It was exactly 10:13 p.m. on the night of Wednesday, September 20. Lukman Raji, a resident of Ile Mofalakun at Ita Amodu junction, along Ibrahim Taiwo road in Ilorin, Kwara State, sat by the roadside with a bread seller.
She was already closing up business for the day.
Going by her countenance, it was an unproductive day. The sales were discouraging. And one could see that her many loaves of bread, initially meant for sale, were being wrapped in a carton to preserve them for the next day.
By this time, the usual bustling and hustling of the city was gradually coming to a halt. Darkness had taken over.
“I can’t remember the last time the street lights worked,” said Raji, who appeared to have suddenly returned from a deep thought. “They have tried to fix it many times but nothing to show.”
The Ibrahim Taiwo road is considered one of the most popular commercial nerves within the Ilorin Metropolis, but it is gradually losing its socio-economic relevance due to power problems.
According to Raji, the failed state of the street lights has affected the area’s security and economic activity.
Some of the private security operatives engaged by shop owners along the axis are finding it even more difficult to efficiently secure the businesses as a result of the collapsed street light, it was gathered. This has enabled criminals to perpetrate more jailable offenses under the cover of the dark.
“The private security personnel have lost count in apprehending thieves around here. It has been difficult to apprehend the burglars due to the power problem,” Raji, who was visibly furious due to the worsening situation in the area, noted. He was quick to recall the reoccurring road accidents.
“Just three days ago, an okada rider was involved in an accident at this junction because of a pothole and the police control posts. It was an unfortunate situation.” The Informant247 would later find out the problem is not peculiar to the notable Taiwo road but other major parts of the state.
Locations such as Unity Road, the Olorunsogo area are all struggling with dysfunctional street lights. Only those found at Irewolede, just by the Central Eid Mosque, were a bit fair off.
Field findings showed they were fixed the previous year during a road repair. Still, the repaired street lights were functioning below optimal capacity, especially from the spot the reconstruction ended.
Death of social media personality spikes need for street lights
Yusuf Mubarak Authority was a prominent social media personality many described as an influencer. He was an indigene of Ilorin and a Nasarawa State University student. But he was murdered in a yet-to-be-ascertained circumstances.
Many believed he was robbed and killed by unidentified gunmen at a location where people would have noticed his killer. His lifeless body was later found along Unity Road, one of the locations with the faulty street lights.
The incident would further question the state government’s commitment to protecting lives and property and the provision of the needed infrastructure, such as street lights in the city.
“I learned that Mubaraq’s body was dropped around Unity. His killers wouldn’t have had such an opportunity to do so if there were to be working street lights,” Raji added.
Failed N6 billion Kwara Light-Up Project – The Genesis
In 2017, the former Governor of the state, Ahmed Abdulfatai, signed a technical agreement with Riccofortezza Steven Energy Limited and Rubitec Power Limited. The deal was to implement the Operation Light-Up-Kwara (LUK) project. This operation aimed to power major roads in Kwara with solar street lights.
Based on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, the project had several objectives, including enhancing security, job creation, boosting businesses, facilitating technology and skill transfer, and extending commerce hours for traders.
It was gathered that the state government initially committed no funds to the project but planned to repay the contractor over 10 years. Besides, the project included a 10-year maintenance agreement.
But, six years later, the project is yet to fulfill its objective. Streetlights have ceased functioning, leaving major parts of the Ilorin metropolis in darkness. And for those that functioned, it worked temporarily.
Inconsistency, Corruption rock project as EFCC, Kwara Assembly and contractors take different stand
The project would later take a controversial turn, with corruption and fund diversion being taunted by the government as the cause for its failure.
In June 2020, Dr. Sunny Akpoyibo, the Chairman of Riccofortezza-Asteven Energy Limited, claimed the Light-Up Kwara project was over 90 per cent completed.
Akpoyibo told newsmen in Ilorin that the company had no dispute with the Kwara State Government as the project was almost executed, as residents could testify.
He said the company would have completed the project in the same month, but for the repeated vandalism of its cables by some unpatriotic elements.
While noting that all the phases of the project had been completed, he revealed that what was outstanding in phase three was laying of underground PV cables and beautification of the SFT.
