On the road to hell
Emmanuel Jackson, a truck driver, had a truck-full of cartons of tin tomatoes from Rivers State to be supplied in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State Capital.
When he embarked on the journey on October 30, 2022, the goal of supplying in safe condition the multimillion-naira worth of goods to an awaiting distributor was his mission.
After enjoying about an hour ride on the East-West Road, the journey nosedived when Jackson arrived at the Ikot Abasi section of the federal Abak-Ekparakwa-Ete-Ikot Abasi road.
Besides the several potholes slowing down his journey, the dilapidated road has deteriorated to the extent of having pit-like holes saturated with thick muds on a number of spots across the federal highway.
Although the driver had attempted to navigate through at least five dingy pit-like spots on this road, his goal of supplying the goods that day was quickly decapitated when he reached the sixth spot.
“By this time, it was getting dark. I tried manoeuvring again, little did I know that the pit on the road was much deeper and the mud very slippery. My truck fell.” Jackson recounts.
The driver narrates that the goods he had in the truck fell alongside the truck, scattering across the road. This led to the loss of the goods and destruction of the vehicle.
“Since this happened when darkness had crept in, most of the goods worth millions of naira were stolen. I don’t even have to mention the about a million naira that will be used to repair this truck. If this road was good, we wouldn’t have incurred this kind of loss,” Jackson laments.
The situation faced by another local bus driver, Okon Effiong, is similar to that of Emmanuel Jackson just narrated. TheMail Newspaper had met him trying to fix his vehicle after a vehicle part pulled out immediately after he drove out from a cavernous pothole. The situation made the market women who had their goods loaded in the vehicle to wait in the sun for hours for the vehicle to be repaired.
“This is what we drivers face daily on this road. This bad road damages our vehicles. Repairing this vehicle has kept us here for over five hours and before we finish and move to the dangerous Ogoni Road, night may fall thus putting the lives of these market women at risk of robbery attack”, Effiong bemoaned.
There have been sorrowful tales over the years on the Abak-Ekparakwa-Ete- Ikot Abasi federal road. Drivers who intend to connect Akwa Ibom State from Rivers State or vice versa have been forced to use a diversion of about 9 kilometres longer for the safety of their vehicles.
Those who are not familiar with the diversion or want to conserve fuel and time have suffered terrible consequences as many people have lost their lives on the road while trying to dodge the myriads of potholes and other threadbare spots.
Most drivers who speed on the road without knowledge of its miserable condition have often paid the ultimate price through fatal accidents.
The Sector Commander of Road Safety Commission in Akwa Ibom State, Matthew Olonisaye, in an FOI response to TheMail Newspaper dated December 9, 2022, had assured to give information on the number of accidents and lives lost on the Abak-Ekparakwa-Ete-Ikot Abasi road between 2018 and 2022 when response is given from the Commission’s headquarters in Abuja. Yet, this was not acceded to during the period of this investigation. However, data sourced from credible news media indicate that within the period under review, there have been at least 16 fatal accidents with over 40 lives estimated to have been lost.
FG Awards Reconstruction Contract
The terrible condition of the Abak-Ekparakwa-Ete-Ikot Abasi Federal Road should not have persisted to this day.
The Federal Government of Nigeria had awarded a contract for the reconstruction of this 48-kilometre road to China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) with the contract sum of N5.89bn on September 18, 2018 with contract number 6490.
According to data from the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, the contract duration of the project was 32 months.
Checks into the Appropriation Acts of the Federal Government reveals that the reconstruction contract has been enjoying budgetary provisions through the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing (Works Sector) since 2017 although the contract to CCECC was awarded in 2018. The Federal Government between 2017 and 2022 had budgeted N12.29bn for the reconstruction of the road.
Disbursements to CCECC
Data obtained from the Open Treasury Portal, a Federal Government portal that provides public access to collated data on government spending at the federal level and for Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) reveals that the reconstruction project has been enjoying financial releases since 2019. The Federal Government of Nigeria through the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing had between February 2019 and December 2022 paid to CCECC a total of N3.3bn for the reconstruction project.
Analysis of the data reveals that the payment commenced on February 15, 2019 and since then the federal government in each quarter of the year has released multimillion naira for the federal road project.
N349.75 million Unaccounted for
A freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Minister, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, the Controller of the ministry in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Oluwatofunmi Akinwande, the Chief Executive Officer of CCECC and the General Manager of the company in Akwa Ibom State in December 2022 had sought detailed information and documents on spending and implementation of the project.
The FOI requests specifically requested a copy of the contract approval letter, information on the cost of the project, payments made so far on the project, kilometres of work executed per year, precise location of the project executed including name of villages per year, stage of work/ total kilometres of work executed within the four years period funds have been released, description of actual work implemented ( if it is actually reconstruction or rehabilitation), pictorial evidence of the state of the road before and after execution and certificate of completion.
In a response dated January 16, 2023, Director (Planning, Research and Statistics), O.B. Ode Martins on behalf of the Minister of Works and Housing said the amount paid to CCECC from the date of the contract till January 16, 2023 is N2.95bn. However, checks into the Open Treasury Portal revealed something different. Between February 2019 and December 2022, the Federal Government spent a total of N3.3bn to CCECC for the project. Nevertheless, the data shows that N294.98m was deducted from source as Value Added Tax and Withholding Tax to Federal Inland Revenue Service, leaving 3.01bn directly to CCECC for the execution of the contract. This implies that with the total of N3.3bn reported on Open Treasury Portal to have been paid to CCECC for the project, N349.75m has been unaccounted for according to claims by the Ministry.
Road Remains Dilapidated, Contract Brief Neglected
Despite N3.3bn leaving the coffers of the federal government for the reconstruction of the Abak-Ekparakwa-Ete-Ikot Abasi federal road,
findings reveal that the funds disbursed may have not been used for the specific work the contract was awarded.
Within the 48km road, from Mkpat Enin local government area to the end of the project location at Ikot Abasi local government area which is about 20km was the most deplorable and dreadful hence generated several calls for the contract award. Yet, 51 months down the line, this section of the road remains unconstructed and continues to deteriorate by the day.
However, checks show that some parts of the road which was already motorable and with negligible potholes have received relative attention through asphalt overlay.
When TheMail Newspaper toured the road, it was observed that from Holy Family College, Abak which is about 100m from where the project commences at the Abak roundabout to Wellington Bassey Army Barracks, 6 Battalion, Ibagwa in Abak local government area, the road has been overlaid with asphalt. TheMail Newspaper used Google Map, an Open-Source App to measure the kilometres of work implemented by CCECC. At this axis, the work measured 10km. This area had drains in an area measured about 3km. Pavements were also provided although most have disintegrated despite the fact that the company carried out the work in late 2021.
From the Ibagwa bridge to Ikot Inyang which is after the Ekparakwa axis of the project, the road is only overlaid with asphalt but without pavement and gutters. The measurement of this portion is again 10km.
From Ikot Inyang in Oruk Anam local government area to Ibekwe in Mkpat Enin which is 7km, the road is again overlaid with asphalt and pavement with gutters provided at few portions of the road.
The entire 27km asphalted are areas which were with less concerns and very few potholes before the contract were awarded.
Yet, within the decayed area, this newspaper observed that a little portion of work measuring 1.4km at Ikot Ntot village in Mkpat Enin has been executed. Findings revealed that this work which was carried out in mid 2022 is the only portion the old asphalt on the road was peeled off and new asphalt applied.
TheMail observed that the asphalt that was peeled off the road was dumped at the entrance of the CCECC’s yard which is less than 2 kilometres from the portion of work done.
With the measurement of work executed by CCECC, it will imply that the company has covered 28.4km of the road out of the 48km stretch of the contract although arguably not within the scope of the contract tagged “reconstruction”.
In the FOI response from the Ministry of Works and Housing, the Minster told TheMail Newspaper that physical progress on the road is 76.47 percent as at January 16, 2023. Yet his claim is found wanting as the measurement of 28.4km of work done will imply that 59.17 percent of work is executed. TheMail had written to Controller of Works in Akwa Ibom State and CCECC requesting information on the actual kilometres of work executed on the road, this was not acceded to.
Yet, experts in civil engineering argue that simply overlaying a road with asphalt without working on the base coupled with failure to provide drains in modern roads especially in a swampy terrain like Akwa Ibom State would hardly be referred to as reconstruction.
Professor of Civil and Construction Engineering from the Department of Civil Engineering, Federal University of Uyo, Prof. Charles Uko says asphalting roads alone most times will imply repairs and not reconstruction.
“Reconstruction goes beyond mere asphalting. Most times, for durability, you have to tear off the pavements and go back to the base and start the work properly. However, everything depends on the contract agreement,” he insisted.
TheMail Newspaper in its FOI request to the ministry and CCECC had requested for contract agreement and clear description of the work implemented on the road. Again, this information was not provided.
Federal Government, Company to Blame for Delay in Completion
Despite arguably not implementing the work in accordance with the name given to the contract, CCECC cannot be entirely blamed for the continued deteriorated state of the road. According to the Minister of Works, the contract period was 32 months. This implies that in June 2021, the Abak-Ekparakwa-Ete-Ikot Abasi road project should have been completed if the contract amount was paid within contract duration.
Yet, within the contract period of 32 months which ended in June 2021, data from Open Treasury Portal shows that only N2.69bn was paid for the contract. That was 45.67 percent of the contract sum. Yet, 51 months after the contract award, only 3.3bn has so far been spent which is now 56 percent of the contract sum.
Nevertheless, the payments made by the federal government are more than the 30 percent mobilisation fees paid to contractors for take-off with expectations for work to be completed before final payment. However, the ministry and the company did not accede to our request for the contractual agreement which would have afforded insight into the expectations after each payment.
Yet, the completion of the road in 2023 is very doubtful. In the 2023 Appropriation Act, only N300m is budgeted for the project.
15km spur remains Incomplete Despite Completion Claims and Extrabudgetary Spending of about a billion naira
Although there was no budgetary provision for the repairs of the Abak-Ekparakwa road (Etinan Section II) in the Appropriation Act of 2020 and 2021, between this period, the federal government through the Federal Ministry of Works and its agency; Federal Roads Maintenance Agency awarded contract to three companies for the repairs of the Abak-Ekparakwa road (Etinan Section). The total stretch of the road is a 15km spur along Abak-Ekparakwa-Ete-Ikot Abasi road.
According to data from the Minister of Works to TheMail, the ministry awarded a contract of N495.45 million on October 30, 2020 to Danbaba Universal Solution Limited for special repair of the road (section II) with the contract duration of four months. The ministry says this road was completed and N468.81 million paid to the company. Yet, residents at the area this project was awarded said repairs of the road never took place in 2020. TheMail Newspaper could not locate the company at the address provided at CAC. There was no further information on the mail address or phone number of the company at CAC or its website which could have helped the newspaper verify from the company the work they have executed. Yet, checks at CAC revealed two names as Director/Owners of Danbaba Universal Solution; Yakubu Maryam and Abubakar Jamila.
Again, a year after, on October 29, 2021, the ministry again engaged in an extrabudgetary spending by awarding to Pinnatech Engineering Nigeria Limited a contract for the repairs of the same road but this time tagged Section IV with a contract period of three months and at the sum of N499.57 million.
Although the Minister in response to our FOI request claimed that Pinnatech Engineering had completed its project without a dime paid yet, findings into the Open Treasury Portal shows that the company has already received N263.9m both on March, 9, 2022 and December 23, 2022. Pinnatech Engineering failed to respond to the FOI request sent to the company for information and evidence on the work reported to have been executed by the company. Pinnatech was not found at its address provided at CAC. This newspaper sent the FOI request to the official email address provided for at the company’s website. When this was not still responded to, the newspaper contacted the phone contact provided at the company’s website. One Chikwe Chukwudi who responded to the call told TheMail Newspaper that they have not seen the FOI request although he acknowledged that the mail address which the newspaper sent the request was still functioning. He shared another mail address to the newspaper but still failed to respond when the FOI request was sent again. Although checks at CAC did not turn out results on the Directors/Owners of Pinnatech Engineering, further checks at NG-Check.com, a site that publishes information about companies showed four names as Directors; Nwankego Ndubuisi, Christopher Ndubuisi, Sunday Ndubuisi, and Ebuka John.
Surprisingly, the federal government continued to award contracts for the repairs of this same 15km road in 2021 despite not having a budgetary approval thus duplicating effort and creating gaps for corruption. Data from Open Treasury Portal shows that the Federal Road Maintenance Agency, an agency under the federal Ministry of Works and Housing took the turn this time. Although a contract for the major maintenance of Ikot Ekpene-Ariam -Umuahia was awarded to Heriprom Engineering Limited, the agency relocated the project on paper to this same road tagged as Ekparakwa Etinan -Ikot Ubo road in Akwa Ibom State. Data from Open Treasury Portal shows that Heriprom received a total of N190.37 million in March 2021 and June same year. A freedom of Information request to FERMA for evidence of the project executed was ignored. When TheMail visited the address provided by Heriprom to submit the FOI request to the company, the company was said not to be located at the address. The newspaper went further to contact the company’s phone line. One Sani Shehu Idris who responded to the call told the newspaper that the company is no longer located at the address and promised to send the mail address of the company to the newspaper. This was never done and further calls were not responded to. Checks at CAC reveal three individuals as Persons with Significant Control in the company, Adedapo Treasure, Adedapo Heritage and Tosin Adedapo.
A tour on the road revealed that although the major part of the road has been overlaid with asphalt, a section of the road which is 600m to Ekparakwa junction has been left uncompleted. This is contrary to the claims by the federal ministry of works that the road has been 100 percent completed. Residents of the area told the mail newspaper that although the road had only a few potholes before the contract, the road became overlaid with asphalt only in mid 2022. They could not tell the company that handled the project since there was no signpost for contract execution as it is the practice.
For three companies to handle the repair project within a span of two years made it difficult to identify the actual company that executed the work.
The ministry of works and housing in a response to our FOI request acknowledged that no budgetary provision was made for the project in the period the contracts were awarded although expenses were made.
Yet, the over a billion-naira contract for the repair/maintenance of the road awarded to the three companies by two government MDAs is not the only amount the 15km road gulped within the last four years. Yearly, the federal government continues to spend money on the road. In 2022, the federal ministry of works and housing awarded a contract to Bodmark Global Concept for the ” Consultancy Services for the Engineering Design of Ndiya Bridge Along Ekparakwa -Etinan-Ikot Ubo road in Akwa Ibom State”. Although a functional bridge currently exists on the road, it is unclear where exactly the ministry wants to build this particular bridge. Between November 11 and December 22, 2022, the company received payment of N74.35 million. The company also was among companies who could not be located at the address provided at the CAC. However, this newspaper had sent a FOI request to the mail address of the two directors and the deponent of the company provided at CAC for a copy of the engineering design of the bridge as evidence of project execution. The directors are Makinde Oluwabode Israel and Ajayi Oluwaropo Titilayo while Sule Carole Imo is the deponent of the company. This was not also responded to.
Government Fails to Respond to Key Issues
To get adequate information on the project details, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request was sent to the Federal Controller of Works in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Oluwatofunmi Akinwande on December 6, 2022. This was followed with another request to the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola on December 13, 2022.
When TheMail visited the office of the Controller of Works in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Oluwatofunmi Akinwande on Monday, January 9, 2023, after listening to TheMail’s questions about the project, the Controller assured that he will take the newspaper on a tour to the project and speak to the works executed the next day, Tuesday, January 10, 2023 at 10am.
The newspaper had enquired to know the kilometres and spots worked on by CCECC and each company that handled the spur, why CCECC overlaid the road instead of actual reconstruction, why the company chose to overlay the area with less concern leaving the axis that is grossly deteriorated, and why CCECC has not completed the road despite 56 percent releases of funds for the project as against 30 percent mobilization fees provided for in the procurement act.
The newspaper further sought to know why the ministry awarded contract to inactive companies in contravention of Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020, why three companies were awarded the repairs of Ekparakwa -Etinan Section of the road within the span of two years and without budgetary provision in the Appropriation Act. The newspaper also asked for documents that show evidence of communication with the companies during the ministry’s oversight of the project.
