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Egbe Belu Culvert

14.12.2023 Climate SPECIAL REPORT: Plights of Umunankwo’s Residents Over Flood-Damaged Anambra Road’s Unsuccessful Rehabilitation

Published 14th Dec, 2023

By Blessing Udeobasi

It has been exactly 14 months since the collapse of the only bridge linking Umunankwo and about seven other communities in Anambra to the rest of the state and other southern parts of the country.

The bridge collapsed days after an engine boat conveying about 85 passengers crashed against its barriers, leaving at least 20 persons dead and about 76 others missing.

For residents of Umunankwo and communities like Mputu, Ogwuaniocha, Ossomala, Obeagwe, Akili Ogidi and Ogwuikpele, all in the Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra, the bridge collapse remains one of the visible traces of the 2022 flooding which wreaked havoc across many states in the country.

Fourteen months after the accident and collapse of the bridge, the locals are still hoping that the government will fix the facility. They were only consoled with words by the authorities, including Chris Ngige, a former Governor of Anambra, who was at the time the Minister of Labour and Employment. Chukwuma Soludo, the incumbent governor, said the development was a shock and assured that the government would continue to do its best to reduce the negative effects of the flood disaster.

Nothing has happened since then, and the residents have moved on with their lives. They would learn to improvise with local materials to patch up potholes and create alternative routes while waiting for the government to help reduce the effects of floods as promised by the governor. 

TRIP TO UMUNANKO COMMUNITY FROM ONITSHA

Travelling in a vehicle from the popular Upper Iweka in Onitsha to Umunankwo is a trip like an eternity due to the difficulties brought by the bad state of the road. To have first-hand experience, this reporter boarded a minibus to Umunankwo.

The route is fraught with potholes – in some cases, craters – and checkpoints that increase the duration of the journey. The majority of the motorists plying the routes have developed a mastery of navigating all the bad portions. One could easily tell from how the driver of the mini-bus conveying us was dodging all the craters and portholes with some sort of dexterity.

The vehicle soon arrived at Egbe Belu Junction, a popular culvert also destroyed by the 2022 flooding. Due to the collapse of the culvert, the road is already divided into two, creating a big deep gully in its middle. This makes it impossible for vehicles to continue their journey to/from Ossomala, a community in the council area. 

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To continue the journey, residents of the community deploy boats to the junction to ferry passengers to the other side of the road, FIJ gathered. As the flood water dried up in parts of the road, residents created an alternative route by cutting down trees and levelling the right side of the culvert.

But Samuel, a commercial driver who plies the road daily, told FIJ that the alternative route created through communal efforts had constantly been destroyed by heavy-duty vehicles used by oil-drilling companies working in parts of the community. 

EXTORTION OF LOCALS FOR FIXING THE ROAD

On reaching Egbe Belu Junction, the driver and other passengers heaved a sigh of relief when they saw a dumper truck pouring granite and sand on the road. A bulldozer then followed to level the surface.

Vehicles were forced to wait for over 30 minutes on both ends of the road until the bulldozer was done before they could continue.

Vehicles waiting at Egbe Belu Culvert Credit: Blessing Udeobasi//FIJ

Samuel said this had been the tradition since January 2023. Initially, they felt actual construction of the damaged road would begin in earnest, but the year is almost ending, and nothing tangible has been done.

“The road is too bad and needs urgent attention. I cannot count the number of times my vehicle got stuck here and I had to look for people to help me push it out of the muddy road,” Samuel said.

“We used to spend about five minutes plying this route, but since the road got damaged, we have been spending up to 20-30 minutes from Ogbakuba.”

To the amazement of this reporter, the drivers manning the dumper truck and bulldozer alighted as soon as they were done levelling the road and began to demand money from road users. 

One of the drivers kept dishing out threats and insults at road users who failed to give him money for fixing the road.

When one of the passersby called his attention to the fact that one of the vehicles he tried to extort was owned by a ‘Councillor’ who would probably write a petition against him, the driver flared up and threatened to destroy the road he just fixed.