According to him, the company was still on-site to demonstrate commitment to the project despite the state government’s outstanding payment of more than N900 million.
The comment from Dr. Sunny was a reaction to a Kwara State House of Assembly’s call to the state government to hand over the company that handled the Infrastructure Fund Kwara to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for further investigation over the project and also prosecute them if found wanting.
The advice was part of the resolutions of the House at its plenary on the report of an Ad-hoc Committee on the investigation into the Light-Up Kwara project executed by the state’s last administration of Governor Abdulfatai.
Bolade Soremekun, the Managing Director of RUBITEC Nigeria Limited, another company involved in the project, also claimed there was no dispute between the Ministry of Energy and the Kwara State Government over the project, and the work was being continued.
Earlier in February 2020, Mr. Isyaku Sharu, a former zonal head of the EFCC in the state, said the agency was probing the alleged diversion of over N3bn from the controversial Light Up Kwara project during an anti-graft walk which was held in Ilorin, the state capital.
He said over N3bn was allegedly diverted, and part of the fund was used to buy a property in Guzape, Abuja. He also said that some recoveries were also made.
The revelation from the EFCC zonal head cast a big shadow on the level of transparency and accountability of the project, which the contractor claimed had been 90 percent completed in June of the same year.
Ministry, contractor trade blames
In an effort to establish the true state of the project, Informant247 reached out to the contractors and the Kwara State Ministry of Energy for comments.
In a phone call with the official line of Riccofortezza-Asteven Energy, the company claimed the Kwara state government failed to fulfill its obligations as regards the project.
“Did the government fail to answer you? The project didn’t fail. The government failed. The government did not fulfill their part of the bargain,” said the official who refused to disclose his name.
In another phone call with Rubitec Nigeria Limited, the company’s official also said it already closed the Light-Up Kwara. He directed this reporter to contact the Ministry of Energy in charge of the project.
“As a company, we have closed that project; you should approach the Ministry of Energy because it’s a government project,” he disclosed.
When asked if the government failed to fulfill its side of the obligations regarding the project, the Rubitec office contact said ‘Yes’.
Further inquiries sent to the email of Rubitec as directed by them were not responded to.
When he was approached about the Kwara Light-Up project, the Kwara Commissioner for Energy, Mr. Abdulganiyu Abdulazeez, asked this reporter to write an inquiry letter through the Ministry’s press secretary.
About two weeks after submitting the letter, the press secretary contacted this reporter through a WhatsApp call. He said, “The Commissioner said he can’t grant an interview on the subject of your letter because he just came on board.”
Meanwhile, as of the time of responding, the Commissioner had spent over a month in the office.
A Freedom of Information (FoI) request was also sent to the Kwara State zonal head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in an attempt to establish the alleged diversion of over N3bn from the Light-Up Kwara project.
After acknowledging the letter, the command said it does not treat such requests at the zonal level. He directed that the inquiry be sent to the headquarters in Abuja.
EFCC fails to react
The Informant247 sent another FOI request to the EFCC headquarters in Abuja. Despite acknowledging the letter dated October 26, 2023, the EFCC is yet to respond to the letter as at the time of publishing this story.
Ibrahim Kazeem, a resident challenged the state government under Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq to wake up to its responsibility, noting that the state is poorly secured.
He said buying security patrol vehicles is not only enough, but the haphazard state of street lights required urgent attention.
“Our state is poorly secured. That has been glaring for a while, but in recent times, it’s gone up another level. Governor Mallam Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq should wake up to his responsibilities and work with other relevant stakeholders to stem the violence, cultism, and kidnapping that’s bedeviling us.
“It is not enough to buy pickup vans for the local government. Are they working with it?
“When will the streetlights start working again to enhance security within the metropolis? how can the citizens trust the police to protect them when they keep assaulting and exploiting them? A lot needs to be done, sir, and we want it done soon.”
While calling on the government to wake up to its responsibility, Raji called for an improved need to imbibe a maintenance culture of public property.
“Even if the state government initiates another light-up project. Maintenance is still a problem. I think the government should create a system of maintaining the street lights by agreeing with any contractor that takes up the project and must maintain it for some years.
He stressed that the system would also prevent the contractor from performing substandard work as they would still be responsible for the maintenance after fixing it.