Nigeria: Non-Existent, Uncompleted - Story of Nigerian Senator's Constituency Projects

22 September 2019

Vivian Chioma, 20, slung a black school bag across her shoulder as she walked out of a classroom at Umu Ogbo-Inyi Community Secondary School in Igbo Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State, where she teaches English Language.

The day's school activities were over as Ms Chioma headed home. She had on a blue sports jersey as she walked through a lonely narrow road leading to her father's house. She walks about 10 kilometres daily to reach the only secondary school in the community, where she is employed by the leaders as a community teacher due to a lack of teachers.

When this reporter asked her about the major challenge the community faces, her reply was not inadequate teachers or poor transportation system.

"We don't have water supply," she replied quickly.

This has been a troubling issue for the community, she said.

"We carry jerry cans and trek to a neighbouring community called Amala to get water and I feel bad about it."

Abandoned Non-functional Constituency Borehole Projects

But Ms Chioma's community should, ordinarily, no longer suffer to meet their water needs.

A contract for the construction of a motorised water borehole with an overhead tank at Umu Ogbo-Inyi was awarded in 2016.

The constituency project was nominated by the senator representing Enugu North district, Chukwuka Utazi, under the supervision of the Anambra Imo River Basin Development Authority (AIRBDA).

The contract was awarded for N10 million.

Threr years later, the reporter found the project site overgrown by weed. The borehole was drilled, tank erected and taps fixed. "But it has never supplied water," Ms Chioma said.

Meeting Nigeria's Water Needs

According to a joint report by Nigeria's Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), three in 10 Nigerians lack access to clean water. The report said 69 million Nigerians do not have access to safe water. And in rural areas, 19 million people walk long distances to collect unsafe water from lakes, streams, and rivers.

Poor access to improved water in Nigeria remains a major contributing factor to high morbidity and mortality rates among children under five. The use of contaminated drinking water and poor sanitary conditions results in increased vulnerability to water-borne diseases, including diarrhoea, which remains the leading cause of death of more than 70,000 children under five years annually in Nigeria.

Hence, the need for governments to provide quality water supply. But many borehole projects nominated by Mr Utazi and awarded by AIRBDA are either uncompleted, non-functional and non-existent, failing to address the suffering of rural dwellers in the district.

The Senator's Projects

UDEME and PREMIUM TIMES visited the locations of seven of the 18 motorised borehole projects nominated by the senator. Out of the seven projects tracked, three are non-functional while the remaining four are not in existence.

This reporter visited Isi Ugwu community in Igbo Eze North Local Government Area to track the construction of a motorised water borehole with an overhead tank. This project has not been completed since 2016. The borehole has never functioned, according to the indigenes. The project site has been overgrown by weed. The borehole has been drilled, tank erected but has never supplied water.

According to the traditional ruler of the autonomous community, Fabian Chukwueke, the two boreholes the community currently has are not enough to supply water to the community.

"We heard that the money for the completion has not been issued to them [contractors]. They have only done the drilling and erected the overhead tank. Every other thing has not been done. We have a serious water problem in our community. We are looking for them [government and contractors]. We don't even know where to find them.

"We are begging the government to come and complete it so that the people of this area can enjoy water supply," Mr Chukwueke said.

At Unadu community in Igbo Eze South Local Government Area, the case is also the same. The community shares a boundary with Akpanya in Kogi State. Due to the water scarcity they face, villagers travel to Akpanya for water.

"When you look at this metropolis, we are suffering in terms of lack of access to water. Before we get water, we go to Kogi State. You can see the distance, even old people and children push wheelbarrows to get water in the neighbouring community," Leonard Idoko, an adviser to the traditional ruler on security matters, said.

The constituency project under the supervision of AIRBDA was awarded for N10 million in 2016. Mr Idoko said the borehole now covered by weed has never functioned since it was drilled. Despite the presence of an erected overhead tank, water has not been stored there for once.

Mr Idoko said: "They left it last year after erecting the tank. Although water came out when they tested it, it has not been supplying water. Every other thing is not functioning- no connection, no power and a powering system. Everything is just abandoned. What we're telling the government is to understand about this place called Ohom Unadu is that in terms of water, we are not taken care of and we are not sure of drinking water for 24 hours."

Besides those that have never worked, there are also non-existent borehole projects among those nominated in 2016. At Agu Ekwegbe, Ukehe, Ezi-Ukehe and Umunko communities, UDEME was told that the projects awarded for N10 million and N15 million never executed.

Community youth at Agu Ekwegbe in Igbo Etiti Local Government Area wanted to attack the reporter and his fixer. They thought they worked for the government. Not until they were told they were from a civil society organisation tracking government projects. The youth sat outside a bungalow drinking beer. Their attention was drawn when they were asked about the construction of a motorised borehole in their community.

They became aggressive after UDEME informed them there was a motorised borehole nominated by Mr Utazi for them. They claimed there were no such borehole drilled or overhead tank erected for them by the government through Mr Utazi. They said they have been marginalised by the government. The road leading to the community is so bad that vehicles cannot easily find their way in.

"They don't bring projects to us here," one of the youth said angrily in Igbo. "All the projects meant to come to this community do not come here. We don't have a civic centre. No borehole exists here. We don't have a hospital. We have an abandoned hospital. We are not seeing any projects in our community. If someone has an accident here or someone is sick, he or she may die before we get to Nsukka or Enugu."

They said they hardly find water to drink. They go to neighbouring communities to get water. They urged the government to ensure that the constituency project awarded for N15 million in 2016 is constructed to make water available in the community.

UDEME next visited Igbo Etiti Local Government Area to track the construction of a motorised water borehole with an overhead tank at Umunko community nominated by Mr Utazi and awarded by AIRBDA for N10 million in 2016. The project was not seen. Community people said no such borehole existed in the community. They complained about lack of water supply.

At Ukehe and Ezi-Ukehe, N15 million and N10 million were voted for the construction of motorised boreholes in the two communities respectfully. When UDEME visited both communities, no such projects existed. Three boreholes were found in Ezi Ukehe but none of them were at the instance of Mr Utazi. At Ukehe, some young men told this reporter that no borehole was constructed in their community and sponsored by the senator.

Thomas Odo, a community leader in Ezi Ukehe, who monitors one of the boreholes in the community, said Mr Utazi never constructed any borehole. "The boreholes we have here were constructed by former lawmakers and not Utazi. Utazi has not done anything for us."

Blame AIRBDA, not me - Mr Utazi

When contacted on the phone, the senator admitted the motorised borehole projects he nominated in 2016 were either not completed or are non-existent. According to him, "In 2016, when it was time to submit projects, I nominated those borehole projects and put N10 million each. As a first-timer then [in the Senate], I did not have the experience that N10 million could not do a borehole. I found out that the amount budgeted was not enough."

He said about 70 percent of the amount budgeted for the projects were released to AIRBDA in 2016, which awarded the projects to the various contractors. He accused AIRBDA of misusing the funds, stating that the federal government paid the money directly to the agency.

"We heard they [AIRBDA] used the borehole projects money to pay the contractors for the old debt they were being owed. AIRBDA did not give the contractors the whole money. That is why some of those projects have not been completed. In some communities, only borehole had been drilled and others just an overhead tank was erected."

Mr Utazi said he wrote a petition to the ICPC against the agency for the misuse of constituency funds but nothing has been done yet. He said the funds for the implementation of the projects were never paid to him but to AIRBDA.

The maintenance and reconstruction of Nsukka/Adani road in Uzo Uwani Local Government Area was nominated by Mr Utazi and awarded to the Ministry of Labour for N70 million in 2018. When UDEME visited the project site, it was uncompleted. The road is bad with potholes. Some parts of the road are impassable. Vehicles have to struggle all the way.

When it rains, drivers said they find it difficult to pass. They pack their vehicles at home rather than drive along the dilapidated road. "If there is a flood, water used to reach my waist," a tricyclist who refused to mention his name said. "There is nowhere to pass when it rains."

Nsukka/Adani road is a long road. At first, when the reporter entered the road from Obimo, there was no sight of any rehabilitation or reconstruction. When the signage of the project was seen, the rehabilitation began in Nkpologu - Mr Utazi's hometown. The project was majorly patching of potholes. Erosion has also started destroying some parts of the road.

"We wanted to do the road from Nsukka to Adani but we could not. Why we started at Nkpologu is that the place is where crime [kidnapping and robbery] is much," Mr Utazi said. He said they stopped working because of the raining season and when the dry season comes, the reconstruction of the road would resume.

Renomination of 2016 constituency projects in 2019 projects

The above projects tracked by UDEME were all nominated by Mr Utazi in 2016 except the Nsukka/Adani road, which was nominated in 2018. When senators nominated constituency projects for 2019, UDEME found out that many of the motorised water borehole projects nominated by Mr Utazi in 2016 were renominated for completion in 2019.

The construction of motorised water borehole with an overhead tank in Umu Ogbo-Inyi, Ezi-Ukehe, Itchi town, Ukehe, Umunko, Isi Ugwu, Iheaka town, Unadu, among others, are in his renomination projects with the same amount budgeted for them. While the 2016 projects were termed 'construction', the 2019 projects were termed 'completion.'

When asked why the projects were renominated, Mr Utazi said he renominated about 18 motorised borehole projects in his constituency so he can complete the projects that are abandoned and uncompleted. "If you see my 2019 [constituency] budget, I put another N10 million [for each borehole project] to see if we can complete those projects. We are trying to see what we can do."

When UDEME inquired from a quantity surveyor in Enugu who refused to be identified how much it would cost to construct a new motorised borehole the same as nominated by the senator, he said an estimated cost in Enugu State is N3.2 million, excluding the contractor's fee.

"Because of the way Enugu ground is, the cost of drilling a borehole and erecting an overhead tank is about N3.2 million. It is difficult to get water in Enugu," he said.

But even at N10 million, those nominated by the politician could not be concluded.

A UDEME analysis of Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIP) nominated by lawmakers in Enugu State showed that they were mostly dominated by water-related projects such as boreholes construction and erosion control.

In 2015, a total of 77 projects were nominated by lawmakers in the state at a budgetary sum of N2.1 billion. In 2016, the amount increased to N4.2 billion for 119 projects. In 2017, 107 projects were nominated by the parliamentarians for an estimated sum of N4 billion. While in 2018 and 2019, projects nominated were 56 and 116 budgeted at N2.3 billion and N3.6 billion respectively.

Completed Projects

In Ogba Nkpologu in Uzo Uwani, the senator nominated the construction and furnishing of three classroom blocks for Joe Rose Community Secondary School, Ogba Nkpologu, his home town in 2017, for N28 million. When UDEME visited the school, the three classroom blocks had been completed but the classrooms lack seat. The school also has desktop computers.

In its 2019 constituency projects nomination, Mr Utazi again nominated the same construction and furnishing of three classroom blocks for Joe Rose Community Secondary, which has already been completed, at a budgetary allocation of N30 million.

The senator told UDEME he nominated the project at Joe Rose Secondary School because he wanted to build another school in Ogba Nkpologu. "I want another school there. You know, we don't have enough schools in our area."

ICPC Investigation

The anti-corruption agency, ICPC, in August through the Constituency Project Tracking Group (CPTG) initiative visited the home town of Mr Utazi where items worth N117 million were recovered from the lawmaker.

ICPC reported that the contract for the procurement of the items was awarded in January last year under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the senator's constituency projects.

Rather than utilise them as meant, the senator kept them to himself, the ICPC said.

"I got the items last year and decided that after the election, I would share them. During my campaign, I told them [Enugu North] about the existence of these items. They were not hidden and people knew about them. They came in parts and they assembled them in my place. Because of the bills, we needed to pass before the end of the 8th Assembly, I could not distribute them. I decided I would wait until the 9th Senate goes on recess and it was the week I wanted to distribute them, the ICPC came."

AIRBDA keeps mum

Officials of AIRBDA could not be reached for their comments on the project. Repeated calls to the agency's official telephone line did not go through.

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