BY OKEY NDIRIBE, Abuja
If it was completed on schedule in 2009, the abandoned Federal Capital Territory (FCT)- Agatu-Bagana road project- which runs through Kogi and Nassarawa states -could have reduced the heavy traffic on the ever-busy Abuja-Lokoja highway. Many of the lives that have been lost on this narrow and pot-hole filled road would also have been saved.
Nevertheless, the dream of those who conceived the project- that some day, a journey from Abuja to Enugu State may take just two hours- has remained a mirage. Presently, road trips from the FCT to the South-Eastern State could last for up to five hours; through a convoluted route which is reminiscent of the 40 years Israelites spent in the wilderness during their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.
The hopes of villagers in Agatu,Nassarawa State and Bagana, Kogi State that their communities would become a transit route for travellers and perhaps create an opportunity for more economic activities seems to have gone up in smoke. Residents of both communities who are separated by the River Benue looked despondent when a team of reporters visited Bagana in Dekina Local Government Area of Kogi State recently.
Mostly peasants, they were at a loss to explain why the project which held so much promise became stalled when it got to the stage of constructing a bridge across the river.
There are indications that the project may have suffered due to lack of funds arising from the possibility that the company the road contract was concessioned to, failed to make its own contribution towards the execution of the project.
It was also learnt that on one hand, Digital Toll the company which received the concession under a Public-Private Partnership PPP arrangement, is supposed to contribute 60 percent of the funds required for financing the project while on the other hand the Federal Government alongside Nassarawa and Kogi State governments are supposed to provide the remaining 40 percent.
A representative of the Project Consultant, Mr. Ogele Adamu confirmed this while speaking to reporters at Bagana recently.
Said he: “ The project was conceived to be jointly financed by Digital Toll- the company the road contract was concessioned to based on the agreement that it would provide 60 percent of the funds, the Federal Government 20 percent, while Nassarawa and Kogi State Governments are supposed to provide 10 percent each.”
Giving a deeper insight into the project, he said the initial projection was that it would be completed in 24 months.
Investigations by Vanguard Metro VM confirmed what Adamu said. Sources at the Federal Ministry of Works have revealed that so far, the Federal Government has paid 87 percent of its own share of the counterpart fund for the project while the two state governments have also paid one billion naira each; but strangely Digital Toll is yet to make any contribution despite the fact that the funds so far contributed by both the Federal and the two state governments were paid directly into the coffers of the company.
The Director of Highway Bridges, Federal Ministry of Works, Engr. Avinchi in an interview granted to journalists recently said the Federal Government had made attempts to terminate the road contract but could not do so due to a court injunction obtained by Digital Toll.
Avinchi further stated that : “When in 2009 the Federal Government threatened to terminate the contract on the grounds of breach of contract, Digital Toll went to court to stop the Federal Ministry of Works. He explained that this has made it difficult to either re-award the contract to another company, or increase the contribution of government to the project.”
Expectedly, the people of Agatu and Bagana have felt frustrated by the twists and turns in the execution of the project. Their feelings were expressed by their leaders who gave an insight into what had transpired since the contract for the project was awarded.
The traditional ruler of Agatu community in Nassarawa State, Alhaji Kwanaki Guto and the representative of his counterpart in Bagana, Kogi State Alhaji Ali Haruna expressed regret that construction work at the project site which began in 2007 had been abandoned since last year.
Speaking further, Alhaji Haruna lamented that indigenes of the Bagana community were disappointed over the manner in which the project had been financed since inception.
He added that findings by the community leaders revealed that execution of the project had been stalled due to non-release of Digital Toll’s counterpart fund. He called on the Federal Government and state governments of Kogi and Nassarawa to rise to the occasion irrespective of whether Digital Toll had abandoned the project or not since Nigerians would be the major beneficiaries whenever the road is completed.
He continued: “We are calling on the Federal, Kogi and Nassarawa State Governments to ensure that this project is completed. This is because apart from our immediate communities, many Nigerians would also benefit from the project as it would ensure faster trips for those travelling to the South-East”.
In his own remarks, Alhaji Gutto, the Chief of Agatu Chiefdom in Nassarawa State stated that he was aware that the former Governor of the State Alhaji Akwe Doma paid the sum of one billion naira, to Digital Toll, being the state government’s contribution towards execution of the project, before he left office earlier in the year.
Said he: “The former Governor used to enquire from me about the progress of work on the bridge while he was still in office. I regularly visited the project site to monitor the situation by myself.”
He continued: “ On one occasion, some officials of Digital Toll visited me in my village and requested that I should erect a five bedroom bungalow as residence for the company’s workers. This I completed within a short time.”
Speaking further, Alhaji Gutto said he believed that Nairda- the construction company handling the execution of the contract- had run out of funds.
Said he: “I believe that what led to the stoppage of work had to do with lack of funds. I don’t know what transpired between Nairda and Digital Toll”.
Efforts made to reach Digital Toll proved abortive. It was gathered that the company had moved from its base in Abuja.