More than 2 year after the ground breaking ceremony to launch the Zungeru Hydro Electricity Dam project by President Goodluck Jonathan, and immediate commencement of work by a Chinese Construction firm, the project is yet to see the light of day, writes Yakubu Mustaphar in Minna.
The problem started after youths numbering about 600 stormed the area where the project is located and stopped work on the project. Their grievances? Government has not kept its part of the bargain, to compensation over 300 communities who gave up their lands for the construction of the dam, aside failing to include over 50 percent of the affected villagers in the compensation list which they alleged was fraudulently drawn by few individuals.
During a peaceful protest to drive home their demands, they stormed the site on the 13th July, 2014 and stopped the ongoing work until their demands for proper compensation were met.
Investigation by Peoples Daily revealed that the aggrieved youth converged at the site and through their leadership, tabled the challenges they faced due to the loss of the farmlands while appealing to President Goodluck Jonathan to come to their aid by rescuing them from the hardship they are presently subjected to in the communities.
After 50 years of being on the drawing board, the Zungeru Hydro Electricity Dam expected to generate about 700MW of electricity to the National grid finally took off with the ground breaking ceremony which took place in Zungeru, in Wushishi local government area of Niger state.
The Zungeru dam, after its completion will bring to four, the number of hydro electricity dams constructed in Niger state, making the state unarguably the power state in Nigeria. The first being the Kainji Dam with an initial install capacity of 760MW and commissioned in 1968, this was followed by the Jebba Dam commissioned in 1978 with an installed capacity of 540MW and the third one being the Shiroro Dam which was commissioned in 1990 with an installed capacity of 600MW.
Interestingly, while the Kainji and Jebba Dams are on River Niger, the Shiroro and the proposed Zungeru Dams hydro electricity Dams are on River Kaduna.
However the idea of the Zungeru power project development was actually conceived in the early 80s and has been on the drawing board for 30 years since the first visibility studies was put together by Messrs Chas T. Main International USA.
Successful governments in the country have tried fruitlessly to bring the project to a reality but due to the enormous technical complexities of the project and the high financial implication, the project could not see the light of the day.
However, the determination of the current administration to transform the power sector within the short and medium terms, as a catalyst to the growth and transformation of the economy, was not deterred by the challenges posed by the complexities of the project so it consistently focused on finding solutions to enable it meet the challenges for the benefit of the nation.
Consequently the approval for the Zungeru hydro power project and the award of the contract for the real Engineering procurement and construction (EPC) was subsequently granted in favour of Messrs Synohydro Corporation/China National Electrical Engineering Corporation (CNEEC) consortium at the contract sum N162.9billion with a completion period of four years. Accordingly former Minister of state for power, Hajiya Zainab Kuchi, while giving the overview of the project at the ground breaking ceremony on site, said the project will be financed through a long term credit from Exim Bank of China on a Debt-Equity ratio of 75:25., adding that the funding has been secured by the federal ministry of finance at 2% and the federal government has paid its equity portion of 25% of the total fund.
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan while laying the foundation for the project, said despite the current security challenges facing the country, his administration had the will to take up any challenge that will transform the economy of the country.
Overwhelmed by the numerous benefits that the state stood to gain from the construction of the dam, the people of the state could not hide their joy as they rolled out their drums to celebrate what the state Governor, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu described as a gift to the state.
Aliyu said that the characteristic crave by the president for transformation and development had led to the actualization of the dream of having another dam to boost electricity by adding 700MW to the national grid, adding that “we see this your visit as part of centenary celebration and we thank you for this gift”.
The Governor said that the epoch making event will not only add value to power generation in the country as envisioned by the administration, as it will also boost employment and Zungeru and the environs shall benefit tremendously in addition to boosting the already tourist center of the former capital of Nigeria.
Despite the assurance from governments and traditional rulers for peaceful execution of the project the recent threat by angry youths from the host communities poses a threat to the construction. In an interview with the spokesman and chairman of Manta District Development Association (MADDA) Zaramai Beri, he lamented that four (4) persons have so far died in Gunugu and Gungu as a result of constant dynamite explosions used by the company while farm lands have been taken away from the farmers.
“We are saying that the committee set up by government is not working and they cannot do anything for us. We have long rejected the list of compensation and we have appealed to President Jonathan to come to our rescue. The hazard that people are facing now is enormous, worst of it is that people have been intimidated to leave the area since last year and they feel that the compensation should have been done by now” he lamented.
Beri noted that communities close to the project site no longer sleep because of constant blasting of rocks “infact there are communities in the place where the construction firm will tell the people to go and hibernate in the bush only to come back and discover that their houses and properties had been covered by dust and this has been going on for over a year now”.
He stated that the Communities Relations Committee has refused to display the list for claims and objections in accordance with the popular demand by the villagers, and that such would have fished out the ghost names included in the list.
He therefore disclosed that about 30% of work has been done on site without compensation to the host communities even as the resettlement area has been cleared but nothing is going on there, depriving them from farming despite that they are in the raining season and farming is their major occupation in the area.
During the peaceful protest by the angry youths were seen carrying placards with inscriptions, “Release our farm lands and ancestral places for us since FG is not ready to pay compensation” “Leave our land for us to farm, is light better than life?” amongst others.
They called on the federal government through the federal ministry of power and mining to as a matter of urgency, be proactive in order to put to an end to the problems before it escalates as they had declared that if nothing is done soon, for them to commence their farming activities on their lands they would completely halt the construction work on the project site of the dam thereby stalling its realization.