Rain should ordinarily make farmers jolt with joy, but not for Margaret Udemude, a middle-aged indigene of the Ikpide-Irri community in Isoko South Local Government Area of Delta State.
Her mixed feelings during rainy days are not because she grows drought-tolerant plants, but because internal roads and those leading to farms become terribly impassable.
Even when there is a bumper harvest, transporting it to the markets in other communities comes with a lot of loss.
“Every time it rains, the flood water makes the road swampy. Our bicycle tyres are always stuck. It takes much more effort to pull out of the swamp,” a displeased Ms Udemude said.
Celebration had erupted among residents of Ikpide-Irri, a silent agrarian community known for fishing, cassava and plantain farming, when they learnt that the long abandoned road in their community would be fixed.
Four years on, that optimism has been blown away as the project has continued to stall, despite protests and petitions from residents of the community.
The 6.6km road with 2.5km drainage was, in March 2017, awarded to Portplus Limited, a marine service company, for N736 million by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa. By 2021, the project budget was reviewed up to N1.5 billion.
“Nobody thought it would take so long to get this project completed,” Ms Udemude recalled. “The project has torn our community apart. Different sets of leaders are taking sides, some with the contractors, others with the community agitators”
“We, who have no side to take, watch, while everybody suffer the effect of the incomplete road project.”
In August 2021, some residents of the riverine Ikpide-Irri community, under the umbrella of “Concerned Indigenes Of Ikpide-Irri,” protested against the firm, Portplus limited, handling the community’s N1.5 billion road project; with threats to send the contractor to jail for continued execution of what they called “substandard” work.
The protesters called on the contractor to, as a matter of urgency and importance, follow standards in the execution of the contract or be ready to face anti-graft agencies.
Some of the placards carried by the protesters had different inscriptions such as “Portplus Give Ikpide-Irri Standard Road,” “Ikpide-Irri People Say No To Substandard Construction,” “Governor Okowa Call Portplus To Order All We Are Saying Is Good Job.”
Other placards read “Ikpide-Irri Deserve Standard Road Not Cut And Nail,” “EFCC, ICPC Other Anti-Graft Agencies Must Hear This,” “Ikpide-Irri Road Contract Is Not Your Kola-nut But Our Right” and “Portplus Do Good Job Or End In EFCC ICPC Cell.”
This is not the first time the community is witnessing such protests.
In 2018, Sebastine Agbefe, a community leader, led a protest over the bad road.
He said that it was bad enough to have the road as it was, but even the parts of the road purportedly fixed “have been washed away by water.”
“We believe that since the government has granted that contract, it will be practically impossible for another government to go back there to rehabilitate the roads. It is highly unfortunate that an indigenous contractor could take such decisions,” he said.
The protest he led pushed the state government to send the delegation led by the then commissioner of works, James Augoye, to “conduct a hammer test.”
The test showed the project was executed below standard as it was supposed to accommodate a ring culvert as against the box culvert used.
Mr Augoye ordered the reconstruction of all the culverts done with 10mm instead of 16mm as contained in the Bill of Quantities (BOQ).
The directive still did not materialize.
Mr Agbefe alleged that it was because the “contractor was a powerful man in the state rumoured to have sponsored the state governor during the elections.”
“Many of the farms are on the other side of the community. The cassava processing machines are situated in the community. It is a herculean task to get the farm products to those machines. The roads are muddy and the rains have amplified the plight of the farmers,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
Failed promises amid government actions
In 2018, when some youth of the community, after series of petitions, hit the street to protest the poor state of the road, it struck a chord within the state’s hierarchy.
The government sent a delegation led by erstwhile special adviser to the state governor on project implementation, evaluation and monitoring, Johnson Erijo, to visit the road.
Following the dust raised over the project, Mr Augoye assured that the certificate of completion would not be issued to the contracting firm until the road project is completed according to specification and standard.
“I have personally visited the project when the heat was high and I have held several meetings with the contractor to ensure that the road is executed according to the designs and specification and he assured me severally to deliver a good job,” the then works commissioner told journalists in February.
“Until those issues are put in place, no substantial completion certificate should be given to the contractor and that is standing. The job is a rigid concrete pavement and it should stand the test of time.
“I want to assure the people of Ikpide-Irri that we want to stand by our position to ensure that job is completed according to specification and standard,” Mr Augoye noted.
Contracting firm reacts
A relative to the head of the contracting firm, Mike Omojefe, denied the allegations that the ongoing road construction was a “kola project” awarded to reward the family.
Likewise, a representative of PortPlus Limited, Frank Ajoku, said the delay in completion of the project was due to the restiveness of the community.
“The people don’t like development, they fight amongst theirselves. I think Ikpide-irri is the most backward community in Isoko land. It is quite unfortunate. In the bid to fight among themselves, they distort government efforts.
“Anybody can go and take a look at what we have done. They should compare what we did with the one, constructed by NDDC. They wish that the job is not completed, that the contractor fails and money is not released,” he told this reporter.
When contacted, the newly sworn-in commissioner of works (highway and urbanways), Noel Omodon, said, “I assured the community indigenes that the government will not have it, when it comes to shoddy jobs. We shall look at it very carefully. The governor will not like it at all if something is going wrong and somebody is covering for it.
“The project itself is not directly in my purview now. That fits the description of rural ways, though we are trying to sort that out now. But I can tell you that before I came here I was in the project monitoring team of this government, and I can tell you that the government has no sympathy or patience for poor and shoddy jobs.
“I have had cause to cancel the completed road and we never paid for it. For example, a building in West End College was cancelled and contractors were not paid.
“I am very happy that people are taking note of issues around them and raising questions where it matters. We will issue a statement officially on the matter after our due diligence.”
“I can assure you that there will be repercussions for contractors who engage in sharp practices to compromise project standards. I sympathize with the community. I hope that nothing has gone wrong.” Mr Omodon said.
While bickering continues to plague the project four years on, the question lurking perpetually on the minds of residents of Ikpide-Irri community bothers on when the project will be completed.
When will the project be commissioned?
(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).
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