After N23.2bn, Delta’s IPP project remains a mirage
State officials give conflicting accounts •As civil societies urge EFCC investigation
The figures are confusing. While Engineer Felix Abojei, the Director, Electricity Power Supply Department, Delta State Ministry of Energy, mouthed N19bn, the former Commissioner of Energy, Ms Gloria Okolugbo, disclosed February 18, last year, that a total of N23.6bn has so far been spent on the Delta State Independent Power Plant (IPP), Oghara, Ethiope West Local Council of the state.
Okolugbo, who served under former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, spoke during a budget defence session with the Delta State House of Assembly Committee on Finance and Appropriation. According to her, the amount included money paid to the contracting firm and for work at the site. Abojei, on his part, spoke during a February 25, 2016 visit by the five-member Delta State House of Assembly Ad Hoc Committee investigating the project.
One thing is incontestable, however, the different figures being brandished by the Director and ex-Commissioner do not add up. The truth on how much has been spent so far on the project, started by Uduaghan in June 2007, lies between Okolugbo and Abojei, or even elsewhere.
The project apparently drew the attention of the lawmakers who came visiting, to ascertain the reality of the situation. Seeing, after all, is believing. Apart from the access road to the site at Oghareki; a perimeter fence; three buildings; and a gantry, it was crystal clear that nothing had been done to justify the huge amount expended.
Devoid of human activities, the site, which is by the Ethiope River, is deserted, full of weeds. The only activity is that of a lone security man who complained bitterly that he had not been paid a salary for over seven months. It was clear there was nothing on ground to show for neither N19bn nor N23.2bn ‘spent’.
Okulogbo had told the lawmakers that the contract, initially valued at N21.5bn, was awarded in 2009 but later reviewed to N23.6b, adding that 70 per cent of the civil works have been completed, while most of the equipment have been procured and are awaiting installation.
The Commissioner blamed lack of access road to the site (which has since been asphalted by Levant Construction Company) as responsible for delay in installation of the equipment. She said: “However, now that the road is completed, equipment will be moved to the site soon.”
An Oghara community source, who pleaded anonymity, disclosed that the turbines were actually imported and kept in a warehouse in town but that a mysterious blaze burnt down vital components, rendering them useless.
In a sharp contrast to Okolugbo’s radiant picture, it was a different story when the lawmakers, led by Majority Leader, Mr. Tim Owhefere, arrived at the site. Disappointment was written all over Owhefere’s face. He betrayed emotions as he came down hard on the contractor handling the project.
Owhefere said: “I am sure that even blind people who manage to find their way here will know that nothing has been done. Maybe the contractor will be able to convince us. What we see here today leaves much to be desired. This is just the beginning of our investigation. By the time we are done, we should be able to come out with a comprehensive report of how much has been spent, the original contract value, and how much was judiciously expended.”
Continuing, the lawmaker said: “We decided to come here today because we don’t want to base our reports on hearsay. We came to see what is on ground. We have come and we have seen. We are going to look at other details and come up with a report.”
Tracing the genesis of the project, Abojei explained that it was designed for the installation of two Rolls Royce 64 megawatts gas turbines but lamented that due to the inability of the contractor to pay for the turbines as at 2010, Rolls Royce, the United Kingdom-based company contracted to build them had decided to sell the particular turbines.
He said that the 60 per cent down payment, which was approved by the state government, was not paid promptly. But that as a way out, a variation was done to accommodate the new phase four turbines, as the phase three turbines, which were 58 megawatts and originally booked for, had been phased out by the company.
According to Abojei, the amount for the turbines increased from N21.57bn to N23.2bn because of the variation. And that in frustration, the state government decided to sell the entire project in 2014 when the contractor refused to deliver, after the money for the turbines had been paid.
Owhefere, however, countered this, insisting that the lawmakers were not aware of any attempt to sell off the project, arguing that if the government expended over N19bn on it, it simply means that if it is to be sold, it should gross well over N40bn.
