By Ikechukwu Okaforadi
Indication emerged yesterday that a two billion naira fraud is currently rocking the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, as the officials of the ministry reportedly made away with the money which was provided in the 2017 budget for the compensation of indigenes of the Eket Township, through which section five of the East West road was supposed to pass.
This is even as investigation by our reporter has revealed that over the past two years, since the coming on board of the current leadership in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the ministry has abandoned the East-West road project, which has remained the flagship project of the ministry in the oil rich region.
It was gathered by our reporter that about two billion naira budgeted by the federal government for the compensation of indigenes of Eket, an ancient town in the Cross River state whose houses would be destroyed by the construction works, has been allegedly pocketed by officials of the ministry.
This revelation became evident during an interactive session between the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Uguru Usani, and the contractors handling the East West Road in the Niger Delta region, all of who bemoaned the poor release of funds.
Speaking on abandonment of the road by the contractors, the minister said “we will be happy to start paying contractors on the east west road, but we don’t want when we pay, only for the job to stop. We will appeal to you to remain steady on site based on what government is doing. I want to assure you that government is committed to funding the project”.
While revealing that there was a fraud of about two billion, the minister said that two billion was paid into the account of the Gitto Construction Company as compensation for the demolition in the affected communities in Eket through which part of the East West road was supposed to pass.
But the construction company said there was a decision already taken between officials of the ministry which has bypassed the compensation arrangement and superseded the idea of compensation.
Responding to this, the minister said “it is not superseded at all, whoever took that decision is on his own, forget that, nobody should talk about that ‘supersession’. It cannot be superseded when I am here and I have not approved. So anybody that did it, whether it is a retired Director, should comeback and pay. His gratuity he will forfeit it, his pension, he will forfeit it. And he will be prosecuted. That criminality will not be entertained at all.
“I have seen it in the file, and Mr. Uche, if you are taking that lightly from here, be serious about it. That compensation money must return. It must return, there is no alternative to that. There is no such thing, don’t bring that matter here. Don’t even attempt to defend it. Nobody will hold our money and say he will work and deduct from there.
“Are you aware that what you are talking about is virement, which we have no authority to do. Virement is a very serious offence, not even the President can do it without the National Assembly. So, if you have carried out assumption and manipulated that money, tell them to go and look for that money. Any attempt to defend them, you go and defend them in court. We gave them money for compensation, if they have not used it for compensation, they should bring it back. I have seen it in files and I have said no. it is a state matter”, Uguru said.
In a related development, when our correspondent probed around the ministry to seek-out the completion level of the East West road project which commenced in 2006, it was discovered that not a single kilometer has been constructed on the road over the past two years since the present ministers were appointed by President Mohammadu Buhari.
Also, information obtained by our reporter revealed that the ministry has spent the last two years of its four year term evaluating the projects awarded by past ministers, even as it is reportedly paying contractors for work already done before the current ministers took over the road.
When contacted, a source in the ministry, who does not want to be named, attempted to defend the ministry by explaining why there is no additional kilometer to the number of kilometers already constructed before the current crop of ministers came onboard about two years ago.
According to the source, this is because the ministers have been reviewing and editing the original designs of the Section of the road that will pass through Eket in Cross River, to reduce its cost, which according to the ministry, is expensive and likely to take more time.
“It was during the government of Obasanjo that the road started and by then, it was defined to be from Warri to Oron, and the total was three hundred and thirty seven kilometers, so this government now came, the issue of to reach Calabar came up, it was not good again to end the East West road at Oron, because at Oron, you cannot link up with the trans Sahara, which it Calabar, Ikom, cameroun, Ogoja, and Maiduguri.
“So each of the trans trunk roads link up each other, it is just from Lagos now, you go to Ibadan, you link up with Kaduna, Kano and Maiduguri”, the source said.
The source also said it was then during the PDP that they initiated the idea of extending it to Calabar, explaining that what the present ministers did was, having discovered that the road as designed to extend to Calabar, will cost more because of the bridge and damages that will be paid.
“So, no kilometer has been added, since they came, what they have been doing is paying bills and debts owed to contractors. The Minister inherited debt of about thirty billion. Setraco alone, is being owed about twenty eight billion. They have over sixty billion debt. What of RCC, what of Gitto. So, which one have they added”, the source said.
Further probes by our reporter revealed that the ministry has rather added another section to the original graph of the road design, making it five sections now, even as some of the sections remained uncompleted, just as the source claimed the East West road is already at ninety five per cent completion.
The three hundred and thirty eight kilometers road stretches across the major sates of the Niger Delta region, including Delta, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers states, with interjection to Abia and Imo states.
The East-West road runs from Efurun in Delta state, to Oron, which is by the borders of Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. The road which predominantly passes through Delta-Rivers-Bayelsa-Akwa Ibom states, terminated at Oron, a border town between Akwa Ibom and Cross River states.
The three hundred and thirty eight kilometers road, which stretches across the major sates of the Niger Delta region, including Delta, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers states, with interjection to Abia and Imo states.
The Obasanjo administration awarded the dualisation contract of the road in 2006 at the cost of two hundred and eleven billion naira to four construction companies, but the works scope was later reviewed which increased the initial project cost from two hundred and eleven billion naira to three hundred and forty nine billion, eight hundred million naira.
The companies included: Setraco Nigeria limited, which is handling the Section 1 of the road, estimated at eighty seven kilometers, spanning across Warri-Kaiama in Delta and Bayelsa states, while the Section 2 of the East-West road estimated at one hundred and one kilometers passed through Kaiama-Port Harcourt in Bayelsa and Rivers states, and is awarded to the Julius Berger Plc.
Also, Section 3 of the East-West road passed through Port Harcourt-Eket, estimated at ninety nine kilometers, was awarded to Reynolds Construction Company (RCC), while the last face of about fifty kilometers, which is Section 4 is awarded to Gitto Construction and it passed Eket-Oron in Akwa Ibom state.
The completion date for the project which was slated initially for August 2009 at Obasanjo government, was shifted to December 2013 by the former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Ufot Ekaette, and later shifted to December 2014 by Godsday Orubebe.
Though there had been slow pace of works on the road in the past, however Peoples Daily reports that the road has been outrightly abandoned by the present ministers in the ministry.