14 January 2013

Nigeria: Abduction of Frenchman Halts N4.5bn Power Project in Katsina

Katsina — Following the abduction of Mr. Francis Colump, one of the French engineers handling the on-going 10mw wind propelled power project in Rimi local government area, Katsina state, in December, works at the site have been stopped. The project was said to be nearing completion when the incident occurred, Daily Trust gathered.

Colump, a staff of Vergnet Wind Energy Company, a French firm which specialises in renewable solar energy, was kidnapped by unknown gunmen in Rimi town on December 20.

Armed with sophisticated guns, the abductors stormed the residence of Colump, located in the heart of Rimi at about 11am and seized him. During the operation that lasted only few minutes, the gunmen also killed two persons at the residence and injured a mobile police attached to the French engineer. They finally attacked a Police divisional office on their way out of the town.

Site manager of the project, Mr. J C Jallon, had in an interview with Daily Trust before the abduction of Mr. Colump said three engineers were being expected in Nigeria from France to inspect the facilities before commissioning.

According to Jallon, the engineers were delayed by Nigerian authorities, who did not issue them with visa. He said all major works had been completed at the site but the project could not be commissioned until engineers check the facilities and give the go ahead for the commissioning.

Daily Trust learnt that Mr Colump was among four French engineers that travelled to France for break last year. But our correspondent gathered that he was the only one among them who returned to Nigeria in December last, and few days after, he was kidnapped. The remaining engineers, Daily Trust learnt, have refused to return.

When Daily Trust visited the project site recently, it discovered that only the local security guards were at the site. Even the Nigerian consultants have vacated the site. Upon inquiry, our correspondent was told that the foreign expatriates did not return to Nigeria since Colump's abduction.

Further observation showed that there was no sign of work going on work at the site. All offices were under lock and key. Although most of the turbines had been assembled, it was learnt that some vandals have removed cables worth millions of naira from some of them. Daily Trust observed that 13 of the 37 assembled and tested turbines had been in one way or the other been vandalised.

The 10megawatts wind energy project, the first of its kind in Nigeria, was conceived by former president, Umaru Musa Yar'adua, when he was governor of Katsina State. The pilot project was started in 2007.

After Yar'adua became President, the Federal Government took over the project in 2010 and awarded the contract to Vergnet, and work commenced at the site on July 1, 2010.

The contract was awarded at the cost of 22 million euros (N4.5bn) and it covers two square kilometres, Daily Trust learnt. According to a statement from the Ministry Power and which was signed by the Ministry's Assistant Director of Press, Mr. Deworitshe Patricia, the project was funded by the Japanese International Co-operation Agency (JICA).

It was learnt that when completed the power expected to be generated from the plant will be supplied to the southern part of Katsina State. The expected beneficiaries include Funtua, Malumfashi, Danja, Musawa, Kafur, Kankara, Sabuwa, Matazu, Bakori, Dandume and Faskari local government areas.

Vergnet Wind Energy Company has been into the wind energy projects for the past 30 years and the company had executed various solar energy projects in the USA, Island, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Japan and Netherlands among other countries.

In view of its strategic importance, the government of Katsina is keen about the project. It has been supportive of the company handling the project.

With the current development, over 50 Katsina state indigenes that were employed by the project as casual workers were now rendered jobless following the stoppage of work.

Mallam Abubakar Garba Saleh Daudawa is one of the technical staffs recruited by the company for assembling and erection of turbines at the project site. He told Daily Trust that he was employed in March 2010 but he is now out of job.

"We went for one month training before being employed casual staff in April, 2010. We are tapping from the experiences of the white men because they are willing to coach us how to assemble and erect the turbines," he said.

Dauidawa pointed out that following the stoppage of the project, he had now resolved to go back to his local government to engage in some menial job.

"I must get something doing to cater for my family. So the best I can do is to get something doing before resumption of work at the site. I know whenever the work resumes, we will be recalled," he said.

Another casual worker, who pleaded for anonymity, said "we are really concerned about the kidnap of the French engineer because it affected our jobs. Now that all the engineers have fled to France, we were then asked to stop coming to work."

Our correspondent could not find any officer of the company to find out how soon work will resume on site, and if a new schedule has been drawn for the completion of the project.

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