The Majority Leader said: “If the ministry says it wants to sell it and give the state N40bn, the government should go ahead. What we are interested in is that our money has been spent and should not be lost because it belongs to the people. N19bn, according to their account, has been spent here. And after spending that whole lot of money, the ministry is now conceiving the idea of selling the project, uncompleted. In a nutshell, the N19bn would have gone down the drain. They should tell us how they intend to give us the money back. We want to establish what has been done here because the state government intends to complete the project. We want to verify what has been done, who did what and who did not do what. You don’t put what you are not aware of on hold. Let them keep looking for a buyer.”
The Commissioner for Energy, Mr. Newworld Safugha, however, confirmed the intention of the state government to sell the project, saying: “The sale of the IPP was recommended by the last administration. This administration keyed into the plan and we have started the sales process but will brief the media at the right time.”
On July 26, 2011, Uduaghan had declared that work on the power project would soon be finished. Fielding questions from reporters in Asaba, the former governor said that with the successful completion of the turbines in Europe, work on the project had reached advanced stage. He added that he was optimistic that the turbines would be shipped to the country August 2011, especially since the design and actual construction of the turbines, which is the major work, had finished.
The governor said that the IPP would initially produce 115 megawatts of electricity and later 150 megawatts. He added that the project was aimed at giving a boost to the industrialisation effort of the government. It will also attract Direct Foreign Investment.
Sounding upbeat, another former Commissioner of Energy, Mr. Charles Emetulu, said in November 2014 that work was on course and had gone very far, assuring that at any moment, actual installation of the turbines would begin.
Emetulu said: “In our determination to get work done there, the ministry had to sponsor a road project from its own resources instead of relying on the Ministry of Works. That is a major statement of intention. I always encourage journalists to go there, so that they can get a clearer picture and fault us when we lie. There is plenty of work going on there.”
Way back in 2012, Emetulu disclosed that some N15bn had been spent so far on the project but admitted that a lot of factors had caused delay. He said: “Talking of community matters, you will agree that it is a problem that is uniquely Delta and has set us back greatly as a state. In any case, the project was relocated to its present site. All of these took quite some time because government kept trying to reach a common ground with the community.”
The Community Liaison Officer of the Oghara IPP, Mr. Israel Moriafe, however, faulted Emetulu, insisting that the host community of Oghareki, Oghara, has been very cooperative and that the youths have not had cause to ever disturb the contractor.
Moriafe said that as liaison officer, he ensured nobody disturbed the contractor and that the owners of the land never grumbled over the compensation paid to them, knowing fully well that if the power project, which was supposed to use the abundant natural gas in the area comes on stream, everybody will benefit one way or the other.
Several attempts to speak with the contractor, DavNotch, proved futile. None of the officials was seen at the company’s corporate headquarters. The place looked deserted, devoid of its usual hustle and bustle. Save for the front desk officer, the two-storey building was desolate. Calls to the mobile phones of the officials were rebuffed.
A former lawmaker and director of the company, however, told The Guardian that the probe is a witch-hunt. He said he fell out of favour with the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and that is probably why they are after him.
He said nobody had ever written to the company, accusing it of violating the terms of the contract. According to him, the company kept to the terms of the deal and is ready to give a full account of how the money appropriated was spent on the project.
The ex-lawmaker who did not want his name in print explained: “We didn’t do anything wrong. Nobody ever wrote to us to accuse us of incompetence or anything unprofessional. We faithfully kept our own side of the bargain. The turbines were imported as agreed. It is not our fault that they were not installed. In any business deal, it is up to the other party to call the attention of the other party if it feels it is not fulfilling its own side of the bargain. Nobody has ever told us anything like that. So, I don’t understand where the noise is coming from. Let the government write to us, if they feel we didn’t meet the terms of the agreement.”
The Executive Director of Africa Network for Economic and Environmental Justice (ANEEJ), Rev. David Ugolor, urged the lawmakers to probe the contract and bring whoever is found wanting to book.
Ugolor said he has visited the project site and is distressed over what he saw. He said he is warming up to send a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) but is waiting for the outcome of the probe by the lawmakers.
He vowed: “ANEEJ in collaboration with other members of the civil society will take the Oghara IPP Project up. It is a fraud, going by what is on the ground. The House of Assembly members should not be intimidated and should be courageous enough to finish the probe and come out with their findings. The culprits will not go free, as we intend to petition the EFCC.”
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