Mambilla hydropower project sites still fishing grounds

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Senior Correspondent Fanen Ihyongo, who spent four days in Sardauna, Taraba State, reports that all the sites of the Mambilla Hydropower Dam, advertised as the answer to the country’s power crisis, are still fishing grounds, with nothing to show for the colossal amount of money already spent in the name of constructing the power facility



SINCE its conception over 40 years ago, the Mambilla Hydropower project had existed only on the drawing board. Most people often mistake the planned Mambilla Dam in Sardauna for the Kashimbilla Dam in Takum.

Formerly designed to produce 2000 megawatts of electricity when completed, Governor Darius Ishaku, during his reign as Minister of Power, redesigned the Mambilla dam to its present 3050 megawatts capacity. But it was only paperwork.

Billions of naira had been allegedly taken using the Mambilla hydropower project as a conduit pipe.

A reliable source said: “Funds were siphoned several times through the National Integrated Power Projects, under the guise of constructing the Mambilla hydropower dam. And there were many of those imaginary power projects, of which the Mambilla dam was the easiest conduit pipe for siphoning funds.”

The Nation gathered that nothing was done more than “surveys” during the Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations, despite the huge funds which were appropriated for the Mambilla dam in separate budgets.

When President Muhammadu Buhari went to Jalingo -the Taraba state capital for his campaign rally on January 28, 2015, he said the previous governments were only doing politics with the Mambilla hydropower project.

“If I become president, I will revive and complete the Mambilla hydropower dam, which has been moribund,” he said. Buhari’s statement was disputed by former President Goodluck Jonathan who visited Taraba for his presidential rally the following day, January 29, 2015.

“Buhari has lied on the Mambilla Dam project,” Jonathan had said. The former president said he released the sum of $1 billion of the $1.5 billion contract sum, through counterpart funding for the project.

“The contractors are at the site and work is seriously going on. So, how can you complete work on what is already completed?” Jonathan asked.

On assumption of office as president on May 29, 2015, Buhari realised that the Mambilla hydropower dam had only existed in paper and imagination, and the term “moribund” which he used to describe the state of work on the dam was even inappropriate since the Mambilla dam never existed.

Thus, on August 30, 2017, Buhari awarded the contract for the engineering work on the Mambilla dam, through a joint venture with a Chinese civil engineering company for $5.792 billion (N2 trillion) to be partly funded by the China Export-Import (EXIM) Bank as a concessionary loan.

But EXIM, after its survey of the site and scrutiny of the project design, said the money was too much. The contract sum was subsequently reduced to $3 billion.

The Mambilla hydropower plant, if completed, will be the second power facility in Africa, after Ethiopia’s 6,000 megawatts.

The hydropower facility is designed to be a complex of dams on the Donga River in the eastern part of Taraba state, cutting across two local government areas: Sardauna and Kurmi.

One of the dams is to be constructed to serve as a reservoir at Tep, near Gar Hill, in Sardauna, where an instrument was installed in 1980 to record the volume and velocity of the water for 10 years.

Dahiru Abdulkadric, 31, is the caretaker of the instrument. The federal government had employed his father to be looking after the instrument since 1980 when he was not born. He eased into his dad’s position when he died two years ago.

•A locally-made bridge at River Ju, on the way to Tep, one of the sites

“This Mambilla dam project has been to me like a dream. My father used to talk about it. Now he has gone and I am doing his job.

“They told us they are coming to compensate and move us to new places. We have waited and become tired. But we are ready if the government is sincere and serious about the project,” he said.

There will also be reservoirs at Barup, Yerimaru, and Magu. The main dam will be built in Akororo, Baissa village of Kurmi local government area.

In Sardauna, The Nation visited three of the sites, including Tep and Barup, where there is a waterfall. All the areas are still fishing grounds.

At the waterfall at Barup, this reporter saw some young men fishing. He shunned them and headed for business. But one of the fishermen, Jubrilla Usmanu, 27, got his attention when he approached him, advertising his fish for sale.

