Scandalous projects of Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State

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Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State spends more days in the city of Enugu than he does in Abakaliki, the capital of Ebonyi State which he governs. The governor can hardly be blamed, considering the allure of Enugu, with its more serene atmosphere, good roads and a generally more cosmopolitan ambience. Abakaliki, to a first-

time visitor, appears as merely a state capital, still on the verge of really transforming into one, in terms of infrastructure. The condition of some of the roads within the metropolis in particular, also adds nothing to boost the image of the capital. 

Gov Martins Elechi.

Many roads within the metropolis were reconstructed during the Sam Egwu administration, through counterpart funding with the World Bank. But going deep into the city right now through its network of roads, reveals spots that are at various levels of disrepair. One of such thoroughfares in a deplorable state is Obi Street, linking Afikpo street at Abakaliki’s urban area, not far from the Government House. Afikpo street itself, which connects the Ogoja road, is also riddled with potholes, with no touch of maintenance whatsoever in the past five years.

The Egwu administration had secured a World Bank funding for the purpose of full repairs yet to be carried our till date. The dilapidating state of many of the roads within the state capital are a manifestation of a principle of the present Elechi administration – from inception in 2007 – to steer clear of road projects within the metropolis, while concentrating on projects in the less visible parts of the state. While this rather unusual principle was adopted by the Elechi administration – most administrations would rather concentrate on building roads extensively within the capital – other projects deemed appropriate to embark upon, and they are many, are ignored.

But some of the projects the administration has embarked on are not generally applauded as being exactly relevant to the livelihood of the citizens currently. Such projects include the construction of an ultra-modern market of 5,600 stalls, and the building of a gigantic state secretariat complex, christened the Ochudo city. For the execution of the projects, Ebonyi State government, which is one of the least funded in terms of Federal Government allocations, moved to secure a bond facility worth N20 billion about four years ago. While the fund is still being pumped into the massive projects, which are yet to be completed, a majority of the citizens are still puzzled about the reason behind the construction of such huge facilities in the first place, in a state where there are no importers (for the market), with trade level not comparable to what obtains in Onitsha, for instance, due to a total lack of industries.

In terms of priorities, the Elechi government is generally considered, in some quarters, as having missed the target. According to Igwe Emmanuel, a journalist and publisher of National Issue, an Ebonyi State-based weekly newspaper, the governor appears to have taken a leap, even before perfecting  the act of crawling in terms of developing the state and meeting the immediate and pressing needs of the people. “With due respect to him, he was too much in a haste to develop Ebonyi in a day. He wants to do so while seriously lacking the economic know-how to make it work, without considering the resources coming in, the limitations and the gains to be expected,” he said.

Consequently, more than five years into its tenure, the Elechi government is yet to complete several of the huge projects it earlier initiated in the state. It is increasingly becoming doubtful whether the more laudable water scheme projects at Oferekpe and Ukawu, begun four years ago, would be completed during Elechi’s gradually elapsing tenure. Many are already contemplating the implications of the non-completion of these projects if the aged governor’s successor fails to build on what is already on ground. For this reason alone, it is believed that the governor would ensure that his successor will be a candidate that will not abandon his programmes.

Apart from the major projects the Elechi administration has not been able to complete, some of the ongoing road projects in the state are poorly executed. The Oshiri to Ezanma road for instance, failed in less than one month after completion. But perhaps the most scandalous of such projects is the Ogbaga road project, being handled by M&J Construction Company. The Ogbaga road contract, from Abakaliki township stadium to Nwofe, was awarded to M&J company in 2007, a company clearly after the heart of the governor, (some claim he owns it) when he was contesting for the governorship of the state. Then the contractor was paid upfront, with the contract worth  N750 million. But five years later, the same contract has gone through variation in cost, and has gulped about N2 billion till date. Yet, work is still ongoing, with the job – still being handled by M&J – allegedly now managed by the governor’s son. Worse, portions of the road supposedly completed are already in a state of disrepair. This project is the only major road project being carried out in the city.

The contract for the dualisation of a section of the Enugu/Abakaliki expressway, which is a federal road, was awarded to BRASS Engineering and Construction Nigeria Limited. The road project, stretching about six kilometres, has gulped billions of naira. But just like Ogbaga road, many portions have failed just months after they were completed. Strangely, the project is ongoing, with the state government even poised to claim money spent on it from the federal government.

