By Darlington UDOBONG
A multibillion Naira educational facility in Akwa Ibom State, the Ibeno Skill Acquisition Centre, put up by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, is under threat of complete abandonment and oblivion as government (both state and federal) refused to keep to its promises.
A visit to the facility, located at Iwuoachiang in Ibeno, by Ibom Telegraph showed that it has become a habitat for rodents and reptiles. The Skill Acquisition Centre, according to our investigation, was originally intended for the training of youths of the state in Oil and Gas, Maritime and Information Communication Technology (ICT).
The Skill Acquisition Centre was also borne out of the Ministry’s Community Development and Education (CDE) policy aimed at handling youth development, education and capacity building, health and social services. Beyond serving as a vocational training ground for youths of Akwa Ibom vis-à-vis Nigeria for self-reliance, increase national productivity and sustainable development, the Skill Acquisition Centre was also designed to improve community relations and engagements. But it appears that blueprint and intention are fast buried.
Recall that the facility was initiated in 2008 and later commissioned on the 13th day of June, 2010, by the Elder Godsday Orubebe-led Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. Also recall that the current Minister, Pastor Usani Uguru Usani, during a visit to the facility, had promised the Paramount Ruler and people of the community that “his ministry would try as much as possible to do what falls within its mandate for the benefit of the people of Ibeno community and Akwa Ibom State. The contract was awarded in 2010 and we are just tired of all these ongoing projects that have remained inconclusive due to paucity of funds. We have resolved that these projects will not continue to be at the state of ongoing status again.”
Like most lofty promises of the Federal Government, Pastor Usani’s assurance has gone with the wind. Little wonder he said “the purpose of my visit to Akwa Ibom State is to find out the situation of things as regards projects of the Ministry Niger Delta in the state with a view to determine the ones to be given attention for release of funds for timely completion.” This has also affirmed that completion of the multibillion Naira Skill Acquisition Centre in Ibeno Local Government Area is never a priority of the Federal Government, either for political reason or otherwise.
To also make the people of the area feel good, Pastor Usani assured the contractors handling the projects of the government’s readiness to make funds available to ensure the speedy completion of the projects. This assurance, till date, has not been kept by the Minister.
It could also be recall that the same template of design was duplicated in Abia, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers States with the sole intention of equipping and empowering youths in the region with relevant skills that will help them start their own ventures after the completion of the programme.
A community source, Mr. James Utip, who was at the site during Ibom Telegraph’s visit, said the Skill Acquisition Centre was abandoned at 80% level. He feared lack of interest by both state and federal governments as well as non-release of funds could have been the reason for the abandonment. He said the project was spread in three lots of Housing, Fencing/Sand filling, and Electrification/Water among three contractors. He named the contractors to be Stegis International Limited (in charge of Housing), Enorasol International Limited (in charge of Fencing/Sand Filling) and Y.S Associates Limited (in charge of Electrification/Water). Acres Turnkey Projects Limited was also named as the consultant to the Skill Acquisition Centre.
Another source, Mr. Ekerete Akpan, from Government House, Uyo, also briefed Ibom Telegraph of an alleged approval for the release of N2billion by the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, to aid the completion of the facility. The source went further to say that the N2billion was part of the community’s entitlement as compensation from ExxonMobil through the Akwa Ibom State Government. The source explained that the community had appealed that the money be used to ensure timely completion of the project. He maintained that the N2billion had nothing to do with the originally proposed sum for the project by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. It is just a support. The project is entirely the responsibility of the Federal Government through the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
Speaking further, Mr. Akpan said “While the Skill Acquisition Centre in Bayelsa State, located in Otuoke, and few others have been inaugurated and handed over to Federal Universities, that of Akwa Ibom State, which had lingered without definite period of completion, is now under serious threat of oblivion and extinction if nothing is done about it. Look at what is happening at the Ministry. Look at the kind of politics they are playing with laudable projects, like what we have here in Ibeno Local Government Area. For instance, the Ondo-born Professor Claudius Omoleye Daramola, Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs, has diverted all funding to Ondo State. Contractors working in Ondo State are the only ones being paid now.”
One of the contractors handling the project, Chief Isaac Abakam, the Chief Executive Officer of Stegis International Agencies Limited, who spoke with Ibom Telegraph, said the abandonment has been due to delay and non-release of funds by the Federal Government. He said the present exchange rate, which is also as a result of the delay, has also affected contractors to the project.
“When the contract was awarded in 2010, exchange rate was not what it is today. The cost of a bag of cement was not what it is today. So much has changed. The Federal Government should live up to its responsibility and see to the completion of the Ibeno Skill Acquisition Centre project,” he said
Chief Abakam appealed to the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, to comply with contractors handling the project and see to its speedy completion. He said “The people of Ibeno and Akwa Ibom have been so eager to take advantage of the skill acquisition centre and benefit from it.”
He also appealed to the Udom Emmanuel-led government to release the proposed N2billion support from the “ExxonMobil palliative funds meant for Ibeno Local Government Area. Again, ExxonMobil has promised to assist youths of the area in skill acquisitions. This project is the best opportunity for ExxonMobil to keep to its promise. They must not relent in their support. On the part of the youths, they must see the project as their asset and protect it. Vandalism will not take us forward.”
Also speaking, a youth leader of the area, Mr. Daniel Solomon, said “I’m not happy with the state of this project. This is one project that would have positively affected the long neglected Local Government. Ibeno Local Government has given so much to both the Federal and State Government, but has nothing to show for it. When the Skill Acquisition Centre project came, we were happy that at least for once Ibeno Local Government Area has been remembered but unfortunately our joy was short-lived due to the abandonment of the project.”
In his appeal, Mr. Solomon said “I sincerely appeal to the State and Federal Government to come to our aid by liaising with relevant authorities to ensure that the Ibeno Skill Acquisition Centre project is promptly completed.”
A direct beneficiary of the project and Chairman of Ibeno Local Government Council, Pastor Ifum Henry, when approached by Ibom Telegraph for comments regarding the abandoned project, bluntly refused to speak. He neither returns calls nor text messages.
Whether or not the work so far done by the three contractors commensurate with the money spent on the project was, for Ibom Telegraph, a matter of technicality. Nevertheless, the Hostel Blocks, Administrative Blocks, Workshop Rooms, Store House, Warehouse, Cafeteria, Oil Field/Rig for exploration practices and proposed site for Recreational Facilities were inspected.
Ibom Telegraph also inspected the fully automated Power Station, Conference Hall, Clinic, Vice Chancellor and Staff Quarters.