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Residents allege extortion as Mambilla power project execution drags

Fresh and damning facts are emerging about the 3,050 megawatts (MW) Mambilla Hydropower Project (MHP) in Taraba State as residents accuse authorities of perennial extortion…

Fresh and damning facts are emerging about the 3,050 megawatts (MW) Mambilla Hydropower Project (MHP) in Taraba State as residents accuse authorities of perennial extortion with a promise of compensation ahead of relocating them, investigation by Trust TV revealed.

Part of the report, which will be aired at 11am on Wednesday (20 October 2021) by the TV station on Channel 164 Startimes, uncovered that over N3 billion has been budgeted in the last 10 years for the survey, mapping and compensation around the project site.

The project had been on the drawing board for over 40 years.

The federal government is expected to pay compensation to locals so that they would move out to pave way for the take-off of the multi-billion naira project that will provide electricity and expand the potentials of the agriculture sector.


Locals forced to pay to ‘get into’ compensation list

While the take-off of the project remains a mirage amidst repeated optimism in government circles, some of the locals living around the site for the proposed Mambilla Hydropower Project have voiced out their reservations over the attitude of the people sent to conduct survey works in the place.

One of the locals told our reporter: “They (surveyors) gave me a notebook in which they wrote the details of my house and they asked me to give them money so that they will recommend that I qualify for compensation which I did. 

“But since they left, they have not returned even though they said they will come and pay us some money.” 

The sad story of extortion of the villagers was rife as many other locals confirmed they had to pay to get their names written on the compensation list during the documentation process.

Another villager said, “All the markings have been done but they have not done any other thing. Ideally, they should proceed with other things but they have not done any other thing yet. Anytime the authorities come here, they ask people including the elderly to part with N1, 000 or N2, 000.

“For us, we are excited that they would come and construct the dam and so we pay the N1, 000 fees but after they marked our houses for demolition, we have not heard from them.”


Dam site fallow

Daily Trust reports that despite collecting “fees” from the locals, the dam project is yet to commence and the locals have not been compensated and no place has been earmarked to relocate those whose houses have been marked for demolition.

During a visit to the main village targeted for the project, our team of reporters saw poverty as the locals await a new lease of life.

Over 50 pupils were seen in a little mud classroom in the village but no teacher was present.


More budgets, less work

The federal government may have allocated well over N3 billion to prepare documents and studies before the actual construction of the project since 2010, budgetary data have shown.

It was not clear if all the funds budgeted had been released.

Records obtained from the Federal Ministry of Power showed that the project’s feasibility study first done in 1985 rated it as a 2, 600mw baseload hydroelectric power to be implemented over five years. 

It was however revised to 3,050mw in 2012 under President Goodluck Jonathan.

The annual ministry report of 2010 said Lahmeyer International of Germany was engaged to undertake a detailed review of the feasibility study on the project and to prepare a bankable report and tender documents for eventual implementation. 

However, another N69m was allocated to the project’s report in 2010, four years after the report was done.

Checks by the Daily Trust on a five-year budget of the federation obtained from the Budget Office as of December 2016 indicated that N934.9 million was allocated to it in 2010. It said N164m was for the geotechnical/geodetic surveys while another N35.5m was for orthophoto mapping of the site.

The government in the same year allocated N665.7m for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), land acquisition, resettlement and compensation of inhabitants at the site. It was the year that saw the highest allocation because the budget had another N69.7m to review the feasibility study and ‘addenda’ 1 & 2 (other items).

In 2013, the project management and consultancy services received N200m from the Federal Ministry of Power.

Consultants were engaged in 2014 for the Detailed Engineering Design and Project Management Supervision of the hydropower project at N300m.

The 2014 ‘annual’ report indicated that the design was completed but another N15.1m was allocated for the same design and its supervision in 2015.

 In 2016, the first budget under President Muhammadu Buhari and the then Minister of Power, Babatunde Fashola, N407.7m was earmarked for the ‘construction’.

Other works done were indicated in the ministry’s annual achievement report for 2011, which said the aerial photography was completed in December 2009, and the EIA was due for December 2011.

From 2017 when the contract was awarded by this administration up to 2020, about N400m was pegged for the project. In the 2021 appropriation (budget), the ministry pegged N200m for survey works while the consultancy services for enumeration and valuation of communities and persons had another N75m. It said N75m was for “detailed engineering design, project management and supervision.” 

Findings revealed that apart from the survey markings and pegs conducted between 2020 and 2021, the federal government has proposed to spend another N650 million by 2022 for consultancy works, survey fees, counterpart funding, way leave consultancy, among other expenses. 

More so, multiple audit reports in the ministry indicated that there were likely “double item execution” for the project, indicating some level of fraud. 

A 2012 annual report obtained from the ministry’s website said the federal government and the states will be responsible for the cost of resettlement and project management estimated at $310m of which the federal government had already spent $49.5m as of December 2012.

An updated report of 2014 on the project indicated most of the milestones had been completed. They are the Detailed Engineering Design (DED), Transmission Line Route Survey, Environmental Impact assessment and the Orthophoto Mapping. It said the Bankable Feasibility Studies was at 95 per cent.

But the report presented a contrasting side when the DED that had already been marked 100 per cent complete got N15.1m again in the 2015 appropriation Act. 

From the budgets of 2016 up to that 2022 budget, there were allocations for survey works, resettlement, compensation and consultancies.  


Odds against an ambitious project 

In 1972, just two years after Nigeria’s civil war ended, there was the idea to utilise the vast potential of the Mambilla Plateau, which gave birth to the Mambilla hydroelectric power project to make it a multipurpose dam that will majorly serve as a power generation plant.

