Ishaku Urges FG to Remove Encumbrances to Take-off of Mambilla Hydro Power Project

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By Bolaji Adebiyi in Abuja

The Taraba State Governor, Mr. Darius Ishaku, has urged the federal government to take urgent steps to remove all hindrances to the effective take-off the Mambilla Hydro Power Project that is projected to deliver 3,050 MW to the national grid upon completion.

Ishaku spoke with THISDAY at the weekend and listed the non-payment of compensation and lack of resettlement plan for the inhabitants of the project site as well as lack of access road to the site as the big issues militating against the commencement of the project over 30 years after it was conceived.

“As I speak to you now, the federal government has done nothing in terms of remuneration and compensation for the people and getting the site cleared of encumbrances,” he said, adding: “Right now, I can’t take you to the site of the project because the access is not there. There is no road to where the dam will be built.”

There had been a resurgence of hope that the project, reputed to be the biggest in Africa and flagged off in 2007 by President Olusegun Obasanjo, would commence as a team of 40 Chinese engineers in company with officials of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing visited its Gembu, Sardauna Local Government Area of the state site, in September 2016.

But the governor said the hope was misplaced as the basic conditions for the movement to site had not been met.  “People are still living in the valley of the dam as we speak, he said, emphasizing: “There is a Bible College right where the dam is going to be built.”

Ishaku said both the federal and state governments needed to deal urgently with the resettlement of an estimated 150,000 persons spread over five local government areas that the project site would consume, explaining that this was an enormous challenge that had to be surmounted before the construction of the huge hydro power station could begin without hitches.

The governor spoke of the need to sensitise the people to the imminent reality of relocation and said the state government would do its best to assist the federal government in this regard even as he expressed his frustration at the slow response of Abuja to his enthusiasm to get the project off the ground.

“We have held meetings with the Minister (of Power, Works and Housing) and up till now, I have not seen any result and this will take us about one year. So, if you say the project will take seven years of construction and for one year nothing has been done especially in trying to get to the site, it means a lot still need to be done,” Ishaku said, adding: “I am happy with the project and we will do everything possible to make sure the project is realised to the benefit of the country in general and Taraba state in particular.”

Urging the federal government to fasttrack the commencement of the project by constructing an access road to its site, he said the state government had being laying the groundwork to ease the work of the contractors engaged to construct the dam.

According to him, the opening of the Jalingo Airport was part the state government’s efforts to ease access to the project site. “Due to this talk about the Mambilla project and opening up Taraba State, the first thing I did when I came on board was to open the Taraba Airport. Before you cannot access Jalingo by air, but right now, you have Overland on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays and we are hoping that by December, it will be a daily flight. All the engineers and contractors that will come to the state should have an easy access,” he said.

The massive project, which is about 340 kilometres from Jalingo, the state capital, stretches from River Dongo in Gembu, headquarters of Sardauna Local Government Area to Baruf where the river cascades from 1,671metres above sea level into the basin below. It is here that the project’s huge turbines would be stationed.

Apart from electricity, the dam is also designed to boost irrigation farming in the state, a major source of interests for thousands of people who live in the project area because of the employment opportunities it offers them.

First awarded in 2007 by President Olusegun Obasanjo to provide 2,600MW, no progress was made even as President Jonathan reviewed and expanded the scope of the project to 3,050MW in 2011 and increased its cost to $3.2billion.

But the project remained comatose, particularly with the inclusion of Sinohydro Corporation, a Chinese firm that was not part of the original bid winners – CGC/CGGC in 2005.

The Muhammadu Buhari administration has, however, reconciled the two Chinese companies, committing them to agree on the handling of the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract.

The project’s current cost is $5.732billion (about N1.140trillion) and is expected last for about 63 months after flag off, including 12 months for a Defect Liability Period (test running).

The federal government hopes to drop its 15 per cent equity financing from its expected N1trillion income from the sales of its 10 gas-based power plants under the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPPs).