The recent landslide in Akugbene Community has generated a lot of malicious publications both in print and social media platforms. It’s quite appalling that instead of addressing the root causes of the coastal erosion/landslide menace ravaging the community and proffering workable solutions, the authors and their sponsors have chosen to capitalize on the misfortune of the people to achieve political and parochial gains. They have chosen to use the opportunity to wage proxy wars, resort to mudslinging, and maligning leaders like Rt. Hon. Mutu Nicholas Ebomo (OFR) who have worked tirelessly to address the numerous developmental challenges confronting the community and the Niger-Delta region. To achieve their narrow objectives, they have attempted to distort verifiable facts, traded in falsehood and fabricated lies to hoodwink non-discerning readers into believing these phantom stories. Ordinarily, as a group, we would have ignored these ill-conceived publications, the antecedents of these ill-advised agents of destabilization and blackmailers necessitated this response to straighten the records and correct the tissue of lies the reading public is fed with.
Landslide is not peculiar to Akugbene but an age long natural disaster ravaging almost all the communities along the shoreline of River Forcados including Kpakiama, Bomadi, Esanama, Ogbeinama, and a host of other communities. What Akugbene need at this trying times from its citizens including the youths and other well-meaning persons in the Niger Delta, is to leverage on their networks, connections and goodwill to impress on the relevant government agencies saddled with the responsibility of addressing such environmental challenges at the federal and state levels to come to the rescue of the people. Since there is an ongoing project funded by the NDDC aimed at addressing the problem, the leadership of the community should engage the Commission to accelerate its completion for the benefit of the communities. Instead of constructively engaging the relevant agency, some youths have allowed themselves to be used by desperate political jobbers and blackmailers to settle political scores.
While, Rt. Hon. Mutu initiated The Akugbene Shore Protection project as a representative, the award of the Contract like others awarded at the same time, were awarded by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) because of its magnitude. We had expected the people of Akugbene (especially the youths) to celebrate Hon. Mutu for attracting this laudable project amongst others to the community rather than vilifying him. We often times take for granted the efforts and resources it takes to attract such gigantic project to a community. We will urge the people of Akugbene to rally round Hon Mutu, give him the necessary moral support, encouragement and work closely with him to get the NDDC and the contractor to address whatever bottleneck(s) that is inhibiting the speedy execution of the project. It needs to be said that, no matter how influential or powerful a Representative/lawmaker is, there is a limit to which he/she can go because implementation and execution of projects is outside his/her purview and solely that of the executive, nay implementing agency. The best the lawmaker can do in most cases, is to lobby and advocate on behalf of his constituents leveraging on his representative and oversight functions. This our view and based on available records, Rt. Hon. Nicholas Mutu has continued to be effective by ensuring that the project is adequately funded in the NDDC budget up till 2020, while engaging relevant stakeholders to address challenges that are delaying the execution of the project such as technical and structural defects identified in the project.
It is also important to state here for the purpose of clarity that the Akugbene Shore Protection project was never re-awarded as erroneously claimed. What NDDC did was to withdraw the project from the original contractor (who from all indication lacked the capacity and will to execute the project) after series of negotiations as a measure to salvage the project from being abandoned. If not for the efforts of well-meaning sons of Akugbene town, the said project would have been history like others awarded at the same time to other communities in Bomadi Local Government Area.
This is evident in the fact that the current contractor (the project was re-assigned to), had mobilized to site, procured and conveyed a good number of the precast concrete piling sheets to site, and had commenced the drilling of the precast (see pictures below) before it discovered some defects in the technical and structural design that led to the suspension of the project. Some of the defects includes the height of the precast concrete piling sheets, lack of anchoring points on the precast concrete piling, interconnection between the sheets, amongst others. Continuing with the projects in its current form despite the defects will have provided a short-lived solution to the landslide menace and would not stand the test of time just as we have seen from similar/previous shore protection projects that were funded by the state government. The contractor went ahead to inform NDDC of its observations and made far reaching recommendations for remedy. Unfortunately, despite consistent follow-up by the contractor, NDDC is yet to officially respond to the issues raised or give clear directive on how to proceed. I want to believe that the frequent administrative changes at the top hierarchy of the NDDC contributed significantly to the delays as discussions had to commence de-novo with the new Board, each time there is a change. These facts are there for interested and discerning persons from the community and others to verify. On this note, the misplaced anger and frustration of these so called youths and their sponsors who genuinely want solution to the problem, should be directed at the NDDC to do the needful for the Contractor to proceed with the execution of the project and stop pointing accusing fingers at Hon Mutu who is neither the Contractor nor NDDC. His intention/commitment overtime has been to better the lots of his constituents which is an undeniable fact.
Most worrisome of all the unfounded allegations in the public domain is the claim that payment has been fully made on the piling project. It is quite disheartening that such assertion can be made by right thinking persons who ought to know the operational mode of NDDC. Since they claim to have access to the leadership of the NDDC, they ought to know that payments are made based on milestones achieved by contractors. May we also remind them that NDDC stopped paying mobilization fee to contractors since 2013 or thereabout. Contractors who were paid mobilization before its suspension were made to produce bank guarantees (APGs) issued by reputable banks. In other words, these monies were guaranteed by commercial banks so the banks would be held responsible if any contractor abscond with such monies.
Some of the writers went as far as indicting the management of NDDC by alleging that over 65 projects were awarded to Akugbene community and have been fully paid without execution. This is rather unfortunate. For the benefit of the reading public, we deem it fit re-emphasize that NDDC no longer pay mobilization fee. Contractors are expected to mobilise resources to execute projects awarded to them and apply to NDDC for payment based on achieved milestones. It should be made known to all and sundry that jobs awarded for execution in Akugbene or any other community by NDDC that has not been executed or completed may be as a result of the inability of the contractor to mobilise the required funds or delayed payment for milestones achieved (IPCs) by the NDDC thereby impacting negatively on the contractors’ capacity or willingness to go back to site.
Findings shows that most of the contractors are owed for years for jobs done leading to accumulated interest on facilities collected from banks by these contractors to execute those jobs. Similarly, Contractors have found it extremely difficult to source funds from commercial backs to execute NDDC jobs due to its (NDDC) notoriety for delayed in payments. It is therefore uncharitable to accuse Hon. Mutu for the fate of such delayed or unimplemented projects in the community or anywhere.
Closely related to this is the claim that the Akugbene Piling Project has been fully paid for. This is pure falsehood and should be treated as such because findings at our disposal indicates that only about 20% has been paid for the project so far and I
we invite those peddling this falsehood to provide evidence to buttress their claims. The contractor has demonstrated good fate and reiterated its willingness and commitment to delivering the job as soon as NDDC rectifies the design defects highlighted earlier or gives further instructions.
Having said this, it is important to state that all the publications both on print and social media concerning the Akugbene Piling Project are born-out of politics and malicious intent to smear and malign the reputation of Rt. Hon. Mutu Nicholas whose towering political profile is too intimidating for them to match in a free, fair and square political contest. A classic case of calling a dog a bad name to hang it. Finally, I urge the reading public to totally disregard these poorly conceived and inelegantly written stories for they lack facts, substance, depth and are products of the figment of the imagination of the authors and their co-travellers. We have taken the pain to also attach photos to further demonstrate the facts and efforts made by the Contractor so as to put a lie to these malicious publication.
Opuofeni Michael, National President,
Niger Delta Observers Movement (NDOM)