October 24, 2020 was a sad day for Happiness Frank. Hours after she left home to gather palm fruits at a nearby farm, she received news that her son and breadwinner of the family, Israel Frank, had been bitten by a poisonous snake.
Bleeding from his right hand where the snake bit him, some villagers rushed him to a local traditional healer. But the healer could not save Israel. The 34-year-old died the next morning.
Mrs Frank said Israel would have received the right treatment for the snake bite and would have survived had the government hospital in Ukanafun Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State been functional. Her village, Akoyo, is barely a 10 minutes-drive from Ikot Akpa Nkuk, where the abandoned hospital is located.
“If only we had a hospital here, I am sure my son would have survived. At least there would have been medical doctors who would have done something to save his life. Now see how he died, just like that,” she said, unable to hold back her tears.
Like Mrs Frank, many residents of Ukanafun lack access to quality healthcare.
Enomfon Abraham died on December 10, 2020 due to heavy bleeding during childbirth. Her husband, Ekponoudim Abraham, told PREMIUM TIMES that she died because there were no emergency healthcare services in Ukanafun.
“I had registered her for antenatal at the health centre. When labour started I took her to the health centre but there were no nurses there that Sunday, so I took her to a maternity home.
“After delivery that night, she started bleeding and they could not stop the bleeding. This was happening at about 11 p.m. so I decided to look for a vehicle that night and rushed her to Mercy Hospital in Abak Local Government. When we got there, before the doctors could attend to her, she gave up,” he said.
“If there was a hospital here, I know that hospital is not God but I believe because of the doctors, they would have known what to do. It wouldn’t have happened like that,” he said.
The Ukanafun Cottage Hospital Project
Since the local government was created in 1981, Ukanafun, a former palm-oil hub, has been without a government healthcare facility, forcing many either to use the unreliable private clinics, traditional healers or to travel to other local government areas in the state for their healthcare needs.
In 2008, the state government announced that it was building a 50-bed cottage hospital in the area. The Godswill Akpabio-led administration, which initiated the project, said the hospital would provide effective healthcare services to the long-suffering people of the area. However, 12 years after, the hospital remains uncompleted and has been abandoned to rot.
Essien Udoh, a resident, said he was happy when the construction of the hospital started.
“When they started the job, we were happy that, by the grace of God, we were going to have a general hospital in Ukanafun; and that would have been the first because there is no general hospital here.
But that joy was short-lived as the contractors soon stopped work and abandoned the project.
“All of a sudden, they stopped work. Up till now, we cannot tell what is the problem between the contractors and the state government,” Mr Udoh told PREMIUM TIMES.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the site of the hospital in September, evidence of its abandonment was visible from afar. It was overgrown with bushes, while part of it had been converted to farmland.
The over 15 buildings in the hospital complex were built to the roofing stage and plastered. However, many of them now lie in waste, following years of neglect. Some of the ceilings had fallen apart. A few building materials, such as bricks and glass windows, were also seen in some of the buildings.
Findings by PREMIUM TIMES indicate that the construction of the Cottage Hospital, Ukanafun was awarded by the Akwa Ibom State Government to Global Corp Limited in August 2008, at the sum of N1, 120,036,491.42.
The contractual agreement signed on November 12, 2008 showed that the hospital was designed to include a laboratory, a pharmacy, an accident and emergency unit, and doctors’ residential quarters, amongst other facilities.
The sum of N400,973,063.93, about 35 per cent of the contract sum, was paid to the contractor as mobilisation fee in December 2008. Subsequent payments followed and findings show that a total sum of N877, 014, 051.95, about 78 per cent of the contract sum, had been released to the contractor for the execution of the project.
The contract was later terminated by the state government on February 7, 2015. But in recent time, the state government has made different budgetary allocations for the completion of the project.
In 2016, N100 million was budgeted and another N300 million in 2017. In 2018 and 2019, it was N150 million each, while in 2020, it initially got N40 million but this was reviewed downward to N20 million.
Despite these huge budgetary allocations, no work has been done at the site, as it has since remained abandoned to rot.
Healthcare Services in Ukanafun
For the people of Ukanafun, the only government-owned health facilities are the overburdened primary healthcare centres (PHC), which clearly lack the capacity to meet the medical needs of the people.
“There is a limit to the kind of cases the primary healthcare centres can cater for, but we always try our best,” Thursday Akpan, the PHC Director in the local government area, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Other cases that are beyond us, we have to refer to the secondary and tertiary healthcare facilities. The Ikot Okoro General Hospital in Oruk Anam LGA and the one in Etim Ekpo LGA are the closest general hospitals.”
Many of these primary healthcare centres are in dire need of attention, as they are dilapidated, understaffed and ill-equipped, PREMIUM TIMES’ finding reveals.
At the Primary Healthcare Centre Operational Base in Ikot Akpa Nkuk, many of the buildings are dilapidated.
The health centre at Afaha Odon, which is supposed to serve the needs of five communities, was under lock and key on both occasions when this reporter visited. A resident, who identified himself simply as Monday, told Premium Times that the centre was “always locked up.”
In Ohaobu-Ndoki, another community in Ukanafun, the health centre there looks abandoned.
