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Cross River: Communities on the brink as world bank-sponsored project stalls

By Anietie Akpan, Deputy Bureau Chief, South South
02 December 2018   |   3:20 am
The are palpable fears that the World Bank may withdraw from funding major erosion projects in Cross River State as a result of alleged arm-twisting and undue interference by vested interests. Already the N3.1b Ikot Nkebre erosion control project in Calabar Municipal Council, which was awarded to Akpaven Construction Company in 2017, has been put…

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

The are palpable fears that the World Bank may withdraw from funding major erosion projects in Cross River State as a result of alleged arm-twisting and undue interference by vested interests.

Already the N3.1b Ikot Nkebre erosion control project in Calabar Municipal Council, which was awarded to Akpaven Construction Company in 2017, has been put on hold over the state government’s failure to release its counterpart funding, among other reasons.

According to sources, work was suspended on the project as the state government is alleged to be holding on to about N500m counterpart funding following a squabble between the contractor and a sibling of Governor Ben Ayade, jocularly referred to as co-governor.

While the erosion situation at the site aggravates daily, the Ikot Nkebre community is accusing the state government and the state’s office of Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) of not showing any urgency in addressing the menace, as houses, crops and farmlands are being swept off constantly.

Currently, some houses are just hanging dangerously on the cliff of the popular five-finger erosion site. While some occupants, who have choices have relocated for safety, those without are bracing the risk and staying put.

Relaying his people’s ordeal to The Guardian, the Chairman, Ikot Nkebre Community Development Association, Etubom Eyo Ita Eyo said: “NEWMAP introduced Akpaven Construction Company to us in 2017 and since then, NEWMAP has been working at its pace and we are not impressed considering the magnitude of job that needs to be done.

If you go through the impact assessment, about 45 houses, 21 farmlands with economic trees have been consumed as a result of bad engineering works.

On several occasions, they have stopped work without any explanation, and when we inquire about the cause, they would just say ‘it was a minor problem and we are going to solve it.’

The other time, they conducted rainwater harvesting here and up till today, that project has not seen the light of day. They also said that they want to empower youths in the community, but up till today nothing has been done along that line.

The major one, which they were supposed to do before they started this work, is the payment of compensation. That they have not done. So many people whose houses have been consumed by the gully erosion are now living with neigbhours, friends and families.

“When this thing happened, we appealed to NEWMAP because we did not know what was going on. We sent a letter to them and they said the matter was going to be resolved.

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

At a point, we threatened to write to the World Bank, but they said if we write to the World Bank we will regret it.

Now, we are at a crossroad, and want to regret it because there is nothing happening. We have been very friendly with them, but up till today we do not know what is going on. They told us to register our association, and open a bank account as a community so that funds for the empowerment of the youths would be channeled there. Nothing has happened till today.

All these intrigues we don’t know what they are all about. Even the Akpaven Construction Company that is supposed to work with the community we do not know its owner, and everybody claims to be project manager, and when they give us appointments, they don’t attend to us.

The other time the brought in heavy equipment, vibration from them cracked so many houses. When we drew their attention to this, they questioned why we were complaining when they were here to serve,” Etubom Eyo said.

The chairman continued: “The pipe that takes water into the school has been destroyed, and the school’s field has also been destroyed and nothing has been said.

All these people you see on this list are awaiting compensation, but they have not been paid. Everyday people gather in the community and threaten to protest and cause trouble, but we keep on pacifying them.

Not long ago, the construction firm returned to site, but what we heard thereafter was that Governor Ayade sent two-van load of policemen chase the contractor away and nobody informed us as a community. We don’t know why the contractor was driven away, but the truth is that the project has been abandoned for a long time now. If you go to Finger One, it has started caving in again. Finger Four has not even been touched and the people of that area are not happy.”

A petition to NEWMAP by the community, signed by Etubom Eyo and his secretary, Elder Emmanuel Ewa, called for urgent payment of compensation, implementation of resettlement action plan, constant dialogue with the community, especially the affected persons and others.

On the empowerment programme, the community said after locals finished filing the forms and submitted them, “we don’t know how the contractor went about it, or what criteria was used to shortlist intending beneficiaries, but all we know is that names of people that are not living here (in affected area) found their way into the list, some even replacing affected persons names.”

