BY VICTOR BUORO, Excerpt the Federal Government moves decisively to remove and evacuate one Bernard Okon Ekpenyong, who aggressively plants fetish “native charms and injunction” on Julius Berger equipment on ongoing works at Itu-Odukpani-Calabar Road, the completion date may be badly affected.

The contractor handling the Itu-Odukpani road, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, has been violently obstructed and stopped from continuing with the project by one Bernard Ekpenyong at Nkim Itam in Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom state. This was confirmed by the Federal Controller of Works in Uyo, Engr. Ukpong N.

The violent Ekpenyong, who had continued to threaten to violently stop the works over bogus compensation and damage claims by which he seeks to sensationally milk the Federal Government of about N200 million, has finally obstructed and stopped Julius Berger from going forward with the project.

A visit by Forefront to the site indicated that the said Ekpenyong, employed the services of youths of Nkim Itam to carry out his violent disruption of work. This is just as he openly planted fetish material on Julius Berger equipment on site thereby preventing the contractor’s equipment and personnel on site from further work and progress on the project.

Further checks by Forefront at the office of the Federal Controller of Works in Akwa Ibom State revealed that Ekpenyong has no justifiable reason or basis for his ulterior action which is seen as counter-productive and against the overall interest of the various communities affected by the Federal Government project.

Pointedly put, it is a self-imposed mischief against the Federal Government and a deliberate blackmail against the contractor, as claims by Ekpenyong, revealed that the ongoing project had witnessed flood against his petrol filling station in Nkim Itam as a result of a blockade by the same Ekpenyong that resulted in the said flood, yet demanding compensation for his own action.

It was gathered that Ekpenyong was advised against creating the blockade to avoid possible flood but refused to listen to wise counsel only to turn around after the flood to start making unnecessary and unwarranted demand in spite of causing damage to part of the project site.

Reliable information at the disposal of Forefront indicated that in May 2020, the project contractor, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, wrote and drew the attention of the Works Sector of the Federal Ministry of Works Field Headquarters in Uyo to the channelling of huge surface runoff water from a nearby automobile assembly company to the drain at Ch. 60+000.

In the letter addressed to the Office of the Federal Controller of Works, Julius Berger duly drew the attention of the Ministry to the poor and potentially consequential surface water channelling activities of the automobile company and therefore called for the intervention of the Ministry to get the automobile company to “directly guide its huge runoff water to the valley behind the automobile company’s premises”.

Julius Berger in the letter to the Controller of Works explained that its request for the Ministry’s intervention was to “forestall subsequent overflowing of the drain and flooding of the communities around.”

A dependable source at the Federal Ministry of Works Field Office in Uyo confirmed receipt of Julius Berger’s letter, adding that the Ministry promplyy took action with the Federal Controller of Works paying an unscheduled visit to the automobile company on the issue and directed for the needful to be done, but the company failed to act accordingly and as expected.

As part of its proactive measures, the Ministry, in seeking to avoid a potential flooding, sought and obtained approval from its headquarters in Abuja for the enlargement of the drainage system and also got approval for financial compensation for properties to be affected by the construction of the new and wider precast drainage design.

An Engineer with the Federal Ministry of Works told Forefront that; “To effectively contain the water discharge from the said Car Assembly plant, and to prevent potential flood and damages, the water drainage design was changed from trapozoidal system to a pre-cast U-drain. The purpose technically is to accommodate increase in surface water runoff from the auto company heading towards the road carriageway and to properly channel the surface water flow to a bigger outfall drain.”

Some documents in possession of Forefrontclearly indicated that compensation was duly made by the Federal Ministry of Works’ consultants for the implementation of the new drainage design.

This was as it was reliably gathered that  Ekpenyong, after being fully informed by the Federal Controller of Works in Uyo, and also being aware of the approvals received from Abuja, insisted that he had to be paid first before the new and enlarged drainage construction works could proceed through the entrance to his low-lying petrol filling station at Nkim Itam.

All entreaties by the Federal Controller of Works in Uyo, Engr. N. Ukpong, for Ekpengyong to let the work proceed across the entrance to his low-lying filling station even while the already approved compensation payment was being processed, fell on deaf ears. Instead, Ekpengyong went ahead and blocked access to the project site as well as stopped the works intended to prevent the reasonably anticipated flooding from progressing immediately before his filling station.

Unfortunately, our source said, the rains came and together with the still uncontrolled huge runoff surface water from the automobile company earlier complained of by Julius Berger, the combined flood as rightly predicted, overwhelmed the size and capacity of the installed drain, and thereby overflowed the trapezoidal drain, whose enlargement and replacement by the Ministry was earlier resisted and stopped by Ekengyong and his allies.

Ministry source further said, that the initial designed drainage system did not envisage the huge runoff surface water channelled by the automobile company, saying; “It is after the fact of the avoidable flooding which both the Federal Ministry of Works and Julius Berger took every reasonable, technical and administrative steps to prevent, and which Ekpenyong willfully violently resisted and frustrated, that Ekpenyong is now misleading unsuspecting members of Nkim Itam community to aggressively impound the contractor’s plant and equipment, and consequently ground the ongoing Itu-Odukpani project works”.

The source at the Federal Ministry of Works had properly contacted and informed the Nkim Itam community about the approved new drainage design as well as of the approval of compensation to be paid to those who would be affected (including Ekpenyong). However, once Julius Berger mobilised and started implementing the new approved drainage design and progressed to Ekpenyong’s Petrol Filling Station, he stopped the works and insisted to be paid first before the works could progress.

The source at the Ministry further said; “All entreaties by the Ministry for Ekpenyong to let the works progress before the advent of the rain considering its real potential for flooding issues fell on deaf ears. Every attempt to convince Ekpenyong that payment would be made to him and others even as the construction would be progressing was equally rebuffed. That was how Ekpenyong obstructed the flood prevention works until the rains came and worsened the water discharge from the nearby auto assembly company to cause the flooding problem for which Ekpenyong is now seeking a damage claim of almost N200m from the FG, and for which Ekpenyong has now taken the law into his hands by imposing his “traditional injunctions”to seize the contractor’s equipment and stop the progress of the works.”

The Ministry of Works sources further said; “It would also interest the public to know that Ekpenyong and other community members located within the scope of the approved new drainage design have since been paid the compensation approved for the new drainage design which Ekpenyong and his cohorts are now obstructing and for which wilful and unlawful obstruction occasioned the flooding he is complaining about”.

Forefront enquiries from legal angles and experts indicate that Ekpenyong’s claims as well as his self-help to project obstruction actions are not illegal but baseless.

One of the legal practitioners, who said that he is only talking to Forefront as a friend and not a consultant thus not want his name in print, said;“The law forbids a person from harvesting proceeds from his own mischief. In law, we say‘volenti non fit injuria’, meaning that he who consents to an injury cannot plead injury after the fact of such an injury”.

He continued; “The man Ekpenyong seems to have volunteered the flood on himself when, after the Federal Ministry of Works warned about the danger of obstructing construction work to prevent the potential of flooding, still wilfully obstructed the implementation of the flood prevention design and works by the Federal Government and prevented the contractor from executing the necessary works. “It becomes even more complicated for him that he still went ahead to collect the compensation paid by the Federal Government for the work he obstructed and continues to obstruct”.

Another lawyer who spoke on phone said; “If Mr Ekpenyong collected the compensation payment for the said new drainage design after his earlier obstruction of the construction of the drainage enabled the flood, he is allowing himself to approbate and reprobate at the same time. The law does not permit him such presumptuous unreasonableness

“How can one man allow himself to so assume that he is a law unto himself to become an obstruction against a government project that seeks to benefit several communities?”

Ekpenyong, the lawyer said should be prevailed upon by relevant agencies of government to restrain himself from his presumptuousness and consequential unlawful acts of project obstruction, and he should decently remove his fetish materials from Julius Berger’s equipment and allow the project to make progress.

Going by careful analysis of the issue at hand, it is clear that both the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Works and the Contractor clearly took every peaceful, lawful and necessary steps to prevent the occurrence of the flood being complained about by Ekpenyong. This is just as it also clear that Ekpenyong took every unreasonable, wrong and unlawful steps to enable the occurrence of the fore warned flood.

Ekpenyong’s continuing trespass upon Julius Berger’s equipment is a clear case of wilful impunity and gangsterim which needs to be promptly addressed in the overall interest of the project and the communities

Further checks however showed that some members of the Nkim Itam community and other citizens of Akwa Ibom State are planning to hit back at Ekpenyong and his allies for breach of the peace necessary to continue the implementation of the project expected to benefit the various communities but being obstructed and hindered by Ekpenyong and his restive gang.

Meanwhile, the project coordinator in Uyo, Mrs. Ukochio Ndifreke, has continued to toe the path of dialogue and peace by appealing to Ekpenyong to remove “native charms” off Julius Berger’s equipment to let the Itu-Odukpani-Calabar road work progress unhindered