•Minister of Works, Engr. Dave Umahi (5th right) and the managing director, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, Engr. Dr. Lars Richter, in a photograph with other stakeholders at the meeting on the Bodo-Bonny project recently, in Abuja

 

 

Arising from the last briefing by Minister of Works, Engr. David Umahi, on the Bodo-Bonny Road project, it becomes imperative for a factual balance on the issues raised to be put on record for posterity and related stakeholders.

At that event, the minister said so much as to berating the contractor and leading engineering construction company, Julius Berger Nigeria, not on competence but on other aspects of its operations.

However, stakeholders, including members of the Peace Committee on the Bodo-Bonny Road project, view it differently. Indeed, they were largely at variance with the minister at the last meeting, asking him to let Julius Berger be and complete the road project.

For instance, a top and respected member of the community and of the committee, Chief Jasper Jombo, did not mince words in telling Minster Umahi that, “Julius Berger is well known around that neighbourhood; they have gained local accessibility over the years and they understand how to relate with the committees. If you bring in another contractor, yes, they will execute the job but it will take them time to learn the ropes and it could bring up militancy; and we don’t want that because we have had enough risks in the past and we are not planning for that again.

“So, anything that could be done, please, Your Excellency, graciously do it, even if it means helping us outside the ministry to go to His Excellency, Mr. President, and tell him some of us will bear the burden.

But the minister would not have any of such contribution. Instead, he said to the Bonny Kingdom representatives, “Let me ask this question to the people of Bonny Kingdom and I want their discussion to be properly recorded. We’ve had more than four meetings with NLNG, stakeholders of Bonny Kingdom, the Ministry of Works and Julius Berger, since September 2023; is that correct? Now do you want that work to be completed or you want Julius Berger to complete the road?”

That was a question another member  Chief Jombo was quick to answer. He said: “We want the road completed but we will prefer the it be completed by Julius Berger that is known and accepted within the area to make the job easier for those who will like to know.”

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But as in a manner suggestive of a gang-up against the construction company, the permanent secretary of the ministry stood up, interrupted the flow of the discussion and asked the committee members, “Your Excellency, sir, my fellow engineers. It is a question I want to ask. Are you telling us that, as Nigerians, that in the whole of Bonny Kingdom, the whole of Niger Delta, there can never ever be a reputable contractor that can do that work but Julius Berger?”

Immediately after the permanent secretary’s comment, Minister Umahi, as if to pre-empt his suggestive move, continued his briefing, saying, “We are having a problem with Berger in Lagos-Ibadan; we are having problem on our position on Second Niger Bridge; we are having problem with Berger in completion of Abuja-Kano Road; we are having problem with Berger in Cross-River Odukpani Road, and I’ve directed the permanent secretary, instead of that road to embarrass this administration again, we must be effective from 16th of this month isolate three kilometre from the section of Berger and begin to dig it up to one metre and fill it with sharp sand and stone base, so that our administration is not again embarrassed.”

The drama inside the conference room after that moment became legendary as the minister declared that, “We are giving Julius Berger seven days to return to site or we terminate the contract.”

He then stood up abruptly in the manner of a soldier, picked all his papers scattered on the table and walked out of the meeting hall.

Earlier, representatives of the company had said that, in the construction efforts on the Bodo-Bonny Road project, the company employed the most efficient and economical construction methods. Besides, the project, it was gathered, is being constructed on the worst possible ground with marshland, tides and tidal waves, more than 20m deep mud, etc., with terrible subsoil conditions not comparable to any other project in Nigeria.

It was also gathered that the December 2024 deadline for the completion of the project was impossible as settlement of the sand dams cannot be accurately ascertained at this moment in time. This will imply that additional sand quantities will be needed because of partly unpredictable settlement; and this would mean more costs.

On allegations that the contractor overprices its project, and in foreign currency, it was gathered that the cost per kilometre and lane of the Bodo-Bonny road project is in Nigerian naira. However, the unit rates of 2013 when the project contract was first signed and 11 years after still persist even when the price of construction materials have increased by as much as 1,000%. This is added to the fact that the ministry only allows for 10% compensation despite recent drastic price increase and current economic crisis in the country.

Chief Abel Attoni did not mince words in letting the minister in on how dear the project and its contractor are to the people of Bonny Kingdom when he retorted: “We are not asking for another contractor in our own position. What we believe is that, like the honourable minister mentioned the last time, if a marriage is not working then you can terminate the marriage, but we are positioning that this marriage has not broken down and that is why we are saying that because of the way the project has been going so far, temper justice with mercy.”

It would be recalled that the minister had told a stakeholders’ meeting a fortnight ago that Julius Berger asked for N28billion in answer to which he offered the company N20bn. In a report later that week, the company stated categorically that it requested for N79billion to complete the project; a request that they were yet to get an answer to before that ill-fated stakeholders meeting.

Put more succinctly, Minister Umahi must rethink his decision on the entire saga and heed the voice of the community leaders and do the needful. For long has Bonny Kingdom been isolated by the federal government. With no tangible federal government presence in the area laced with dangerous creeks and unpassable terrains coupled with failed attempts in the past to link the oil-rich Kingdom to the mainland, Umahi must seize this opportunity to write his name in gold in annals of history by heeding the people’s voice on their preference for Julius Berger to complete the road project.


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