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October 25, 2020

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Agency diverts boreholes to ex-head of state’s residence, lawmaker’s farm, while community drinks from stream

14 min read

“We depend on this stream for cooking and washing, we also drink from it in the dry season, when the only well in the village dries up,” said Segun Coker, a resident of Aderupoko, a farming community in Odeda Local Government Area of Ogun State.

Just like other residents of the community, Mr Coker, who is in his mid-20s, said he has never drunk water from a tap since he was born.

“Our mothers and forefathers also drank from this stream,” he said.

According to the 2018 national budget, the Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority (OORDBA), a federal agency under the Ministry of Water Resources, should have built a new borehole in Aderupoko as part of the Zonal Intervention Project (ZIP), but the villagers can only point to a borehole abandoned 12 years ago.

“We don’t have any borehole here; maybe it is the one that was abandoned many years ago,” Mr Coker said.

He took this reporter to a nearby bush: “Here is it, they sank it there around 2008, but they did not bring any tank, nor pump it for us. We don’t have a generator to pump it ourselves,” he said as he cleared some of the bushes with a cutlass for easy access to the derelict borehole.

The head of the village, Olugbenro Coker, said that due to the absence of potable water in the village, inhabitants are constantly falling ill with strange illnesses.

“We thank God for life. We encounter different diseases and sicknesses. I am sure there are many parasites in that stream that we cannot see with our eyes,” said Mr Coker.

The people of Aderupoko may have to wait much more longer than they can imagine before a potable water facility is provided in their community, as the federal agency had listed the village as among a number of villages in the area it claims benefitted from borehole facilities in 2018.

However, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation has revealed that instead of building the borehole facilities in villages where they are needed, the agency, OORBDA, diverted many of the boreholes to private properties, including the house of a former head of state, Ernest Shonekan, and the farm of a former lawmaker representing the constituency, Segun Williams.

The Motorised Borehole Project

In 2018, N20 million was approved for the provision of 12 motorized boreholes for the people of Abeokuta South federal constituency in Ogun State. The project was nominated by Mr Williams, who represented the constituency in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2019; the project was domiciled in the budget of OORBDA

Mr. Williams did not indicate the exact locations of the boreholes, a common practice by lawmakers that makes it difficult for journalists and civil society organisations to track these projects and hold the government accountable.

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“I do not know anything about the execution of my constituency projects.” Mr Williams said when asked about the locations of the boreholes. He asked this reporter to contact OORBDA for that information.

The managing director of the OORBDA, Olufemi Odumosu, told this reporter over the phone that not all 12 boreholes have been built as only 50 percent of the fund budgeted for the project was released.

Upon sending a written request, OORBDA provided a document containing the locations of the boreholes, the contractors, as well as the total amount released by the federal government for the execution of the projects.

It was stated in the document that six of the 12 boreholes had been sunk with five at 100 per cent functional level and the other one at 0 per cent. It was also stated that of the N20 million approved, N14 million was released to the agency, which is 70 per cent of the contract sum, contrary to its managing director’s claim that 50 per cent of the fund was released.

Mr Odumosu would later argue in another letter to this newspaper that the N20 million allocated could only fund six boreholes and not 12 as stated in the budget.

“It is important to note that we awarded only six boreholes under the budget head under questioning. The appropriation was N20 million which can only award six boreholes,” he said.

While studying the document, PREMIUM TIMES observed that three of the addresses were not in Abeokuta South federal constituency, where all 12 boreholes should have been located. The addresses were in Abeokuta North and Odeda local governments, which are in Abeokuta North/ Odeda/ Obafemi-Owode federal constituency.

Public boreholes “gifted” to Shonekan

PREMIUM TIMES’ search for locations of the boreholes provided by OORBDA revealed that three of the multi-million water projects were diverted to private properties, inaccessible by the public, and exclusively for the use of the owners of the properties. This newspaper could not find the locations of the two other boreholes the agency claimed were completed and at 100 per cent functionality, as their locations were vague.

Our search traced one of the boreholes to the Abeokuta residence of Mr Shonekan, while two were diverted to a farm owned by Mr Williams.

Before setting out to Mr Shonekan’s residence, a journalist (he asked not to be named for fear of being harassed by security operatives) who has reported from the city for several years, told this reporter that Mr Shonekan’s residence, which is beside the Ogun State secretariat of the National Union of Journalists in Abeokuta, was always locked. He said occasionally security personnel were seen loitering inside the compound.

This reporter visited the house twice but found it locked. Some residents of the area confirmed that the house was always locked and was not opened to the public.

“I don’t know the owner of the house but I once learnt that it belongs to a top politician. It is always locked anyway,” Sodiq (he did not state his surname), a resident of the area, said.

When asked why a project meant for the public was diverted to the house of Mr Shonekan, Mr. Odumosu, the MD of the OORBDA, confirmed that the borehole, which was approved for public use, was built there because Mr Shonekan requested for a borehole.

He said the agency could not deny the former head of state “the privilege” because he is “one of Nigeria’s past presidents.”

He, however, argued that at the time the borehole was sunk, the former president’s house was accessible to the public and that the agency got the approval of the lawmaker, Mr Williams, to oblige Mr Shonekan, a former head of an interim regime, the request.

“The house was open and accessible to the public as at the time the borehole was sunk. So, if at the time of your findings the house is not accessible to the public, we are not aware of this development,” he said.

Meanwhile, contrary to Mr Odumosu’s claim, no provision of law qualifies Mr Shonekan for a privilege such as claiming a public utility for his private use.

Former presidents and heads of state get annual entitlements from the federal government but personalising a public project is not one.

As a former head of state, Mr Shonekan is entitled to N350,000 per month as upkeep allowance, three vehicles due for replacement every four years, two personal staff and five security personnel.

He is also entitled to a fully furnished office and residential accommodation, protocol within and outside Nigeria, free medical services, and 30-days annual vacation within or outside Nigeria

PREMIUM TIMES could not get Mr Shonekan to comment about the borehole built in his residence because he was under the weather at the time. However, his wife confirmed that the borehole in their Abeokuta residence was given to them by Mr Odumosu.

“I know we have a borehole in the house in Abeokuta and Femi Odumosu did it for us but the Chief is sleeping now.”

When asked under what circumstance was borehole made for public use was given to Mr Shonekan, “Well, I can’t answer that question. The Chief is not feeling too well,” she replied.

When told that because the residence was always closed, members of the public, who the water facility was meant for could not access it, Mrs Shonekan said she did not think Mr Odumosu wanted the public to have access to the borehole when he agreed to build it in their residence.

“I don’t know whether it should serve other places. Well, it is in our compound. I don’t know whether Odumosu wanted other people in the community to come for it.

“If Odumosu said he gifted one to Chief Shonekan, and I have confirmed that there is a borehole in the house, what else do you want?

“I know that there is a borehole in our compound and I know that Chief Odumosu was a party to the borehole being there and the borehole is working. That is all that I know,” she said.

Two boreholes diverted to lawmaker’s farm

On paper, OORBDA stated that a borehole was built in Aderupoko village, which is in Odeda local government. Although Odeda is outside Abeokuta South federal constituency, where the boreholes were originally intended for, it could have been perhaps justified if they had been built in the village for public use.

However, in a move that reeked of self-centeredness and misappropriation of a public utility, the borehole was diverted to a farm owned by Mr Williams.

OORBDA claimed that one of the boreholes was sunk in the Papa area of Osiele in Odeda, but this reporter found out that it was, alongside another of the five boreholes, built on a farm of CrossBridge Nigeria Limited, owned by Mr Williams.

 

On the farm, the boreholes had inscriptions showing that they were government-funded. The one for Osiele and the one for Aderupoko village were seen meters away from each other on the farm.

PREMIUM TIMES observed that the farm occupies several hectares of land and the closest community to the farm is several kilometres away. Richard, a farmhand, told this reporter that the boreholes were used to water crops on the farm.

Richard was, however, reluctant to disclose who owns the farm. “I don’t ‘really’ know the owner of the farm. I was recently employed to work here.”

When our reporter returned to the farm on September 1, one of the workers, who identified himself as Isaac, said the owner of the farm was nearby. He volunteered to take our reporter to where the ‘oga’ (which is Yoruba for the boss), as he referred to the owner, was but stopped on the way to call him and seek his approval.

When Isaac told the owner that he had a journalist with him who wanted to see him, the man at the other end requested that the journalist disclose his mission on the phone.

Isaac handed our reporter his phone and the latter disclosed that he had come to make findings on the borehole projects facilitated by Mr Williams and sited on the farm.

“You have seen the projects, what else do you want?” ‘a voice at the other end of the call retorted and ended the call.

After the call, Isaac said: “it is like oga don’t want to see you o.”

This reporter has had a few conversations with Mr. Williams in the past and the voice of the “oga” was very similar to that of Mr Williams. When asked for the contact of his boss, Isaac declined. “Oga is a politician, I can’t give you his number. Try to understand, do you want him to sack me?”

During the conversation, Isaac disclosed that the farm has been in existence for “close to 10 years” and both boreholes were recently sunk and only serve the farm.

While leaving the farm, our reporter wrote down a phone number on the farm’s signboard. Truecaller, a smartphone application, revealed the identity behind the phone number as Akintunde Festus

Our reporter called this number posing as a potential business client and requested to speak with Mr Williams. The man on the other end admitted that CrossBridge farm belongs to the lawmaker. He, however, stated that he would forward messages and requests to Mr. Williams.

“This is not Honourable’s direct line but you can tell me about the business, I would forward your message to him,” Mr Festus said.

When contacted to respond to our findings, Mr Odumosu argued that Abeokuta is “the same town” irrespective of the separate constituencies and that projects are distributed for the benefit of the masses, hence the reason that some of the boreholes were sunk in other local government areas outside Abeokuta South.

“Abeokuta is unique in its federal constituencies as members of the House of Reps can be elected into power in either of the four constituencies. As such we do not limit projects cited by any facilitator, as long as it falls within the same town and is beneficial to the masses,” he said in a letter.

He further stated that the locations for the boreholes were chosen by the former lawmaker.

Contrary to what Isaac told this reporter, Mr Odumosu said his agency was not aware that there was such a farm when the boreholes were sunk.

“As at the time of award of the contract of the drilling of boreholes at Aderupoko Village and Papa Osiele, we did not see any sign of a farm in existence, as we met some rural dwellers (Igede) on the ground at that time who are in dire need of potable water.

“We do not know CrossBridge farm is as well as the owner, as the name is brought to our notice for the first time,” he said.

‘This is a witch-hunt’- Segun Williams

When asked the rationale behind sinking two boreholes funded by the government, in his farm and serving the farm only, Mr. Williams took offence at the question. He said the reporter had no business tracking government project and accused this newspaper of “witch-hunting” him.

“Why are you tracking government projects. What is the benefit? PREMIUM TIMES is not a government agency. Who owns PREMIUM TIMES? Where is your publisher from? Are you a journalist by profession? What did you read?, he asked angrily.

Mr William then confessed he was the boss that answered the call when the reporter visited CrossBridge farm but boasted that the reporter has no evidence to prove that he owns the farms.

“You were in the farm, right? When they called me that somebody was in the farm for the projects, the first question I asked is if you are a tracking agency that wants to track government projects. You know the agency handling the projects, and you saw the project. Why must you speak to the honourable member who facilitated the project?

“How did you know I own the farm? I said I was in the farm, did you meet me there? What evidence do you have that I own the farm? You can see that your intention is indicting.

“Don’t bother to explain anything, I have been very civil with you. PREMIUM TIMES did not employ me. PREMIUM TIMES did not vote for me. I am not accountable to PREMIUM TIMES,” he said.

“The first thing that should concern you as a journalist is: One, the federal government budgeted money for a project to be done; was the borehole sunk? Yes, it was sunk. Who sunk it? So and so person. QED! Is the money wasted? Federal government budgeted for boreholes to be sunk and it was sunk. What else is your business?

“The federal government gave money to a federal agency to sink a borehole and the borehole was sunk by the agency. You have no business with where it is sunk. Oh! Whose farm was it sunk? Why did they sink it in Lagbaja’s farm? That is not your purview. If you are not witch-hunting, what is your business asking who own the place?”

“It is because I know the intention of people like you, that is why I asked who your publisher is. We politicians, we know ourselves very well.

“You are just an NGO. Is that not so? You want to carry out government task. You want to help the government when the government did not send you. You want to go and wake a dead (body) that is already sleeping; you don’t even know how to wake the dead.

“You are saying they put it here, why didn’t they put it here. Did you facilitate the project? Was it your boss that facilitated it? You can put me on tape. I know your type. From what he is saying, he has gotten drunk already. You can put me on tape if you like.

“Your motive is sinister. You found boreholes on his farm, then what is your business? Do I sleep there? Are there no beneficiaries there? Is there no community there? Do I sleep there? I have a borehole in my own house.

When asked who the beneficiaries of the boreholes are, he said, “do yourself a favour and go and find out. Do you expect me to tell you? No!”

Contrary to this claim, two of his staff, Richard and Isaac, had told this reporter that the boreholes are used to water the farm. Isaac also told this reporter that “the village nearby is very far from here, that other side. I never see people come fetch water here o.”

This reporter reminded Mr. Williams that he had nominated the boreholes for Abeokuta South local government as indicated in the 2018 ZIP, but two boreholes were sunk in his farm in Odeda local government and another one (not located by this newspaper) in Abeokuta North

Mr Williams echoed the argument of the MD of OORBDA, Mr Odumosu, that the people of Egba are homogeneous regardless of the different constituencies.

“As an Egba man, because of the homogeneity in Egbaland, we and one unbreakable and unshakable. One can be voted for wherever in Egbaland. My staunch supporters, who are from my maternal extension live there and stay there. If they come to me and say they need water, should I tell them to go away because I am in Abeokuta South? Some of those in Odeda voted here. So, should I tell them I am not their son again because I am in the South?”

When told this reporter could not locate two other boreholes said to have been completed, Mr Williams said he told the agency to locate one of them in Asero, in the house of a member of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), whom he identified as ‘Adogun’.

“You know Adogun, a chairman in APC. I asked them to put a borehole in his house in this area. He is a staunch supporter. I told them if it cannot be there, they should not put it anywhere else, I will take it to another place. The borehole is sunk there by Ogun-Osun. They did an extension for other people outside the house to also benefit from the water. I have to compensate those that stood by me during the election. Do you know what it takes to win elections?,” he asked.

“You compensated supporters with government-funded projects?”, our reporter asked for clarity.

Mr. Williams replied: “Yes, what is it meant for? To compensate PREMIUM TIMES? What is constituency? Your constituency is people who voted for you. Will you take a project and put it where people did not work for you? People who voted for PDP, you expect me to go and give them borehole there? People who voted for APGA, should I give them borehole there? Why didn’t the federal government nominate ministers from APGA? Why did they nominate only from APC?”

Mr. Williams said he was aware that one of the boreholes was given to Chief Ernest Shonekan, but he refused to state the rationale behind such a gift.

This investigation was done as part of the UDEME project.



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