Ohaji/Egbema is one of the two oil-producing Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Imo State. The Oil Mining Lease (OML) 20 and major flow stations of oil companies are located in this local government. However, despite this wealth deposit, Ohaji/Egbema is one of the most impoverished areas in the state. There is an acute deficiency of basic infrastructure such as power, hospital road or school.
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) awarded and paid for these infrastructure to be provided but many of them are abandoned or poorly executed, this investigation revealed.
In Mmahu, one of the 20 autonomous communities in Ohaji/Egbema, the only secondary school in the community is in dire need of a facelift. The roofs of some of the classrooms have been blown off; the science laboratories are completely dilapidated.
“Some of the classrooms are leaking,” the school’s principal, Ete Anthony, told this reporter.
Both teachers and students of Mmahu Secondary School do not go to school regularly. The principal said many of them live very far away from the school and are unable to transport themselves to school daily.
The physics and chemistry laboratories had to be merged after a whirlwind blew off the roof of the chemistry lab.
Just adjacent one of the dilapidated classrooms is a structure erected by the NDDC for science laboratories. The building, unpainted and without windows, has been abandoned for at least two years. The other NDDC facilities in the school, like the staff quarters and student hostel, have been abandoned for much longer.
The Chairman of Mmahu Community Development Council (CDC), Noble Chinedu, said the contractor abandoned the projects because he was not paid. At least, N51.21 million was awarded for Educational Infrastructure and Development projects between 2007-2011.
Mr Chinedu also complained that the lack of a staff quarters continues to discourage the members of the National Youth Service Corps to accept deployment to the community school.
“They (corps members) also complain. The quarters would have been an academic zone for them,” he said
However, provisions were made for the construction of teacher’s quarters in the school.
A contract was awarded by the NDDC for the “Construction of 1 No Block of Twin 2 Bedroom Teachers Quarters” and “Construction of NDDC Model Six Classroom Block With An Office, A Store And VIP Toilet Block”.
The projects were awarded since 2004. Sixteen years later, the uncompleted buildings have been overgrown by grass while students perch on broken chairs to learn in dilapidated structures.
The situation is similar in other schools in Ohaji/Egbema LGA. In Assa, one of the community leaders, Ebenezer Eyi, said the pupils and students in primary and secondary schools in the community suffer a similar fate.
“Since a block of twelve classrooms in Assa primary school burnt, no one has rebuilt it. It is just there,” said Mr Eyi.
Charles Odili, the spokesperson of the NDDC, declined to comment to the findings in this report.
“I have no response to you right now,” he said when contacted.
A people in darkness
Residents of Ohaji/Egbema rely on sunlight for many of their activities. Once the sun sets, they are thrown into darkness. Rechargeable lamps are not an option because there is no electricity, so the people resort to kerosene lamps.
Most communities in the local government have not had power supply for at least 20 years, the local government chairman, Ezeru Damian, lamented. In Assa and Obile, residents said they have not had electricity in more than 30 years.
“I am 34 years old, and I have never seen electricity in this community,” said John Prosper, the youth leader of Obile autonomous community.
NDDC awarded several solar power street light projects for the communities but Mr Chinedu said the streetlights in Mmahu are merely decorative. Some of the poles had fallen off with the solar panel broken, this reporter observed.
At Assa and Obile, there were no solar-powered streetlights. At about 6 p.m., the streets were dark, sparingly perforated by lighted kerosene lamps.
The report of Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) on revenues, deductions, disbursement, and application of funds by NDDC revealed that N112.45 million was certified for electrification projects in Imo state between 2007- 2011.
Also, in 2017, a contract for solar-powered streetlight was awarded. The project was never done, the reporter found out.
There was also a contract for solar street lights in 2013. Although some streetlights were installed, they are not functional.
Mr Chinedu said the lack of electricity aids criminal activities in the communities. Street urchins take advantage of the darkness to carry out their criminal activities, he said.
“We are cut off from the source of information, keep the people in darkness and absolute timidity. If there is light, the crime rate will reduce because the light is security on its own
He said many businesses have had to fold because of the issue. Retails shops that deal in beverages and electronic stores have had to shut down.
“They have so much suffered. A whole lot of people are out of business,” he said.
But, Mmahu had electricity supply in the past, till at least eight years ago. . The Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC) and Shell Nigeria supplied power to the community.
One day, the lights went off.
The residents thought it was the usually temporal power outage by the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) but as it became apparent, it was not temporal. The oil company had pulled off the supply, permanently.
When Mmahu’s light was cut off, Mr Chinedu said, the residents protested to Shell and were promised that light would return. It never did.
No Potable Water
There are quite a number of water projects initiated by the NDDC in Ohaji/Egbema LGA, according to a list of NDDC’s contract document available to Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalist (PTCIJ).
Contracts were awarded for Abaezi Water Scheme project and rehabilitation of five water schemes at Ukwuagba, Ekugba 11, Etewuru 11 and Esiorsu.
However, an investigation by this reporter revealed that most of these water projects were poorly done and served no purpose to residents who ought to benefit from them. Villagers in Assa community still travel miles to the stream to get water.
“Our people have no water,” lamented the Assa community leader, Mr Eyi. “The only water we have is the stream water. We go to the stream to fetch water. Some individuals have boreholes but many of them are spoilt.
In Obile, the closest community to Assa, residents buy water from individuals who have a generator-powered borehole. A keg of 50 litres is sold for N50. Those who cannot afford to buy, get their water from the stream.
Mr Eyi said this neglect, despite the vast deposit of natural resources explored from the communities, has made the youth restive. Up until mid of 2019, communities in Ohaji/Egbema were hotspot of violence. Residents abandoned their homes to seek safety in other parts of the state, he narrated.
“The youths are just there, helpless,” he said. We don’t know their aims, whether they will do it [the abandoned projects]. When are they going to do it?”
“Before now, you cannot enter this place without running away. The boys will sack you away. We had crises for more than three years. Two, three years ago, if you had come here, you would see corpses of dead people lying around. They cut their neck and use their head to drink squad. When government come, they can’t even talk. Old men and women with high blood pressure have died because of the crisis,” Mr. Eyi lamented.
In July 2019, the militants in Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta, the two oil-producing local governments in Imo State, agreed to a ceasefire following an intervention by the state government. The chief said only infrastructural and social development can forestall future violence in the community.
“The youths don’t have jobs,” he said.
The youth lament
The youth leaders of Mmahu and Obile communities said the lack of development in the state has hampered the growth of the younger citizens.
The youth leader of Obile, Mr Prosper, lamented lack of NDDC project in the community. He said apart from a solar water plant that never worked for a day since it was erected, there is no other completed NDDC project in Obile.
“This is quite unfortunate,” he said.
Similarly, Mr Chinedu lamented the abject poverty the local government has suffered due to the neglect. While NDDC has argued that it cannot replace the functions of the state government, the commission was created to cater to some of these infrastructural gaps in the oil-producing states.
Charles Ogu, a bike man, also decried the condition of living in the villages. He said the youth are easily lured to violence because they are not properly engaged.
“There’s always one fight or the other in the area because people don’t have work. If they are busy, how will they be fighting?” he asked.
“There are no good schools, the roads are bad, there is no business you can do except farming. How much is in farming? Not everybody wants to farm. If the government develop here like the cities, things will be a little better.”
Amidst abandoned projects, NDDC ‘abandoned’ $70 million in bank
Amidst the abandoned and uncompleted NDDC projects across the oil producing states, the agency ‘abandoned’ $70 million in a bank for over a decade, an official has said.
Some of the projects, including health centres and schools, commenced as far back as 2006 with some of the contractors saying they were abandoned because the NDDC refused to pay them.
While such projects lingered, however, the agency kept the unspent funds and did not return it to the coffers of the federal government as expected.
The minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, said NDDC “abandoned” the $70 million in a bank since 2006, and the bank has now offered to return the money.
“I know of a bank that came to say they have $70 million from 2006, one also came to say N170 million had been abandoned, I’ve forgotten in which administrations in the last 11 years, they said they are ready to refund.
“I said no problem, just hang on, we’ll sort all these out when the forensic (audit) comes in to let us know all the recoverable and all that,” The Nation quoted Mr Akpabio to have said in an interview with the paper.
Worried by the persistent criticisms of the operations of the NDDC, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a forensic audit of the commission from 2001 to 2019.
The president ordered the probe while receiving governors of the states that make up the commission, led by Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State.
Mr Buhari said what is presently on the ground in the South-south region does not justify the huge resources that have been made available to the NDDC.
“I try to follow the Act setting up these institutions especially the NDDC. With the amount of money that the Federal Government has religiously allocated to the NDDC, we will like to see the results on the ground; those that are responsible for that have to explain certain issues,” he said.
A call for help
Mr Damian, the local government leader, said the villagers are suffering, adding NDDC projects would have offered a reprieve, were they successfully implemented.
“The people are really suffering.
“We are calling on the NDDC to do the needful,” he urged.