One Mr. Bernard Ekpenyong of Nkim Itam in Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom state has been accused of obstructing works on the ongoing Itu-Odukpani-Calabar Road project by planting fetish “native charms and injunction” on equipment belonging to the contractor, Julius Berger.
Ekpenyong, who had continued to threaten to violently stop the works over bogus compensation and damage claims by which he seeks to sensationally milk the Federal Government of about N200 million, has finally obstructed Julius Berger from going forward with the project.
Ekpenyong’s action which was confirmed by the Federal Controller of Works in Uyo, Engr. Ukpong, threatens the completion date for the project, except the Federal Government moves to remove him from the site.
According to a report by Forefront, an online medium, a visit to the site indicated that the said Ekpenyong, employed the services of youths of Nkim Itam to carry out his violent disruption of work.
This is just as he openly planted fetish material on Julius Berger equipment on site thereby preventing the contractor’s equipment and personnel on site from further work and progress on the project.
Further checks at the office of the Federal Controller of Works in Akwa Ibom State revealed that Ekpenyong had no justifiable reason or basis for his ulterior action, which is seen as counter-productive and against the overall interest of the various communities affected by the Federal Government project.
The project supervisors stress that the action amounts to a self-imposed mischief against the Federal Government and a deliberate blackmail against the contractor.
They point out that claims by Ekpenyong that the project had caused flood against his petrol filling station in Nkim Itam, was untenable as the blockade by the same Ekpenyong resulted in the said flood, yet he had been demanding compensation for his own action.
It was gathered that Ekpenyong was advised against creating the blockade to avoid possible flood but refused to listen to wise counsel only to turn around after the flood to start making unnecessary and unwarranted demand.
Reliable information at the disposal of Forefront indicated that in May 2020, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, wrote and drew the attention of the Works Sector of the Federal Ministry of Works Field Headquarters in Uyo to the channelling of huge surface runoff water from a nearby automobile assembly company to the drain at Ch. 60+000.
In the letter addressed to the Office of the Federal Controller of Works, Julius Berger called for the intervention of the Ministry to get the automobile company to “directly guide its huge runoff water to the valley behind the automobile company’s premises”.
The firm explained that its request for the Ministry’s intervention was to “forestall subsequent overflowing of the drain and flooding of the communities around.”
A dependable source at the Federal Ministry of Works Field Office in Uyo confirmed receipt of Julius Berger’s letter, adding that the Ministry promptly took action with the Federal Controller of Works paying an unscheduled visit to the automobile company on the issue and directed for the needful to be done, but the company failed to act accordingly and as expected.
As part of its proactive measures, the Ministry, in seeking to avoid a potential flooding, sought and obtained approval from its headquarters in Abuja for the enlargement of the drainage system and also got approval for financial compensation for properties to be affected by the construction of the new and wider precast drainage design.
An Engineer with the Federal Ministry of Works told Forefront that; “To effectively contain the water discharge from the said Car Assembly plant, and to prevent potential flood and damages, the water drainage design was changed from trapozoidal system to a pre-cast U-drain.
“The purpose technically is to accommodate increase in surface water runoff from the auto company heading towards the road carriageway and to properly channel the surface water flow to a bigger outfall drain.”
Some documents in possession of Forefront clearly indicated that compensation was duly made by the Federal Ministry of Works’ consultants for the implementation of the new drainage design.
It was reliably gathered that Ekpenyong, after being fully informed by the Federal Controller of Works in Uyo, and also being aware of the approvals received from Abuja, insisted that he had to be paid first before the new and enlarged drainage construction works could proceed through the entrance to his low-lying petrol filling station at Nkim Itam.
All entreaties by the Federal Controller of Works in Uyo, Engr. N. Ukpong, for Ekpengyong to let the work proceed across the entrance to his low-lying filling station even while the already approved compensation payment was being processed, fell on deaf ears.
Instead, Ekpengyong went ahead and blocked access to the project site as well as stopped the works intended to prevent the reasonably anticipated flooding from progressing immediately before his filling station, the officials stressed.
The onset of rains predictably compounded the problems as they overwhelmed the size and capacity of the installed drainage, and thereby overflowed the trapezoidal drain, whose enlargement and replacement by the Ministry was earlier resisted and stopped by Ekengyong and his allies.
A Ministry source further said: “It is after the fact of the avoidable flooding which both the Federal Ministry of Works and Julius Berger took every reasonable, technical and administrative steps to prevent, and which Ekpenyong willfully violently resisted and frustrated, that Ekpenyong is now misleading unsuspecting members of Nkim Itam community to aggressively impound the contractor’s plant and equipment, and consequently ground the ongoing Itu-Odukpani project works”.
The source said that the Miinistry informed the Nkim Itam community about the approved new drainage design as well as of the approval of compensation to be paid to those who would be affected (including Ekpenyong).
However, once Julius Berger mobilised and started implementing the new approved drainage design and progressed to Ekpenyong’s Petrol Filling Station, he stopped the works and insisted to be paid first before the works could progress.
The source at the Ministry added that “all entreaties by the Ministry for Ekpenyong to let the works progress before the advent of the rain considering its real potential for flooding issues fell on deaf ears.
“Every attempt to convince Ekpenyong that payment would be made to him and others even as the construction would be progressing was equally rebuffed.
“That was how Ekpenyong obstructed the flood prevention works until the rains came and worsened the water discharge from the nearby auto assembly company to cause the flooding problem for which Ekpenyong is now seeking a damage claim of almost N200m from the FG, and for which Ekpenyong has now taken the law into his hands by imposing his “traditional injunctions” to seize the contractor’s equipment and stop the progress of the works.”