The Barup waterfall is a beautiful sight to visit. It’s sounds and gulls are both frightening and exhilarating for tourists. The water is perennially red, because of the colour of the rock formation of River Donga’s upper mountain course.

Underneath the waterfall is a plunged pool where the water turbulently spins in random directions.

On top of the waterfall is a table of water surrounded by rock beds. Here, the water revolves, swirls or spins clockwise in reaction to the Coriolis force.

The Mambilla hydropower facility is to have four dams in all. One of the dams will be 150 metres high; two others will be 70 metres high while the smallest one will be 50 metres in height. The entire power facility is to produce 3,050 megawatts, equivalent to a quarter of Nigeria’s current capacity.

Minister of Power spokesman Aaron Artimas said the construction would take four years if work commences this year. But Musa Dauda Kara, a retired surveyor who worked with some Chinese contractors at the site in 2003, told The Nation that the construction and other engineering works on the power facility will take not less than 10 years, considering the targeted output.

“Construction will take not less than 10 years to complete if the workers are very serious about the work. Even if they are working day and night, it will take over seven years.

“So, Buhari cannot finish the project before his exit time. He has only three years of service left and the work has not commenced. He will be remembered for starting the work, but nobody should lie to him that his administration will complete the project,” Kara said.

Sources said this is the first time the Federal Government has shown “sincerity of purpose” on the project. The awareness has been very high. A Technical Committee, an Inter-ministerial Steering Committee (IMSC) and Project Delivery Committee (PDC) have been set up, on the prompting of the president.

The international arbitration in Paris initiated by Sunrise Power and Transmission Co., a company that once held the construction contract of the Mambilla has also been resolved, clearing the legal obstacle to the hydropower plant’s construction.

In 2003, the ministry of power awarded the project to Sunrise Power and Transmission Company Limited (SPTCL), a local content partner. In 2012, a general project execution agreement (GPEA) with SPTCL was signed. But in 2017, the Federal Government signed another engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contract with Sinohhydro Corporation of China (CGGC) and CGCOC to form a joint venture for the execution of the project -excluding SPTCL. SPTCL then dragged the federal government and its Chinese partners before the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris, France, over what it called “breach of contract.”

The Chinese government then asked Nigeria to settle the legal dispute, otherwise, it would not provide the funds for the Mambilla power project. The minister’s spokesman, Aaron Artimas, yesterday said the legal issue has also been settled (out of court) and will not affect the project execution.

The Mambilla hydropower project has gotten the attention of Nigerians, because of its values when completed. Taraba residents are daily talking about it, especially in Sardauna and Kurmi local government areas. However, some locals are still doubtful about the reality of the project.

“We have been hearing this gist about the Mambilla hydropower dam for many years, with nothing to show on the ground,” a resident said.

The road to Barup -the waterfall where one of the Mambilla dams will be constructed, is a mere bush path or a grazing route. From Nguroje village, this reporter spent 1:45 minutes to get there on a motorbike. On getting close to the site, the motorbike could not go. He completed the journey on foot. A cow and its calf were seen grazing and shimmering on the narrow path to the area.

In 2007, Obasanjo flagged off the Mambilla dam project by laying a block in Gembu -the headquarters of Sardauna, instead of the site. He also inspected the waterfall at Barup by aircraft.

The spokesman to the Minister of Power, Aaron Artimas, told The Nation that the Federal Government has released to the Taraba State government the funds for compensation for land and other property that may be affected by the construction of the project. Governor Darius Ishaku, however, has been reluctant to collect the cheque which was due since December last year.

Artimas said the affected people would readily accept compensation and relocation with persuasion and proper compensation, “especially now that they are beginning to see physical work about to start on the site.”

“Surveyors have done their job of identifying the affected communities, homes, farmlands and persons. They have already been paid. Next is compensation and relocation of the affected persons,” he said.

Many do not believe the project will start this year. Mrs. Yorte Sorandi was only 18 years when the instrument for measuring the volume of water from January to December was installed at Tep in 1980. This reporter met her at River Ju.

“I was only 18 years then. With my small body, I was not married yet. I watched as my father assisted the white men who put the instrument. They said they were going to construct for us a hydropower dam.

“Today, I am 58, and no block has been laid, no iron has been cast. When will they start the project?” she asked.


How Nigerians will benefit from the Mambilla Dam project


The Mambilla Hydropower Dam, when completed, will become the second-biggest power facility in Africa, after the Grand Renaissance Dam of Ethiopia which produces 6,000 megawatts of electricity annually. The Mambilla dam is to produce 3050 megawatts of electricity when completed, equivalent to a quarter of Nigeria’s current capacity.

For now, Nigeria has 13,000 megawatts of installed electricity-production capacity, of which 80 per cent of it comes from gas-fired plants. Only 7,500 megawatts of that is available and only about 4,000 megawatts are dispatched to the grid each day. This means, with 3050 megawatts output, the Mambilla facility will be able to send out power to the entire country and as well export to Cameroon.

When The Nation visited the sites, young Nigerian okada men were transporting fuel on motorbikes to Cameroon where the petroleum product is used to power their vehicles and local power generating plants. Therefore, Nigeria will also generate revenues from Cameroon by selling them our electricity.

70,000 persons are estimated to get jobs when work on the Mambilla power plant begins. When completed, it will create 150,000 jobs to Nigerians particularly the youth. Taraba youths stand to benefit more. President Muhammadu Buhari said: “The engagement of Nigerian youths in the Mambilla hydropower facility will reduce the rate of violence in the country.”

Taraba’s River Donga will benefit industrial and economic activities such as increased fishing and new farming activities along the shoreline as well as tourism.

•A locally-made bridge at River Ju, on the way to Tep, one of the sites

Sources said over 50,000 residents of Sardauna depend on tea production, particularly the Kakara Tea factory for survival, of which the absence of a steady source of power prevents the tea factories from peak production. It was gathered that the lack of power on the Mambilla Plateau made Governor Darius Ishaku provide the Tunga Dam Hydropower -a micro power plant, to support tea production and other economic activities on the Plateau. The Mambilla Hydropower Dam will be the biggest driver of social, economic, tourism and even sports activities in the area.


Herdsmen welcome Mambilla dam, demand compensation


Nomadic Fulani herdsmen, not killer-herdsmen, have said they are ready to cooperate with the federal and state governments for the Mambilla hydropower dam to become a reality.

They spoke to The Nation when our correspondent visited Tep -a river course where a reservoir is going to be constructed to boost the turbines of the main dam in Akororo.

Tep is in Sardauna local government area, while Akororo is in Kurmi council.

Speaking on behalf of the Fulani herdsmen in Lemen Ngirka, Musa Bakari Huundi, 35, said: “Let them start the project now. We welcome it.

“Some people, including white men, had come in the past, but work was started. I believe, with the publicity and enlightenment this time around, work will soon start, and the dam is going to be a beautiful project,” he said.

Huundi said he was among those to be compensated and warned that “the state government should not fail us.”

Standing at the edge of a mountain, he showed this reporter a bottomless gorge of the tributary of River Ju where one of his cows fell and died.

The major ethnic groups living in Sardauna are Mambilla, Fulani, Kaka, Panso, and Kambo. It was gathered that the Mambilla are the ones affected. In Kurmi the most affected are the Tigun, with a few of Ndola and Ichen.

Another source said: “In Sardauna, some Fulani and Kaka are also affected and shall be compensated.”

Taraba State Commissioner for Power Badina Garba promised to give details of the benefiting groups but later shied away from granting our interview.

“The Mambilla Hydropower Dam is the best thing that will happen to us. It will bring change to this place and the entire Taraba.

“But let them compensate us -the Fulani too. We are the ones who own some of these pasturelands here. But I am told our names are not on the list of compensation. They must include us. If they pay us, we are ready to cooperate,” the herdsman, Huundi said.