By Iteveh Ekpokpobe
Opukabu Primary School located in Patani Local Government Area of Delta State shares several similarities with an abandoned poultry farm.
The roofs are leaking, there is no running portable water, the seats in the classrooms have been vandalised, open defecation is the order of the day, and the playground is mosquito infested and swampy, fit only for swines.
Amidst these deplorable conditions, over 700 pupils get an education. Opukabu Primary School, is only the distance of a football field away from the Delta State boundary in Patani, which is adorned with one of the abandoned Gateway Monument projects.
The Gateway Monument at the Patani Boundary of Delta State, is a mass of unpainted concrete and iron-affair. The welcome to Delta State signboard hangs on its top, welcoming visitors to the bush and dirt surrounding the project and lining the road for kilometres.
As specified in the contract document, the gateway is to be partly adorned with tiles, and be painted, while royal palm trees are to be planted on both sides of the monument for two kilometres. But this Gateway is a far cry from the project specification.
Similarly, residents of Ugbenu, a community that shares a boundary with Ologbo, drink from their river due to the absence of portable water. In Ugbenu, internal movement is also a nightmare when it rains, as there are no motor-able roads. This community is where the second Gateway Monument sits in the middle of a bush and dilapidated road. The bushes surrounding the project can cater for a herd of cattle.. There are also no royal palm trees lining two kilometre stretch of the road.
In the same vein, the Gateway Monument sited at Alifikede entrance point has been left to its fate. Just as the people of Alifikede community have been left to their fate by the state government. The project is only a mass of concrete and metal. It is not painted as stipulated in the contract document. Neither are there royal palm trees lining a two kilometre stretch of the road.
The last of the four projects seems to be the worst. It is sited at Asaba Head Bridge entrance. This Gateway Monument, approved for construction three years ago, is a caricature of what it should be. It has only three uncompleted concrete poles and work scaffolds can be seen hugging each of the three concrete poles.
Located between the police check point and the head bridge, the project cannot be recognised by any passer-by for what it was intended to be. According to the project specification, “by the design, the wings of the monuments are to spread across the road, with the centre median bearing the monuments.”
Details of Project Approval Documents
In a memo dated 20th June, 2017, the Delta State Governor Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, approved for construction of Gateway Monuments for four entry points into the state, which are the Niger Bridge Head, Asaba-Alifikede Entrance Point, Patani Entrance Point and Ologbo Boundary Point.
The contract was awarded to ZCI Concrete Industry at a cost of N123,059,370 only (One Hundred And Twenty Three Million, Fifty Nine Thousand, Three Hundred And Seventy Naira) only.
The ZCI Concrete Industry was incorporated in Oshimili South, Delta State with registration number DE26413 according to details available in NG.Check.com.
It was registered on the 12th of March, 2013, and its current status is unknown. The company’s registered addres is KM 10, Benin- Onitsha Express Way Asaba, Oshimili South, Delta State.
In the aforementioned memo signed by the Executive Assistant to the Governor on Beautification, Chief Grace Aghoghovbia, the contract details indicate that each of the 4 Gate-way Monuments cost 30 million naira.
A further breakdown shows that construction of each Gateway Monument was pegged at N24 million, while planting of royal palms along the road for a stretch of two kilometres would cost N6 million.
What happened to the funds?
Although all the funds have been released in 2017, as confirmed by a source in the Accountant General’s Office, three years after, the contract is still designated as on-going and at a completion stage of about 60 per cent.
In the same vein, the royal palms approved for planting on both sides of the road (a two kilometre stretch) for the four Gateways are nowhere to be seen.
A source in the office of the Executive Assistant on Beautification alleged that the non-completion of the four projects may be due to the fact that 30 per cent of the contract sum was deducted at the office of the Accountant General of the State.
When contacted, the former Accountant-General of Delta State, Mr. Cyril Agbeye, under whose tenure the project was approved, declined comments. Calls placed to his numbers as well as text and whatsApp messages sent to him were not replied.
A text sent on October 7, 2020 reads, “good evening Sir, I believe you are well? I am Iteveh Ekpokpobe, a journalist. I wish to get certain clarifications on an investigation I am currently on. I will work with anytime you find convenient Sir. I will really appreciate your kind cooperation Sir. Thanks.”
The same message was sent to him via WhatsApp, He responded, “I have your contact my friend. What is the issue?”
The reporter told him a source at the office of the Executive assistant to Governor on beautification, accused him of 30 percent deduction on payment for the gateway project hence the delay in execution.
He read the questions, but that was the last time the reporter heard from him. He was contacted again on October 12, 2020 via whatsapp but refused to reply.
Subsequently, calls placed on his cell phone number were not answered.
However, if the allegation of 30 per cent deduction is true, then over N36 million was deducted by the office of the Accountant General. This also means that the completion of the projects pegged at N123 million would be unachievable, since 24 million naira was the actual sum proposed for planting of the royal palms.
The incumbent Accountant General of the state, Mrs Joy Enwa, when contacted by our reporter refused to comment on the matter, and text and whatsapp messages sent to her did not get reply.
