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This is the second part of the report by SODIQ OJUROUNGBE, who visited 72 rural communities in Enugu, Cross Rivers and Ogun states and reports that a $7 million World Bank- facilitated power project has been neglected for many years by the Nigerian government due to poor planning and policy failure.
With open arms, the people of Mbarekul and ten other rural communities in Ogoja Local Government Area of Cross Rivers state received the contractor, Crown Resources Development Co. Limited, for a World Bank-financed electricity project brought to their communities.
Kolanut and goats were presented to the contractor to show gratitude and expressed readiness to cooperate with them as they implemented the electricity project. To further show how happy they were, the residents gave one of the biggest buildings in the community to serve as a home for the contractor and his team during their stay.
Eleven communities were selected to benefit from the rural electrification project financed by International Development Association (IDA) under the National Energy Development Project (NEDP). They were Mberekul, Ndarr, Motal, Eyin, Egul, Edip, Nkenera, Nnang 1, Nnang 2, Nnang 3 and Etakon, all in Ogoja Local Government Area of the state.
The project aimed at ensuring rural communities have access to a stable power supply and reinforce existing distribution networks.
As the project started, their economy trees were destroyed to pave the way for poles; huts built by the roadside were demolished.
But, unfortunately, ten years after the completion of the project, the communities remain in darkness.
The transformers have gone to rust, leaking oil, and the poles are surrounded by overgrown grass.
Now, the residents of about 7,000 households have turned many of the wires connected to the meters in their homes to clothe lines.
…the pains, the tales of villagers over blackout
The villagers in the eleven communities have different bitter stories to tell over the failed World Bank project.
A 30- year-old Raphael Moses said he was living in Enugu when then news of the project got to him and his elder brother. He said he was asked to return home so that their house could also benefit from the meter distribution and installation.
Mose told this reporter that his brother brought a new fridge and air conditioner in expectation of electricity coming to Nbarekul. Years later, the family continues to rely on generators to power their appliances. And when they cannot afford to buy fuel, they go to another village to charge their phones.
“We have to travel to Ndubi to charge our mobile phones. It usually takes 20 minutes to reach the place. But if there was electricity here, we could charge the phones from the comfort of our homes,” he said.
Another resident, Modi Samuel, a welder, could not operate his business due to lack of electricity. He has taken to farming instead since he came back to the village about 12 years ago.
The residents also complain of other infrastructural deficits, such lack of as good road networks.
They accused the contractor of destroying the only bridge that connected them to other communities. Now, the bridge is always filled flooded during the rainy season, making transportation difficult.
The Igwe of Eyin, HRN Nicholas Ayani, is very bitter about the government’s negligence of his community. He said the government only makes empty promises during elections which are never fulfilled after the election.
“The only World Bank project they brought to our communities was abandoned. How will they do this kind of project and will not finalise it? That shows how wicked the government is.
We accepted those contractors with open arms. We have been supporting the government, but they are not ready to support us. They love giving us empty promises during election season.”
The monarch threatened to stop his subjects from voting in the next election.
…Nigeria with the largest access deficit to electricity
According to Ceic data in a report, Nigeria’s electrification is at 8,089 GWh in Dec 2020, compared with 9,436 GWh generated in 2015. A report by the NERC revealed that the generation sub-sector presently includes 23 grid-connected generating plants in operation with a total installed capacity of 10,396 MW (available capacity of 6,056 MW) with thermal-based generation having an installed capacity of 8,457.6MW (available capacity of 4,996 MW) and hydropower having 1,938.4 MW of total installed capacity with an available capacity of 1,060 MW. This comprises the privatised GenCos, Independent Power Producers (IPPs), and the generating stations under the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP). However, this is still insufficient for consuming about 200million of its population.
Yet electricity tariff continues to rise though many citizens still lack access to electricity.
Bloomberg reported that an average home in Nigeria gets national grid power for about nine hours daily, worsening in some communities and homes.
In a 2018 report, the World Bank pointed out that with about 80 million people lacking access to grid electricity, Nigeria has the largest access deficit in Sub-Saharan Africa and the second largest in the world, after India. It also established that while up to 83.6 percent of the urban population has access, only 39.1 percent of the rural population enjoys electricity.
The World Bank noted that only 57 percent of the country’s 200 million population has access to electricity.
…Activities grounded at healthcare centre over non-availability of electricity
At the only healthcare centre which services the eleven communities, major activities have been grounded because of the non-availability of electricity. The centre has turned the wire connected to the meter to clothe lines and there was no patient on admission when this reporter visited.
One of the nurses, simply identified as Grace, said there was nowhere to store children’s vaccination because there was no electricity. Officials of the health centre have to travel 35km to Ogoja town if there is a need for the vaccination, she added.
The residents also attributed the death of many children in the communities to the non-availability of electricity. The principal of the only school in Mberekul, Brian Moshe, lamented that there are no good health care facilities in the area. He noted that many children in the community died of fever and flu because there was no vaccination to prevent it.
“When we have serious cases, we carry our children to town, look at that bridge, we can only pass through canoe during the rainy season. We have wasted several lives in this village because of lack of good roads and lack of electricity,” he said.
…Communities accuse distribution company of demanding N500 000 to make electricity available
The officials of Port Harcourt Distribution Company (PHED)who are supposed to help the people connect the electricity were allegedly demanding half a million naira to do so.
The residents claimed that the reason the distribution company officials gave for demanding such a huge amount was that they would need to contact their headquarters in Calabar despite having an office in Yala, which was about 15 kilometres from the community.
The officials also allegedly claimed part of the money would be used to refill the leaking transformers with oil.
But they denied the allegation during the interview.
The allegation is untrue and unfounded, said PHED coordinator, Vincent Ntun.
But he did not offer further explanation;. Rather, he directed this reporter to the Ogoja headquarters, about 35km away.
…Partial connection in Obalinku communities with exorbitant charges
It was a different story at the three benefiting rural communities at Obalinku Local Government Area of Cross River. The World Bank-financed project was energised by PHED three years ago, and it was ‘partially’ serving some places in the three benefiting communities.
The benefiting rural communities in Obalinku were Utuhu, Licheche and Shipeche.
The reporter, though, found out that six transformers were not working in some parts of the communities.
The PHED official in Obalinku, who simply gave his name as Justin, said the non-functioning transformers were either burnt or never worked after the installation.
Justin, who was in charge of electricity distribution in the three communities, revealed that five out of the six transformers never worked since they were installed.
Going around the communities, it was discovered that some places like the community healthcare centre at Shipeche never enjoyed the electricity.
A worker in the hospital who pleaded anonymity said vaccines were not kept at the clinic since there is no electricity to preserve them.
“Other parts are enjoying electricity except for the healthcare centre. We usually go to our headquarters at MCH Sanquaila if we need the vaccine because there is no how we can preserve them here,” she said.
Even then, for residents who enjoy electricity, they complained of exorbitant fees and unstable power supply.
A resident, Gabriel Ebebe, said though electricity is unstable, PHED still brings ridiculously high bills.
“We may not have this electricity for more than two weeks; it is only when they want to collect money that they give us. The charges are too expensive for electricity that is not stable.”
…Contractor sells meter despite covering cost in contract award
In the procurement document obtained by this reporter, the contractors were expected to distribute the meters free of charge to about 8,000 households in the benefiting rural communities in the three states. But, findings revealed that Crown Resources Development Co. Limited, which got the contract for Cross Rivers, sold the meters in the 14 benefiting communities.
Findings by this reporter revealed that while the meters were sold at the rate of N2,000 each in the eleven rural communities in Ogoja LG, they sold at N5,000 each in the three rural communities in Obalinku LG.
The residents claimed the contractor did not connect the meter to homes that refused to pay the money. They explained that the contractor did not give receipts for the payment.
But, when Barny Ojiah, the Chief Executive Officer of CREDCO was contacted, he refused to speak on the matter, insisting that he executed the contract as required.
Efforts to get him to react to the allegation were unsuccessful as he told this reporter to contact the World Bank for any information needed on the contract.
The reporter tried to find out from the contractor why the company failed to connect the electricity after completing the project, but he dodged the question. Rather, he maintained that he completed the job and got a certificate of completion from the World Bank.
He said that it is not his duty to energize the project and this reporter does not have any right to contact him on a completed project.
…Government gives excuses for not energizing project
This reporter went to the Ogoja headquarters of PHED to find out the reason for not energising the electrification project in the eleven rural communities.
The Director of Engineering, Festus Okowa, told this reporter that the inaccessibility of the road to the communities was a major setback for the distribution company. The communities were far and not accessible to the PHED officials, he said.
“I have been in Ogoja for over 15 years, but I went to that community just once; this is to show you how inaccessible the community is. We have just two vehicles here, and it is not easy for us to leave one out to go to those communities and be an energising project that was abandoned for more than 10 years.”
…Fifty-three Ogun communities also live in darkness
It was a similar story in the 53 rural communities in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State. The project was also abandoned with no impact on the people’s lives who were supposed to be beneficiaries.
The communities visited include; Ijoko Aganke, Oloparun, Agerun-Ajibode, Agerun-Isagba, Angaa, Sunwa, Ijege, Ilukan, Alabe, Korole, Gberedun, Olugbekan, Ologiri, Ojulemeta, Ojumo, Eeja, Ika-Orile, Kodera, Aruku, Idigbo, Igbokofi.
Others were Asaa, Agbon-Ojodu, Ibeku Egbeda, Mooro, Iselu, Igbooro, Ijaka-Isale, Ijaaka-Oke, Ologiri, Itakashia, Igbenee, Ikotun, among others.
In many parts of these communities, there were erected poles with electricity cables on them. One would think the communities had electricity, but that was not the case.
The project was grounded in all the 53 communities visited by the reporter. The World Bank-financed project was the only electricity project in the communities, and since the project has failed, there was total blackout in the communities.
Findings revealed that the poles, wires and transformers erected in almost every part of the communities were a mere facade. Even though many of the residents connected wires from the poles to their homes; still, there was no electricity. The residents said though the project has been completed since 2012, they have never enjoyed electricity. They only rely on generators.
The Youth leader of the Ologiri, Ajani Adeoye, said it is high time the government paid attention to their many travails which had prompted many youths to desert the community.
“We want the government to find a solution to it because there is no security, no light, no water. There is really nothing for us; we have lost so much to conflicts and neglect.
“Since we have been voting for the government, there is no light; there is no water. If you go around, you will see electric poles and wires, but, since 2012 that it has been completed, there was no electricity,” Adeoye said
…Ogun govt. replies after several efforts, while contactor refuses to reply mail
Efforts to get the Ogun State government to react were not successful as several calls and messages to government officials were ignored.
When this reporter contacted Lolu Adubifa, the Special Adviser to Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun on Energy, on July 15, 2021, he said he would ask the Special Adviser on Media to get in touch.
Two days after the SA on Media failed to get in touch, this reporter contacted the SA on Energy again. He promised that Remmy Hassan, the Special Adviser to Governor Abiodun on Public Communication, would call him.
On July 17, 2021, this reporter contacted Hassan on the phone but he promised to call this reporter back in thirty minutes. After waiting for several hours without getting a call from Hassan, the reporter called him again several times, but he did not pick the calls. He also did not reply to messages sent to him.
In another effort, this reporter discovered that one Engr. O. S. Adebayo is the Director, Department Rural Electrification in Ogun state, as stated on the state website.
However, efforts to get him were unsuccessful as Kunle Somorin, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Dapo Abiodun, claimed he did not know him.
This reporter also contacted Adubifa to help confirm the identity of the said director but he refused to reply to text messages sent to him or pick his call.
After series of calls and messages, the Ogun state Commissioner for Information, Waheed Odusile asked this reporter to send questions concerning the project to him via Whatsapp.
But three days after the questions were sent and marked read on whatsapp, the commissioner said the Dapo Abiodun-led government will revisit the project when there is the availability of funds in the state, promising that the affected communities will get electricity soon.
When asked what delayed the energizing of the project, Odusile noted that the project did not start from the present administration.
He added, “we are going through the process of getting approval of funds. And once, it is approved, the communities will be connected.
“I wouldn’t know why the project was abandoned. You know this didn’t start with us, why the previous administration didn’t do it, I wouldn’t know. For us, we committed to doing it and as soon as funds are available, we will connect those communities.”
Similarly, this reporter traced the email of the India-based company, East India Udyog Limited, awarded the contract. But mails sent to the contractor were never replied and calls made to the customer care number were never answered.
In an email response to questions sent to it, the World Bank said it only provides financing and policy advisory to the government of Nigeria.. Mansir Nasir, Senior External Relations Officer, who responded on behalf of the bank, noted that World Bank does not implement operations of projects it financed. By implication, the bank does not bother to ensure that its money is judiciously spent.
“The project in reference closed in 2012 and was implemented by the National Electric Power Authority (currently Power Holding Company of Nigeria- PHCN). I will advise you to reach out with your request to PHCN and or the Federal Ministry of Finance Budget and Planning as they are in a better position to provide the required information,” he concluded.
Platform Times sent an FOI request on August 27 to the Federal Ministry of Finance and Federal Ministry of Power requesting why the project remained abandoned despite several millions of naira spent by the FG, but the Ministries redirected the letter to the Rural Electrification Agency.
When this reporter contacted Osayu Ogboghodo, a Senior Advisor at the Office of the Executive Director (Technical Services), he claimed the project was not carried out by REA.
Ogboghodo claimed he did not get any information about the project and nobody in the ministry know anything about the world bank project.
He however noted that the project was reportedly implemented during the change from NEPA to PHCN.
He said, “This project I don’t think it was implemented by the agency.
“It has been established that REA does not know anything concerning the said project.”
* This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting