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SODIQ OJUROUNGBE visited 72 rural communities in Enugu, Cross Rivers and Ogun states to investigate a $7 billion World Bank-facilitated power project neglected for many years by Nigerian government due to poor planning and policy failure.
Ninety-two-year-old Pa John Chukwuemeka, a native of Ikpu-Iga in Enugu-Ezike, Enugu State, has for years longed for the day electricity would come to his village.
Enugu-Ezike, a sleepy community nestled in lush green vegetation of about 37 miles off the road leading to Enugu, the capital city, has been in perpetual darkness for decades.
Unlike his grandchildren who live in cities and enjoy the shout of ‘up NEPA’ whenever power supply is restored, Pa Chukwuemeka never had this fun as a child.
He was born in a village where darkness rules day and night. It was in Nsukka, several kilometers from his village, that he first saw an electric bulb. Then, he used to fantasize about the day his community of 500 households would be lit by modern electricity. Decades after, that dream remained unfulfilled.
“I was born about 92 years ago. I grew up in this community, but in all my life, we have not seen light not even for a single day.
“Except for the few ones among us that their children can afford generators, we have not seen any government-generated electricity in this community,” said Pa Chukwuemeka, one of the oldest persons in Ikpu-Aga.
At night, torch and hurricane lanterns hang loosely on walls to provide light for nighttime activities in most houses in the community.
Then, in 2011, the World Bank, in partnership with the Federal Government, launched an electrification project in Ikpu-Iga and four other communities in Enugu-Ezike. The residents went wild with joy and became hopeful again.
But, ten years after the commissioning, findings revealed that the project has been abandoned. In various communities, the decaying transformers are the only vestiges of buried hopes, even as residents continue to suffer lack of access to electricity.
Communities grope in darkness despite installation of transformers, meters
Enugu-Ezike is located in Igbo Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State, and consists of five communities, including Amachalla, Umuachi, Uda, Ikpu-Aga and Isiugu. The communities, which share boundaries with Benue State, were selected to benefit from the rural electrification project financed through a World Bank loan.
In 2011, the government contracted East India Udyog Limited to distribute and install poles and transformers in the communities.
The announcement brought joy to many residents. But little did they know that the project would not be of use to them, despite high expectations.
Within few months, the project commenced. Soon after installation was completed. Poles were erected across the district; cable wires were laid, transformer mounted and meters distributed to houses. But still there was no light, especially in three communities among the five selected for electrification. The two others have found alternative means of generating electricity.
On the journey through Amufie, Unuadonuowo, Uroshi, Ugbele and Amachalla, long poles connected to high tension wires could be sighted. Transformers were also hanged between the two erected poles, but were covered up with tendrils, thorns and pliant stems of climbing plants, signs of long years of neglect.
In some parts, it was difficult to even differentiate between trees and poles as the letter were conveniently wrapped by flower-bearing, creeping plants.
One of the transformers sighted beside the erected poles has started to rust and rainwater filled the hollow section of the iron. The conductors and switchgears have been removed from one transformer and it has become a water tank for a farmer who farms nearby.
Although Amachalla is one of the primary beneficiaries, since the project passed through places like Amufie, Unuadonuowo, Uroshi and Ugbele, houses beside the road in the four communities were also provided meters. About 15 poles were also given to the communities, but there was no light.
The residents of the communities have bitter stories to tell about lack of access to electricity in the villages.
Justice Ugwu, a welder who lives in Uroshi and has a transformer mounted in front of his shop, lamented that he has been spending a minimum of N1,000 to fuel his generator daily.
Ugwu said he buys fuel from black market, adding that the community and its neighbours have not enjoyed electricity since it was founded.
“We don’t have light here; the ones they brought to us never work. We have not enjoyed it, not even for a single day,” he said.
Also, the town crier to council of elders in Ugbele, Eze Solomon, said only people close to the pole-mounted transformers were given meters and electricity and all efforts to get the attention of the government through the local government chairman have been unsuccessful.
…How it all started
In 1999, FGN began a comprehensive public sector reform and privatization to improve performance in the power sector. The Transmission Development Project (TDP) approved in 2001 and closed in 2008 was designed to support the larger reform effort initiated by federal government.
Hence, the National Energy Development Project (NEDP) was launched in 2005 to scale up efforts to address the urgent need for investments and improved commercial practices already started under TDP.
At the time of appraisal for NEDP, the World Bank was the only large international development institution active in the sector. The bank was able to commit huge funding and the prolonged period for which it was required to achieve visible impacts in a large country like Nigeria.
Secondly, its staff had the experience to address the key issues affecting the sector, such as utility management, sector regulation, strategic communications, commercialization and privatization of utilities.
The bank already had a long-standing relationship with the National Electricity Power Authority, NEPA, and a well-established and performing Project Management Unit (PMU) with a good track record. Finally, the successor companies were in need of substantial financing from private sources and the World Bank Group was uniquely positioned in terms of its deep technical expertise and global knowledge to assist the government in establishing the necessary conditions and environment to make this possible.
NEDP was presented to the International Development Association (IDA) Board of Executive Directors for approval as a flagship project along with the new Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) for Nigeria, to which it was also fully aligned. The CPS targeted long-term goals of wealth creation, employment generation, and poverty reduction.
One of the projects agreed to be financed by IDA under the NEDP was the electrification of rural communities in Ogun, Enugu and Cross River States. The aim of the project was to ensure rural communities have access to stable power supply and reinforce existing distribution networks (meters, LVDS, HVDS).
An evaluation report by World Bank obtained by this reporter on the project revealed that the rural communities project targeted 53 rural communities in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State; five rural communities in Enugu Ezike in Igbo Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State; three rural communities in Obalinku Local Government Area of Cross Rivers State and 11 rural communities in Ogoja Local Government Area of Cross Rivers State. The document noted that 8,100 meters were installed free of charge in the benefiting communities across the three states.
Also, the contract award document obtained showed that a total sum of $7.5 million was approved for the rural electrification project.
… Communities spend millions to generate electricity after government’s ‘failed’ project
In Uda and Amachalla, the World Bank financed project was also abandoned, but the people of the communities contributed funds to generate their electricity. It was learnt that they used the infrastructure built but abandoned by the government to tap power from other communities.
Nze Francis Anayo, the immediate past chairman of Amachalla Electricity Execution Committee and member of the committee monitoring the project confirmed that it was completed but never put to use.
He explained that it was easy for Amachalla to utilise the available high-tension wire done by the contractor because the community already had two transformers even before the project was brought to the community.
He added that since the project failed, the community resorted to self-help by using the high tension to power the available transformers three years after.
“This project was completed, but was never put to use. But, we are using the High Tension.
“The LT line and even the transformers are yet to be commissioned. The transformers have not been connected; we have another transformer, so we tapped from another area.
The story is similar in Uda, as the community was able to generate electricity through residents’ efforts. The community claimed to have spent millions in getting two transformers that generate electricity for the people.
A community leaders, John Odo, said the electricity supply was possible through the assistance of one of the influential persons in the community and the money generated from members of the community.
Odo maintained that the community never enjoyed the World Bank project.
“It [the project ] has remained like that since the time they carried it out, it was never energized, we never enjoyed it, it has remained abandoned and since we already have electricity, we are not too concerned.”
No hope for residents of Ikpu-Iga, Isiugu, and Umachi communities
Residents of Isiugu, Umachi and Ikpu-Iga have a lot of bitter stories to tell about how non – availability of electricity has affected their survival.
The World Bank financed project could be seen in every corner of Ikpu-Iga, a community, which has about 500 households. In Ikpu-Iga, which shares a boundary with Benue State, the people have never enjoyed electricity.
This reporter learnt that even though the youth of the community have tried to connect electricity from a neighbouring village, their efforts have not been successful.
The Town Union chairman, Comrade IfeanyiEkere disclosed that the community got a transformer from a former chairman of the local government, but it got spoiled the day it was commissioned and never served the people.
Ekere, who claimed it has been a fruitless effort waiting for the government to energize the project, noted that the community is presently trying to solicit assistance from notable people to get another transformer.
“We have 13 pole – mounted transformers strategically positioned in different parts of our community, but none of it is working,” he observed.
Speaking on efforts made to call the attention of the government to the situation, Ekere said several letters have been sent and appeals made to the state government without any positive response.
In Isiugu, unlike the four other communities that did not enjoy the electricity, the electricity project was test-ran.
The people revealed that the project was test ran for a month before it stopped working and the community has since been thrown back into darkness.
This reporter observed that the community did not have any other electricity project apart from the World Bank financed one, which has become abandoned.
The two pole – mounted transformers reportedly test-run by the contractor could be seen leaking oil, while grasses and wild plants are fighting space with others which were abandoned across the community.
Speaking with the residents, they complained that the electricity has brought more ill-luck to them. A resident, Joseph Adagwu, said “the people are still suffering as the project which cost millions of naira has become neglected, abandoned.”
“When the government just brought this project in 2012, we were happy that this will end our long time suffering of no light, unknown to us that this is just the beginning.
“I have to buy a minimum of 600 naira black market fuel daily to service my generator. It has been complete waste of resources that the government brought this kind of project here and abandoned it.”
Another resident, Justin Amadora, lamented that even though meters were distributed to them, the community has continued to remain in darkness.
“The meter they give is not for everybody. Just some of the people that are very close to the transformer. Since they completed the project, there was no light in the community. Our generator has been the only source of electricity and it is only for those that can afford it,” he stated.
At Umuachi, the community tried to get the officials of the Enugu Rural Electrification Board, REB, to fix and energize the abandoned project five years after it was abandoned.
But, this reporter learnt the REB discovered that out of about 20 pole-mounted transformers spread across the community, only one was working.
Just like the other communities visited in Enugu-Ezike, the project was not working in Umuachi and there was no electricity.
This reporter gathered that the community tried to energize the project five years after waiting ‘endlessly’ for the government without result.
But, it was learnt that when the REB came to test the transformers to ascertain If they can be energized, it was discovered that 19 out of the 20 installed transformers were not working.
This reporter gathered this made the community to go ahead to fix a transformer reportedly brought to the community by one of its illustrious son. However, the transformer reportedly got burnt some months back and the community is back to darkness.
John Ugwu, who was the electricity coordinator in the community, told our reporter that the community once had electricity through self-help.
He, however, lamented that the community it is back in darkness since the transformer got burnt over what he termed ‘overload’
Ugwu, who claimed the community did not enjoy the World Bank facilitated project for a single day, said it went to look for alternatives.
He said “because the World Bank project is not working, that’s why we went to look for this one that we used for sometime.
“The little electricity we enjoyed was through self-help and this government project has never been of benefit to us.
“We even try to speak with the EEDC (Enugu Electrification Distribution Company), but they say they cannot do anything except they get certification from REB (Rural Electrification Board).
“When the REB came, they tested all the pole-mounted transformers, but only one was working, they said the rest had spoilt. They cannot use just one transformer to give electricity to the whole community.”
…REB confirms transformers are bad, as lawmaker vows to track abandoned projects
Speaking with Simon Atigwe, the former Managing Director of REB, he confirmed that some of the transformers were bad when the board carried out testing on them.
Atigwe who was in charge when the time the project was completed, said the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company had issues with the contractor on the handing over process which was the reason the project was not energized.
He, however, redirected this reporter to the director in charge of the project for further information.
“I met the project there as a General Manager. The contractor did the practical completion when I was there. The Enugu Electrification Distribution Company had issues with the contractor about energising and all these which concerned the project at that time,” he stated.
“What I am telling you now, the projects were not actually commissioned by EEDC when the contractor handed over. That time I was almost on the edge of going. So that is what I can say about the project, but some of them are already trying to fix light on their own.
“You know why I said I left the thing at the verge of completion was because of my political ambition. So, somebody was the officer for that. He was doing the job even before I was appointed the GM. He was recognized by the World Bank, I was just there as the head of the institution. But I can give you the number so you can call him. I will send you the number and you take up from there. He has everything. He knows everything. He handled everything. So for details, you can find out but this is the much I have.”
Atigwe who is the present member representing Igbo EzeNorth/Udenu Federal Constituency, however, said efforts are underway to track abandoned projects in its constituency and hold necessary authorities accountable.
He disclosed that he had begun a data collection process to ascertain the number of abandoned projects in the communities and to know the next line of action in making sure the government revisits the project.
He added: “Well, I am in contact with some groups of the community on the way forward. I am collecting data on the ones in my own area and at the appropriate time, I will write to the appropriate authority for response and then that way I will take it up.”
…. Why we never energised the World Bank Electricity Project – Electrification Board
The Director of Engineering at REB, Austin Ugwu, explained that change in power policy was the major reason the project was not connected.
He insisted that the contractor completed the project, stressing that the cost of energizing the project was not captured in the contract award.
Ugwu, who was the officer that supervised the project in Enugu-Ezike, revealed that it was handed over to the state for energizing purposes.
He, however, added the state government has abandoned the project, expecting the benefiting communities to energize the electricity projects themselves
“We had a meeting in Abuja and they decided to hand over the budget to the state to complete the energization which we took up. But ever since then, the state never supported the community for the project. And suddenly the communities resorted to self-help and started energizing it. That’s why I said some were energized and some were not energized.
“Because the cost of testing given to NEMSA was not captured in the contract. But before the job would be completed, there were changes in the power sector in the country. Based on that, it was difficult up till now, the community is still finding it difficult to energized the majority of them.
“Normally it is the rural Electrification Agency that would handle that especially now, but it has not been easy.”
* This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting