By Magaji Lsa Hunkuyi And Simon Echewofun Sunday
For years, the 3,050 megawatts (MW) Mambilla hydropower project was only on paper until December 2020 when physical surveys began. But all that has ended as the latest update indicates that surveyors, who have not been paid, have left the assumed site, while residents, whose buildings were marked severally, have not received any compensation.
This may be spelling doom for the project, believed to be one of the most ambitious power plant projects in West Africa. The fresh obstacles are coming at a time when the federal government is already struggling to get the bulk (85 per cent) of the $5.792billion (about N5.3 trillion) funding from the China Exim Bank, which has rated the project below the 3050MW capacity presented by the government.
As Gembu Airstrip rots, N2bn Mambilla Air, other businesses grounded
Mambilla power project must be actualised
Daily Trust learnt that the survey contract was awarded by the Federal Ministry of Power at over N987million and the contractors mobilised to site after part payment by the ministry through the Taraba State Government.
And in spite of a N650m allocation in the 2022 budget for consultancy works, survey fees, counterpart funding, way leave consultancy, among other usual expenses that have dogged the project for over a decade, representatives of the 10 surveying firms said they left the site because they had not been paid for nearly two years, even when survey works advanced at the project site in Sardauna Local Government Area of Taraba State.
State clings to FG’s survey fund – Contractors
According to one of the surveyors, Rotimi Apere, each of the 10 firms got 45 to 50 square kilometres of the site to survey and demarcate across three local government areas – Sardauna, Donga and Kurmi in Taraba State and part of Benue.
He said about 45 per cent of the survey work was covered in Barup, Mbamnga, Kwarakwara, Hainare, Warwar and Vakkwade areas of the survey area, but without further funding they could not continue.
Another source who craved anonymity said the federal government had already paid the total contract sum for the survey into the Taraba State Government account and signed a memorandum of understanding with the state to clear the balance, and also to clear compensation issues for the affected residents in the marked area.
“The entire land for the project belongs to the Taraba State Government, and since it is the state government that will issue a certificate of occupancy to the federal government, payment of compensation and that of survey works must be handled by it,” the source said.
The state was also to provide security cover for the workers as long as the survey lasted, but the state was said to have defaulted on its role in the tripartite pact that comprises the surveying firms, the state and the federal government.
“We spent N290m for security and transportation for the 160 days we spent in the field for survey work,” Mr Apere said, noting that the state failed to do its bit.
“We have no option than to pull out of the site and request for funds from the state government, and up till now, there is no positive response from the government. We also requested for receipt of tax deduction from money paid to us by the Taraba Ministry of Power, but there was no response,” he added.
Worried by the lack of response, the surveyors said they wrote to Governor Darius Ishiaku of Taraba on March 29, 2022, demanding payment before returning to site.
“We are ready to return to sites as soon as the requests are given urgent attention and the payment fully made,” the letter stated, but the governor was yet to respond to it, Apere said.
“From all indications, the Taraba State Government is frustrating our work because the federal government paid the entire contract money for the survey into its account, and now, the state is not willing to release the money to us,” he said, adding that the surveys may seek legal action.
Residents in futile wait for compensation
Daily Trust Saturday reports that they had not gotten compensation despite the officials marking their buildings and taking their data.
As at the time of this report, the residents, especially in Sardauna, said none of the over 10,000 persons to be affected by the project had received compensation payment for their farmlands and residences.
Bello Sani, a resident said, “When the sensitisation committee visited us and told us that the federal government under President Muhammadu Buhari was ready to execute the long awaited Mambilla hydropower project, we were all happy and promised to give our support and cooperation for the project.”
Another resident, Buba Vakkwade said, “The survey work suddenly stopped and no reason was given, and up till now, the surveyors have not returned to sites, which is a clear indication that the project has been abandoned.”
It was also gathered that shortly before the survey work started in 2020, highly placed persons, including top government officials and politicians, bought lands near the proposed dam site with the hope to receive compensation.
“It got to a point that the state government warned traditional rulers to refrain from selling lands on the Mambilla Plateau,” an official noted.
Shaky paper works, opaque process stall project
In April 2021, President Buhari directed the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) to audit the engineering value of the proposed 3050MW Mambilla project.
It was learnt that the legal dispute between the former contractor, ‘Sunrise’ had been finalised, paving way for the project to continue. The project was redesigned last year from three dams to two, dropping the project capacity to 1,525MW.
After acquiring the land from the Taraba State Government, the federal government also created a project delivery committee at the power ministry and committed N200m to training artisans that would work when the project is flagged off.
In about 11 years, such paper works have gulped N3bn, including the cost of geotechnical/geodetic surveys and orthophoto mapping of the site.
By 2017, the contract was awarded to a Chinese firm, China Gezhouba Group International Engineering Company, but an official who explained the funding structure earlier this year to this paper said, “With the involvement of the China Export Import Bank, there is an issue of 85 per cent to 15 per cent funding ratio for the 3050MW project and whether it is a viable project or not.
“China said they could not bear the higher funding ratio as the efficiency of the project is 60 per cent and they had to review it to 1,525MW. However, this is a serious issue because what would you do with the existing contract awarded on the basis of 3,050MW,” the official said, noting that it is the current biggest hurdle stunting the project’s progress.
Taraba State mum on project funding
Daily Trust made efforts to reach the Taraba State Government for comments on the allegation by the surveyor and the delay in compensating and relocating residents in the proposed dam site.
The commissioner for power in the state, Dr Badinah Garba, who was a signatory to the tripartite agreement, signed in 2021 for the survey and compensation, however, told our correspondent that he had resigned and would not comment.
Our correspondent also contacted the senior adviser to Governor Ishiaku on media and publicity, Mr Bala DanAbu, who assured that he would get relevant information from officials of the state’s Ministry of Power.
DanAbu, however, after two weeks, stated through a text message that he was still trying to get the information. (Daily Trust)