Apart from discussing the matter at the state executive council, can the state government prove that the contract was actually re-awarded? Granted, without being swayed, that the contractor of the project is culpable as the governor insinuated, is the contractor more powerful than the awesome power of the government? Why is the government not laying bare the perceived areas of the contractor’s culpability? Why did the government wait for the contractual dispute, which fireworks had been concluded in court and may be decided anytime soon, to be instituted by the contractor of the project?

If the government has “put everything in place”, why is the governor promising to leave money for the project in an escrow account before leaving office? If the lies dished out to the public by the government’s spokesperson were not done on behalf of, or sponsored by, the government, why has the government not disowned the statement, and get the person that spewed it reprimanded?

It should be noted that if another name for integrity is not honesty, it is certainly its hallmark. When a person or corporate organisation is bereft of integrity, it is perilous for anyone that chooses to relate with such a person or body. But when a government lacks integrity it is of collective damnation to the people because the government, as an institution, cannot be isolated by the people since the very essence of its existence is for the people. That has been the burden borne by the Nigerian people over the years.

On top of leaving the money for the project in escrow account, and without prejudice to pendency of litigation on the matter, could the governor consider setting up a Truth Commission on the project as his last act of commissioning so as to facilitate in sifting facts from fictions, thereby accord the governor and all those involved in the execution or non-execution of the project their rightful place in history?

Ekanem sent this article