The story of Arochukwu electricity sub station

Orji Ogbonnaya Orji, PhD

I have two major problems each time I plan to make a trip home, to Arochukwu. The first one is the road which has remained a painful wound in the heart of all. In thinking of a journey to Aro, my heart palpitates immediately I remember the road. Indeed, the poor state of Aro road is a heavy burden, a scar, a big shame that we have come to live with unfortunately. No explanation is enough to convey the public ridicule, pain, frustration and grief that the road has imposed on all Aro and our visitors.

The experience of driving on Aro- Ohafia road remains a nightmare that no one could wish for even a worst enemy. But what have we not done to seek help? We have cried, shouted publicly, written,consulted, pleaded, used the media, sent delegations, held meetings,  appealed, persuaded the mighty and almighty in government. All our efforts have so far yielded no result.

Everyone seems to have ignored us. Infact, many have concluded that Aro seems to have been abandoned. The last contractor hired for the road openly challenged us with incompetence and poor performance. All our patience, support and infinite hospitality put at the disposal of the contractor to motivate him to do the job made no difference. There is information that the company has ignored us too, packed and gone! However, all I know is that there is time for everything under the sun. I am quite optimistic that there is hope. No problem that I know lasts forever. Nothing ever does. And no condition is permanent. As the saying goes, “many days for the thief and one day for the owner”.

The road issue is a mockery of our community for now, a sad commentary in Aro march towards renaissance. But, it will certainly become history one day.  I have no doubt in my mind. Aro will see good road network in and out some day and very soon. What is uncertain is when, how soon?

Apart from the road, my second problem each time I think of a trip home is the Arochukwu 132/33 KV electricity power substation. This project is located at the junction by the boundary that links Uburu-Ihechiowa and Amuvi road. The project is a failed one. It failed about seven years ago. Only but a few have perhaps noticed it. You cannot ignore the ugly site of this failed project if you choose to take the Uburu-Ihechiowa short-cut, by-pass into Aro from the Amuvi axis. The project is right there, with a miserable big sign board that reflects failure, poor judgement, mismanagement, and missed opportunity. Coming from Uburu-Ihechiowa, before approaching Amuvi on that road, one is faced with the land areas occupied by the project. The big sign board immediately sends a notice for a project that has failed to link its mission and objective to connect with service to mankind. Each time, I pass and look at that project, reflect on what its completion could have done for Aro economy, my heart bleeds. It is even worse when no one is worried because many do not know how much money in both foreign and local currency has been buried inside that bush. Not many are equally aware of the power equipment imported and installed for the project that now rots away, may have been vandalized or even stolen.

Amaikpe findings indicate that as at 2004, the Federal Government had sunk about 4 million dollars on that project. The project site is now a huge forest available for village hunting.  It is difficult to reconcile the failure of that project and the poor electricity supply to Arochukwu, Akwa Ibom, Abia and its environs where it was intended to serve. When the power sector was privatized by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, one heaped a sigh of relief believing that a Daniel had finally come to judgement. The thinking was that one of the companies that won the bid in the eastern part of the country would take over and activate the project. But, the expectation was wrong. Long after the privatization exercise, the Arochukwu substation is still an orphan. No one has claimed ownership. The community has shown no interest, the government, the contractor and all. There is also no information that the Enugu Electricity Company that appears to be in charge of the South East under the privatized power project programme has any idea, interest or stake in the project. The question then remains, who owns the Arochukwu electricity substation? Why is this project an orphan?

Amaikpe findings reveal that the 2×30 MVA 132/33KVArochukwu sub station was conceived fifteen years ago, precisely in the year 2000 under the Obasanjo regime. It was among nine of such projects across the country. The objective was to improve power supply in Arochukwu, Abia, Akwa Ibom and nearby Cross River State communities. The project was initiated by NEPA now defunct. From our findings, the contract was awarded in May 2001 for the sum of $3.4 Million with a local currency component of another N91 million to cover what was called “Off-shore content” in the contract. NEPA later made a variation request on the contract by adding another $350,000 and N21 million respectively on top of the initial contract sum. This brought the total cost of the project to over $3.7 million and N111.8 million naira local component. So by the current exchange rate of naira to one dollar, it is easy to calculate the amount of money so far wasted in that forest.

Amaikpe findings further reveal that the project was awarded under a turnkey contract arrangement. This requires that the contractor was responsible for the design of the equipment, manufacture, installation, testing and commissioning. The contractor was also under obligation to maintain the completed works for a warranty period of twelve calendar months.The scope of the project covered what industry experts described as comprehensive electromechanical and civil works that will make the sub-station robust, big, reliable and in a position to provide electricity for successful business activities.

Although no one can attest that the project has been fully completed, our findings confirm that a progress report by NEPA dated September 23, 2003 put extent of work at 45%. However, unofficial sources confirmed that as at the time the project was completely abandoned, over 90% of the job was completed. The question then remains, why was the project abandoned? Where is the contractor? Has the contractor been paid or not? Why is the contractor and those who engaged its services no longer interested to finish the project and put it into public use? Why is this project not covered by the power privatization process?  How can the government spend over $4 million and no one is benefiting from such investment  at a time that reliable electricity supply is a major challenge nationwide? These are questions that Amaikpe is in the search for answers.

While it is unlikely that the answers may be found within, it is important and urgent that this issue be taken up as a matter of urgent national importance by all those who have been elected to represent us at state and federal levels. Our elected representatives in the National Assembly are in vantage position to take up this issue with relevant authorities. It calls for investigations. We need this project to be revived and made to work, add value, improve security, boost business activities and create jobs. Above all, it will save us from high cost of diesel to power our individual generators. As a community, we have a responsibility to keep an eye, monitor, ask questions, and blow the whistle where necessary on execution of any project located in our domain. The abandoned multi-million naira Arochukwu power station has remained for this long because of our collective conspiracy of silence. In some other communities especially in the south western part of the country, the host community would not keep quiet, watch and do nothing. The story of the abandoned Arochukwu 132/33kv electricity power sub-station is quite pathetic, sad and unfortunate. It is a price we have paid and another reminder of our failure to show interest, get involved and monitor the implementation of a government project located right under our own roof.

About author

Orji Ogbonnaya Orji

Dr. Orji Ogbonnaya Orji is a renowned journalist and well known broadcaster of repute in Nigeria. He is currently the Director, Communications at the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Presidency Abuja. He has held high ranking media and public communication appointments in Nigeria’s federal government. In 2009, he was appointed Special Adviser to Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Communications, having earlier served as Special Adviser (media & public relations) to the President of the Senate at the National Assembly from 2000 to 2003. He was also Head of Media and public Affairs at the Bureau of Public Procurement at the Presidency, worked for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Abuja as communications consultant among others. A graduate of mass communication at the Institute of Management and Technology IMT Enugu, he attended the Institute of Advanced Media Studies Cardiff U.K. Orji holds a Bsc in political Science, Masters and Ph.D respectively in political economy and development studies from the University of Abuja. He is also a Senior Executive Fellow at the Harvard University Kennedy School. For his contributions to the development of Aro, he is honored as Ikemba and remains in the National Executive Committee of Nzuko Aro as Chairman Political/ Government Relations. From Ugwuavor Village, Arochukwu, Orji is married with three children.

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