•Locals accuse contractor of abandoning project

•They beat up my staff and government is owing me –Contractor


By Henry Umahi

Few weeks ago, officials of Imo State Universal Basic Education Board (IMSUBEB) visited the premises of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Zonal Model (Smart) School in Umuanum, Ohekelem autonomous community, Ngor Okpala Local Government Area of Imo State. The mission of the officials of IMSUBEB was to install needed equipment in the school, which is one of the six special schools constructed by the Federal Government in the six geopolitical zones in the country.


But to the dismay of the IMSUBEB officials, the project had not been completed even though the school was supposed to commence academic activities in September this year.

The information that other schools in other zones whose contract was awarded the same period had been completed broke the hearts of the Umuanum-Ohekelem people. According to them, they are disappointed that despite giving total cooperation to the contractor, the job was moving at a slow pace. The people are also worried that children from the community may not start academic activities with their counterparts in our parts of the country when they commence in September.

Daily Sun was in Umuanum Ohekelem community last week and saw a community weeping in the valley of disappointment and sadness. They were disappointed that the  project was not moving at the pace they expected. It was the same story of disillusionment from everyone. They lamented that the project was supposed to be a special school with nursery, primary and junior secondary school of international standard but the premises has been overgrown by grasses while snakes and rodents are residents.

Lamentation galore

Arc. Madukaku Emmanuel Amarachi, youth leader of Umuotigba kindred in Umuanum, Ohekelem community, said: “We were made to understand that the project should have been completed before now but to our greatest surprise it still lingers. Not long ago, officials of the Imo State Universal Education Board visited the project site but they were displeased with the reckless handling of the project and the contractor is nowhere to be found.

“The Imo State Education Board officials made us to understand that the school is supposed to kick off in September but, with the look of things, the project is barely 40 per cent completed. They showed us other ones in other geopolitical zones, which are at the stage of installing the computers and other equipment. But here, they just abandoned the project.

“We are pleading with the contractor to come back and complete the job so that children from this area will join their counterparts from other parts of the country and resume in September.

“At the same time, whatever is due to the host community in terms of employment should be given to us. We have capable hands in teaching and other non-academic activities that can help, but we have not seen anything. We just hope and pray that the contractor comes back and completes the job he started.

“In this place, we are peaceful people; nobody has disturbed or harassed the contractor since he started the job. He brought his own workers and we have no problem with that. All we want is for him to complete the job on schedule. The stakeholders should call him to come and finish the job. This is our plea.”

Mr. Sabinus Nzemechi, who is the chairman of Umuanum, Ohekelem autonomous community, Ngor Okpala LGA, is also not a happy man. He said that the expectation of the people was being thwarted.

A visibly disappointed Nzemechi said: “Sometime in 2019, this project was sited in our place and we were very glad to welcome it because it is a very laudable initiative. They wanted a table land and we gave it because this is the first time a Federal Government project is coming to our area.

“The Sam Mbakwe Airport in our place was built by the Imo State government. So, this school is the only Federal Government presence and we were happy about it.

“Our people are very accommodating. Being the chairman, I know that it will be very good that this project came into being during my tenure. The contractor started well and workers came from everywhere. But for about eight months now, the job has slowed down so much.

“Recently, IMSUBEB officials came from Owerri with some equipment, which they wanted to install in the school, thinking that the project had been completed. But on getting there, they saw that the place was not ready for the equipment to be installed. There was no security and the buildings had not been completed. So, they took the equipment back to Owerri pending when the project is completed. So, we are calling on the contractor to come and complete the school so that it will commence with others. It is called Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Smart Model School. This one is for South-East zone and we are happy that it is located in our place. We don’t have security problem, people enjoy our place. We have food and good road and we are close to the airport. So, this place is conducive for the school. Our joy will be complete when they complete the project.”

Another stakeholder, Mr. Micah Onyekwere, said: “As the host community, we are happy to have such a wonderful project. When they came, we embraced the contractor and his workers. But it is unfortunate that it is not going in line with similar projects in other parts of the country.

“The school session is supposed to commence in September but it is doubtful if they can meet the target. From what is on ground, they have not done up to 50 per cent of the work. We are disappointed with what is happening at the site.

“We don’t have any issue with the Federal Government. We are calling on UBEC officials, who gave out the contract to do the needful so that the contractor will do what he is supposed to do. We want them to act fast.”

Nwosu Otumba, another stakeholder, added a new twist to the story. According to him, this was not the first time his community would be shortchanged. He alleged that a university sited in his community by a previous administration was moved to another place by government.

“We gave our land freely to the Federal Government for the project; we did not collect a dime as compensation. This is because we embraced the scheme without reservations. What we have on ground is not up to 40 per cent and this calls for worry.

“Again, before now, we had a university in our community but it was moved out by government. If you go to the university now, it has been taken over by cows and weeds. Hoodlums from neighbouring communities have even started removing the roofing sheets.

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“We are part of Nigeria and part of Imo State, so they should stop treating us like this. There is no single project from the state government in Ngor Okpala and the one given to us by the Federal Government is not being handled the way we expected. The contractor should come and complete the project without further delay. We are not being fairly treated,” he lamented.

Similarly, the traditional ruler of Ohekelem, Eze E.E. Okere, appealed for the completion of the project immediately so that his people and others will start to enjoy the dividends therefrom. He remarked that his people were not quarrelling with government or anyone, saying: “All we want is for them to complete the project so that our children can make use of the facility.”

Inside the school

When Daily Sun visited the school, it was covered with grass. Some of the buildings were at various stages of construction. Some of the toilets had been fixed, while some ceilings had not been handled. Three workers were seen at the site.

As the reporter was entering the premises, a vehicle that brought some gallons of paint was leaving. One of the people at the site, who introduced himself as Ehiowaguan Okoromi, a quantity surveyor representing Fonapple Integrated Services Ltd, the company handling the project, said there was no cause for alarm. According to him, the company has the capacity to deliver on schedule.

Okoromi told Daily Sun: “I came here from Abuja on August 6, 2022. By God’s grace this project is progressing. The work remaining to be done is not really much. I can say that we have achieved over 80 per cent of the internal aspect of the work. But we still have some work to be done externally.

“We have the interlocking to do and, in a matter of days, it will kick off, by the grace of God. In a matter of days, we will negotiate for grader and payloader for the external clearing, while other workers begin to come.

“A few minutes before you came, we received some gallons of paint. With the arrival of the paints, the workers will get busy in a matter of days.”

Asked what caused the seeming slow pace of the work, Okoromi volunteered: “What really happened when this project took off was that there were some crises. I can say that the project was abandoned for about one year because of the crises on ground and insecurity in the South-East.

“We were afraid to come. You know, to mobilise, demobilise and remobilise is not easy.  Most of the workers we are using are being brought from the North. A few weeks ago, we saw what happened near the airport junction where some policemen were killed. So, insecurity has been a challenge.

“The host community, who are the owners of the project, has been cooperating with us. They always tell us not to be afraid, that they are behind us. They give us every support that we need. Since we entered here, we have not had anything like theft or injury.

“Another challenge is the fluctuation of the price of building materials. For example, when the contract for the project was awarded, cement was sold for less than N2,000 per bag but it is almost N5,000 now. Despite that, it is a project that we have signed and we will execute it. We are aware that the school is kicking off by September and, by God’s grace, we will make sure that we meet up with the date.

“Talking about construction, we do not boast.  As far as this company is concerned, we don’t guess. We told the people of the community that, after the election, they will see some changes and we kept to our promise. On or before September, we will deliver, by the special grace of God.”

Okoromi added that physically challenged people were put into consideration in the execution of the project. He disclosed that there are ramps for those that use wheelchairs and people with mobility issues.

