By Victoria Effiong
Unless an urgent action is taken, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) 500 unit prototype hostel at Cross River State University (UNICROSS) could soon become a disaster. It is a death trap for students living in it.
The hostel, awarded in December 2004, was abandoned by Directed Services Limited, a local firm that got the contract. But on the official webpage of the NDDC, the project is still marked ongoing, more than three years after the management of UNICROSS moved students into the facility due to lack of hostel facilities.
Between 2004 and 2010, annual budgets of NDDC were not available on its official website and no one knows how much taxpayers money went into the abandoned and poorly constructed hostel.
Now occupied by students, the hostel is badly falling apart and the students are afraid for their lives. Authorities failed to act in 2013 beyond a verbal reprimand by Dr. Christy Atakpo, the then acting Managing Director of NDDC during an inspection of the project where it was discovered that the contractor did not follow the project specifications and also used substandard materials.
Poor block works, inferior tiles, cracks on the walls and falling walls were the discoveries during the inspection. “You have heard about collapsed buildings, you want the NDDC building to collapse? a livid Atakpo queried the site engineer.
After the inspection and a promise by the contractor, represented by its site engineer, to correct the anomalies, the firm never returned to the site.
Without window nets, electricity and other finishing materials, the prototype 500-hostel capacity was left to waste away until the 2018-2019 academic session when the management of the university in dire need of accommodation for the growing student population moved students into the building despite signs that it was not fit for human habitation.
CrossRiverWatch investigation revealed that the walls have numerous cracks while about half of the rooms are under lock and key because of leakages. The hostel was constructed without kitchens, students cook in their rooms and corridors – a practice that is prone to fire outbreak. The bathroom drainages are faulty and water logs around.
The project which could not be found in the NDDC budget is a disaster waiting to happen and a safe haven for diseases and infections, and does not represent the value for money spent, according to experts’ assessment.
Both the management of NDDC and the university have kept mute on the status of the project. Requests for information including a Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent to the Commission were not responded to while calls, SMS and mails to the university were not answered or replied over the period of this reporting.
The NDDC is a Federal Government agency established by former president Olusegun Obasanjo in the year 2000 with the sole mandate of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
In September 2008, late president Umaru Yar’Adua announced the formation of a Niger Delta Ministry, with the Niger Delta Development Commission to become a parastatal under the ministry.
One of the core mandates of the commission is to train and educate the youths of the oil rich Niger Delta regions to curb hostilities and militancy, while developing key infrastructure to promote diversification and productivity.
But the agency has been synonymous with abandoned projects and financial fraud. In August 2021, Nigerians were treated to a putrid feast of sleaze, financial recklessness and mismanagement at public hearings by Committees of the National Assembly investigating the interim Management Committee of the Commission, which was promoted by Niger Delta Minister Godswill Akpabio.
A Den Of Communicable Diseases, Imminent Disaster
On several covert visits by CrossRiverWatch, it was discovered that the hostel is unhygienic for its occupants as the toilets and bathrooms were unkempt. The stench from there can take only seconds to upset the stomach.
Because of its poor hygienic state, some male students who spoke said they prefer to bathe outside the hostel very early in the morning for fear of contracting toilet infections and other communicable diseases. According to them, the poor plumbing work done by the contractor does not allow quick draining of water in the bathroom.
“The doors in the hostel are not good. If you push it anyhow, it will fall off. The bathroom is an eyesore and the majority of them are bad because of poor plumbing work done by the contractor,” said a male student who stays in the hostel but pleaded not to be named.
“If someone bathes, the water does not flow immediately. It may take up to one hour for the water to drain. I find it really disgusting and most times opt to take my bath outside very early in the morning.”
“There is no place called kitchen in this hostel,” said another anonymous student who was not impressed by the quality of work done in the hostel. “We cook in our rooms or outside the corridors. I know this is not healthy because cooking indiscriminately in any spot will get the hostel messed up and attract mosquitoes and other rodents.”
About half of the rooms are not occupied because they are leaking and “if you touch some parts of the walls, it will shock you during the rainy season,” said a student who described the situation as a disaster waiting to happen.
“I am afraid during the rainy season, the roof may collapse. We are not safe and we are risking our lives,” said the distraught student. “It was greedy on the part of the school to admit students into the hostel just to collect N30, 000 hostel fee. For a new hostel, I don’t expect it to be in this shape. My set, the 2019 batch, is the second batch of students to occupy the hostel but it looks like a hostel that has been occupied for more than 20 years.”
“The hostel is bad, just look at that swimming pool,” another student said, pointing to a portion of the corridor that was flooded with algae infested water. He added that, “the taps are not running upstairs and many rooms are locked and abandoned because it leaks through the decking.
“The building was built without window nets and this has contributed to two of my roommates falling sick of malaria, and it is very common for students to fall sick of malaria in this hostel. I am disappointed that I and other students have to pay as high as N30, 000 as hostel fees but live in this condition. If the condition of the hostel remains like this then the school management should reduce the price.”
For another student who simply identified himself as Ogar, open defecation has become a way of life for him and some others staying at the hostel.
He said, “I stopped using the toilet because of fear of infection and the stench emanating from the toilets and bathroom. Even if I want to manage the toilet, it is difficult to flush because of bad plumbing work.”
Contract Awarded To A Questionable Company, Experts Raise Alarm
Directed Service Limited is a registered company with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) (RC – 337375), but its operation and location are suspicious. When this reporter visited the address (460 Ikwere Road, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria), it was an office plaza and no one had ever heard of the company. The company is marked inactive on the CAC website.
Like NDDC, the UNICROSS management, the firm did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Professor Oche Mansur Oche, a public health and community medicine expert who is currently the Head of Department of Community Health, Usman Danfodiyo University/Teaching Hospital, Sokoto State said, “for open defecation, apart from the horrible sight and smell that emanate from it, there is a possibility of flies perching on the feces and fly into the hostel to perch on student’s food. This can lead to gastrointestinal infections,” Professor Oche cautioned after learning about the condition of the hostel in UNICROSS.
“Modern houses ought to be built with window nets,” he continued. “If this is not done, it means students are cohabiting with mosquitoes and other forms of reptiles and insects which is very dangerous.”
The professor warned that “students cooking in their room and corridors are at risk of inhaling all manner of fumes and gasses that are detrimental to their respiratory system. The smoke that comes out of a cooking stove when put out is very harmful to health. The effect may not be felt immediately but with time it will manifest.”
On the safety of the building bearing in mind that it was built with substandard materials which is visible by the maps of cracks on the walls, failing water and faulty electrical systems, he maintained that “when you see water seeping through the wall or decking it means there is a poor construction which can lead to building collapse.”
According to him, the right quantities of sand and cement were not used because there is a standard ratio for such things.
“This is the kind of scenario where there is contract work and nobody supervises and the contract is poorly executed and people are put at risk. I can’t imagine living in a facility with the absence of good WASH facilities which is very important in an era of COVID-19 where people are advised to wash and sanitize their hands frequently.”
On his part, Oyewale Tomori, a professor of virology, educational administrator and former Chancellor of Redeemer’s University said “all sort of things can happen under such conditions, normally when you talk of open defecation you begin to see cases of diarrhea, cholera and other gastrointestinal problems.
“We are in a zone where other virus borne diseases like yellow fever and lassa fever are inevitable. There is also the possibility of rodent infestation because of the abandoned rooms and food remnants as a result of student cooking anywhere. Bacterial and skin infections like rashes and scabies are another possibility in such an environment.”
Professor Tomori was also worried after being told by CrossRiverWatch that the hostel was congested with some rooms having about six persons instead of four or three. He said this was not advisable in an era of COVID-19 where one will expect regular hand washing, use of face mask and practicing of safe distance.”
The Executive Director of We The People, a non-governmental organization, Ken Henshaw said he would not blame the school management for moving students into that facility but “I presume the school did not have an alternative. It was because the school and the students desperately needed accommodation, hence the request to the NDDC to build a hostel for them.”
Reacting to the substandard materials used by the contractor, he said, “this is the regular narrative with the NDDC. This is what the NDDC is all about. Since the Commission was created in 2000, the organization has made a name for mismanagement and corruption. Fleecing the Niger Delta region off infrastructural development which it was created for.
“I have monitored NDDC projects across the nine Niger Delta States and I can boldly tell you that NDDC projects are seen as disposable projects in comparison to disposable cups and plates.”
He also added that “the forensic audit initiated by President Muhammadu Buhari reflects that the NDDC has up to 13,000 abandoned projects scattered all over the Niger Delta region. This means each of the states has at least 1,300 abandoned projects. The agency has been captured by a few and used as a tool to enrich a few people.”
On who is to be blamed for the failure of NDDC to deliver good projects, Henshaw blamed the presidency.
His words: “I place the blame for the failure of the NDDC solely on the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and that of the late Musa Yar’adua because the agency has been under the presidency since it was created.
“Buhari has changed the leadership of the NDDC six times in six years. How do you expect a Commission with insecurity of tenure to function? Take a look at the caliber of people appointed to head such agencies, people who do not have the credentials to push for development in the NDDC.”
He further said that “NDDC is a cash cow and an arena where loyalists of the president draw funds from to conduct elections or recoup funds after losing elections.”
This story was produced in partnership with Civic Media Lab through its Investigative Reporting Project.
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