SPECIAL REPORT: Darkness engulfs Cross River communities with abandoned NDDC power projects

Installed transformer at Mbukpa Community, Calabar South
Installed transformer at Mbukpa Community, Calabar South

Ever since the village came into existence nearly four decades ago, Ela Oyama has watched, happily, as shops opened, households expanded and an adjoining tarred road cut straight from the Calabar-Ikom-Ogoja highway into Ekpri-Iko village in Biase Local Government Area (LGA) of Cross River State.

For several years, the dawn of nightfall envelops the entire village in darkness. Torchlights and hurricane lanterns loosely hanging on walls provide light for nighttime activities.

The constant roar of diesel-powered generators – mostly from a few stores and households – troubled Oyama. Communities a few kilometres away had electricity.

“We have lived here for more than 36 years without electricity,” Mr Oyama, the traditional ruler of Ekpriko says and nods his head in regret.

Casting his eyes towards the village centre where a cluster of roadside shops gathered, he points to a particular shop stocking medicines, household items, toiletries and more.

“That man there has been burning fuel, a lot of fuel, on generator every day. Is that a good thing?” he asks.

In May 2012, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) awarded a contract to Blu Ray Engineering Services Limited to carry out a rural electrification project in Ekpri-Iko.

When the contractor and workers visited the village and started work, Mr Oyama and his people rejoiced and, with bated breath, hankered for the first day when, upon completion of work, bulbs and television screens will glow without generators.

As work progressed, this hope burned like bright flames. The workers on the ground erected concrete utility poles, mounted transformers and installed overhead power lines. It was, Mr Oyama reckons, “almost like a dream.”

But then this dream never materialised.

Although transformers, poles, power lines and distributors have all been fixed, there is no power supply yet.

“I do not know how this makes us feel,” Mr Oyama says, “to see transformer and everything [poles and power lines] almost ready yet no we do not have light. Is it because we have nobody to fight for us?”

He explains that the community has approached an electricity distributor in the area to help them, but they keep demanding that the villagers pay N70,000 naira so they could lower the voltage of the transformer for electricity to flow.

But the community is hesitant to play that game.

“We refuse to pay anybody anything because how can government give us light for free and then they still say we have to pay money,” the traditional leader adds.

For now, he has to depend on powering his generator with three litres of fuel every day to keep his home alight at night. A litre is sold for N400 by black market sellers in the community.

“We no happy at all because as farmers we really need cold water during the dry season when it gets very hot,” he says.

“If there is light in the village everybody would be happy. We are begging the government that gave us light to come and make the light to step down and work.”

But even after approving the contract in 2012, money has approved for its completion by the NDDC.

By its own admission in its 2016 budget, NDDC reported that in 2015 and 2016, N15.9 million and N10 million were approved respectively for the electrification project at Ekpri Iko.

Yet, in 2019, the villagers have not received any power supply.

Meanwhile, NDDC’s PMIS Portal, a database for the commission’s projects since early 2000s, reports that the contract for electrification of Ekpri-Iko is “ongoing.”

“Since the government have the love to give us light they should have the mind to come and finish it and give us light,” said Benjamin Ekpe, a member of the council and assistant secretary.

“Up till now we have not seen the contractor. We are suffering too much; you can’t do anything once night comes and there is darkness everywhere. You cannot depend on generators, what of the day when it gets bad or spoils?”

Same Situation In Another Community

This lack of electricity supply has also buffeted residents of Anantigha community in Calabar South Local Government Area of the state.

Official documents examined by this reporter revealed that NDDC gave a contract in August 2012 to install a 500KVa transformer in the community. The amount for the contract was not indicated in the document.

“I was never contacted for any NDDC project, they never came,” Muri Edema, the village chief, told PREMIUM TIMES.

“The only one I know about is the one brought by the politicians during elections last year.”

Community youth leader Emmanuel Etubong was quick to point out that “NDDC never installed any transformer in Anantigha.”

“They [NDDC] are not doing well at all because a good number of people do not have light, the ones that do, have low voltage,” Mr Etubong explains.

“We prepared a seating where the transformer will be fixed but it never came. Our people are suffering due to light issues and overload of the transformers.”

However, NDDC’s project tracking portal noted that this project has been completed.

Kingsley Aniyom Bassey, the secretary of the community’s electrical repairs committee set up to monitor and maintain their only transformer, said the community even had to raise funds to build the seating for the transformer in the hope that NDDC-sponsored transformer will come.

“It is more than four years now since we built this seating but we have not seen anything,” Bassey said.

“We waited and waited, later we suggested visiting the state electrical agency but they said they never received any directive to give us any transformer.”

The sole, old transformer in the community caters for about eight streets with over 2,500 homes, Mr Bassey said. The voltage is very low and it constantly blows up due to overloaded, residents say.

Heavy reliance on the only transformer is taking a toll on small businesses.

Samuel Effiong, a resident of the community, explains: “The voltage is very low and the transformer blows up constantly, sometimes we go days and months without light.

“The area will be in total blackout, there are industrial businesses and enterprises here.”

Blessing Ubong, who runs a tailor shop there, says she is struggling to “do my work properly because the electric current can’t carry anything.”

Approving Money For Completed Projects

For the inhabitants of Ikun village in Biase Local Government Area (LGA), the story is different. A remote village that requires a boat drive from Ikurike village near Akpet Central on the Calabar-Ikom-Ogoja federal highway, the high and low tension wires and poles indicate that, indeed, the rural electrification project awarded to Hugh Gross Nigeria Limited in February 2011 was completed.

“It was completed around 2013,” Victor Onette, a youth in the village confirmed. “Things have really changed, even though there is no constant light. It has put business into progress, especially for making drinks and water to be cold.”

Although this project has been completed, it appeared again in NDDC 2016 appropriation act. According to the commission, N24.9 million and N10 million were approved in 2015 and 2016 respectively for rural electrification involving high and low tension at Ikun.

Elsewhere in Abredang Community also in Biase LGA, another electrification project awarded in February 2011 and handled by Deastern Electrical & Mechanical Energy Serv. Ltd follows similar trend.

“We have been enjoying the light for a very long time now,” Iyemi Eot Uloh, a resident of the community, said. “This light came in more than seven years ago.

Yet, like the case of the project in Ikun, the electrification contract in Abredang Community was captured, once again, in NDDC’s budget for Cross River in 2016. An analysis of the budget revealed that an additional N3.5 million was approved twice (in 2015 and 2016) for the rural electrification involving high and low tension in Abredang.

Both rural electrification projects in Ikun and Abredang communities were recorded as completed on NDCC’s portal, though this does not indicate the completion date.

Other energy and power supply projects involving the installation of transformers at Duke Town Presbyterian Church, Iyamba Street and Mbukpa Community both in Calabar South LGA were completed, residents confirmed in separate interviews with PREMIUM TIMES. Both projects were awarded in May 2013 to Fenovac Resources and Seagard Global Agencies Ltd respectively.

In Mbukpa, youth leader Etubong Hogan said the transformer was brought to the community in 2014 but only got installed early last year.

“The community decided to provide manpower, source funds and fix it ourselves,” he said, “that was when the NDDC contractor showed up and paid for the labour of our youths. But it is the community that singlehandedly fixed the transformer.”

Waiting For Solution

The NDDC spokesperson, Charles Odili, refused to speak to PREMIUM TIMES on its abandoned electricity projects in the Niger Delta.

The agency’s finances since inception are currently being audited after President Muhammadu Buhari complained that the hundreds of billions allocated to it have not been properly utilised. The current minister of the Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio, whose ministry now oversees the NDDC, also lamented the level of corruption in the agency, saying its previous management treated it like an ATM where money was stolen at will.

While the government probes the agency, residents of Ekpri-Iko and Anantigha communities count their losses and continue to wait for NDDC to complete the projects in their areas.

“The failure to install the transformer has really affected our community: we can’t even do our businesses effectively, people don’t make profit,” said Kingsley Bassey, the secretary of Anantigha’s electrical repairs committee maintaining their only transformer.

“In one particular scenario a welder in one of the streets here had to connect directly to the electric pole to get enough current to do his business.

“We had to stop him because it was dangerous to his life and would as well spoil the light source. If we had [more] transformers all these won’t be happening.”

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