Another resident of the area, whose house sits on the brink of the erosion site, Mr. Ewah Dickson said: “The whole thing started gradually. As you can see, our gate and fence are gone. We used to drive into this compound, but for now, I park my car on the street far away from here. We don’t have anywhere to go now, and to start now looking for another house is difficult because of the financial implication. I am managing here with my family hoping that the contractor will just return to site and fix this challenge.”

Dickson added: We understand that last month Governor Ayade’s brother went to their site and asked them not to do anything, insisting that he is the one to do the job. Only a few days ago, my neighbour fell down on the small strip of land that we pass through. If that portion gives way, we do not know how we will be going out and coming back to our houses.

Reacting to the issues raised, the state’s Project Coordinator of NEWMAP, Dr. Fidelis Anukwa said: “We have an ongoing work at Ikot Nkebre. This site happens to be our biggest intervention site today and work is progressing there.

However, there was a slight delay, which was principally caused by a change in the physical structure on site in order to accommodate the expansion at the erosion site. It takes close to one year to do a new design and get approval for the new design.

Once the new design is approved, the next thing is for us to get approval and start arranging the contracts. All issues around it are almost settled and soon we will resume work at that site.

“I must also state it clearly that we do not abandon any project that we have we started; we must make sure that we complete the project, just as we have completed the ones at Ikot Ekpo, Atakpa, Ikot Anwatim, and Nyakasang. Edim Otop ought to have been completed, but because the design did not address certain issues, we had to do a new design, and we are going to advertise very soon to get a contractor to do the new design.”

On allegation of undue government interference, as well as, claims of Governor Ayade’s sibling laying claim to the contract, Anukwa said, “I don’t have any information, where the government says a particular site should go to a particular contractor. I think you got it all wrong. We awarded the Ikot Nkebre erosion control project in 2017. After the contract was awarded, the rains were so heavy.

So, in between the time the design of that site was made, and the when the contractor was about to move to site, the erosion site had expanded beyond measure in just one rainy season hence the contractor could not work because of the expansion.

“The designs that we do must pass through the processes of quality control in Abuja for approval before they are sent to the World Bank for final approval, and by the time we got the final approval to cater for the expansion, some time had passed.

So, that process of getting two contracts into one took us a long time. But the good news is that we have finally got what we wanted. If you go to that site, it is not as if it is a fresh contract, but I need to point out that even though the contract was awarded in 2017, the contractor cannot do much until this process is accomplished. It was in May that I finally got approval to have the whole contract as one,” Anukwa stated.

Because of the sufferings of the community, the project manager said, “the contractor had to do some remedial works so that the place does not further expand and affect more houses in the area. But the truth is that if the contractor had continued to work, how would he be paid if the contract is not added? What the contractor wants is to be paid as he is working, and there was no way I could have paid him if the contract was not joined.

“The allegation of interference has nothing to do with me as a person, and it is not as if there is interference. The usual interference we used to have is different from what appears to be the case here.

The contractor I have in my record and I am dealing with is Akpaven Construction Limited. I don’t know of any other contractor on that site. Let me also point out that the community expects that the work should move at the speed of light, but doing so does not allow for due diligence.

As we speak, if not for some challenges, the contractor would have gone far. Even as it stands right now, I need to be very candid with you, for that work to move again, I must have counterpart contribution from the state government to pay compensation. This is one of the issues, and not any interference (by government) that I am aware of. Until that money is given we cannot start.”

While some persons are alleging that the state government is sitting on the counterparts funds in order to frustrate the project, Anukwa said: “I don’t know about that, but you and I know that Cross River State is the least state in terms of revenue allocation from the Federation Account. We all know that the different projects that the governor is undertaking is telling on government’s finances; we also know that the wage bill of workers (both civil servants and politicians) is quite heavy in the state.

So, anybody that is telling you that kind of story is not being realistic, and not talking as a leader, but I have assurance that as soon as money is available, the government will pay.

This project is supervised by the World Bank and the state governor is the one taking the loan to do the job and you cannot take the loan and frustrate yourself and still pay back the loan.”