By Olaoluwakitan Babatunde
Angered by what they described as the ‘mischievous delay of work on the Lokoja River Port by the contracting firm’, an umbrella body of pressure groups in Kogi State, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately determine the project.
The associations, under the aegis of the Lokoja Democratic Development Forum, LDDF, made this call in the state capital at a press conference in Lokoja at the weekend.
Addressing the conference at Patti Suites, in the colonial town, President of the forum,
Alhaji Zubair Angulu and the Secretary, Comrade Tade Orungbami, said the contractor was making the project another white elephant project, a situation which should not be allowed to subsist in the present dispensation of change and national rebirth.
Said Angulu: ‘The contract for the Lokoja River Port, was approved in the last quarter of 2012, with a completion period of 57 weeks, by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, with Senator Idris Umar as Transport Minister. The job was awarded to Messrs Inter-Bau Construction Ltd. That was the second time the contract would be awarded, having been initially contracted out in 2007.
The river port was one of the inland ports, including Onitsha and Baro, which were supposed to facilitate the movement of cargo within designated hubs of socio-economic activity in the country, alleviate pressure on our roads, create jobs and generate revenue for government.’
‘Our findings reveal that the contractors had barely commenced work on the project in 2012, then they began to make unreasonable demands from the federal government. This included an inexplicable request for an upward review of the initial contract sum of N4.1b, to over N10b.
This appeal, however, runs counter to the provisions of the Procurement Act of the Federal Republic, which allows upward adjustment to a maximum of 25% of the original contract sum, subject to the approval of the Federal Executive Council. Expectedly, the request never saw the light of day in the twilight of that administration, even as the contractor attempted to arm-twist the government by demobilizing from the project site to press his case.
Continuing, Angulu said: ‘We are aware of entreaties by the supervising government agency, the Lokoja-based National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, to the contractor to return to site, which have so far been rebuffed.’ This, he noted, is despite recent payments to Inter-Bau Construction Ltd to encourage the contractor to have a change of heart.
According to Angulu, to date, the contractor must have been paid close to one billion naira as mobilisation fees and yet there is as yet no evidence of work done to this amount of money.
In a tone which betrayed exasperation at the press conference, Angulu said: ‘In the course of one of his visits to the project site, the former Minister, Senator Idris Umar, assured that the project will be completed and commissioned before the end of the Jonathan administration.
Indeed, it was repeatedly celebrated as one of the infrastructural landmarks bequeathed on our state, our zone, our federal constituency, indeed our local government by the former administration.’
‘Yet, here we are with a project which, because of the attitude of the contractor, may never see the light of day.’
According to him, the initial enthusiasm which greeted the commencement of the project way back in 2012, has since turned sour.
The forum noted that the Lokoja River Port Project was becoming a jinxed, having been earlier awarded to Messrs Foby Engineering Ltd, at the cost of N2.3b, during the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, in 2007.
The contract was revoked following the contractor’s inability to perform, even after collecting mobilisation to the tune of N800m at the time, revised and re-awarded to Inter-Bau Construction Ltd in 2012. Effectively therefore, a project which was scheduled for completion in a little over a year when it was conceived, is almost in its 10th year and yet to achieve 50% completion, in the administration of the third successive President.
Angulu called on President Muhammadu Buhari to revoke the contract forthwith and consider re-awarding it to a more committed contractor, to break the cycle of abandonment and non-completion of the project.
He said the host communities had come to see the project as a potential fluke, much as they have absolute confidence that the Buhari administration will not be part of any project to deceive Nigerians, nay the people of Kogi State.
The coalition pleaded for the speedy completion of the Abuja-Lokoja expressway which was flagged of in the last quarter of 2006, by the administrstion of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, so it does not go the way of the Lokoja River Port.
They expressed the hope that much as time needed for construction works had been lost during the dry season, substantial work can still be done once the 2016 budget is assented to by the President.
Angulu noted that it needs no over-emphasis that the completion of the road will ease human and vehicular movement and stop perennial carnage on the all-important North-South heavy duty carriageway.
hey also drew attention to the decrepit condition of the over 300 kilometre long Lokoja-Obajana-Kabba-Egbe-Ilorin road, which traverses the western senatorial zone in Kogi State, which is also host zone of the Lokoja River Port, while also calling for the acceleration of completion works at the permanent site of the Federal University, Lokoja, which has been under construction since it was proclaimed late 2010.
Angulu assured that LDDF will follow-up the press conference with advocacy visits to notable leaders and elder statesmen from Kogi State, who are major stakeholders in the project.
The support of the Honourable Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, the Senator representing Kogi West senatorial zone where the project is sited, Senator Dino Melaye and the Member representing Lokoja-Kotonkarfe Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, who is also the deputy majority leader of the house, Hon Buba Umar Jibril, will also be enlisted, he said.
The President of the coalition also listed the chairmen of the Senate and House committees on marine transportation, as key government functionaries who will be visited on the matter.
The press conference was attended by leaders and representatives of socio-ethnic groups and communities in the contiguous Lokoja and Kotonkarfe local government areas, abutting the project site.
All efforts to reach the Chairman of Inter-Bau Construction Ltd, Chief Nath Okechukwu, or any senior officer at the organisation’s port construction site in Ja’amata, near Lokoja, to obtain the company’s input, were to no avail.