By Adetokunbo Abiola
Nine years after the shoreline protection contract in Ayetoro was awarded and with more than N3 billion already paid as mobilization fees to contractors, the project is yet to be completed.
The non-completion of the project has foisted hardship on the people as it has impacted negatively on their economic and social lives.
“The contract was to stop the ocean from coming into the community. Since it has not been done, water from the Atlantic Ocean is coming in. We have to abandon fishing or farming because of coastal storm. Buildings are collapsing because of the coastal erosion. Water covers the town so we can’t move around. The palace of our king sank as a result of ocean coming into the community,” said Amos Olorunlola, a youth leader.
Tope Olowodasa is the spokesman for the Ogeloyinbo of Ayetoro, Oba Olofin Gad Ashogbon, the monarch of the community. Mr. Olowodasa lamented that Ayetoro residents are forced to abandon their homes because there was no embankment to protect the community from the advancing Atlantic Ocean.
According to him, houses near the shore are sinking, and people are forced to abandon them. He fears the entire community could go under the ocean if the shoreline protection contract is not completed.
James Oludare inherited a building from his father near the shore. Due to the advancing ocean, he was forced to abandon it and seek shelter elsewhere. Now, a landowner has been turned into a tenant in his community. He has to squat with others so he can have a roof under his head.
Ayetoro, established in 1947, is inhabited by people of IIaje extraction. As a result of the effects of oil exploration, the community lost a considerable portion of its coast land to the Atlantic Ocean.
Residents say the menace of the ocean incursion adversely affected their socioeconomic existence, as the community’s entire mangrove vegetation got destroyed.
The Atlantic Ocean’s surges also destroyed Ayetoro’s marine life, negatively affecting the people’s fishing business, which is the main stay of the local economy. In a community of mostly fishermen, the ripple effect of this can only be imagined.
It was due to the community’s persistent cry in the media, says Dele Kudehinbu, a spokesman for Ayetoro community, that the attention of the federal government was drawn to the problems of the town, and the Niger Delta Development Commission [NDDC] awarded the shoreline protection contract to Gallet Nigeria Limited in 2004, with the payment of N650 million as the mobilization fee.
“But the project was not completed. We don’t know the reason why. And the ocean kept coming into our community,” Mr. Olorunlola says.
If the project had been awarded since 2004 and was schedule to be completed within 18 months, why has it not been finished 10 years later?
Writing in The Nigerian Voice, Agreen Nemba, a commentator, noted that the Gallet contract is one of the numerous ones awarded by NDDC to mark its five years of existence.
According to Nemba, more than 70 per cent of these projects being handled by the firm have either not been executed or have been abandoned.
Mr. Kudehinbu said the Gallet shoreline protection contract in Aiyetoro was terminated after four years on grounds of non-execution.
The hopes of residents of Ayetoro were raised again when NDDC re-awarded the contract to another company, Dredging Atlantic, at the cost of N6.5 billion, paying a mobilisation fee of N2.5 billion, about 40 per cent of the total sum.
However, Dredging Atlantic has not completed the work five years later.
The slow execution of the shoreline project meant to protect Ayetoro from the ocean surges has become a source of unhappiness for residents of the community.
A visit to the community showed the residents of the town are under an pressure. Most of its shoreline is mud, and it might take many years for the beach to return to the land.
Another aspect of the negative effect of the non-completion of the contract is that the vegetation near the shore is threatened. Due to the incursion of the ocean and the muddy ground, coconut trees and other farm products are not growing well.
According to respected environmentalist, Nnimmo Bassey, this might not be unconnected with the oil water taken to the shore by the advancing ocean.
So why has Dredging Atlantic not executed the contract?
“It is common knowledge that the company has paid over N100 million to groups and surrounding communities in fruitless search for desirable quantity of sand for the project. This suggests that there was no adequate planning and preparation for the project before it was contracted; and no credible pre-contract feasibility study,” says Kudehinbu.
The former spokesman of NDDC in Igbokoda, Dele Omogbemi, confirmed that non-availability of sand was a major setback in executing the project.
But, there is another reason for the non-completion of the project – non payment of workers on site. Residents observed that even when the contractors mobilised workers to site, work never progressed smoothly as the hired hands always complain that they had not been paid.
“The workers of the company always stop work on the project when they come. They did the same thing the last time they came. They say they had not been paid,” says Mr. Olorunlola..
To worsen the situation for residents of Ayetoro, NDDC has problems of its own.
News reports indicate no fewer than 4,000 projects of NDDC, worth trillions of naira and scattered across the Niger Delta, have been abandoned.
The Chairman, governing board of the NDDC, Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, said the practice of providing only 15 per cent mobilization fee to its contractors was leading to project abandonment.
Sources say NDDC finds it difficult to provide the remaining 85 per cent of contract sums, making the contractors to either abandon contracts or carry out jobs poorly.
Dredging Atlantic also had habits that may account for the non completion of the contract.
Despite the sophisticated equipment it purchased from a Dutch company, Damen Dredging Equipment, The Hope investigation revealed that it has attracted some negative comments about its work in the past.
People in communities from Bayelsa to Ondo State blame the company for not executing or of completely abandoning its multi-billion naira projects.
The Punch on March 4, 2013 reported that Okoloba people in Kolokuma/Opokuma local government area of Bayelsa State raised the alarm that a shoreline protection project abandoned by Dredging Atlantic had caused landslides in the community.
FCC, Dredging Atlantic’s parent company, has also not been immuned from criticism.
Unfortunately for the residents of Ayetoro, they are not spared the pains of people in Okoloba, Ologbobiri and Eket-Ibeno .
Visits to Ayetoro show no evidence that the shoreline protection project is on a course for completion. In the years the project was abandoned, the Aiyetoro oceanfront has been subjected to massive sea surges that overwhelm the community during the rainy season.
Houses close to the shore have been swept away by the sea surges. But the former spokesman of NDDC in Igbokoda, Dele Omogbemi, rose in a stout defence of the Ayetoro shoreline protection contract, saying NDDC does not award contracts to companies without the financial muscle to execute them.
“The current contractors, unlike the earlier one, have the capacity because they have moved sophisticated equipment to site. But they could not find sand,” Mr. Omogbemi said.
But residents of Ayetoro disagree. Mr. Olowodasa says they took officials of Dredging Atlantic less than 10 kilometres away to Igbo Aiku, which has enough sand to be evacuated for the project. Company officials, he says, said Igbo Aiku was too far.
E-mails sent to Gallet Nigeria Limited were not replied. When this reporter called the company through its international lines, no one answered.
Efforts to get Dredging Atlantic to state its own side of the story proved tricky. Visits to its office in Port Harcourt ended in failure, as the company’s spokesman was said to have traveled. When our reporter called the company on the phone two weeks later, its project manager, a man simply named Akin, said the company had not abandoned the project, that workers were on site in Ayetoro.
However, when The Hope got back to Ayetoro, it found workers were not on site. In fact, the community was flooded by tidal waves from the sea at the time.
“They have not been here for the past one year. Even when they come, they are not doing work on the project. They just come into town, stay in hotels, and do nothing. They don’t have sand,” says Olowodasa.
Today, the entire area of Ayetoro is lashed by ocean surges, while many residents are forced to move inland once again, possibly causing a lot of social and economic dislocation.
The story of the Ayetoro contract is a classic example in poor project preparation, institutional failure and corporate negligence.
“This report was produced by Adetokunbo Abiola, with support from Partners for Democratic Change and from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting. It is part of the Access Nigeria/Sierra Leone program funded by the United States Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.”
This report was first published by The Hope newspaper. We have the permission of the paper and that of the author to republish here.