As it drizzled one October morning in Port Harcourt, Samuel Tamuno stepped out of an office where he had been meeting with his community school’s head over mounting concerns about the students’ number outgrowing available classrooms.
“This set will proceed to SS1 next year but there will be no class for them,” said Mr Tamuno, the chairman of the Bundu community council in Port Harcourt. The secondary section was just recently added, and it only offers classes up Basic School 9 (JSS 3).
The school, which has both primary and secondary sections, serves six communities, including Ebeto, Dockyard, Makoba, NPA, Abonema Wharf and Bundu Ama.
“The school is small but those that depend on it are too many,” added Mr Tamuno.
The impact of the facility gap dogging the school could have been mitigated if the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) had completed a project of classrooms in the school.
In October 2004, NDDC awarded contracts for the construction of a block of six classrooms, toilets and an office to be sited in public schools across Rivers State. Fifteen years after, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation has revealed that several of such projects have either been abandoned or were not done at all.
NDDC is the government agency for alleviating the development crises in Nigeria’s oil-abundant Niger Delta. However, the commission is commonly perceived as ineffective, corrupt and opaque.
President Muhammadu Buhari last week ordered a forensic audit of the commission. He said the impacts of the commission did not match the resources invested since 2001.
In Rivers State, community leaders and school authorities interviewed for this report said they have tried for years without success to have the NDDC complete the abandoned projects.
“We have written several letters and always been blocked from entering the (NDDC) office to protest and ask that they should complete this project,” said Mr Tamuno.
The spokesperson for the commission, Charles Odili, told PREMIUM TIMES the commission had “deemphasised school projects for about five or six years to focus on bigger projects.”
Mr Odili’s comment suggested the abandoned school projects in Bundu and several other places would be completed to facilitate learning.
The Bundu project is not up to lintel and was abandoned around 2009. “The building has no lintel or pillar points and it is a danger to the students in the school,” Mr Tamuno said.
Except the project is completed, it’s barely possible for the school to accommodate all its students when a new set joins next year. This is because the school has no further space for expansion.
Although Mr Odili, the NDDC’s spokesperson, indicated that his commission had “deemphasised school projects,” the commission still lists the Bundu project as ‘ongoing” several years after it was abandoned, according to a document containing the commission’s projects in all the nine states where it intervenes. PREMIUM TIMES obtained the document from the NDDC.
Although the document does not include contract sums, but it states the Bundu project was awarded to Sanbel Enterprises. The firm did not appear in online searches and we could not also find its physical office.
Project turned refuse site
Also, within Port Harcourt lies another abandoned project, now a dumpsite for residents around the Community Secondary School, Abuloma. When this reporter visited the community, residents were seen openly defecating on the site of the abandoned project. The place also serves as a base for hoodlums after school hours.
The principal, Ibim Tare, said the school had limited spaces “not sufficient” for need. “Of course, we would be happy if the project was completed,” said the principal.
The building was sited in a swamp, and a part of it has fallen, fuelling community concerns that it was initially set to fail.
“We have already decided to investigate the project,” said Moses Pina, an Abuloma community leader and the school’s PTA chairman. It has been abandoned for years and we are not happy because the classrooms are not enough.”
The Community Primary School at Ahiamakara Elekahia was similarly abandoned.
“We don’t have classes for the nursery and we have to convert a class to head teacher’s office,” said a senior teacher, who asked not to be named. “She (the head teacher) can’t be sitting outside.”
She said the NDDC project has now been taken over by a church, whose banner was hosted outside the school.
Nothing at all
NDDC lists its school projects at the Owhipa, Choba Primary School in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area and the other school at Alesa in Eleme LGA as “ongoing”. But our findings revealed no construction work for the commission’s so-called “model block of six classrooms, VIP toilets and office” has ever taken place at the two schools.
At Owhipa, the head teacher, Pressy Ezebrabra, confirmed the NDDC has no such project in the school, whether ongoing or abandoned. “NDDC can’t claim any project here,” she said.
According to the commission’s documentation of its projects, the Owhipa contract was awarded to Choris Resources, but like others, the award sum was not stated neither did the commission’s spokesperson provide such information.
Similarly, the commission’s “ongoing” school project at Alesa does not exist and officials at the school across the three sections – primary, junior and senior schools – are not aware a block of classrooms was supposed to be constructed.
At the junior section, a library was converted to staff room; yet some teachers still have to hang around at stalls that have been converted to staff rooms, behind the library.
Instead of classrooms, what the NDDC is currently building at the school is a mini stadium, which takes roughly half of the premises.
“The classes are not enough, you can see, and we had to use a makeshift, uncovered structure for a classroom before the rains started,” one senior staff said.
“NDDC not replacing state government”
PREMIUM TIMES investigation in Rivers State shows facility gap in schools in the oil-rich state. Officials complained the classes were not enough and effective learning could not take place. At Bundu, for instance, the school would have no space for students when a new set joins next year.
But NDDC could have helped mitigate the effects of the failure of Rivers State Government if it had ensured completion and delivery of its projects. Where the commission’s school projects were completed, like Ogale and Ebubu in Eleme LGA, the situation is comparatively better.
At Ogale, secondary school students would not have had any space for learning without the NDDC’s project.
Commenting, Mr Odili, the spokesperson for NDDC, said the commission “is not to replace or take over the responsibilities of the state governments.”
When questioned about the failure of the NDDC to complete approved projects and if it was as a result of corruption and conspiracy between officials and contractors, Mr Odili said: “you don’t label the federal government or a ministry corrupt because contractors abandon sites.”
“We live in a restive region with a lot of sentiments. You threaten to annul a contract over performance; then, contractors issue morbid threats,” he said.
Already, the House of Representatives is investigating several projects of the NDDC, with screaming revelations of corruption and ineffectiveness emerging.
“Contractors are being questioned already (by the Reps),” he said. “It was the NDDC that approached the lawmakers. We didn’t just fold our arms.”
At Ebubu, where the commission completed its school project, the deputy paramount ruler of the community, Yaya Ambrose, said NDDC “should award such contracts to community people and the community should be made aware.
“Our own project was awarded to somebody from the community, Reverend Canon Manasseh Oguru, who is from here. He knew he had to complete the project; otherwise, the people would come for him because they know him.”