A major road project in Imo State that has gulped about N12.7 billion in the past 11 years is yet to serve its purpose amidst allegations of fraud and use of substandard materials.
The project has passed through four different administrations in the state, with each showing interest in completing it due to the road’s importance to residents of the oil-producing state.
The project, officially called ‘Dualization of Inner Ring Road,’ is a double lane road from Egbeada end of Onitsha road through Amakohia, cutting across Orji-Okigwe road, to Bishop’s court through Chukwuma Nwaoha street out to Egbu road.
The 6.1-kilometre road includes two interchange flyovers at Amakohia and Orji, and a bridge across Nworie river.
The flyovers, located at Amakohia and Orji, are very strategic to motorists as they provide easy routes to Orlu and some parts of Anambra State and also to Okigwe en-route Abia and Enugu states.
The First Contract
The road project was first awarded in 2010 by the Ikedi Ohakim administration. The contract for the construction was awarded to Raycon Construction Company for N5.6 billion.
The exact amount paid to Raycon out of the contract sum could not be ascertained as officials involved declined to speak on the matter. Officials of the works ministry who spoke off the record claimed that documents relating to the contract were destroyed when the works ministry moved its office to a new one.
Raycon was to complete the contract within four years. However, one year after the contract was awarded, a new administration, led by Rochas Okorocha, came into power.
Mr Okorocha’s administration terminated the contract in 2011. Findings by this reporter, however, show that before the contract was terminated, Raycon had executed a large part of the project. It completed the sub-structure of the flyovers, commenced the superstructure, did a part of the retaining walls but could not complete the remaining part of the superstructure and the beams.
After the contract was terminated, the project lay abandoned till 2014 when Governor Okorocha re-awarded the contract to a separate firm in 2014.
A few weeks before Mr Okorocha was to leave office in 2019, after completing his two terms as governor, he declared the road project as completed and opened it for public use.
Many residents, however, accused the state government of rushing to ‘complete’ a substandard project; saying the road and the two flyovers were structurally deficient. They made reference to floods that appeared under the flyovers each time it rained as evidence of the poor job.
Governor Emeka Ihedioha, after assumption of office in 2019, urged the state chapter of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) to carry out an integrity test on the flyovers.
The test was aimed at determining the structural suitability of the elements of the bridges, and to look into the conformity of the construction to the initial drawings and design.
A team of engineers from the NSE, who carried out the structural integrity test on the flyovers, said they were of poor quality and needed to be reconstructed to avoid a calamity.
The NSE Report
The chairman of the Owerri chapter of the NSE, Innocent Ochiagha, said that when they noticed the ‘poor’ quality of work being done on the flyovers, the NSE raised an alarm on the defects and wrote to Governor Okorocha requesting him to provide the details of the contractors and consultants handling the project. We never got a reply, he said.
Mr Ochiagha said Governor Ihedioha on the assumption of office directed the NSE’s integrity committee to look into the flyovers and other construction works done by his predecessor.
He described the integrity committee as an ad hoc committee of the NSE saddled with the responsibility of inspecting both government and individual projects to make sure contractors follow rules and regulations for the safety of the people.
“It is a state technical committee, which makes sure that rules and regulations are followed for the safety of all of us. It is a purely professional body, we advise from the professional point of view,” he said.
“A report was sent by that committee. Emeka ihedioha was ready to act on it, but unfortunately, the game changed and that report did not see the light of the day.
“Government should exhume that report. If they want a fresh one, they can communicate with us, we can give them a copy. And if they need expert advice, we will still give them. Our major interest is the welfare of Imolites,” the engineer said.
The NSE official decried the use of “cheap labour and quacks” for the construction.
A member of the NSE’s integrity committee, Emmanuel Ossai, told this reporter that the committee made an in-depth report on the bridges and sent its findings and advice to the state government.
Mr Ossai described the construction as an engineering aberration, pointing out that the retaining wall built is the type meant for fencing which cannot be subjected to heavy loads.
“The bridges have a lot of structural defects, ranging from the beams, the slabs and the slope of the ramp. The slope is not good enough because we have what we call an exciting distance. If you are climbing a bridge, the driver should be able to see far of the oncoming vehicles,” he said.
Mr Ossai said some of the defects his team observed on the bridges include deflections of the beams, rough finishing of the concrete and faulty alignment. He also said that the interchange bridges do not meet up to engineering standards and therefore, are not good enough for public use.
“Coming to the components of the bridge proper, the beams are not seated on the bearing, so we have some level of eccentricity on the beam-bearing relationship. And again, instead of having two abutments, one on each side, we have four abutments. An abutment has its own peculiar design, you cannot use abutment as a bear that is what we are seeing at that site. The abutments have already started having cracks,” he said.
He advised the state government to revisit the bridges and make corrections by following the initial design.
Another member of the integrity committee, Ebere Ononiwu, said the committee used a ‘non-destructive method of structural integrity test’ for its work.
He said the committee noticed that the flyovers had cracks and big holes with failed abutments caused as a result of poor construction technique, non-compliance with specifications and lack of use of adequate re-enforcement.
He also said they discovered cracks at the beams due to excessive deflections.
“We suspected that the previous government used some marine boards [plywood], to conceal the deflections at the beams,” he told this reporter.