The rumour mill in Abakaliki says Dave Umehi, the Ebonyi State deputy governor is the owner of Brass Construction Company, as well as the biggest hotel in the city. TheNEWS could not confirm this at press time.The hotel, named Osborn La-Palm Royal Resort, off Kpirikpiri road, Mile 50, Abakaliki, is of unquestionably high quality and a total contrast to the failed Enugu/Abakaliki road project. Meanwhile, a five-star hotel project, initiated by the Sam Egwu administration and considered as a worthy investment even by this present administration, has received little attention.

Even as construction works at the International Market opposite the Ochudo city are ongoing, artisans, job seekers and labourers from the state have not benefitted much from activities there in terms of employment or engagement of their services.

Alphonsos Chinedu, a former councillor in the state, described the situation as “capital flight”. He lamented: “With their sub-contractors in tow, they bring their workers from Enugu or Lagos, and also bring their materials from outside the state, providing little or no jobs for people here.”

Many have also expressed their displeasure at the state government’s failure to closely monitor the Ogbaga and Enugu/Abakaliki road projects, which are already in a deplorable condition even before  completion. Questions have been raised concerning issues of standards and specifications as well as terms of contract agreements sealed by the state government with the construction companies. Many are convinced that companies that deliver shoddy jobs have managed to escape sanctions only through the government’s backing. Linus Obi, a lawyer and human rights activist in Abakaliki says the contractors are untouchables. Nwadugo Chukwuma, the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Works, told this magazine that the Ogbaga road, like many other failed roads, was bound to fail because the initial design was merely to do “surface dressing” just to make it passable. He blamed the situation on the state government’s lean purse at the period of awarding the contracts and accused nobody for the default. He also stated that government was in fact ready to bear the cost of repairs on such roads all over again!

The construction of the 34 “unity bridges” spread across the state’s three senatorial zones, is the most celebrated achievement of the Elechi government so far (although the state also boasts of a digital radio station recently completed at a cost of N2.5 billion). Bridges completed in the state include the Omege/Noyo bridge in Ikwo Local Government Area; Ukaba bridge in Onicha Local Government Area; the Iyiaku bridge in Ivo Local Government Area and the 6-span Ezzama/Oshiri bridge. Also completed are the Idembia 10-span bridge, the 6-span Agbanyim bridge, Eketube/Enyida bridge in Abakaliki council, and the Ubeyi/Itara bridge in Afikpo North Local Government Area. The construction of the bridges and access roads has gulped well over N30 billion.

The contractors that benefited from the projects are cronies of the governor and members of his family. Elechi, the governor’s son and his family members wield a lot of influence in terms of handing out contracts in the state. With the building of structures in the Ochudo city secretariat being handled by Marlum Nigeria Ltd, insiders in the company reveal that a lot of sub-contracts are conceded to the governor’s family members.

One of the founders of Ebonyi State, but with age no longer on his side, the choice of Elechi, reputedly the oldest of the state governors, to embark on gargantuan projects has not been applauded in many quarters. Watchers of developments in the state have also expressed concerns about his shortcomings in terms of effective supervision, with fears that age may have slowed him down. There are complaints that the tax monitoring mechanism of the state government is being exploited by elements from Elechi’s clan from Ikwo Local Government Area.

Local government administration in Ebonyi is practically prostrate, even as the system is manned mostly by Ebonyi indigenes from Ikwo LGA. The chairman of the state’s Local Government Service Commission, Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and chairman of the state’s Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, ALGON, are all from Ikwo.

The chairman of the coordinators of development centres in the state – quasi local governments in the mould of Development Areas as obtains in Lagos – is also an Ikwo indigene. To cap it up, the state’s Accountant-General is also from the governor’s Ikwo LGA.

In Ebonyi State, coordinators of the development centres have also been performing far below expectation, with no concrete projects to show even after a lot of money has passed through their hands in the last five years.

A member of the committee recently set up to comb the books of the coordinators by the governor revealed that in the 39 development centres that they visited in the last one month, there was no new project to show. “These people are schemers. What they show us are projects of 2009, and nothing for 2010, 2011 and 2012. In most places, what you see are Local Purchase Orders, LPOs, with no item or an executed contract to justify the huge sums,” he said.

In places like Mbeke Development Centre, Ezekoma, Ezza East DC, Effium North and South, Ishielu North and several other DCs, the projects are just not on ground, defeating the purpose for which the Elechi government appointed most of them five years ago.

The Elechi government’s refusal to implement the minimum wage for the state’s workforce also continues to deepen the workers’ disgruntlement against it. Two weeks ago, health workers in the state threatened a strike, courtesy of an impending withdrawal of payment of the Consolidated Health Salary Structure, CONHESS, to local government health workers in the state. This was sequel to the sudden decision by chairmen of the local government councils to revert to paying the health workers salaries being paid prior to their agreement with the workers on CONHESS last year.

Ike Nwafor Frank, state chairman of the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria in Ebonyi, told TheNEWS that the chairmen’s plan, if implemented, would create segregation between the remuneration of health workers in the employment of the state government and those in the unified local government service. He is particularly miffed at the plan to renege on the agreement, since the local government chairmen have no legal power to stop the payment of CONHESS, which was a product of the state Executive Council, which Governor Elechi chairs.

The project establishing three huge rice mills at Ikwo, Oso-Edda and Iboko, in the three senatorial zones of the state, has also pitched Abakaliki rice mill owners against the government. Three months ago, the state government ordered the rice millers, who had operated from the familiar haven of their Abakaliki Rice Mill Company Limited community for decades, to relocate to government’s Modern Rice Mill complex at Iboko, which is about 45 minutes drive from Abakaliki.

With his actions purportedly based on the principle of spreading of amenities, Martin Elechi attempted to decentralise the famous rice mill, approving the importation of customised milling machines from Japan for the three giant mills. The government also claims that the mills are nearer to the major rice production centres in the state and are established to ensure the optimum utilisation of the rice husks for the production of electricity under a tripartite arrangement with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, UNIDO, and the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP.

The grouse of the rice millers is that government’s order for them to relocate is not only hasty, but also illegal.

Deacon Joseph Ununu, chairman of the Abakaliki Rice Mills Owners Industrial Enterprise, told the magazine that when the rice millers were allocated their present site, as a rice mill layout, it was done through a proper, legal process that granted them lease of 99 years. They also got a certificate of occupancy in year 2000, also for 99 years. “Before talking about relocation, government should have finished building structures into which we can relocate, with electricity, water and other amenities in place,” Ununu said. The rice millers have since headed for the National Industrial Court, and have been able to secure an injunction pending the determination of the suit.

The resistance of the millers is actually premised on the belief that the government establishment they were being forced into through threat and intimidation would, as other investments initiated by the state government in the past,  eventually fail. “We know government cannot manage such an enterprise well,” Ununu posited. He referred to a hatchery company set up during the Sam Egwu administration which employed over 1,000 people, but was shut down at the inception of the current administration. The hatchery facility, which could boast the best and most modern equipment while it thrived, is now a pack of abandoned structures, overgrown with weeds.

Elechi embarked on a crusade for attitudinal change right from the outset of his administration. To prove that he meant business, he elevated the crusade through the creation of a Directorate for Attitudinal Change. Through the directorate, the governor attempts to preach to people of the state to imbibe positive work ethic, cultural re-awakening towards moral reconstruction, integrity in service, environmental cleanliness and zero tolerance for violence. Also, in pursuit of a programme to professionalise the civil service and enhance the operational capacity of the state’s workforce, Elechi constructed an ultra-modern Staff Development Centre in Abakaliki. The structure was put on ground to cater for the training needs of all cadres of the workforce.

The 71-year-old governor was born in Ohakwu village, Alike, in Ikwo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, had his primary education at Native Authority schools in Nwakpu Alike and Nkwagu Izzi before proceeding to Okuku Ogoja in today’s Cross River State for his secondary school education at Mary Knoll Secondary School, obtaining his West African School Certificate in 1959. He obtained his Higher School Certificate in 1961 from Holy Family College, now in Akwa Ibom State, and eventually went beyond Nigeria’s shores to Lovanium University in the Democratic Republic of Congo to obtain a Bachelor of Arts (First Class) in Economics, in 1966.

He was appointed an Administrative Officer/Assistant Divisional Officer in Abakaliki in 1968 and Divisional Officer in charge of Afikpo in 1969. In the defunct East Central State, Elechi was variously Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Development, Commissioner for Trade and Industry and Commissioner for Works and Housing between 1970 and 1975. Between 1980 and 1982, he was the executive secretary of the now-defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, in the Old Anambra State. Between 1968 and 1996, Elechi was at the vanguard of the struggle for the creation of Ebonyi State, and providentially became the governor of the state in 2007, 11 years after its creation.

—Funsho Balogun/TheNEWS Africa




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