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 its impact.
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 dollar.”
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 warehouse cost.
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 the commission.
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 source said.
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 else.
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.