DESOPADEC Dredger: The rot amid sinking
Itsekiri towns, as politicians battle over equipment.
The acquisition of a dredger by DESOPADEC was
expected to resettle thousands of members of the ethnic groups who fled
their homes in the aftermath of the Ijaw/Itsekiri crisis. Shola O’Neil
writes that nearly two years after the multi-million dollar equipment
was acquired the beauty of Eregwa is fast fading without the communities
feeling its impact.
There were huge expectations among the people of Itsekiri in 2013 when
their representatives on the board of the Delta State Oil-Producing
Areas Development Commission (DESOPAEC) announced a plan to acquire
a gigantic dredger. The equipment, they were told, was to be used to
dredge creeks, waterways and to sand-fill their riverside communities
that are fast being eroded by erosion.
The joy that trailed the announcement stemmed from the deplorable state
of towns in Warri South, Southwest and North Local Government Areas.
Hundreds of Itsekiri communities from Koko, Obaghoro, Ijaghalla, Ogidigben,
Ajudaibo, Usele, Deghele and others were at the mercy of coastal erosion
and vanishing shoreline.
The acquisition of a dredger by DESOPADEC was expected to resettle thousands
of members of the ethnic groups who fled their homes in the aftermath
of the Ijaw/Itsekiri crisis between the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The hope brightened on a lively day in April last year (2014) when the
then Chairman of the Commission, Mr. Oritsuwa Kpogho, an Itsekiri man,
inaugurated the dredger with fanfare and back-patting in Koko, headquarters
of Warri North Local Government Area.
Aptly named ‘Eregwa’, (Itsekiri word for beautiful woman
or object), the glimmering monster of an equipment was a beauty to behold.
Kpogho stated that DESOPADEC went for the best dredger in the world,
adding that the equipment would last beyond three decades.
Commenting on the issue, the commission’s secretary, Sir Augustine
Oghoro, promised that the dredger would be deployed to save and restore
communities that are being washed away by erosion.
A news report on DESOPADEC website entitled “Jubilation as DESOPADEC
Acquires Dredger” quoted Hon. Michael Diden (aka Ejele) as saying,
“the waterlogged communities can be reclaimed”.
However, two years after the multi-million dollar equipment was acquired,
the beauty of Eregwa is fast fading without the communities feeling
Creeks and rivers are still blocked by silts; communities are endangered
more than ever before while the Ellicott 1270 Dragon dredger is rotting
away at a private dockyard in Koko.
Niger Delta Report learnt that apart from the initial test-run of the
equipment to fill the private jetty where it is kept, the N1 billion
worth of equipment is yet to leave the scene where its components were
unwrapped and assembled over a year ago.
Our investigations revealed that the contract for the dredger was awarded
to a company known as Mawona Atlantic Limited for N985,000,000.00 for
“purchase of dredger/accessories”. Attempts by our reporter
to get further details from Ellicott Dredgers LLC Maryland, USA, were
not fruitful as the company was unwilling to make any comment. Walter
Mather, who responded to our email enquiry, neither denied nor confirmed
that the equipment was bought from them. He also would not go into details
of the price. He said: “Ellicott does build and offer an 18-inch
dredger with model Dragon 1270. Several have been sold to Nigeria. With
respect to your underlying questions, please understand that we do not
discuss our private business with the media without prior approval of
any related client”, Walter added.
Information sourced from the company’s website indicated that
the one sighted by our reporter in Koko is indeed an Ellicott Dragon
1270, an 18”, 460mm diameter portable cutter-head type dredger
with a maximum digging depth of 15.24m. The manufacturer boasts that
the dredger is “tailored to suit the requirements of the purchaser”,
adding, “It is made to give the greatest return on the investment
Unfortunately, for Itsekiri communities, rather than give value for
the N1 billion paid to acquire it, the dredger has been rotting away
in Koko and accruing more expenses, including a princely N1.6m monthly
Expectant community leaders who thought its deployment would ease their
pains have since given up.
“The euphoria over the dredger is gone; like most projects by
those claiming to represent us. It is only they and their cronies who
supplied it that have seen its gain. Not one Itsekiri community, even
here in Warri North Local Government Area or the oil community, has
used it. How can people be so wicked?” Mr. Eyitemi Kingsway Eyoyibo,
told our reporter.
Eyoyibo, who hails from erosion-prone Ajudaibo in Ugborodo, called for
a full scale investigation into, not just the dredger, but also into
several other projects awarded over the years by Itsekiri representatives
in the board of DESOPADEC. “All those found culpable of shortchanging
our people should refund all monies and be sent to jail. Itsekiri nation
has suffered too much because of the greed and avarice of a few who
find themselves in the corridors of power,” he stressed.
Reliable sources in DESOPADEC said the state and the Itsekiri have lost
heavily due to the wasting equipment. It was learnt that benefits from
training, operation and others that was into the contract have been
lost along with the guarantee against defects. The recently inaugurated
Commissioner representing Itsekiri in the commission, Chief Thomas Ereyitomi,
who was contacted by our reporter, said he was yet to get the full brief
and details on the dredger.
Ereyitomi, in a telephone conversation with our reporter said: “As
you are aware, we are just coming on board (DESOPADEC) and there are
so many things that we need to look at. I am yet to get the full brief
on the dredger so I might not be able to say much – at least for
now.” The DESOPADEC Executive Director, Planning, Research and
Statistics, Mr. Victor Oritsetinmeyin Wood, could not be reached for
comment. The director, who insisted on a face-to-face chat with our
reporter, was said to be on project inspection when our reporter visited
Mr. Tsewo Edema, the Head of Security at DESOPADEC at the time, confirmed
that the commissions pays N19.2 million ((N1.6 million monthly) annually
to a private firm, which owns the jetty where the equipment is kept
since about 2012. Edema, in a chat with Niger Delta Report, explained
that the N1.6m monthly payment was not only for the use of the jetty,
but also for safekeeping of the dredger.
But beyond the cost of ‘safekeeping’ the dredger, the loss
of add-ons and warrantee could come to haunt the commission. “If
and when they decide to use it, if any challenge is discovered with
the dredger, huge sums of money would again be needed to procure the
parts and maybe bring in the expert from the United States (US),”
Kingsway Eyoyibo lamented.
At the time of our reporter’s visit to Koko on
Sunday, October 18 (2015), the huge pipes and suction hoses procured
with the dredger were rotting away due to lack of use and maintenance.
Huge containers and caravans which were used to freight the equipment
to the Itsekiri riverside communities laid idle. A prominent Itsekiri
staff of the commission who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security
reasons said only Messrs. Oritsuwa Kpogho and Michael Diden (now a member
of the Delta State House of Assembly) respectively and Edema, could
throw more light on the debacle surrounding the contract of the dredger.
“The purchase was between them; they were the all and all as far
as the Itsekiri nation was concerned in DESOPADEC at that time. So,
any question about the dredger should be directed to them,” our
Diden was yet to respond to our reporter’s text message inquiry
at the time of filing this report. Attempts to get through to him through
a third party were also not fruitful two weeks afterwards. Edema, however,
denied being involved in the procurement of the dredger. Although he
conceded that he was aware that the contract involved training of Itsekiri
engineers to man it, he said beyond securing the equipment he knew nothing
A very angry community leader however said: “Even at the time
the contract was awarded, there was fear apart from not being what the
Itsekiri need to spend money on at the time, the issue of how it was
going to operate needed to be fully addressed. But nobody gave heed
to wise advice then because some persons were more interested in the
contract than how it would benefit the Itsekiri nation.”
Further investigations revealed that the dredger is a victim of the
clash of political interests among prominent Itsekiri politicians and
various group leaders who wanted to convert it to their personal assets.
Confirming this, Edema described the dredger as a victim of a clash
of big interests. He revealed that various efforts to put the dredger
to use was frustrated by unnamed key players and inability of private
firms that indicated interest to lease it to provide firm guarantee
of their commitment. “For instance,” he said, “one
private firm handling road construction work in Koko area offered to
take it on lease; although their offer was way below the commission’s
estimation, the deal fell through because they could not provide bank
guarantee. Everybody wants to take and convert it to private use.”
Edema said but for his vigilance, the muti-miliion dollar equipment
would have ended up as a private asset.
“By now, there would be no longer dredger to talk about; it might
have been taken as far as to Cotonou (Benin Republic), he added.
This report was culled from The Nation of Friday
November 6, 2015.