The health post in the village of Ekukunela in Ikom Local Government Area (LGA) of Cross River State used to be the village’s town hall. In the absence of a functional health centre, the villagers converted the hall into a health facility.
This run-down facility has no ceiling, leaving its rusty corrugated zinc roofing at the mercy of the sun. Inside, health registers are strewn across two wooden tables positioned at the centre. Public health posters on antenatal care, measles, immunization, malaria, meningitis, and hand washing are tacked to the wall.
For over 20 years now, the health post mostly attends to outpatients with mild cases of malaria using rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs). It also advises women on family planning and focuses on immunization for children.
Without a lab and any considerable drug stockpile, there is only so much the health post with two community health workers can do for the people.
“We refer a lot of people, especially pregnant women to Ikom [a nearby town about 30 minutes taxi drive from Ekukunela],” a health worker in the facility said. “From appendicitis to hernia, and even typhoid fever, we just do referrals.”
The health worker said this with a sigh, underscoring a general sense of disappointment shared by many residents of the village. Their disillusionment is further heightened by the fact that Ekukunela should have had a comprehensive health facility by now.
Construction began almost immediately that same year, confirmed Igbor Nzan, a resident who also volunteers at the health post in the community where most people farm cocoa, yam and cassava.
As work progressed from 2010 to 2013, there were intermittent stops during construction, Mr Nzan added.
“After the building was roofed, they stayed like three years before plastering for example, which was around 2016.”
“All that now remains is the finishing,” Mr Nzan explained. “Paint the walls, bring windows and doors and do some little work here and there.”
Zack Agba, the contractor handling the health facility, blames NDDC for its failure to complete the project, citing payment delays.
“When they mobilized me, I was buying cement for N1,200.” Mr Agba explained, saying the price of materials like cement and door rose over the years, creating a variation between his initial quotation and the current price for the products.
“I applied for variation to reverse the [initial] amount but NDDC refused, so I had to stop the job. I need more than 40 million naira cash to complete that project now. I wrote to ask for variation, nobody answered me, they will just throw your paper somewhere.”
While Mr Agba said he has not received any response from the commission for well over three years now, in its budget for 2016, NDDC reported that N10,261,765 naira was approved in 2015 and again in 2016 for this comprehensive health centre.
However, the site engineer, Godwin Abua, said it has been “long since we stopped work.”
“I think around 2016 or so we stopped work officially,” Mr Abua added.
Villagers who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES confirmed that nothing has happened at the site since early 2016.
A signpost detailing the project, location and contractor sits near the front of the building. Windows and the entrance have been overgrown by grass, almost obscuring the signpost. Inside, two large wards are surrounded by more than a dozen rooms. To avoid people trespassing into the building, villagers blocked the entrance with concrete blocks.
“If we had somebody to write to the government since, we should have taken it up for us,” said Nkwam Ngborki who works as a pastor in the community.
“We always pray we do not have any serious health issues or emergencies that will require going to Ikom.”
It typically costs between N1,500 to N3,000 to hire a motorcycle or a taxi to get to Ikom, according to Mr Nzan.
The health workers at the health post in Ekukunela say women in the community now prefer to go to Ikom.
“They will just say ‘Why should I go to the town hall when there are better facilities in Ikom?” one of the health workers said. “Women go there and register and do not even come here anymore.”
The story of abandonment of projects extends beyond Ekukunela.
Since 2011 Bridge Leadership Foundation in Cabalar, the capital city of Cross River State, has been organizing vocational trainings, workshops and conferences on leadership, community development, entrepreneurship, and career guidance to young people in mainly Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Abia and some other states in the Niger Delta region.
The foundation offers these services free of charge, and also provides training for teachers as well as scholarships for students in secondary schools. It was founded by Liyel Imoke, former governor of Cross River State (2007-2015).
Perhaps this – its focus on the Niger Delta but also its influential board of directors – was what drew NDDC’s attention to the foundation. In February 2015, the commission awarded a contract for the construction of Bridge Foundation Skills Acquisition Centre to P Money Universal Solution Co.
On NDDC’s PMIS Portal, the contract for the construction of Bridge Foundation’s skills acquisition centre with the code NDDC/EDP/UIDW/PR/CR/14/1299 is marked as “ongoing”. About a dozen photos are attached to support this position.
However, on the ground, this one-storey building in Ikot Effanga area in Calabar city is anything but ongoing.
The building has been plastered, roofed and has several rooms to accommodate trainees and more workshops. However, the doors and windows are yet to be fixed, and painting is yet to be done.
Fumilayo Ojo, finance/admin manager at the foundation, said the contractor visited the foundation last year and complained that he has not been paid and that he had to fund the project out of his pocket at some point.
“If they finish the project, it will really help us train more participants as the training hall we use here is quite small and we pay huge rent for this tiny space [we occupy],” Ms Ojo remarked.
“The NDDC is building on the foundation’s land; they should come and remove their building from our land or complete it; because as it stands we can’t make use of our land or do anything with the remaining part of it.”
Nya Asuquo, the foundation’s logistics officer, complained that robbers constantly break into fence and steal some of the building materials at the site.
“We had to fix it and put a security man in charge of the place but they even came once and beat the man up and made away with some materials,” Mr Asuquo added.
Vitalis Ibeh, site engineer for the contract, said they had to stop work around November 2017 due to lack of funds.
“NDDC has repeatedly refused to pay us; they have decided to punish us for the work we have done for them with our money, our borrowed money,” said Mr Ibeh, who claimed they had to borrow from the bank to finance the project.
“The truth of the matter is that NDDC has refused to pay us for the work we have done, the work we have done in advance even more than what is required of us. We have rendered our invoice, we have written them officially, [yet nothing has happened].”
Like the people in Ekukunela, residents of Daniel Henshaw Street in Calabar South Local Government Area are troubled that a contract for erosion remediation and construction of their street might stall.
Awarded to Calabar-based architectural firm, Ample Dimension Limited, in July 2014 and marked as ongoing on NDDC’s project tracking portal, this project is yet to be completed.
“This road you see is an uncompleted project by the NDDC,” said Maurice Orok, the area’s youth leader, pointing to the area where work stopped.
“The construction started in January 2015 and stopped at some point. They came back in 2016 and continued with the gutters and stopped again, after then we have not seen them again.”
This is affecting the residents, he said.
“NDDC promised to construct the road down to the river and channel the drainages into the river but that was never done and now the whole place has been overgrown by bushes,” Mr Orok remarked.
“Mr Sylvester Nsa [NDDC state coordinator representing Cross River] has come here on several [occasions] and promised to complete it but we never saw any improvement.”
Bassey Edet Essien lives near the point where the construction work stopped.
“The gutter stopped in front of my house and when it rains the water enters my house and floods everywhere,” Mr Essien said. “Please we need help.”
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the office line of Ample Dimension Limited, one Mr Polycarp Adah, who refused to identify his position in the firm, said the work at Daniel Henshaw Street will be completed.
“It was not abandoned; that job going by what NDDC provided has been actualized by 80 per cent,” Mr Adah said.
Asikpo Nyong, Ample Dimensions supervision engineer, said the firm has completed the job based on the measurement NDDC specified — around 250 meters or thereabouts.
“We completed the job, there was nothing there; NDDC office in Calabar were the ones that inspected the project and certified it,” Nyong said.
However, another staffer of the firm, Chris Adah who called earlier before the engineer, said they will be returning to the site as soon as “the consultant and the office agree.”
“It was just an issue of small meters, either to go towards the right or towards the left; where the meters should terminate.”
Even after providing details about the project, Chris Adah claimed that he was “just a dry cleaner [that] normally strolls there to check the project.”
At Atan Okoyong in Odukpani Local Government Area, residents, who are mainly into farming and fishing, are battling the same fate as residents of Daniel Henshaw Street.
Road project also abandoned
A project for the construction of Atan Okoyong rural roads was awarded to Opharmz Energy Services Ltd in February 2015.
“We heard NDDC was going to repair our roads down to the river. They come in 2015 and measured the road but since then we never see them again,” Bassey Uduk, youth leader in Atan Okoyong, said, adding that when it rains “everywhere” become covered in rainwater.
“It is affecting us in no small measure; if small rain comes the road would become very bad, now nobody can walk on the road, no motor will be able to enter,” Mr Uduk lamented.
Obong Idiaha, the wife of the traditional ruler of the community, said the signboard for the construction of the road was fixed in 2017 but was later pulled down that year.
“We tried reaching the NDDC, we visited their office in Calabar but there was no good reply, we couldn’t see anybody to speak for us,” Mr Uduk continued. “We are here, we suffer here, our people suffer; we are farmers and it is difficult to carry our product from the farm to the main road.”
NDDC notorious for abandoning projects across its catchment areas – NEITI
The Niger Delta Development Commission ( NDDC) was established by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2000 as an interventionist agency in response to decades of complaints of neglect by the oil-rich region.
Its major assignment includes developing the Niger Delta region and addressing the yearnings and agitations of the people who felt short-changed by the Nigerian state for years.
However, 19 years after its establishment, swathes of the region remain undeveloped, infrastructure is sparse and the people appear to have become poorer.
According to a report by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) on revenues, deductions, disbursement, and application of funds by NDDC, N8.1 billion was released for contracts awarded in Cross River State between 2007 and 2011.
Out of this, N6.1 billion was reportedly spent on roads/bridges projects in Cross River State between this period and about N271 Million was expended on hospital construction and equipment.
The report also indicates that about N543 billion was spent on roads/bridges in all the states under the commission between 2012 and 2016.
According to NEITI’s Revenues, Deductions, Analysis of Disbursement and Application of Funds by Niger Delta Development Commission (2007-2011), The analysis of project performance over the five years was below an average of 19 per cent in terms of the number of projects completed in all the states where it is operating.
Despite billions of naira released for developmental projects in Cross River State, residents say no major improvement has occurred as potholes, flooding and poorly constructed roads litter the communities.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently ordered a forensic audit of the commission. He said the impact of the commission did not match the resources invested since 2001.
Hospital infrastructure/other medical equipment and educational infrastructure and development projects recorded poor performance rates when examined by NEITI.
The road in Atan Okoyong is one of the scores of abandoned NDDC projects in Cross River. And this has continued to negatively affect the lives of residents.
A fisherman in the community, Morrison Akpan, said the lack of motorable road is hampering his sales.
“At the water, I do my business; I fish. But because there is no road, I can’t take my goods to the market,” Mr Akpan said. “We want government to help do the roads.”
The NDDC spokesperson, Charles Odili, refused to speak to PREMIUM TIMES on its abandoned projects in the Niger Delta.
However, not all NDDC projects in Cross River were abandoned. Some have been completed and are of benefit to residents.
These include a solar-powered borehole at St. Patrick’s College at Ikot Ansa in Calabar (awarded to Bernhard Global Energy Resources), remedial works and reconstruction of drains on Mount Zion Lane in Calabar South LGA (built by Hugh Gross Nig. Ltd), and the construction of 180-meter-long bridge at Adiabor-Eseku Bridge in Odukpani LGA as well as construction of landing jetty and dredging at Ifiang-Ayong in Bakassi LGA (both done by Zenith Construction Ltd).