A text sent to her reads, “Good morning Ma, I wish to confirm the payment of the Delta State Gateway monument project awarded in June 2017, under the office of the EA on beautification for N123 million, allegations point that the former AG deducted 30 per cent hence the project is uncompleted. I can call at your convenience, Thanks. Iteveh Ekpokpobe, Journalist.”
The message was read on whatsapp. The blue lines indicated it. The Accountant General refused to respond. Subsequently, calls placed to her cell phone were not answered.
Procurement Was Faulty – Investigation
That the project execution is poor can also be attributed to the fact that the procurement process was faulty, even as key government officials in the know have refused to talk about the contract.
The Director General, Delta State Bureau for Public Procurement, Dr. Duke Okezi, said he was not in office when the contract was approved hence he could not speak about it.
However, as contained in the contract approval memo signed by Aghoghovbia, it is obvious that ZCI Concrete Industry was awarded all four projects without any procurement process.
In the memo, the governor’s aide wrote, “the company, ZCI Concrete Industry has proposed to beautify four strategic main entrances with monuments, featuring the Delta State map, the new logo and cultural touch to give Deltans as well as visitors a special feel as they enter the state.”
ZCI was hand-picked by Aghoghovbia under whose office the project is running. Surprisingly, following series of inquiries by our reporter, the project in Ologbo was hurriedly painted four weeks ago.
Meanwhile all efforts to reach the contractor proved abortive. Calls placed across as well as text messages were neither answered nor responded to.
Condemning the procurement process, Mr Kehinde Taiga, of the state branch of Committee for Defense of Human Rights (CDHR), opined that the contract be reviewed with the contractor called to order and prosecuted according to the Procurement laws of the state which recommends three to five years jail term for defaulting on procurement agreements.
Mr Taiga reasoned that the procurement process was obviously done to furnish political sentiments based on contribution to election.
“This is a contract that is supposed to add color to the state. It is sad that majority of contracts issued by the state government are fraudulently done, hence projects are abandoned or done shabbily.” He added.
Disrespect for Due Process Our Bane – CSO
Also a Civil Society Organisation, Publish What You Pay (PWYP), frowned at the irregularities shrouding project execution and financing in the state.
The Coordinator of the organisation, Faith Nwadishi, said that the issue of corruption and lack of respect for due process or laws has become endemic in the governance processes, adding that development would remain stunted in this regard.
According to her, “These are issues we have been shouting ourselves hoarse about. The issue of corruption and lack of respect for due process or laws in the country has become endemic in the governance processes”.
Mrs. Grace Aghoghovbi refuses to comment on the project
Aghoghovbia, who awarded the beautification contract, helped to frustrate our reporter’s inquiries on the project.
Texts and calls placed to her were neither answered nor responded to. However, in a case of mistaken identity, she called the reporter back asking if he was from her community since she included his name in a list of those to benefit from a government empowerment programme.
When our reporter eventually introduced himself, she promised to call back but never did, “Are you from Oviri Olomu? When we were giving names from Oviri Olomu for a list, I included your name. I will have to ask the admin to remove it,” she said
When asked why she did not respond to the earlier inquiry she said, “I wouldn’t have seen the text because I am abroad. Let me call you back. I will call you back. Is it possible for you to send the message via Whatsapp.” That was the last time she communicated with our reporter. All messages sent to her via WhatsApp were read but not replied.
However, the Chief Press Secretary, CPS, to the Governor, Mr. Olise Ifejika, told the reporter that the lady in charge of the project was indisposed as she was in the United Kingdom for medication attention.
“I have told you about her state. If you ask anybody who knows her, that is the truth. She left this country early February. She is going blind even now. Even that surgery, they have not been able to do it. At the time it should have been done Covid-19 came in. She is still in the United Kingdom.”
Speaking on the projects, Olise said out of four, three were on-going, adding that there must be a reason for the delay. “I think it is one thing at a time. It cannot be that it won’t be done. This government is transparent enough.”
Experts Review of Project
A civil engineer with over five years in the construction industry, Engineer Terry Ighoro said the cost per project is pegged at N2,904,000 with minimal profit even with the current dollar rate.
In total, the sum of N11,616,000 million will cover for the four projects.
In his quotation, Engineer Ighoro stated that while N350, 000 could construct each of the wing rails with total at N700,000, the Delta State map and design by artist goes for N300,000.
“Fifty bags of cement can cover each of the projects at N3000 per bag totaling N150, 000. Fifty 12mm rods at N3000 per rod including transportation is N150,000. Granite gravel, a trailer load is N250,000 although a trailer load will be too much for each of the projects.”
“Two trailer loads of sharp sand at N50,000, At most, two tankers load of water at N10,000 per truck totals N20,000. For the painting, N100,000 can cover for both buckets of paint and labour. Four cartons of tiles for the base at 5,000 per carton totals N20,000. Goodbye and welcome to Delta State signpost mounted on the wing rails at N75,000 each totals N150,000. Overall Labour and supervision is pegged at N400,000 while Miscellaneous is pegged at N264, 000.”
Ighoro said the project duration was not supposed to exceed six months if the funds were available.
He said it would take that amount of time for the proper healing of the concrete bases amongst other construction activities.
*This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).