By Patrick Obia
Akrabah, Akwurinyin, and Abukpem are three of the thirteen political wards which make up Gakem in Bekwarra Local Government Area of Cross River State. It is about five kilometers from the Local Government capital – Abuochiche, 30 kilometers from Vandeikya Local Government of Benue State, and shares boundaries with neighbouring Yala in Cross River.
In 2015, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) awarded the construction of the community road to Opal Networks Limited at the sum of N199.5 million with a completion period of twelve months.
Seven years after the contract was awarded, NDDC whose main objective is to develop the Niger Delta region appears to have tricked the contractor and the Gakem communities. This is even as the Commission in the past few years has been on the front pages of newspapers and its modus operandi, the subject of controversies.
The contractor started initial construction in July 2015 but twenty-five months after attaining 52 percent partial completion, the construction stopped following non-payment from the Commission. The partial work on the road has made traveling to the communities a hard slog.
The affected communities whose inhabitants are farmers have not felt the presence of the government for decades. They lack basic amenities, such as roads, potable water, public power supply, or even secondary school in the community.
“We have challenges conveying our produce out from the community because there is no way a vehicle can carry goods out from here,” said Emmanuel Opah Ushie, the Clan Head of Oduo in Gakem. “It is either they carry it on their head or when the road is dry they manage to use cyclists and it is usually expensive because their bikes do break down. We find it very difficult because there is no road they can pass.”
He said the three tiers of government have neglected his community. “Nobody from the government has ever come to ask us about this or that about the road. We are only looking for any alternative measures we can give our report on why it has been abandoned.”
The Village Head of Akrabah in Oduo Clan in Gakem, Godwin Odey, said the road was still manageable until the contractor and NDDC carried out the final destruction, putting them in more agony.
“We have no passable road linking the community,” he said. “They came not to construct it but to destroy it so that we can no longer have an access road again except by managing ourselves.”
A resident of the community, Margaret Adie, said that the road has been a nightmare as they could not transport their farm produce.
“We suffer a lot to carry our goods to the market,” Adie said. “Our everyday prayer has been that God bring a Messiah to our aid. With this rainy season, we find it difficult to survive because we cannot move the little we produce to the market. Please, the government, the contractor, and the world should come to our rescue.”
Contractor Vows Never To Return To Site
The Managing Director of Opal Networks Limited, Higgins Peters, said that his company was tricked to work after the contract was awarded without any payment from NDDC.
He said the move to commence the project with his funds plunged his company into debt, having waited for twenty-five months for payments from the NDDC. Hence, he was forced to abandon the project.
In a letter of disengagement addressed to the director of the project in Cross River State for NDDC, the contractor insisted that he would not go back to site unless 50 percent variation is met.
“Nothing on earth would make me go back to that place except they give me mobilization and apply variation to it,” he told CrossRiverWatch.
NDDC did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
This investigation is supported by Civic Media Lab.