Posted by Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South and Emma Arubi on
SOMETIME in 1987, an Italian swindler, Gianfranco Rafaelli, shipped in 1,079, 000 metric tonnes of toxic waste, which he claimed were residual chemicals and raw materials for a proposed fertilizer manufacturing company, to Nigeria....
SOMETIME in 1987, an Italian swindler, Gianfranco Rafaelli, shipped in 1,079, 000 metric tonnes of toxic waste, which he claimed were residual chemicals and raw materials for a proposed fertilizer manufacturing company, to Nigeria. The killer materials got to Koko Port in the present Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State from Lagos and finally landed in the dwelling place of Mr. Sunday Nana, a grandson of the legendary founder of the town, Chief Nana Olomu, both of whom are now late.
The story of how Rafaelli outwitted the Nigerian security to berth the toxic waste at Koko; how the late Sunday Nana bought the story of the killer product being chemicals for a fertilizer company and accepted to provide his land for safekeeping of the product until the time the company would be set up; and the attendant health problems to wit: death, influenza and other harmful effects of the toxic product to the lives of Koko indigenes and their neighbours are no longer news. However, Sunday Vanguard visited Koko recently and spoke to the Nana family on how they feel 19 years after the incident. The thinking of many before now was that the late Sunday Nana fell into the Rafaelli trap because of the money involved but 78-year-old Mr. Omatimeyin Markson Nana and Mr. Gabriel J. Nana said that is far from the truth, as he was innocently offering help to people he thought wanted to establish a company in the country. In view of what happened, would the family accept an offer to handle cargo? The two Nanas spat into the air and shook their head as if raining curses in advance on whoever would contemplate such an idea.
Besides the toxic waste saga, the Nana family is not happy that the Federal Government seemed to have abandoned the museum, which it took over as a national monument in memory of the founder of the town, Chief Nana Olomu, who, in fact, started building the museum himself between 1907 and 1910. The historical monument, already overgrown by bushes, was in a desolate state when Sunday Vanguard visited. There was nobody to guide our reporters and the general impression is that of neglect. A source said that the precious artifacts in the museum had been removed for safe-keeping by the government after the Ijaw invasion and proper inventory of all were reportedly made. “We were told that the authorities would return the artifacts when they are sure that the security situation in Koko has improved”, a source volunteered.
Omatimeyin Nana did not also hide his anger about the poor state of the town, particularly in the area of provision of infrastructure by the local and state governments. As a matter of fact, the chairman of the local government council, Mr. Michael Diden, has been under fire from some people in the area for some alleged misdeeds. Sunday Vanguard took the opportunity of the visit to meet the chairman to clear the air on the issues. First, the Messrs. Omatimeyin and Gabriel Nana interview.
Will the Nana family accept such cargo again if given cash alongside?
O. Nana: If such cargo or business comes to my knowledge, I will not accept it. Indeed, the late Sunday Nana did not know the content of the items dumped in the place and the repercussion. He had a space which anyone could have hired to keep his cargo. Mr. Sunday Nana is innocent. He did not know that the goods were toxic waste. It was an Italian company that kept the cargo there and such mistake can never happen again.
But your late brother was given a huge amount to accept the cargo. Won’t you accept another cargo if the right money is paid?
O.Nana: The answer is no. The toxic waste thing is not a Nana family issue. It was Sunday himself that was involved innocently.
Clearly, the late Sunday Nana neither informed the family nor the community before he accepted the cargo for storage. What is the new law now in Koko as regards accepting such materials from investors?
O. Nana: There is no law in the community as such but before any cargo will be accepted into this community for storage purpose, it must be brought to the knowledge of the community elders for proper inspection. And when found to be suspicious, the appropriate authorities will be invited to take adequate steps to immediately apprehend the culprit and evacuate such dangerous chemicals out of our land.
Effects of the toxic waste on the people then and now
The effects according to expert analysis are that it affected our drinking water and the air we breathed in the whole town.
Do you still have any effect up till now?
Gabriel Nana: I think the effects are over now
What about the vegetation of the area the waste was dumped?
Gabriel Nana: The vegetation is okay as the whole place has regained lost fertility. The children of the late Sunday Nana and other tenants live there too. The late Sunday Nana is a grandson to Chief Nana and my senior in the family.
Tell us about the Nana museum, which is now a national monument because what we saw was in a sorry state?
O. Nana: The monument was built by Nana himself from 1907 to 1910. It is a historical house that government wanted to take over as a museum. The family did not object and so, it was taken over and the then family head, Mr. Robert Ate Nana, was appointed the curator. After his death, Mr. Victor N.C. Nana took over as curator. During Victor’’s time as head of the family, he handed over the curator ship to one of his junior cousins, Mr. Anthony Nana. In fact, the Federal Government is not taking care of the museum.
Are you saying money is not sent for maintenance of the museum and payment of workers?
O. Nana: There is no repair or maintenance at all by the Federal Government as far as I have seen. You can see that the place is overgrown by weeds. At first, there used to four night guards, employed by the Federal Government. One died, another was discharged due to old age leaving only two of them with one in the office and the other as night guard together with the curator. So the museum is actually short-staffed. Only these two are doing the labourer work in the place. They get their monthly salary from Benin City, where we have a national museum.
Why is the place locked and looking desolate?
O. Nana. It is locked now but if there is need to open it, the keys would be brought from wherever they are kept.
Underdeveloped nature of Koko despite being a local government headquarters:
In fact, the Ijaw/Itsekiri crisis affected the town greatly due to the massive destruction wrought on it by the invading Ijaw militants. Again, with such destruction, a lot of people left the town due to lack of accommodation. Though the state government is trying to build the destroyed structure, they have only gone half way.
Electricity is a problem in Koko. Now that they have changed from NEPA to PHCN, the situation has become worse. For about five days now, we have not had light. Water too is a problem. There are water resources here but lack of maintenance is affecting them such that we do not get potable water regularly. We still drink from one of our rivers here.
I am not guilty, says Warri North boss, Diden
FROM the utterances of the workers at the temporary secretariat of Warri North Local Government Council at Koko in Delta State and the yearning absence of basic infrastructure in the town, it was evident that all is not well with the local government council and true to prediction, petitions have been flying to higher authorities over the activities of the government on ground in the area. The chairman, Mr. Michael Diden, nonetheless, told Sunday Vanguard during a recent visit to Koko, the headquarters of the council and in another encounter at Asaba, the state capital that his accusers were nailing the truth on the head in their hurry to crucify him.
In one of the petitions sent to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by Hosanna Jalogho, he claimed that the chairman of the local government was collecting N5 million monthly as security vote against the N250, 000 per month stipulated by Delta State Local Government Law, 2004.
Sunday Vanguard obtained a copy of the said law, enacted by the State House of Assembly in 2004 and a careful study of Section 75, which is on “Spending limits for chairman” shows that a council chairman is not authorized by the law to spend more than N250, 000 as security vote every month. Subsection 7 provides a penalty for any offending chairman. It reads: “Any violation of the provisions of this section by any person or group of persons amounts to an offence punishable on conviction with three months imprisonment with an option of fine”.
But there is a caveat in subsection 6, which reads as follows: “Except with the prior approval of the governor, no funds of the council shall be applied for security matters in any month other than the N250, 000 approved as security vote for the chairman”.
Those who accused Diden of blowing the council’s funds swore that he had no authority to collect N5 million from the council’s funds as security vote every month and that his offence attracts a three-month jail term.
Contained in the petition to the EFCC were photocopies of some vouchers from the local government in which payment of N5 million was made to the chairman as monthly security vote. When we confronted the chairman with the vouchers, he admitted collecting N5 million as security vote but explained that it was duly approved by the state governor, Chief James Ibori, not just for Warri North alone but for some other councils, where the security situation needed more funds to tackle. Except the governor disproves the approval, Diden who laughed as Sunday Vanguard reeled out the allegations against him said some people were just bent on pulling him down for nothing.
Diden’s opponents said he was behaving as nothing was amiss because he had bought some officials of the EFCC with money and sent to them an entry in the council’s DVEA sheet in May 2005, where N1.9 million was reportedly expended as “part payment on EFCC scheme for the month of February, 2005(Accountant General, Asaba)”. Their interpretation of the entry is that the chairman was settling EFCC officials to cover the fraud against him.
But as Diden told Sunday Vanguard: “It is not a bribe to any EFCC member, this is money paid for a seminar that was organized with the approval of the state government on the EFCC. There was a radio message to the local government councils in the state to contribute to the seminar and that is what we did. Nobody paid any money to the EFCC to cover up anything”.
If the chairman was forthcoming in puncturing the first two allegations, he was not on the issue of how about N90 million was spent to sensitize the people of Warri North on census demarcation and the actual census by the National Population Commission. He, nevertheless, said the money was expended on the exercise, adding that hiring of speedboats, vehicles, entertainment, out of pocket expenses by officials on the exercise, publicity, mobilization of officials and other logistics to the riverside communities took a lot of money, including catering for census officials.
Sunday Vanguard gathered for instance that N13 million was approved as advance for a senior executive officer for census demarcation and another N8.9 million to the same officer for hiring of boats, vehicles, entertainment and campaign for census demarcation.
A rather contentious expenditure for those who want the chairman’s head is the contract awarded to a local company for the construction of the council’s secretariat at a cost of N129 million. In August 2005, two certificates of N67 million and N50 million were paid for the job but they contended that the project is yet to get off the ground 10 months after.
Diden confirmed to Sunday Vanguard that the council made payments to the contractor building the council’s secretariat but was quick to add that the old structure collapsed due to the fact that the location is swampy and it was not properly re-claimed or sand filled before the earlier construction. He said that so far, the reclaiming of the land because of its swampy terrain, had gulped a large chunk of the money that was to be used by the contractor to build the secretariat and, also, the council had problem acquiring nearby land from the owners as they refused to surrender the property.
When Sunday Vanguard visited the site of the secretariat, work was going on in the place but at a very fast pace. A source said the contractor was doing everything to ensure that the building was done well this time around.
Another contentious area is the N58 million expended by the council between March and June 2005 to clear creeks. Diden said the council had to clear the creeks for the people who reside far in the swamps to have access to Koko and other towns in the area with their fishes and other agricultural produces. He said it was a major request the people made to him during his electioneering campaign and he had to clear the coast to ease transportation for them. Right now, he said the council was opening up over 14 kilometer link road from Koko to Ologbo in Edo State, which would be tarred by the council.
The chairman said that contrary to what his critics were saying, the council was not frittering away funds but had judiciously expended money on provision of relief materials, building of market stalls, rehabilitating and building houses for those affected by the Warri crisis and empowering the youths in various small-scale businesses.