INVESTIGATION: Despite funds releases, Ogun community projects remain abandoned

March 31, 2019
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“I had to hang on to a tree for about three hours to avoid being swept away by stormwater,” Olaitan Adeiye winces as she recalls a horrific experience.

The 35-year-old resident of Panu, a village in Ijebu East Local Government Area of Ogun State, sells yams and had just sold her entire stock for the market day when she spoke with PREMIUM TIMES.

The massive grey clouds over the village were as gloomy as her countenance. Mrs Adeiye needs to cross the dangerous Owon Bridge on her way back home. The bridge links over 30 villages to the market.

Several mishaps had been recorded when the stream under it overflowed its banks and covered the bridge after a heavy downpour.

“I rarely come to the market during the rainy season, especially after it had rained a day or two before,” she explains.

The yam trader recalled the day she was ‘swept’ into the stream on her way back from the market. According to her, she lost her entire earnings for the day and the foodstuff she bought.

“It was a Sunday and a market day. Our market day is the fifth day from the last one. It was my turn to collect the thrift contribution that day and I had plans for the money. On my way back, I was swept from the bridge by the waves of dirty water until I got to a tree and clung to a branch for hours. Passers-by were only shouting; none of them could swim to try to save my life. They eventually pulled me to the bank with a stick. I lost the money and everything with me that day.”

Similar Experiences

Usman is also a trader in the market. The ex-soldier said life is usually unbearable for residents of the area during the rainy season.

“Because of the bad road, it is difficult to find an Okada (motorcycle taxi), so one has to trek and wade through the stagnant water. This often leaves me with Kayun (athlete’s foot} on my toes, which is painful and can stop you from going to the market or farm for days,” he said.

“Our farm produce often spoils (gets spoilt) during the rains because business is cancelled for the communities living in this axis, apart from the health implications too.”

Tawakalitu, a resident of Lasun, a village about 11 kilometres from Panu, explained that the stream under the Owon Bridge was the result of lack of proper drainage.

“The bridge was built by our ancestors 40 to 50 years ago with their bare hands. One side of the bridge has been destroyed by a truck. Since the river overflowed, I have been trekking the 10 miles between the market and my village,” Tawakalitu said.

Misplaced Joy

The residents thought their prayers were finally answered when they heard the government had decided to execute an erosion control project in their area.

The project for which N3 million was allocated in the 2016 federal budget is a constituency project of the lawmaker representing the area in the National Assembly and was to be executed by BDCA.

However, when this reporter visited the area in August 2018, not a single block or concrete had been laid. The situation remains the same in March 2019, residents told PREMIUM TIMES.

Constituency projects are usually listed by federal lawmakers for their respective constituencies and implemented by the government. But the projects have been a subject of intense criticism in Nigeria, largely due to the abuse they have been subjected to by lawmakers.

Investigation

This investigation focused on constituency projects appropriated in the federal budgets between 2015 and 2017 for communities across the three senatorial districts of Ogun State.

Only a few of the projects have been completed. The others were abandoned in various stages of execution or not started at all in spite of the allocation of funds. The erosion control project earmarked for communities around the Owon stream is one of those that never took off.

Adekoya Adesegun, the lawmaker representing Ijebu-North, Ijebu-East, Ogun Waterside federal constituency in the House of Representatives in Nigeria, did not give any reason why the Owon stream was neglected.

When approached, Mr Adesegun simply said: “when did the legislative arm of government become a contracting awarding arm?”

By virtue of their legislative powers, lawmakers are able to ensure that projects they attract to their constituencies are carried out or such contractors monitored even when they do not directly handle the funds.

However, many lawmakers are believed to be more involved in the project execution by presenting the eventual contractors who execute the projects in their constituencies. This was confirmed by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who condemned the practice.

Abandoned

Apart from the non-existent Owon erosion control project, an investigation by PREMIUM TIMES and Udeme, a civic public accountability platform, revealed there are other constituency projects of federal lawmakers that have not been completed.

A team of reporters in August observed that the Ago Iwoye road was already collapsing even while the project was yet to be completed.

The N20 million project was done halfway while the remaining part was yet to be touched.

When this reporter arrived at the site of the project for the rehabilitation of Igan road at Ago-Iwoye in Ijebu North senatorial district of Ogun State, residents of the town lamented that the road was poorly constructed and is already compromised.

A resident said the community advised the contractors to widen the bridge but the contractor declined.

“The contractors did a bad job as you can see for yourself and they started in 2017,” a resident, Ola Musari, said.

He said the bridge across a river on the road was too narrow and started falling apart shortly after it was built by the contractor.

The reporters could not see the signpost on the project site in order to ascertain the name of the contractor.

When contacted, Mr Adesgun said the project was initiated to ease the lives of the residents and make the road accessible and motorable.

“I am not the agency that awarded the contract nor the supervisor. Every project has an engineer attached it and moreover the project is not up to one kilometre,” he said.

He said it is wrong to audit a road that has been constructed two years ago and is being used daily by residents.

‘Completion of Attacker Avenue’

For the completion of Attacker Avenue in Idode, Ago- Iwoye, Ijebu-North Local Government Area, residents said the bridge construction is a good infrastructural development as the community usually experiences flooding during the rainy season.

This N30 million project started in 2016 but was yet to be completed as at September 2018.

Six million naira was budgeted for the project in 2016 while N24 million was again budgeted in 2017. Flooding also made the road impassable during the rainy season before the bridge was constructed.

The head of the community, Babatunde Haruna, said the construction has started but was yet to be completed. He said the drainage system has been done from Attacker Avenue to Ololo.

“Apart from completion which is just tarring of the road, we want electrification too because we usually have issues with burglars and armed robbers because the place is dark.”

Mr Adesegun claims the money budgeted for the completion of the road in 2016 was N4.6 million and not N6 million.

He said, “The N4.6 million cannot (even) construct a motorable road.”

He also claimed no amount was released at the end for the project in 2016.

“It was corrigendum, no kobo was quoted for that job in 2016. It was corrigendum for another road entirely. Quote me anywhere, nothing was released for the project in 2016…”

Ako Owode Market

The Ako Owode Produce Market was built as a constituency project for the residents of Ako–Matoole in Ago-Iwoye.

Although N13 million was budgeted for the construction of the market, at the time the UDEME team visited in September, the market was in shambles and almost unrecognisable in the midst of overgrown weeds.

The project signpost erected by the roadside was also covered with weeds.

According to passers-by, the market stalls started collapsing when the rains started. A resident of the area, Olorunifise, said the market stalls had been allocated to people.

“I don’t know the price collected for the allocation but I know the stalls have all been allocated,” Mr Olorunifise said.

Mr Adesegun, in defence, said the market is worth more than the money budgeted. He said the market was not wrecked but “a windstorm brought it down to the current state”.

“I nearly shed tears when I saw the condition of the market. We have not allocated any of the stalls to anyone. Although we have the intention of giving some of the village heads and chiefs,” he said.

According to him, “if you go to the site of the market with a valuer, he will confirm the market is worth about N 25 million”.

“If you checked the 2018 budget, you will see that the reconstruction of the damaged Ako-Owode market has been included. And as we speak, no kobo has been released for the reconstruction of the damaged market.”

Mr Adekoya said no money has been collected for renting the stalls.

Idofa

About N15 million was appropriated in the 2015 budget for the construction of a cassava processing factory at Idofa, an agrarian community in Imeko Afon Local Government Area of Ogun West senatorial district.

When the reporter visited the site in August 2018, the factory building had been completed but the cassava processing machines were yet to be installed.

Residents of the village said the factory had long been abandoned. There were cracks on the wall of a part of the building and the entire premises was overgrown with weeds when the team visited.

Another resident of the area, Kehinde Adeyanju, said the king of Idofa allocated the land for the project free but the contractor stopped working after three months.

“We just didn’t see anybody here again: the contractor, the workers, the politician, all of them,” he said.

“I gave them the land for free because I know the project will lessen the stress of my people but they have abandoned the project since 2015,” the traditional ruler of Idofa, David Adeyanju, said. “We have not seen people working on the site since 2015.”

He said the building was collapsing due to abandonment. The traditional ruler called on the government to investigate why the factory was abandoned.

There was no signpost indicating details of the project as required by the procurement law. It was unclear if the signpost had been destroyed or was never constructed.

The cassava processing factory was a constituency project of the senator representing Ogun West Senatorial District, Joseph Dada.

When contacted, Mr Dada refused to respond to PREMIUM TIMES calls and text messages.

Two days after the first attempts to reach him, this reporter contacted him again but he failed to respond to enquiries including the mail sent to him.

Supervising Agencies

The Border Communities Development Agency (BDCA) listed in documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES as the supervising agency for these projects also did not respond to enquiries by the reporter.

However, documents made available to PREMIUM TIMES by the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) revealed the block allocations released to the Ministries, Departments and Agencies for these zonal intervention/constituency projects.

According to details of the document, the BDCA received over N5.2 billion for the 2016 zonal intervention projects under which the projects appeared. The document did not give details of specific allocations to each.

The document also shows that BDCA received the money in four tranches in 2016 – approximately N1.3 billion in the first release; N1.9 billion in the second release; N1.3 billion in the third release, and N1.1 billion in the last. In the final quarter of the year, it received an additional N466 million.

What Next For Constituency Projects

In his interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Ekweremadu justified the need for constituency projects.

“First, we have to ask ourselves, is there any need for the constituency project? Can it add value? And for this, the answers are yes,” the lawmaker says.

Civil society actors, however, disagree with the lawmaker.

The Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Rafsanjani, said constituency projects have diverted the legislators’ attention from their key legislative profession and it is increasing corruption.

“Ideally, all part of the country should be developed without discrimination. Some legislators consider adopting projects in their constituency to justify that they are representing,” he said.

”There are instances where projects are not implemented, the quality sometimes and sometimes, they connive with contractors. With public funds, some of them do it as if it is from their purse,” he said.

Similarly, the constituency project manager, Amplified Initiative, Ayodele Ibiyemi, said the idea of constituency projects is faulty and should be reviewed.

According to him, we have to ensure transparency in public procurement before going anywhere with constituency projects.

”Some of them do not respond to FOI. You see that the entire system is trying to frustrate accountability. At the root of it, I will conclude by saying we need to carefully sit down and rethink the idea of putting money in projects aimed at syphoning money,” he concluded.


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