By Patrick Obia and Emmanuel Eni
For the past three years, the Cross River State Government has budgeted a total of N42 billion for the construction of spaghetti flyover and rehabilitation and dualisation of the Calabar-Odukpani Highway, the major road between Cross River and other States.
The State’s 2018 budget, named “Budget of Kinetic Crystallization” appropriated N18 billion for the project. For the 2019 budget of “Qabalistic Densification”, the State allocated N16 billion while the 2020 budget of “Olympotic Meristemasis” earmarked N8 billion. The 2021 budget did not make any provision for the project.
By now, the construction on 10.8km (Tinapa junction to Odukpani junction) section of the Federal road from Calabar would have been completed with what the Governor, Ben Ayade called “spaghetti flyover”.
“Ordinarily for a diamond interchange, you really don’t need the level of such sophisticated flyover but as a State, it is good to be the first State [to have one]. So let Calabar also present to Nigeria the first spaghetti flyover just like we have the first smart city and the first agro-tourism,” Ayade said during the inspection of Federal roads in the State, three years ago.
Altogether, the road would have about 13 flyover junctions. The State Government had pledged to use direct labour and estimated that the construction would be completed by 2019. It later shifted the completion date to April 2020.
But investigation by the CrossRiverWatch has shown that the project has fallen apart and the company currently doing skeletal work on the road was incorporated last year.
Contract Remains Top Secret
The move by the State to rehabilitate and dualize the road was welcomed with enthusiasm. The road has been a hard slog for motorists as wide potholes have caused numerous commercial vehicles and fuel tankers to overturn.
In 2018, Zeon Engineering and Consulting was contracted to execute the project. Two years after, the company packed up and left the site, leaving the road in far worse condition. Many motorists described the road as a fishpond.
Thereafter, Zeka Global Company Limited, an indigenous construction firm replaced Zeon Engineering and Consulting without any records of the State releasing money for the project.
But the company was incorporated on January 22, 2020, according to the Corporate Affairs Commission, raising questions on how a new company with no history of construction could handle such massive work.
When CrossRiverWatch reporters visited the purported address of the company at No. 9 Maple Street, Calabar South Local Government Area, it is a residential apartment. No resident in the building or around the street has knowledge about the company.
So far, details about the contract have been hidden by the State Government. There is no evidence that the State followed due process in awarding the contract after months of investigation by the CrossRiverWatch.
There is no newspaper publication (online and hard copy) calling for expression of interest, bidding and awarding of the contract. Those are required, according to the Public Procurement Law of Nigeria.
Engr. Dane Osim Asu, the Commissioner of Works in the State, forced a CrossRiverWatch reporter to delete a recorded interview in his office after he became uncomfortable with the reporter’s questions about the contract. Asu then threatened to sue the reporter and his organisation if the encounter is mentioned in the story.
“Next time, the soldiers will deal with you at the gate,” Asu told the reporter after the recording was deleted.
Mr. Christian Ita, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor had referred the CrossRiverWatch to the Commissioner of Works for details about the contract.
“I speak for the Governor. I don’t speak for Government,” Ita had said on phone. “As for the contractor, who is handling what, I have no idea. But I’m very sure that the road will be completed when the rain is less this year.”
Other State officials declined to discuss the contract nor released any details about the project.
When this reporter reached out to the State’s Ministry of Infrastructure, he was told to address the letter to the Permanent Secretary because the Ministry has no Commissioner.
Mr. Gab Odu Orji, the previous Commissioner had resigned in loyalty to the Peoples’ Democratic Party after Ayade left the party to join the All Progressives Congress.
When our reporter eventually met Asinde Oscar, the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Infrastructure, he said: “Well, I’m not involved in those projects. I can direct you to somebody who could attend to you appropriately. He is Engr. Akeke Godwin. He is the Project Site Engineer.”
When contacted on phone, Mr. Akeke Godwin referred the reporter to the Chairman of Cross River State Infrastructure Limited (INFRACROSS), Chief Eugene Akeh who declined to comment on the contract.
Commuters Awaits A Miracle
Commuters and traders on the Calabar-Odukpani highway believe that a miracle is needed for the project to be completed.
“I don’t know if they will deliver this year,” said Mr. Elijah Uko, a butcher. “They have entered the other side. The road is too small; they need to expand it. I can’t even see where the flyover is terminating. I still don’t know if it’s flyover or walkover based on what I’m seeing on ground.”
Mr. Daniel Okon, a stone merchant at the proposed site of the so-called spaghetti flyover has his doubts about the project. “Where is the flyover? I have not seen any flyover here; we just hear it but can’t see it. We hear it on radio and seen it on billboards,” he said.
Before the project started, there had been a car park where the roundabout would be. It had to make way for the construction vehicles.
For Mr. Vincent Ekpe, the loss of the park is a major concern. “You see, Odukpani Local Government serves as a border. When you’re coming from Cameroon, you land here, Akwa Ibom, you land here, Port Harcourt, Bayelsa and the rest, you still land here. The only source of revenue was this park and it has been destroyed because of the project here.”
Mr. Ayo Falaji travels on the road weekly and said there is always a holdup each time.
“The construction is part of the roadblocks sometimes. To the Governor, the project is achievable. We are using our eyes to see if it will be ready before the end of this year or before he leaves office,” he said.
Mr. Akpa Isong is a mechanic close to the site. He is surprised by the number of workers at the site.
“This work will not finish this year,” he said. “It’s something they should use many workers but as you can see, they are few. They will just pick five to 10 persons for this magnitude of work.”
In anticipation of massive workforce for the road construction, traders like Mrs. Ekanem Udoh, a trader at trailer park in Odukpani junction, set up her shop in the area.
“Some of us took bold steps and set up businesses but today, we are weeping because the project, which we thought would improve our lives, has not materialised,” she said.
This story was produced in partnership with Civic Media Lab under its Grassroots News Project.