BY CHIDI NKWOPARA
When Chief Rochas Okorocha came on board as Governor of Imo State, he told the world that he was in a haste to develop the state.
One of the major issues he tackled almost immediately was the rehabilitation or reconstruction of the road network in the state. He went to work with electrifying speed that most citizens started wondering how he was funding the numerous projects.
Many contractors, who were largely unknown in road construction world, were engaged by the administration to execute the projects. Several roads were actually opened and this elicited high hopes and acclamation from the people.
With time, some pictures started filtering in. Pay-loaders were seen grading roads, preparatory to asphalting. Imo people equally started hearing that some of the contractors were spending their personal or borrowed monies to execute the road projects. The same was also true of the numerous but unfinished gates in Owerri municipality.
Confirming this in a recent release, Okorocha’s former media aide, who now doubles as President, South East Progressives Assembly, SEPA, Mr. Ebere Uzoukwa, described the scenario as part of Okorocha’s “use and dump and Almajiri politics”.
His words: “Why did he (Okorocha) subject contractors to execute government projects with borrowed funds only to dump and deny them at the point of payment? Is Governor Okorocha unaware that some of those contractors have miserably lost their lives and valuables to banks that loaned them funds?”, Uzoukwa asked. Okorocha, who did not want to be drawn into the issue raised by Uzoukwa, however told journalists that since he had the final say on who gets what contract, there was no point going through the rigmarole due process.
The Minister of External Affairs 1, Professor Viola Onwuliri, and many other critics of the administration, who were not amused by the Governor’s reply, accused Okorocha of awarding contracts for road and some other projects verbally.
It was the considered opinion of the fiery Minister that the situation explains how and why most of the road projects do no have engineering drawings or pass through the state tenders board, as well as get abandoned midway or sub-standardly executed.
Delivering a lecture organized last week in Owerri by Rotary Club of Owerri Metropolitan, on why roads fail in Imo State, Engr. Jude Ujah identified lack of engineering design and proper supervision of all road projects awarded to contracting firms by the administration as being largely responsible for the short life span of the roads.
“The construction of any road must pass through three critical stages. These include the designing, the construction and the usage. Our problem in Imo is that we got the first phase wrong because two thirds of the roads constructed by the state government are not designed”, Ujah said.
He said that the design gives the specification, which he said “varies from a portion of the road to the other”.
Continuing, Ujah explained that the soil strata has to be studied, adding that samples are supposed to be taken to the laboratory, so as to determine the constituent materials that would be used for the construction of any road.
He expressed shock that “from the speed with which these new roads started failing in the state goes to show that the existing drainage pattern, among other parameters, was not studied”.
His words: “The problem we are facing now is that the design is not there. What we have always seen is a bulldozer laying out the road. If the design is there it would determine the depth the machine would scrape the soil”.
He also identified lack of compaction as another area the state government gets it wrong, stressing that roads are usually in compact layers.
“What happens is that the contractors lay the same day and apply the asphalt. Most of the roads that are having problems now do not have stone base and some of the ones that have stone base, do not have the required thickness”, Engr. Ujah said.
In his own remarks, the President, Rotary Club of Owerri Metropolitan, Rotarian Kelechi Anyanwu, thanked Ujah for the lecture.
“We were already wondering why a good percentage of the roads have been washed away with the first rain. I think it is better to concentrate and complete two or three roads that would serve the people for years, like late Sam Mbakwe did, than build several roads that won’t survive one rainy season”, Anyanwu reasoned.
Ujah was not alone in his complaint. The people of Ehime Mbano and Isiala Mbano local government areas are having sleepless nights over the deplorable road network in the two local councils.
This was the submission of the people of the area when they received Okorocha during a tour of projects in Ehime Mbano and Isiala Mbano local council areas of the state.
Speaking to newsmen during the visit, Eze Emmanuel Ibechi, Eze Ernest Iwuji and Chief Lawrence Duruji, lamented that Nzerem-Ikpem road was in a very bad shape and needed urgent attention to improve the commercial status of the area.
The member representing the area in the State House of Assembly, Mr. Kingsley Dimaku, regretted that most of the road projects in Ehime Mbano had been abandoned by the contractors and appealed to government to bring them to come back to site. At Isiala Mbano local council area, the story was the same, as the people also expressed dissatisfaction over the condition of their roads.
Some of the leaders in the area, Eze Oliver Ohanwe, Chief Tony Black Nduka and Chief Collins Onuoha, complained bitterly that some of the villages had been cut off from their neighbouring communities, thereby hampering commercial activities.
Speaking also, the member representing Isiala Mbano, Chief Simeon Iwunze, called for the completion of all on-going projects because of their economic benefits to the people.
A governorship aspirant under the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho, equally expressed displeasure over the poor quality and substandard projects currently executed by the state administration.
Iheanacho, who bared his mind during a chat with newsmen in Owerri, joined thousands of other Imolites to condemn what at present is tagged ‘China Projects’ in the state.
Although the former Minister acknowledged Governor Okorocha’s effort to lift the infrastructure status of the state, he however decried what he called “total disregard to due process and procedures”, as well as unquenchable appetite for cheap labour, pointing out that such tendencies have negatively rubbished the governor’s earlier vision for the state.
Said he: “It worries me that someone who enjoys the mandate of the people would visit the people with poor quality and substandard projects that collapse even when constructions are still ongoing”.
He attributed the sad but unfortunate development to the governor’s total disregard for due process and unquenchable appetite for cheap labour, stressing that a governor should represent good quality and appreciable sense of taste to enable him bequeath to the people quality projects expected to stand the taste of time.
Capt. Iheanacho further described several billions of money being spent by the present administration on infrastructure as ‘wasted funds’ considering the tendency of revisiting those projects by the incoming administration to enable them serve the purposes for which they were conceived.
At a different setting, the Commissioner for Finance, Deacon Chike Okafor, who affirmed that he was presenting government’s score card in response to the challenge recently thrown at Governor Okorocha by the Minister of External Affairs, Professor Viola Onwuliri, said government had within two and a half years, “built an average of 10 schools at a cost of N27.5 million each and a modern hospital at an average cost of N110 million.
Continuing, Okafor said the administration had constructed 15-kilometer stretch of asphalted roads with drainages at a cost of N60 million each, revealing an average investment of N1.285 Billion in development of infrastructure in each local government area of the state.
Added to what the people now call “these Chinese projects” in the state, is the huge financial loss suffered by the state as a result of the payment for jobs not properly executed or not executed a all.
A company was paid N1.5 billion for a road contract that has remained unexecuted till date. It was this same road that cost Sir Jude Agbaso his job as Deputy Governor. He was accused of collecting N458 million bribe from Dina,, a company, an allegation he has been contesting vigorously.
An Owerri based legal practitioner, Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN, says Imo people are still interested in knowing what has happened to the N1.5 billion paid to the firm that did no job. Chief Ahamba, who made his feelings known during an exclusive chat with our reporter in Owerri, also said: “Some months back, there was an impeachment proceeding in Imo State. My interest in this issue is not about justice for the victim or those who accused him or impeached him, but justice to the citizenry who are interested in knowing where the N1.5 billion is”.
While insisting that the people must not only be told where their commonwealth is, Chief Ahamba also expressed belief that “there must be some restitutive justice in this matter to the good people of Imo, whose scarce fund has developed wings”.
He wondered why a person accused of stealing N458 million is not yet put on trial, especially as he has since lost immunity, if there are facts against him as his accusers claimed.
Chief Ahamba appealed to the leadership of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, “to ensure restitutive justice to assuage the feelings of Imo people over their N1.5 billion, which is known to have been traced, but is still treated as missing”.
Answering a question, the fiery lawyer reasoned that the fight against corruption will lose steam and meaning if any cover up is allowed in this matter.
“The issue of justice is the foundation of peace, stability and prosperity in any society, including ours”Ahamba said.
Former Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development, Chief Ejike Uche,
has denied any complicity in the N2.2 billion contract scam involving a Spanish national and Imo State Government. Uche, who denied the allegation while speaking to Vanguard in Owerri, however accused Governor Rochas Okorocha of personally inviting and awarding all major contracts in the state to his choice firms.
“Many contract jobs in the state did no pass through due process ”, Uche said.
He recalled that the contract agreement signed in Government House, stipulated that the contractor should be paid 30 percent mobilization fee.
“I felt it was outrageous to pay such a bill to a firm that was yet to to move into site. So, I cut it down to 20 percent and the Governor did not like what I did”, Chief Uche said.
The former Commissioner recalled another contract which Governor Okorocha was prepared to pay 50 percent of the total sum, adding that he reluctantly approved 30percent.
“My refusal to approve what Governor Okorocha okayed led to my posting to Ministry of Public Utilities and I resigned from this new Ministry”, Chief Uche said.
He challenged the Governor to explain why and how most contractors introduced by the Governor and engaged by the state government, bolt away after collecting huge mobilization fees. Vanguard recalls that the Spanish firm, Hormipresa Nigeria Limited charged with the responsibility of building a 156-room, four- floor office complex, a skills acquisition centre and an 88-room hostel complex, bolted away with the mobilization fee.
In a bid to save the corporate image of his administration, Okorocha recently set up what he called “State Central Recovery Committee”, to recover all funds given to contractors handling government projects.
Speaking during the inauguration of the committee at the state Government House, Owerri, Okorocha made it clear that their “main function is to recover the fund given to contractors that abandoned their projects or to ensure that they complete it”.
Okorocha recalled that during his tour of local governments recently, he discovered that most rural road projects were abandoned by contractors, which he explained necessitated the setting up the committee to ensure that funds given to contractors are not lost.
“The committee is made up of top government officials, top security functionaries and royal fathers and has three months to complete their assignment”, Okorocha said.
The Governor stressed the need for them to critically assess the level of job done by each of the contractors, and expressed confidence that the committee will assist the state government in recovering the funds given to those who abandoned their projects.
Responding on behalf of others, the Committee Chairman, who doubles as the Chief of Staff, Government House and Commissioner Special Duties, Sir Jude Ejiogu, assured that the committee will discharge its duties effectively.
He however warned contractors to go back to their respective sites and continue working, refund the monies they collected if they are no longer interested in doing the jobs or be prepared to face the full weight of the law.
However, weeks after Governor Okorocha ordered the arrest and prosecution of no fewer than 17 contractors for allegedly collecting huge sums of money and failing to deliver on the projects, none of them has been arraigned in court.
Okorocha ordered their arrest while touring the 27 local council areas of the state to personally verify the extent of work done on the rural roads. Already, some concerned citizens have started reacting angrily to what they called “the continuing waste of government fund on phantom projects”.
Former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prince Ken Njemanze, SAN, opined that the administration was yet to tell Imo people the whole truth about the failed contracts.
“We are yet to be told the whole truth about the failed contracts. The Governor would not have any need to run after any contractor if he had extracted performance bond from the contractors”. According to Njemanze, “it is even doubtful if government ever entered into contractual agreement with the contractors and it would be interesting to know who ordered payments for jobs not done”. Another civil servant, who spoke on strict grounds of anonymity, reasoned that some top government functionaries obviously played prominent roles in the alleged fleecing of Imo people’s money.
“It would be interesting to know who ordered or approved the raising of payment vouchers. There is no way we can achieve social justice in the state, in an atmosphere devoid of rule of law”, the civil servant said.