Though there are private hospitals in Ukanafun, residents say their services are not affordable for them, and the quality of services offered by some do not reflect their expensive charges. As such, many are left to explore the services of churches, prayer houses and native healers like the popular “Owo To Diok,” aka Man First Bad.
For pregnant women in Ukanafun, midwives and traditional birth attendants locally known as “Abia Uman” are their best bet. Mrs Ekaefre, Madam Nene and Eka Sammy are some of the household names that are helping pregnant women deliver in Ukanafun.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), for every 1,000 births, Akwa Ibom records 42 infant deaths and maternal mortality in the state ranks among the worst in the country with 279 deaths per 100,000 births.
WHO stated that the high maternal mortality rate in Akwa Ibom is linked to low skilled birth attendants, such as the Abia Uman. A 2018 survey by WHO revealed that only 44 per cent of births in the state were attended by skilled medical personnel.
The chief executive officer of the contracting firm, Global Corp Limited, Jimie Idiong, said the completion of the project was stalled by deliberate delays in the release of funds and a breach of contract by the state government.
In a press release obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Idiong said the project suffered due to personal grouse between him and the governor who initiated the project, Mr Akpabio.
“When Governor Akpabio knew through his administration machinery of the contract that it was my company that got the contract, he personally orchestrated the delay in the payment of the next two IPCs of N163, 059, 010.23 and N53, 347, 266.71 respectively put in May and June 2009. The first IPC of N163, 059, 010.23 was then paid in November 2009 while the second one was still pending.
“Because of the willful delay in the payment of the IPCs, my bankers refused to advance me more money to progress on the work, and because of my mounting debt to the bank and suppliers, further work on the project stalled for almost two years until July 2011 when they paid the second IPC of N53, 347, 266.71.
“Hoping that we had reached some amicability with the payment of the second IPC in July 2011, I borrowed again to continue the work and put in two more IPCs of N81, 153, 389.85 and N178, 481, 313.21. They paid only the first one of N81, 153, 389.85 in October 2011 but refused to pay the second one in after a lot of haggling, begging and crying as I was by now thrown into heavy debts with my bankers and suppliers,” he said.
Mr Idiong also alleged that officials of the Akwa Ibom Ministry of Health compelled him to pay N100 million to their consultants, Oliver Ebong of Olkem Nigeria Limited, before his IPCs were processed.
“So, it was only by July 2013, five years after the award of the contract, that the government paid a total of N877, 014, 051.95 but what came to our purse after the forced payment of N100, 000, 000 to the consultants was only N777, 014, 051.91 till date,” he said.
He said he had submitted a variation of about N300 million, due to the rising cost of materials over the years, to complete the project but was ignored by the government. Instead, the government terminated the contract in 2015 and re-awarded it to another contractor at about N600 million, which is twice the money he requested to complete the project.
“What is the justification for this?” he asked.
The contractor considers this a breach of contract and sued the Akwa Ibom state government. In suit HUK/8/2015, Mr Idiong and his company, Global Corp Limited, are seeking the award of N1.2 billion as damages against the state government for breach of contract.
Cottage hospital Ukanafun, a campaign material – Activist
Over the years, many politicians had promised to ensure the completion of the cottage hospital project, but to no avail. Ufot Ibekwe, an Abuja-based lawyer and human rights activist, said the abandoned hospital had become nothing but a political campaign material.
“Over the years, many politicians have used that hospital project as campaign material for their political aspirations. They all promised to complete it if voted into office, but disappeared afterwards,” he said.
In January 2017, during an interdenominational service in Ukanafun tagged “Prayer Project”, the state governor, Udom Emmanuel, expressed his commitment to the completion of the cottage hospital project.
Mr Emmanuel, who was represented at the event by Udo Ekpenyong, the then commissioner for local government and chieftaincy affairs, thanked the people for their support in his election and said the state government was taking concrete steps to resolve issues with the contractor out of court.
However, three years down the line, the people are yet to see any tangible efforts by the state government to redeem these promises.
Charity Ido, who represents Ukanafun in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, also visited the hospital site in November 2019, and left with similar promises.
Why the hospital has not been completed – Akwa Ibom State Government
The Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Health, Augustine Umoh, said the hospital has not been completed due to the lawsuit initiated by the contractors, Global Corp Limited against the state government, following the termination of the contract.
“Government desires to finish that hospital like we are doing in other places, but the only problem is that that place is under litigation. And once it is under litigation, you can’t move further with it until it is sorted out,” he said.
He said the state government terminated the contract because the firm failed to live up to the terms of the agreement.
“They’ve been dragging since that contract was taken off their hands in February 2015 for nonperformance. Mind you, that was not even done by this regime but by the former regime. This is five years after, they’re still dragging it.
“As long as they continue to fight and drag the government to court like that, that project is likely to continue stalling. And then, the people there plus the contractors, including the government who would have wanted to complete that facility for the benefit of the people, will be the ones to lose. Clearly, no one is winning,” he said.
When asked why the government has been making budgetary allocations for a project under litigation, the commissioner referred this reporter to the state’s Ministry of Finance.
At the Ministry of Finance, officials said the commissioner was not available to answer questions from this reporter and requested a letter with questions about the budgetary allocations and amount released.
The ministry is yet to respond to those questions.
This investigation was done as part of the UDEME project.
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