By Harris Emmanuel
Sir Charles Udoh is the immediate past Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information and Strategy.
Now in the Ministry of Environment and Petroleum Resources, the brand strategist gives insights into government’s response to the menace of gully erosion in the state, plans to convert waste to electricity and having a standardized MoU between oil firms and the various stakeholders for the overall benefits of all, among other issues.
The governor recently announced the commencement of work on IBB drainage project. We would like to know the level of work so far being done?
The IBB project is a project that cuts across 17 communities in three local government areas comprising underground and surface drains.
The project traverses 7 kilometres and for you to start the project, you don’t just go to excavate, your must start by doing what they call site mapping.
And so mapping the site for 7 kilometres is not a day’s job. It’s something that takes a period of time because you are going to go across people’s properties, people’s houses and don’t forget those houses you are going to demolish; you don’t have rights until you pay them compensations
The site mapping is ongoing and you might not see any physical activity yet. We have started the process of paying compensations and we are bench marking on World Bank standard and there are four steps of verifications of property before compensation is paid.
Currently, we are doing that and if you understand that the project cuts across 17 communities, you would understand the number of persons who own properties, from crops to buildings and all kinds of structures including graves, you would know that it is a tedious process, because we don’t want to pay compensations to wrong people.
So, it is step by step. And every beneficiary must go through the four steps processes. We would not pay you until you go through the four steps processes.
So, work is ongoing. You remember His Excellency announced to the people in one of his statewide broadcast that work has started on the project.
What you have not seen is the physical excavation which cannot start unless we pay compensations, and we cannot pay compensations unless we do those four steps verifications which are currently doing.
And of course, the contractor has concluded the site mapping from the starting point in Uyo up to the end in Ibesikpo. Don’t also forget that the project is going to evacuate waters from Mechanic Village, the secretariat and some adjoining drains.
The project will obstruct some drinking water facilities in some communities. So, we are also to provide alternative sources of drinking water for those communities.
That’s part of that project. Also in the areas that we have surface drains, we are going to provide crossing facilities.
The state is facing problem as a result of erosion menace. Does the state have data on the number of erosion sites?
If you ask about data, data becomes very dynamic because as it rains new gully erosion sites begin to develop. For instance, if you look at Etim Umana, where we are doing remedial work, and down further in Nsukara, new fingers of erosion are beginning to emerge.
These are human made which we are dealing with. People have started to build on the slopes, planting and building ridges to plant yams. And those ridges become fingers of erosion.
Yes, we have data but those data are not up to date unless you do it every day, every week. Beyond Etim Umana, Anua and IBB, we are currently redesigning remedial for seven erosion sites under NEWMAP project.
And because we do not want to raise unnecessary issues, we would not release the names of those locations yet. So, right now the designs for seven erosion sites are ongoing.
Recently you visited Asutan road and the adjoining streets where erosion menace has cut the road and uprooted many houses and you even advised residents to relocate from the area. What is the government doing to remedy the situation?
Clearly, gully erosion problem, flood and any environmental issue of that magnitude is not usually the affairs of the state government alone.
And that’s why the state government, not only Akwa Ibom State government usually goes and appeals to the federal government and donor agencies to come to the table.
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The IBB we just talked about has been on for 15 years and the state government couldn’t afford it. And we are talking about N12 billion, excluding compensations and, if you add compensations, we are talking about N14billion for one project. We had to seek donor agencies to work with us.
So, it’s the same thing with the Asutan and other projects. Etim Umanah and Anua are also in partnership with donor agencies. Of course, the processes will take some time.
No state government can afford the amount of money needed to fix that problem. What is government doing?
Yes, government has taken note. For you to fix that problem there must be a design and design can’t just come from a cursory look.
Experts must come and look at the soil type, even wind movement and inflow of water and begin to identify where to take the water from and channel it and even the speed and volume of water at any given time.
So those processes take time, otherwise, you would provide a cosmetic solution. For us, we want to fix it once and for all. We don’t want to fix it in such a way as to create another problem.
What is government plan to manage the volume of waste being generated on daily basis in the state?
There are different ways to evacuate or dispose waste. Some people use incinerator, while others decide to use land fill. And because Uyo for instance, has peculiar ravine issue, it will be absolute insanity to think about using incinerator when you need to use refuse to do landfill.
Even when you use incinerator, there must be some inconveniences. Therefore, we are using land fill as our waste management process. As a government, we are proactive.
But going forward, we are currently in discussion with an investor in a bid to turn the waste to power, and once we conclude the process, the waste would no longer be used for land fill.
The waste would be use to generate electricity. And the question would be, what are you going to use the electricity for? We are going to use the electricity to power the industrial city in Itam that houses the tissue, plastic, toothpick and pencil factories. So, the plan is ongoing.
You should also understand that in 2020, the economic dynamic and everything about the global space has been epileptic and plans have been thrown overboard, deadlines have been shifted and arrangements have been readjusted. So, these are ongoing concerns that government is working on.
For sometimes now your Ministry has been talking about having a standardized MoU template for oil companies and host communities. When is this document going to be ready to ensure peaceful coexistence between the oil firms and their hosts for the development of the communities?
MoUs have different interested parties-from the core oil producing communities, to the catchment areas, the oil companies, traditional institution, local government and state government.
Now for you to have a standardized document, everybody must be on the same page. So, the process is ongoing. The stage we are now is having stakeholders’ workshop where everybody will aggregate.
We have given the sample of the MoU to everybody and the reason is for them to go and make inputs. And the next level is for all of us to sit down and aggregate our different inputs and agree on a standard MoU.
That’s what we are doing. We are firmly on track.