Successive governments had made promises on getting the dam started and completed but cases of corruption, poor articulation of what is needed and what is possible and misplacement of priorities shroud the project.

In 2007, 35 years after the project was first announced, China Gezhouba Group (CGG) was awarded a contract to develop the project and 14 years after not a single piece of brick was laid on the marked site. 

The Federal Executive Council (FEC) on August 30, 2017, approved the contract for the Mambilla Hydroelectric Power Project for $5.792 billion, about N5.3 trillion for the construction of a 3050mw plant. The project was awarded to Chinese contractors Joint Venture (JV) – China Gezhouba Group International Engineering Company (CGGC), Sino Hydro Consortium (SHC) and its consortium.

Under the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract arrangement led by CGGEC and its consortiums, China Exim Bank will provide 85 per cent ($4.85bn) of the $5.7bn construction cost while the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) would bear 15 per cent ($850m) of the cost. 

However, not much was heard until last year when the physical aerial survey and land demarcation for the project began following the release of N700m in 2020. 

Also in 2020, the ministry signed an MOU with the Taraba State government.  

However, Sunrise Power Transmission Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPTCL), a former promoter of the project, which had sued the government in 2017, filed a fresh suit of $400 million compensation claim against the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) for allegedly failing a settlement term of initial $200m, as of May 2021.

The initial out-of-court settlement was reached with Sunrise as it protested being excluded from the recent 2017 reward of the contract. However, after a time-lapse for the payment, the firm approached the court to get $400m as penalties for the delay. 

In July 2021, the then Minister of Power, Sale Mamman, who briefed lawmakers said, “The project has been revised from 3,050mw to 1,525mw and from three dams to two dams, but this will not change the annual energy yield of the project when completed.” 

Chair of the Mambilla Project Delivery Committee (PDC), Engr. Faruk Yabo said the Ministry of Power had already committed N200m to train junior and mid-level artisans like drivers, cooks and plumbers to support the engineering works. 

So far, the new Minister of Power, Engr. Abubakar D. Aliyu said he is studying all the briefings to him and is yet to make a statement on any power project, nearly two months after he assumed office.

Finding Mambilla: A trip through the hilly forest

The Trust TV team was at the site of the power project to investigate some of the allegations surrounding the execution of the project.

The journey to the site of the Mambilla dam project started at Gembu town in Taraba State, through high hills and rocky paths to see the reality of the controversial dam.

The team waded through the River Donga and its surroundings before arriving at the proposed site where cross-markings painted in white and other forms of indicators littered across farm areas, bushes and residential areas for the project. The markings began from the starting point of the dam as the locals confirm there are several around the area with more as the team continued on their journey to the heart of the River Donga.

Bulkachiya Village is one of the villages located on the way to the core site of the project on the hilly terrain, and just like the other hilly settlements, it will no longer exist when or if the project is finally completed.

Residents’ excitement wane over project delay

On a high hill close to the Donga River, a local shepherd who has lived in the area for about 20 years expressed fears that his home could be taken away from him someday when the dam is built.

He also led the team to the core site where the marking was done for the dam as he recalled his life in the pasture-rich area. The herder pointed to a marking that had been done 40 years ago, about 20 years before he moved to the location.

“The people that lived here told me when I came 20 years ago that the marking was over 20 years then. I have seen local officials going around to mark homes and write names of residents but they have never reached my hut,” he said, as he led the team through the terrains earmarked for the hydropower project.

Barutambi is the last border community between Nigeria and Cameroon on the Mambilla Plateau and this is where the hydroelectric power dam is supposed to be constructed but for many years, the story has been the same. The young people in the community hope the story would change while the elderly hope to see that the dam work takes off and is completed in their lifetime.

“I was a little boy when my parents were talking about this dam project until they passed and now, I am old. I went to the city for 17 years and I was told the dam project would soon begin and I came back home excited about the prospect.

“When it failed, I went to Cameroon for five years and I have spent eight years since I returned and I have not seen the work started. Since I married and became as old as my father, I have not seen the dam,” said a grandfather, disappointingly.

A local fisherman then led the team to the base of the Donga River where the current is strongest and the site of the proposed Mambilla hydropower station which would house the hydro turbines.

And just like the other communities, Barutambi residents are hopeful that compensation will be made and new land will be given to them and they will be relocated successfully but for decades none of these has been done.

The team scaled through the hills as they went down to the river base and finally, they arrived at the base of the Donga River with the current and tide strong in a mixture of mud and pebbles following a recent heavy downpour.

“Nothing has changed as you can see, everything is the same. I am working hard to rehabilitate my mother’s house and if I had money, I would have given the contract out but am doing it myself. We have not been compensated, nobody has given us anything,” said the fisherman at the base of the river where there was no sign of construction, whatsoever.

Why project capacity dropped by 50% – Official

An official spoke more about the current controversy hindering the project from take-off despite the attention it has generated in recent times.

He said, “Government after the government tried to do this project, President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government revived the idea with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with the facilitators to get the contractors. One of the contractors is part of the consortium of contractors for the project at present.”

Speaking further, the official said the MOU did not materialise; so, the company (facilitator) that brought them said it has to be part of the current project and went to court. Fortunately, the federal government settled out of court, but after that, they are trying to harmonise the issue.

“With the involvement of the China Export-Import Bank, there is an issue of 85 to 15 per cent funding ratio for the 3,050mw project and whether it is a viable project or not. Along the line, there is a bureaucratic aspect of it and it was agreed that they should review some aspects.

They now said they cannot 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 based on 3,050mw.

On  August 30, 2017, Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to President Muhammadu Buhari, through a Facebook post, said the contract has been awarded to three Chinese consortiums for $5.7 billion but the big question remains, where is the dam?

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