It was a bright Wednesday morning in Ifiekporo, a community in Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State.
Josephine Oyibo, a 28-year-old nursing mother, stood in front of her house with a worried look engraved on her face.
Clad in a blue-striped wrapper that barely covered her chest, the nursing mother had her gaze fixed on the ground and one hand on her collarbone.
Ms Oyibo was lost in thought when this reporter approached her to inquire about the water project awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in her community.
She looked up with a jolt, sighed and began to complain bitterly.
“Our borehole stopped working early last year (2018),” she said in a mix of English and Pidgin. “Since then, water has been a big challenge.”
Ms Oyibo’s major concern that morning was where to get water to bath her five-month old baby.
For her water needs, the nursing mother had relied on a neighbour who owned a borehole.
“I usually beg her for water to bath my child, and she gives me,” Ms Oyibo said, gloomily. “But she travelled and I don’t have water.”
As her baby began to cry, Ms Oyibo became even more confused.
“Where do I get water now?” She asked helplessly as she dashed inside her house.
Ms Oyibo is not the only one disturbed about the water situation in the community. A woman in the community who identified herself as Rukewve is also troubled.
“We are suffering terribly here. To get common water is a big problem for us,” Ms Rukewve said. “We have complained to our community leader so many times, but they have done nothing.”
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Another woman who was too angered to give her name, chipped in: “We are even planning to go to DBS (Delta Broadcasting Service) to air our grievance.”
Ifiekporo is one of the communities that ‘benefited’ from the water projects awarded by the NDDC. But, findings show that the project was not executed. If it was, Ms Oyibo’s dilemma and that of other residents in the community could have been averted.
NDDC was established in 2000 with the mandate to facilitate social engineering that will elevate and improve the quality of life of residents in the Niger Delta region.
But, 19 years after the commission was set up and billions of naira invested, its impacts are barely visible.
President Muhammadu Buhari has since ordered an audit of the NDDC’s finances and projects from inception.
Millions down the drain
According to a report by the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) on revenues, deductions, disbursements, and application of funds by the NDDC, N59.8 billion was awarded for contracts in Delta State between 2007 and 2011.
Out of this sum, N1.37 billion was supposedly spent on water projects within this period.
NDDC’s 2016 appropriation act also shows that N28 billion was approved for projects in 2015 while N25 billion was approved in 2016.
This reporter visited 20 water projects commissioned by the NDDC, for verification of their respective status.
The outcome — seven projects listed as ‘completed’ were not executed, five were abandoned, five were completed and still in use, while three were completed but are no longer functional.
Out of the 20 water projects tracked by this reporter, only five were up and running.
An NDDC spokesperson told PREMIUM TIMES all the abandoned projects would be completed.
To monitor the projects, this reporter embarked on the verification of the sites of some water projects commissioned by the NDDC in Delta State.
Arriving Delta State on Wednesday, October 9, 2019; the first port of call was Ms Oyinbo’s Ifiekporo Community in Warri South Local Government Area of the state.
On December 10, 2004, Bienci Resources Nigeria secured the contract from NDDC to reactivate the water supply scheme at Ifiekporo Community.
According to an NDDC document submitted to NEITI and obtained by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), the project was abandoned.
“Abandoned? Where?” Peter Ede, secretary of Ifiekporo community, quizzed. “Nobody has ever come here on behalf of NDDC to repair or do any water project.”
Up until early 2018, Mr Ede said, the 24-year-old borehole constructed by Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), was their only source of water supply.
“We kept repairing the borehole until we got tired,” the secretary said, looking sadly at the borehole which was overgrown with weeds. “It finally stopped working last year (2018) February.”
‘We defecate and drink from same river’
A stone throw from Ms Oyibo’s residence is a large expanse of polluted river with canoes resting on it.
The river, this reporter learnt, doubles as a toilet because the community has none.
“Sometimes, I fetch water from here to cook,” Ms Oyibo said. “The water makes me stool all day, and I’m still nursing a baby, but I don’t have any choice.”
The reporter found this hard to believe but the secretary corroborated Ms Oyibo’s story.
“There is no toilet here so the people defecate inside this river. When the dirt settles, some fetch from here to drink or cook,” Mr Ede said.
A bag of sachet water in Ifiekporo costs N150. But, not everyone can afford to buy water on a regular basis.
“I cannot buy bags of pure water just to bath my baby. Who am I? Buhari’s wife?” Ms Oyibo asked.
To reach out to the contractor of the project, a Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) search was conducted, to ascertain the location of the company.
The search result revealed that Bienci Resources Nigeria, the company that secured the contract, is located at No 314 Aba Road in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The phone number listed for the firm was non-operational.
When this reporter visited the above address, she met BRISCOE, a motor repairs and servicing company, instead.
The officials there said they are not aware of any company called Bienci.
This reporter made further attempts to reach the contractor by asking for Ernest Egeonu and Robert Ojukwu, the two directors of Bienci Resources Nigeria. But, those asked around the vicinity said they never heard of such names.
Still in Warri Local Government Area, this reporter journeyed thirty minutes on water to arrive at Ugbodede Community.
Ugbodede is another community where the residents are forced to defecate and draw water from the same source because someone refused to do their job.
“When our borehole broke down in 2010, we started drinking water from the sea,” said Mejebi Williams, a septuagenarian at Ugbodede community. “The sad thing is, we excrete inside the sea because there’s no toilet in our community.”
The water project in Ugbodede was awarded to Marigray Services Ltd on February 1, 2002, and listed as a completed project, according to details provided by the NDDC.
“Maybe they want to build the borehole for us but we haven’t seen any yet,” Mr Williams said.
When the reporter told him that the project was awarded 17 years ago, Mr Williams looked visibly shocked.
“Is that what they told you?” he queried.
Accompanied by two other residents, Mr Williams took this reporter on a tour of the community.
There are two boreholes in the community. One is functional while the other is not. But, none of the two was provided by the NDDC.
According to Mr Williams, the faulty borehole was constructed by Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), many years ago.
“When this borehole stopped working, the sea was all we had,” Sampson Uwatse, one of the residents who accompanied Mr Williams, chipped in.
“We bath, drink and pass faeces inside the water,” he said.
Near the functional borehole is a signpost indicating that the borehole was built by Shell Petroleum Development Commission (SPDC), in September 2012.
“The borehole stopped working last year (2018). Our local government council just renovated it. But, the solar is no longer working,” Mr Williams said.
“The council bought generator for us so we can pump water because we haven’t had electricity supply in 15 years,” Mr Williams added.
To buy fuel, they have to make the thirty minutes journey on water to Ugbwangue Town.
“With the solar borehole, life was easier. We spend so much on fuel and boat rides,” Mr Uwatse said.
Even with the borehole, the community still falls back to the sea from time to time.
“The borehole does not work perfectly. When we cannot pump water, we draw water from the sea,” said Mr Uwatse.
To find out why the NDDC project was not executed, the reporter paid the contractor a visit.
Arriving at Gray Awani compound at Ajamogha, Warri North Local Government Area in Delta State, the reporter learnt that the owner of the firm that got the contract, Michael Awani, died in 2004.
The reporter spoke with Rosemary Ete Awani, one of the directors of Marigray Services Limited —the company that secured the contract at Ugbodede community.
“The project was done by my late Dad, Michael Awani and it was commissioned before the Ijaw and Itsekiri war,” she insisted “During the war, the project was vandalised.”
When asked for project documents, Ms Awani said she does not have any.
“I don’t know anything about documents. The company was owned by my late father and when he passed on, that was the end of the company,” she said.
Two other directors of the company — Matilda Awani and Juliet Jolomi Adigida – are late, while a third, Victor Awani, resides in the United Kingdom and could not be reached.
More Nonexistent Projects
The time was 10.19 a.m. when this reporter arrived at Oghenerurie Iyede, a community in Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State.
In this community, the contract for the construction of a water project was awarded to Lesoda Oil & Gas CO LTD, on May 30, 2014.
The NDDC’s official documentation states that this project has been completed.
However, a visit by this reporter showed otherwise.
“NDDC has never done any water project in this community,” said Peter Agbroko, chairman of the community.
There are two boreholes in this community but none is functional.
According to Mr Agbroko, the boreholes were constructed by the local government council.
“This one was solar-powered,” said Mr Agbroko, during a tour around the community. “But, when it became faulty, the council converted it to generator-powered borehole.”
Continuing, he said: “We have not pumped water since June (2018), because our transformer is bad. This second borehole stopped working last month (September).”
For now, the community relies on a well for its water needs.
“When there is no water in the well, we dig the well again to get water,” the chairman said.
The residents said dry seasons are usually the toughest period.
“The well is always dry. We have to enter inside the well and dig until water comes out,” said Efe Akonawe, a resident of the community.
Aghogho Ogagaoghene, a pregnant woman in the community said: “We suffer a lot. We will be looking for well that has water because most of the wells have collapsed.”
Attempts to reach the contractor to ascertain why the project was not executed despite funds released were unsuccessful, as the Registration Certificate (RC) number could not be found at the CAC.
The story is similar in Enhwe, a community in Isoko South Local Government.
On March 23, 2011, Water Petroleum Ltd secured the contract to construct a solar-powered water project at Enhwe community, according to details provided by the NDDC.
Just like in Ugbodede and Oghenerurie communities, the commission’s documentation shows that the project has been completed.
Again, this was far from true.
“Which project?” Okeh Ogene, Vice President General of Enhwe community queried, when asked the location of the water project commissioned by the NDDC.
“There’s no NDDC borehole here. They only fight for their selfish interest and not for commoners.”
In 2015, NDDC approved N6.6 million for the construction of the solar-powered borehole in Enhwe community, and N21 million in 2016 to complete the project.
According to Mr Ogene, all the community has is a hand pump provided by the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committee (WASHCOM), a project funded by the European Union.
But, Mr Ogene said the water is barely enough.
“It’s difficult to get water here especially during the dry season,” he said. “We have only the stream to go to. But, the stream is polluted because of gas flaring.”
To reach the contractor of this project, a CAC search was conducted to ascertain the location of the company.
The search result reveals that the company, Water Petroleum Limited, is located at N0 1 Marine Base Estate Road in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
When the reporter arrived at the location, she met a Cornerstone international school, instead.
She inquired about the directors of the water company— Simon Okito, Ukpong Umor, Misan Dediare and Dediare Nelson. But, no one seemed to know any of them.
Nobody had also heard of the company.
In Otor-Owhe community, Isoko North Local Government, the story was not different.
The rehabilitation of the Otor-Owhe waterworks was awarded to Crete Industries Nigeria Limited by the NDDC on March 23, 2011.
A total of N2 million was approved for the project in 2015 and N50 million approved in the commission’s 2016 budget, to complete the project.
“NDDC only brought street lights here,” said Ukpemo Augustine, chairman of Otor-Owhe community. “The water project was not done.”
However, when PTCIJ visited Crete Industries Limited in Abuja, Priceless Ndah, the wife of the contractor, claimed the project was executed.
When asked for documents to authenticate her story, she said the documents were not available.
“We are vacating this building. So, the documents are not available here,” she said.
In a phone interview, Bright Ndah, the head of the firm, insisted that the project was executed.
“We sunk two new boreholes and rehabilitated two boreholes,” Mr Ndah said. “The solar panel was the only thing we didn’t fix because NDDC insisted we use their supplier.”
According to Mr Ndah, a mobilisation fee of N9 million was redeemed out of N18 million.
“The job was executed and N23 million quotation was given to the NDDC, which has not been paid till date,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first part in a series on the NDDC water projects in Delta State).