When TheMail visited the Works Controller on the agreed date and time, Mr. Akinwande became doggy and told TheMail Newspaper that his office can no longer take the newspaper to pinpoint the works done by each company but that the Ministry in Abuja would rather respond to the FOI letter. A source in the office confided in this newspaper that there are several dirty dealings in the contracts on the Abak-Ekparakwa-Ete-Ikot Abasi federal road hence the reason the Controller could not visit the project sites with the newspaper or comment on it.
Yet, a month after our FOI to the Minister of Works and Housing was acknowledged, on January 16, 2022, the Minister responded to some information requested but failed to respond to the concerns raised to its office in Akwa Ibom.
Contractors keep Mum over Contract Information
Besides the government, the contractors ignored the FOI request sent to their offices. A FOI request to CCECC’s General Manager at the Akwa Ibom State office was acknowledged on December 5, 2022. In addition, on December 13, 2022, the Chief Executive officer of the company in Abuja acknowledged the FOI request sent to his office but failed to respond to the information sought.
The company, besides not responding to the FOI request, did not attend to TheMail Newspaper when the head office in Uyo was visited on January 4 and January 9, 2023. A man who identified himself as human resource manager of the company told this newspaper that the General Manager was not on seat on both occasions even after scheduling the appointment for Monday, January 9, 2023.
Other companies, Pinnatech Engineering and Bodmark Global Concept followed the pattern of ignoring FOI requests.
The disregard to the FOI requests by both the government and companies violates section 57 (2) of the public procurement act which provides that accountability and transparency should be upheld by all parties in procurement.
“The conduct of all persons involved with public procurement, whether as official of the Bureau, a procuring entity, supplier, contractor or service provider shall at all times be governed by principles of honesty, accountability, transparency, fairness and equity”, the section states.
House of Representatives to Investigate Project
The House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Abandoned Projects has assured that the controversies in the contract execution on the Abak-Ekparakwa-Ete-Ikot Abasi road project including the spur will be investigated.
Contacted, the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Francis Udoyok who is also the Member Representing Ikot Abasi/Mkpat Enin/ Eastern Obolo Federal Constituency, a section the project passes expressed surprise when he was told that N3.3bn has been spent by the federal government on the road.
” I am surprised that the amount of money you mentioned has been spent. However, I can assure you that we will make further findings on the amount that has been released, why the road has not been completed among other issues you have raised in the contract.”
FG must Come Clear on the Contract Details- BudgIT insists
BudgIT, a civic organisation with focus on making the Nigerian budget and public data more comprehensible and accessible has called on the federal government to be transparent and very explicit on the contract details of the Abak-Ekparakwa-Ete-Ikot Abasi road and its spur.
Contacted, the Senior Research and Policy Analyst of BudgIT, Vahyala Kwaga said it is only when the federal government through the ministry and agency that awarded the contract come clear on the contract details that people will be equipped to ask relevant questions and make necessary demands.
Kwaga said shrouding contract details in secrecy gives room for corruption since corruption thrives in secrecy and secrecy handicaps beneficiaries of projects from asking the right question.
He said ” There should be data available about the contract. The federal government should come out and explain why there is asphalting as opposed to proper reconstruction of the road.
“This still circles back to the issue of lack of transparency. The federal government was trying to put together some momentum with the Nigeria Open Contracting Portal (NOCOPO). I don’t know what has come of the portal and its maintenance and whether the data uploaded there is relevant or timely.
” When you are not aware of the contract details, there is very little to work with.
There should be contract transparency; what are the terms of this contract? How did the contract define reconstruction? That will enable people to make informed opinions on what should be done next.”
The Senior Research and Policy Analyst who insisted that awarding a single contract to multiple contractors and sometimes different agencies of government awarding contract for a single project is a recipe for corruption recommended that the federal government need to go beyond the papers in transiting from incremental budgeting to zero base budgeting thus stop the practice.
He called on citizens and government representatives to ask relevant questions hence engender accountability in the expenditure of government funds.
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).