Visit to IMSUBEB

Meanwhile, the technical committee for the monitoring of UBEC project in Ohekelem community made an official visit to the chairman of IMSUBEB, Dr. Ada Okwuonu, on Thursday, June 1. The delegation was led by the chairman of the technical committee, Prof. Enoch Nwachukwu.

The focal objective of the visit was to get all the details of the contract on the special school programme and at the same time enjoin IMSUBEB to facilitate the speedy completion of the project.

At the meeting, the delegation, who were said to be sent by the traditional ruler and president-general of the community, sought the reason for the slow pace of work. The delegation pleaded with the IMSUBEB chairman to use her good office to accelerate the pace of work at the project site.

The delegation pointed out that, from reliable sources, it was only the project at Ohekelem and one other that have remained uncompleted and overgrown with grass. They, however, applauded the IMSUBEB chairman for her efforts and urged with her to ensure that the interest of the community is captured in the local content of the programme.

In her reaction, Dr. Okwuonu lauded the community for sending such a high-powered delegation to her, describing it as an act of esteemed commitment. She said the project was a special school with nursery, primary and junior secondary school of international standard with state-of-the-art computer facility.

She narrated several efforts her office has made in ensuring the completion of the project. She allegedly said that several correspondences have been written and reports sent to UBEC Abuja complaining about the attitude of the contractor handling the project. Sources at the meeting said the IMSUBEB chairman condemned the actions of the contractor, especially on the low speed of work at the site. She advised the community to use all means to ensure that the contractor is relocated back to site.

She also advised the committee to write to UBEC Abuja complaining about the slow pace of work at the site. The chairman informed the delegation that 65 teachers have been recruited by the government to teach in the school.

Okwuonu explained that only teachers already teaching in government secondary schools who were below 40 years of age were recruited for the school, stressing that no fresh recruitment was made. She also said that both solar panels, computer sets and other academic materials have seen provided by UBEC Abuja. She told the committee that the governor asked her to relocate the school to Irete, Owerri West, but she pleaded with the governor that much infrastructure have been erected at the site that there was no need relocating it to another area.

She informed the team that she appointed a desk officer in her office to monitor the project, adding that the community should be liaising with the desk officer for collaboration.

The chairman of IMSUBEB firmly assured the committee that her office would ensure that academic activities commence in the school in September. She also assured them that all the materials for the school would be ready by September.

The committee commended the IMSUBEB chairman for her resilience and esteemed commitment in ensuring that the project was not relocated or abandoned by the contractor. They pleaded with the chairman not to relent in her commitment and efforts in ensuring that academic activities commence in the school in September. They promised her the cooperation of the community and all the necessary support.

The delegation was made up of Prof. Enoch Nwachukwu (chairman), Prince MacDonald Enwere (secretary), Chief S.A. Nnanna Nwosu, Engr. Lawrence Onwuchuruba, Chief Eberechukwu Akanwa, Chief F.C. Amakor, Mrs. Glory Nweke and Nnamdi Umunnabuike.

Contractor reacts

When contacted, the contractor handling the project, Mr. Frank Ndubuisi Onyemem, denied abandoning the job, adding that he was being owed. In a telephone chat, he said: “Tell them that government has not paid me and I would like you to investigate; it’s UBEC. I have been using my money; the money they are owing me is about half of the money (contract sum). The project started since four or three years ago and I am already at loss and they have not paid me.

“Despite that, I am still working but all this rubbish they are saying will even make me to stop. But if I stop, the cost of materials keep going up. They are very ungrateful people, sorry to say. When we brought the project initially, they locked us up in their king’s palace and beat up my staff.

“They beat up the national consultant, beat up the UBEC people; it’s on record. So, there is nothing they will say that UBEC will listen to them. They are ungrateful people that don’t want good things.

“Go and investigate it. The law enforcement agency will be part of it to do the investigation.”