Na councillor be that oo, he go write against you oo!” one of the passersby said.

“Even though na councillor, na him put me for here? No talk like that oo, I go destroy this road now. Na so una no dey like progress of person. Which kind councillor be that, he dey work for me?” the truck driver who levelled the road fired back.

Construction workers extorting road users despite over N300m allocation. Credit: Blessing Udeobasi//FIJ

While some road users gave ‘tokens’ to appreciate the construction workers for the work, others simply said ‘thank you’, which did not go well with the two construction workers.

OVER N397 MILLION APPROVED, NOTHING TO SHOW

FIJ findings revealed that over N397.5 million has been approved by the federal government for the rehabilitation/ construction of the same road between 2021 and 2023 alone.

As contained in the 2021 budget, N105 million was approved for the rehabilitation/construction of Ossomala-Ogwuikpele-Ase-Ndoni road, which was listed as an ongoing project.

Also, a search through the 2022 budget shows that the sum of N167.5 million was approved for the rehabilitation/construction of Ossomala-Ogwuikpere-Ase-Ndoni road listed as a new project.

Similarly, the 2023 approved budget enlisted the same road as an ongoing project with the sum of N125m approved.

FIJ also found that about three different contractors have been awarded and paid millions of naira for the construction of the same road. These were contained in GovSpend, a platform maintained by BudgIT Nigeria to track and analyse federal government spending over time.

On August 11, 2022, the Federal Road Maintenance Agency paid the sum of N30,901,530 in two instalments to Enil Tech Solutions & Services Ltd. for the supply of materials and hiring of equipment for the provision of road markings along Onitsha-Atani-Ossomala-Ndoni (km 0+000-85+000).

On May 16, 2019, the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing paid Young Stallion Nigeria Ltd. the sum of N9,557,679 for the rehabilitation/reconstruction of Osomala-Ogwuikpele-Ase-Ndoni road 

On October 27, 2020, the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing paid the same Young Stallion Nigeria Ltd. the sum of N74,428,889 for the rehabilitation and construction of the road.

On October 15, 2021, the same ministry paid ₦65,593,842 to Young Stallion as part-payment for the rehabilitation and construction of the same road.

On January 19, 2021, the ministry also paid Citymart Integrated Services Ltd. the sum of N16,904,705, a 15 percent mobilisation fee for the construction of the same road. 

On March 25, 2022, the ministry paid ₦102,888,491 to Citymart Integrated Services Ltd. as final payment for the construction of the same road.

However, no actual work had begun on the road when this reporter visited in September. The contractors in charge of the construction had not shown commitment to the work, which manifested in the slow rehabilitation of the road with crude materials.

SLOW CONSTRUCTION, FLIMSY EXCUSES

The rehabilitation and construction of the road were contained in the 2022 and 2023 federal budgets, and money was disbursed to Citymart Integrated Services Ltd. from the federal government account, so it is easy to assume that the project is being executed by the federal government. 

But FIJ’s findings revealed that work is being undertaken by Kanubeen, a construction company contracted by the Anambra state Government.

“Since last year’s flooding, the state government has awarded the contract of the road, the collapsed culvert and the bridge at Umunankwo to Kanubeen Company,” says Pascal Aniegbuna, the chairperson of Ogbaru local government area. 

Aniegbuna told FIJ that the company ought to have finished that road but had been giving flimsy excuses since it got the contract last year. 

READ ALSO: SPECIAL REPORT: How Poor Toilet Facilities Threaten Girl-Child Education in Akwa Ibom Schools

“Sometime last year, when they wanted to begin, they said they were attacked by hoodlums and unknown gunmen who were disturbing the community at that time. Maybe because of the fear, they became very slow in working on the road and we had to come in as a government to provide security and motivate them,” the council chairperson said.

He added that he only used his office as chairperson to pester the company to at least do something to make the road motorable.

“They are no longer able to give the flimsy excuses they’d been giving. That was why they made that road the way it is now. Thank God people are accessing it now. Hopefully, they will start work in earnest before Christmas,” he said.

UMUNANKWO BRIDGE STILL A DEATH TRAP

About a 10-minute drive from Egbe Belu junction is Umunankwo Bridge, another popular location along the OnitshaOssomala-Ogwu~ikpele-Ase-Ndoni.

By the end of August 2023, Kanubeen Construction Nigeria Limited, the company currently in charge of the road used sand-filled cement bags to fill up the two sides of the bridge. However, it collapsed again barely a week later.

This reporter visited two days after the second collapse and some residents were still gathered to inspect the extent of damage and chart ways to manage what was left. The right side of the adjoining road connecting the bridge had sunk into the river underneath, causing motorists to ply the left side only at their own risk.

Umunankwo bridge collapsed one week after Kanubeen Construction Company fixed it with sand-filled cement bags. Credit: Blessing Udeobasi//FIJ

When FIJ contacted residents in the area in November to ascertain the level of progress of the construction, it was gathered that the road, including Egbe Belu Culvert and Umunankwo Bridge, was still as it was on our last visit in September. Nothing had been done!

“We no longer allow big vehicles to pass that bridge. And two vehicles cannot also pass at the same time, else, it will sink in again. It is just small vehicles and that one is also very risky because the bridge is visibly sinking gradually,” Samuel told FIJ.

“It is a very big risk for us, but we have no choice. We cannot kill ourselves, and we have to hustle to provide food for our children,” he lamented.

Residents who are mostly peasant farmers and small business owners are bearing the brunt of the collapsed bridge. 

FIJ gathered that the horrible condition of the road has crippled economic activities in the communities along the road. Ogbaru LGA is made up of mainly agrarian communities specialising in large-scale farming of yam, cassava, potatoes and fishing. However, the inaccessibility of the road connecting the communities to other parts of the state and country has made business difficult for the farmers since they are unable to easily transport farm produce to potential buyers.

A commercial farmer who frequently shuttles between his hometown, Umunankwo, and his residence in Onitsha, Austin Okonyia, told FIJ that transporting his farm produce to the market has almost become more stressful and expensive than actual farming and harvesting.

“People in my community sell their farm produce in a market called Nkwo Ogbakuba. It is the largest community market in Ogbaru LGA and we used to have customers from Imo, Enugu and Rivers states,” he said.

“But since the road got spoilt last year, business has been very bad. Most of our customers now avoid coming to our market because of the bad road. Those who manage to come offer to pay below market price since they spend more on transportation.”

Okonyia said farmers have resorted to accepting what customers offer because they cannot keep their produce for long for fear of damage and also to meet their financial needs.

To transport harvested crops from the farm to the market, Okonyia saidd, it takes up an entire day as opposed to a few minute’s journey with a big truck due to the collapsed bridge and damaged roads leading to the market.

“Each time I get to the spoilt bridge, I pay manual labourers to carry it across on the head. From there we enter another bus that will take it to Ogbakuba. That is what we pass through each time we need to carry farm produce to the market,” he said.

“In other markets, a bag of processed cassava is sold for N14,000. But we sell N9,000 in that village market just to cover expenses. Big trucks that carry goods are not able to come to the village due to the poor condition of the road. So, we now pay boys that carry goods with local boats, wheelbarrows and sometimes on the head.

For residents of Umunankwo and other communities along the said road, the cost of living has become very high, causing them to live above market realities. FIJ gathered in November that goods such as sausage roll that is sold for N100 in Onitsha, a nearby city, is sold for N150 in the villages. 

Also, fuel and cooking gas, which were sold for N650 and N840 in Onitsha, went for N750 and N1,050 respectively in Umunankwo.

“We end up spending more than we earn. There are no companies or filling stations or gas stations in my town; we mostly buy those things from Onitsha. They buy fuel and gas from Onitsha, and so after going through such stress on the road to bring it down to the village, they hike the price to make a profit,” Okonyia added.

Similarly, Ozoemena Onumajuru, a commercial motorcyclist from the Umunankwo community, told FIJ he had suffered so much due to the poor condition of the road.

“It was young boys along Ogbakuba road that took it as a point of duty to fill up the road with stones and palm kernel shells. They do it and collect money from motorists almost every day. If not for them, no one would be able to pass that route,” he said.

“Each time we get to the spoilt bridge or any other damaged portion of the road, we tell our passengers to alight, then we find means of crossing the bad road before our passenger will enter again and we proceed on the journey. If not, you are likely to fall with the bike and injure both yourself and the passenger. That is how we have been managing the road.”

‘MANAGEMENT SAID I SHOULD NOT SAY ANYTHING’

When FIJ contacted an engineer from Kanubeen Company identified simply as Chike at about 11:28 am on October 25, he asked this reporter to call back later in the day as he needed to get the management’s consent before speaking on the issue. 

He was among the company’s engineers who worked on the bridge in Umunankwo. However, at about 4:35 pm on the same day, this reporter made repeated attempts to call him, but his phone line did not connect. He had blocked the reporter’s number.

The call eventually went through after this reporter called with another number almost immediately. But Engr. Chike became rather aggressive this time and said he was not in a position to speak on the issue.

When this reporter asked to be connected to a management staff who is in a position to speak about it, the engineer declined to share the contact but asked the reporter to source for the number however she deemed fit.

Engr. Chike affirmed that the company has a website but added that the managing director (MD’s) number is not available on the website. 

When this reporter pressed further, the engineer got rather infuriated and threatened to hang up.

“I wouldn’t want to hang up on you, and I know you wouldn’t like it. I just told you the little I could tell you. Do not ask me any questions about that bridge. You are not paying me, and I have told you that those paying me asked me not to speak to any journalist about that bridge. What will you gain if they sack me from my work? Please don’t put me in trouble,” he said and hung up almost immediately.

FIJ called the phone number available on the company’s website on several occasions between October 25 and November 25 but the number was always switched off.

NO RESPONSE FROM THE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY CONTRACTED BY FG

The Federal Ministry of Works and Housing paid N119,793,196 to Citymart Integrated Services Ltd., a construction company owned by Chief Christopher Chukwunweogo Ndubuisi, a popular Anambra-born philanthropist, and his wife, Lolo Joy Uju Ndubuisi, to fix the road.

Like the other companies owned by the philanthropist, FIJ found no phone numbers associated with the company, no websites and no social media presence. 

FIJ also engaged the services of a lawyer to conduct a deep search of the company hoping to find a working phone number, but the search returned without a phone number. This means the company deliberately failed to submit any contact details to the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) during registration.

Other companies owned by the businessman include Centerview Business Concept Limited located at E-15, Emab Plaza, Wuse II, Abuja-FCT, the same office address used to register Citymart; Pinnatech Engineering (Nig) Ltd, Chief Christopher Ndubuisi Foundation, and Pinnatech Hotel and Suites, located both in Abuja and Awka, Anambra State.

FIJ called the phone number associated with the Awka branch of the hotel asking to speak with Chief Ndubuisi, but the receptionist who answered the call said it was against their ethics to give out their MD’s phone number.

FIJ sent an email to the addresses owned by Chief Ndubuisi and his wife as provided on the CAC portal, enquiring about the status of the contract. The email was successfully delivered on November 14 but not responded to at press time.

FOI REQUESTS TO ANAMBRA STATE AND FEDERAL MINISTRIES OF WORKS IGNORED

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests were sent to both the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, as well as the Anambra State Ministry of Works on November 3 to enquire about the true status of the project.

Both requests were acknowledged on November 7 and 8 but were never responded to even after the seven-day ultimatum stipulated by the FOI Act.

This story is published under the GovSpend Media Fellowship, supported by BudgIT, ICIR and MacArthur Foundation

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Published 14th Dec, 2023

By Blessing Udeobasi

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