Mr Ononiwu noted that the comprehensive strength of the materials used for the construction failed far below the “BS Code 1-8-1-8 specification” of what the concrete strength should be.
He said the bearing and the beams were not placed in proper positions.
“The few structures that could pass according to our test, were the few structures done by Ohakim. Virtually all the structural elements introduced by Rochas (Okorocha) failed. None of them was okay when compared with the chart shown in the BS 1-8-1-8,” he said.
Mr Ebere said the test result showed that the infrastructure is not suitable, and needs urgent repairs or total removal.
Revealing Okorocha’s Contract
When Governor Okorocha re-awarded the contract, the details were not made public. Many residents were also unaware of the contractor handling the project.
However, the project was one of those investigated by the judicial panel of enquiry on awards of contracts, set up by Governor Ihedioa on May 29, 2019, to investigate abandoned and uncompleted projects in the state, find out how much was paid to contractors and to what extent the jobs were done.
After Mr Ihedioha was sacked by the Supreme Court in 2020, his successor, Hope Uzodinma, allowed the panel to continue its work.
The panel led by Justice Benjamin Iheaka has since completed its investigations and sent its findings to the state government.
Although the report of the committee has not been made public, this reporter learnt from a senior official of the Imo government that the panel found that the Okorocha administration awarded a N3.7 billion contract to Gosh Projects Limited on February 26, 2014, for the construction of the flyover at Amakohia. Of the contract sum, N3.6 billion was reportedly paid upfront.
Similarly, a N3.75 billion contract was reportedly awarded to the same Gosh Projects Limited on the same day, February 26, 2014, for the construction of the Orji flyover. A mobilization fee of N3.5 billion was also reportedly paid.
In other words, the Okorocha administration paid N7.1 billion for the project, a large part of which had been constructed by the previous contractor who charged N5.6 billion for the entire project.
When this reporter contacted Gosh Projects Limited through its official phone number, the person who took the call refused to disclose his identity. He declined to say anything on the project saying his company had already appeared before the government panel.
‘’Every discussion on the contract we had in the administration of Rochas Okorocha have been deposited with the judicial panel of enquiry, our position is well spelt out, we specified what we did and what we did not do,” the official said.
“The ring road, we did not do. We didn’t do anything on the ring road. Nobody paid me that kind of money. These are our positions. It has not changed. That was what we told them at the judicial panel of enquiry,” he said.
The official also queried the amount the panel found that the Okorocha administration paid for the project.
“When you say you paid someone, then you have to show it. Is it by mouth that they pay? You don’t pay by mouth,” he said. He, however, refused to disclose the exact amount his firm got from the Imo government for the project.
When contacted, Mr Okorocha’s spokesperson, Samuel Onwuemedo, refused to speak on the amount spent on the project by his principal and the quality of work done.
He said there are court cases relating to the project and so he would not want to speak about it.
“As a media man, I cannot talk on issues before the court. These issues are in about four courts, about two courts in Abuja, one in Port Harcourt and one in Owerri,” he said without providing details of the court cases.
Current Imo Government Speaks
The present commissioner for works in Imo, Ralph Nwosu, who was also the works’ commissioner when ex-governor Ohakim first awarded the contract for the road, said he could not defend the quality of work done and would not speak on the finances of the project.
“I was the commissioner for works that started that project, but when they finished it, I was not here. So I am not in a position to say anything about it,” he told this reporter.
Mr Nwosu confirmed that the Integrity Committee of the NSE gave a verdict that the bridges do not pass the integrity test and are not fit for public usage. He said people plying the flyover do so at their own risk.
“We have also contacted some contractors to go and look at it and see what can be done. If at the end of the day, there are things we can do to reduce the traffic that will go on it, so that we have light vehicles ply on it without compromising the security of the people, we will do it,” he said.
Transporters, Residents lament
Residents, who should have benefited from the road project, have continued to lament the situation.
When this reporter visited the flyover at Orji, it was barricaded to avoid motorists plying on it. There was a gridlock caused by vehicles trying to make a u-turn and flooding due to the heavy downpour.
The chairman, Imo transport workers, Orji branch, Chika Nkewrem, said the people were excited when the flyovers were ‘completed’, with the belief that it would ameliorate the long hours they spent on the road due to traffic congestion.
He lamented the current situation where motorists are barred from using the flyover.
“If you come here in the morning or in the evening time, you will see that this Orji road is a no go area because of the traffic congestion. People now look for a way to manoeuvre to make it to their destination. Since the flyover has not been in operation, it has not been easy for us,” he said.
Mr Nkwerem called on the state government to facilitate the reopening of the flyovers to ease their suffering.
Another transporter, Joseph Adimekwe, decried the flooding experienced around the bridge whenever it rains.
“If you are here when rain is falling, no road. The rains come from the flyover and join the ones on the ground. Everywhere is flooded,” he said.
Mr Adimekwe said the flood also brings dirt from different places and heaps under the bridge thereby blocking some parts of the road and hindering free movement.
It was a different scenario at the second flyover, in Amakohia, when this reporter visited as the flyover was in use and there was no traffic jam.
An auto engineer, Ikechukwu Okoh, commended the past governors for their efforts in constructing the flyover, although he described it as “substandard.”
He called on the present administration to find a way of improving the standard of the bridge.
(This story was produced as part of the UDEME project, a social accountability and transparency project of the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ). The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher).