Investigation: How Rep member, agency abandoned communities, siphoned project funds in Benue State
This is the story of how a contractor, in connivance with a Federal legislator and the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) mismanaged multi-million-naira Primary Healthcare Centres (PHC) project funds to the detriment of the people, particularly pregnant women and infants in the host communities where these projects are expected to greatly improve access to quality healthcare delivery. In this report, SOLACEBASE correspondent, Elijah Akoji uncovers how Apa/Agatu constituency is littered with deplorable health facilities.
Access to healthcare services is critical to good health, yet rural residents face a variety of access barriers. In 2021, the National Directorate of Employment, an agency under the Federal Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity (FMLP), awarded the contract for the construction of Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) in Adija, Ugbobi, Ichogolugwu, and Ugboju communities, in Apa/Agatu Federal Constituency, Benue State to ameliorate healthcare challenges of residents of the area.
The constituency project was lobbied for by Hon. Godday Ogagboyi, the member representing Apa/Agatu in the House of Representatives, and a total of N40 million was earmarked for the project. Findings showed that the multi-million-naira contract was awarded to Casvalorem Limited. According to the Open Treasury, Casvalorem Limited received the sum of N35 million as the first tranche for the construction of new health facilities with furniture in Adija, Ugbobi, Ichogolugwu, and Ugboju.
On February 15, 2022, Hon. Ogagboyi shared pictures of the completed health centre projects on his Facebook page claiming that the construction of new PHCs in Ugboju community, Odugbeho Ward in Agatu LGA and Adija, Ugbokpo Ward in Apa LGA has been completed.
Contrary to his claims, evidence on ground suggests otherwise. Despite his claim, residents in Adija and Ugboju communities are still living in fear whenever they fall sick or when pregnant women are close to their expected date of delivery. A visit by SOLACEBASE to the two communities showed that the project was only executed in the hometown of Hon. Ogagboyi, Adija community while there is no trace of the project in Ugboju.
The Ichogolugwu experience
On a cloudy day in September 2021 in Ichogologwu community in Apa LGA, Benue state, when many residents were preparing to go to their farms, Adah Apochi’s family had so much to contend with that farming which he loves so much didn’t cross his mind.
Apochi had to travel over 35km to Ogobia Cottage Hospital in order to save the life of his daughter. Although she was terribly sick and had lost her strength before arriving at the hospital, his daughter received a better quality of care from the facility compared to if he had taken her to the health facility in his community.
“I knew it was a bad idea to take her to Ichogologwu PHC, which is just a few metres away from my house. I realized that my best option, if I must save my daughter’s life, is to take her to Ogobia Cottage hospital,” Apochi said.
Ichogologwu PHC is in a deplorable state with broken doors, falling ceilings and graffiti of inscriptions with white chalk, thus betraying any indication of a serious medical facility. With the health facility in urgent need of rehabilitation and a new PHC yet to materialise despite monies paid to the contractor, members of the community are made to go through untold hardship just to access health care.
David Akuma is the Officer-in-Charge of Ichogologwu PHC. He said pregnant women go through difficult times in the course of their pregnancy.
“People come from Ogogidi and Abache communities to this PHC for medical care because the facility is closer to them and that this is where they can afford despite the present bad condition. A pregnant woman from Abache once went into labor at night and because of the situation of things she had to be referred to St. Joseph Clinic in Ogobia, Otukpo LGA many kilometers away from here,” Akuma said.
David Ayanloko, the community head of Ichogologwu said the situation is not an isolated one. He said it is a reflection of the poor state of basic amenities in the community.
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“We have not had a functional health facility in the last 15 years, no light in the last 3 years and sadly we don’t have good roads. This has been a generational problem, we have lost so many pregnant women, but nobody to tell our story and it seems our representatives have abandoned us,” Ayanloko decried.
The Sad Reality in Ugbobi.
The same experience was observed in Ugbobi when a visit was paid to the community by this reporter. Despite budgetary provisions for the construction of a new health facility in Ugbobi, residents still travel over 40km to Otukpo General Hospital to receive treatment. Just like in the case of Ichologwu community, the only healthcare centre in Ugbobi community is dilapidated and has become home to poisonous reptiles.
The only facility with the resemblance of a healthcare centre in Ugbobi was built over 20 years ago and has been renovated by members of the community more than 5 times, community sources said. The Ugbobi health centre popularly referred to as ‘Panadol house’ in its present state lacks all the necessary equipment that will qualify it as a health centre.
Friday Ohabah resides in Ugbobi. He is the headmaster of Ugbobi Primary School and a member of the Ward Development Community, yet a victim of the failed healthcare system in his community. Ohabah is yet to recover from the shock of almost losing his second son at Ugbobi PHC.
“My son was running temperature, vomiting, and crying when we rushed him to Ugbobi PHC at midnight. When the officer in charge attended to us, all he gave him was just panadol with the request that we come back the following day,” Ohabah said.
“While I won’t discourage anyone from visiting the healthcare centre, we have been neglected by the government and we are powerless. We have lost pregnant women during labor because they have to be transported kilometers away to get quality medical attention,” he added.
The Ward Development Committee Chairman, Ugbe Attahi described how previous efforts by the committee have been futile.
“When we were informed that we will have a brand new and well-equipped health facility, we quickly mobilised and cleared the proposed site waiting for the contractor. It has been over one year now, and nothing has been done. We have protested, written letters, and even visited the Local Government Chairman, but all of these are yet to yield any result, we won’t give up,” Attahi said.
Completed PHC not opened for use
In Adija community, the narrative is quite different. Although there was a newly built health facility, it is not yet opened for public use eight months after completion. The facility is under lock and key with no furniture or equipment in it.
Residents of Adija community are still left to use the empty, old, and deplorable health centre or take the option of traveling about 17km to St. Joseph Clinic in Ukpoju community in other to access quality healthcare services. The newly completed health facility shares the same compound as the old one.
The Officer-in-Charge of the facility, Arome Ikala, said: “We are not carried away by this building. It is an empty structure, and there is no single evidence of equipment or furniture inside the building. It’s over eight months since it was completed, and we were instructed not to open it until it is commissioned, we are still waiting,” Ikala said.
Adaji Opaluwa, the village head of Adija community, described the project as ill-conceived despite it being a necessity. He said it would have been better if the old health centre was renovated and furnished with necessary amenities.
“We gave the contractor free land because the intended benefit of the project to our community but what did we get in return? They just came to build what they like, locked it, and left,” he said.
Surprisingly, Adija is not an isolated case where contractors obtain free landed properties from communities under the guise of providing accessible and affordable healthcare facilities only to dash their hopes halfway by building sub-standard facilities or, in most cases, abandoning the projects.
In Ukpoju, community members are not aware of project.
In Ukpoju community, the only functional health facility in the community is St. Joseph Clinic which is owned and managed by the Catholic Diocese of Otukpo. Community members disclosed to SOLACEBASE, that no new health facility was built in their community by the government.
In absence of any other alternative, residents visit St. Joseph Clinic when in need of any medical attention with many lamenting that it is quite expensive. A resident simply known as Mama Igoche said she can easily pay for medical services in government hospitals due to its affordability but St. Joseph’s Clinic remains her only option if she must take treatment in Ukpoju.
“If we can have a government hospital here, it will be a very good as it is most times affordable when compared to private hospitals,” she said.
Timothy Apochi, the community head of Ukpoju community is unaware of the project. For him, he would rather take government promises with a pinch of salt.
“Government promises should never be taken seriously until it is on ground and functioning. If only we heard about the project, we would have done a follow-up by now. However, it’s not late and, we will do our best to follow up,” Apochi said.
Contractor gives frivolous response refers reporter to the agency
In an effort to justify why the project has not been executed across other communities, Casimir Anyanwu, one of the directors of Casvalorem Limited, tied the delay in project execution to insecurity across the state. Anyawu who didn’t deny that his company was awarded the contract was unwilling to provide further details on the status of the project across the four locations.
“We began the project at Adija community following the instruction of the Honorable. We were faced with so many security threats and other challenges and we had to leave the project site. I will advise you to contact the agency that awarded the contract to us, they may provide more relevant information to you,” Ayanwu said.
No words from Agency
SOLACEBASE contacted Sadauki Bala Musa, the coordinator of the National Directorate of Employment in Benue state, according to records available on the website of the agency, but he claimed he has been transferred out of the state.
“I am no longer the state coordinator in Benue state, I was transferred a long time ago,” Musa said.
Speaking as an experienced authority in the agency, Musa took the reporter through some of the project procedures in the agency.
“State coordinators don’t have any powers or knowledge about construction projects. All information is from the headquarters, state coordinators only take possessions of relief materials or distribution of support materials like Keke or distribution of fertilizers,” Musa added.
When asked to provide the contact of his successor or officials at the NDE headquarters, Musa became evasive. Musa failed to disclose to this reporter the year he was transferred out of Benue state, since the project under investigation is a 2021 project.
The procurement director and the spokesperson of the Agency could not be reached for comments as at the time of filing this report. Hon. Goodday, when contacted did not respond to calls, text messages, and messages sent to his social media handle was greeted with silence.
CSOs, experts reveal possible disasters
Many Nigerians lament the deplorable state of PHCs and how mismanagement and corruption is denying rural residents access to quality and affordable health care, saying it is opening the window for disasters in the future.
Akim Abdulkareen, is the North West coordinator of Malaria Control, Immunisation, and Nutrition (ACOMIN). He said Nigeria’s primary healthcare system has collapsed despite receiving annual budgetary allocations from both the state and federal government.
“Just few weeks ago, we celebrated 62 years as a nation. It would have been great if during the Independence Day celebration, each state is given an opportunity to showcase the successes they have recorded in the health sector, particularly at the PHC level. Some states have good General Hospitals but at the grassroots, the PHCs are in poor shape. We call on the government to have a rethink about revamping and remodeling PHCs across the country as promised.
“Rural residents often encounter barriers to healthcare that limit their ability to obtain the care they need. In order for rural residents to have sufficient access, necessary and appropriate healthcare services must be available and obtainable in a timely manner,” Abdulkareem said.
Noah Felix, the Programmes manager, Health Reliance Initiative said: “The level of corruption in the health sector is only exposing us to bigger dangers. Very soon we might begin to see a rise in infant and maternal mortality indices, as pregnant women might resort to patronizing Traditional Birth Attendants.”
This Solacebase publication is produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the collaborative Media Engagement for Development, Inclusion and Accountability project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation.