Manasseh Mbachii, one of TheMiddlebelt Reporters’ journalists, has been selected for the 2024 UDEME Accountability Reporting Fellowship program.  The 2024 UDEME Accountability Reporting Fellowship is hosted by the UDEME, an accountability and transparency project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development. Manasseh is among the twenty-one journalists selected out of the over 300 applications received both from Nigeria and Ghana for the six-month cross-country reporting fellowship and has undergone a two-day virtual capacity-building training.  With this fellowship, Manasseh and twenty others will identify red flags in budget line items and unique patterns/trends in contract awards at the sub-national level, thereby setting the agenda for a transparent budget process in West Africa. Uchenna Igwe, the moderator of the fellowship, while addressing fellows at the two-day capacity-building training, said that the fellowship will focus on agriculture, education, health, and public infrastructure while placing emphasis on gender inclusion.  During the training sessions, fellows were trained on investigative reporting, data for accountability reporting, budget formulation and process, and the role of journalists in the Nigeria Agenda 2050, drawing seasoned facilitators and journalists across Nigeria who helped in discussing the sessions. Tobi Oluwatola, the Executive Director of CJID, and CJID’s Deputy Director for the Accountability Programme, Mboho Eno, in their separate speeches, remarked the fellowship is aimed at building the capacity of journalists on the importance of data in social accountability and driving impact for investigative reporting in West Africa. Dapo Olorunyomi, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development, stated the legal basis for accountability journalism citing Section: 22 of the Nigeria’s Constitution and 162 {5} of the Ghana’s Constitution that mandated journalists to deliver on the goals of accountability in journalism.  Dapo stated; “The first role of journalism in  democracy is to serve as a mechanism of accountability.” On Data for Accountability, CJID’s Director of Programs, Akintunde Babatunde emphasized a need for fellows to collaborate with experts and organizations specializing in data analysis to ensure transparency in data sources and methodology while maintaining ethical standards and respect for privacy and security. In her closing remarks, the Program Manager for UDEME-CJID, Ijeoma Okereke congratulated fellows on their selection for the 2024 UDEME Accountability Fellowship and for successfully taking part in our 2-day training and information session, adding that story grants will be issued on a rolling basis within the fellowship period. The 2024 UDEME Social Accountability Reporting Fellowship is the project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), which seeks to build the capacity of journalists to identify red flags in budget line items and unique patterns/trends in contract awards at the sub-national level, thereby setting the agenda for a transparent budget process in West Africa. 

Gloria Ogine Two reporters from TheMiddleBelt Reporters, Linus Egwu and Gloria Ogine were part of the just concluded two days training dubbed, “Credible Elections and Democratic Governance Media Using Fact-checking and FOIA to Combat Information Disorder” held  on the 6th and 7th, March 2024 in Kaduna State The capacity-building workshop facilitated by the International Press Centre Lagos exposed participants to how false information spreads, the importance of fact-checking, and the use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in seeking relevant information from Ministries, Departments, and Agencies. Linus Egwu, our associate editor who was among the participants explained that the opportunity exposed him to new ways of checking every piece of information spread through the media space, he explained that the training was an opportunity that further exposed him to the importance of FOIA. He pledged that the training would further improve his work as a journalist while he expressed his commitment to stepping down the training at TheMiddleBelt Reporters newsroom for a better knowledge of all reporters. In his welcome address, Lanre Arogundade, the Executive Director of IPC emphasized that the use of fact-checking and FoiA are integral in the strengthening of Nigerian democracy, hence the need for the workshop. He said, “On behalf of the International Press Centre, in Lagos, Nigeria, I extend a warm welcome to this two-day capacity-building event focused on combating information disorder in democratic governance reporting using fact-checking tools and Freedom of Information tools.”  “This workshop is a component of the  collaborative efforts between IPC and the Centre for Media and Society CEMESO under component 4 of the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGNII) project.” He continued.  Lanre appreciated the participants and urged them to put to use the knowledge obtained from the training.  While expressing gratitude, some of which the Participants posted on social media, Fortune Zulaiha Danjuma, a reporter with Kano Focus explained that she found the training course interesting and important to her work, she explained that the training has opened her mind to double-checking every information. Fortune Abang, a reporter with the News Agency of Nigeria, explained that the use of fact-checking is very important in the era of easy accessibility of information, he further noted the training will improve his work, and curbing information disorder will be part of his work going forward.       

By Manasseh Mbachii Benue State chef, Victor Tartenger has embarked on a remarkable 135-hour culinary journey to set a new Guinness World Record for the longest cooking marathon by a single individual. Victor who is popularly known as Naira-Victor began his cook-a-thon on Tuesday, February  27, 2024, in Makurdi the Benue State Capital, and is scheduled to conclude on Sunday, March 3rd, 2024 The record-breaking attempt by the Benue Born Chef is coming after Alan Fisher, an Irish restaurant owner, and chef based in Japan, broke the cooking marathon by an astonishing 119 hours and 57 minutes to displace Nigerian Hilda Baci’s who held the record from May 2023 till November 2023  Chef Victor, who hails from the Food Basket of the Nation, aims to push the boundaries of culinary endurance with the intention to share 70% of the food cooked during his days in the kitchen with the Internally Displaced Camps within the State. Confirming the record-breaking attempt Guinness World Records indicated that Victor Tartenger received approval from the GWR on December 17, 2023, to set a new cooking marathon record in Makurdi Benue State of Nigeria to cook for about 120 hours plus to dethrone the award-winning Chef Irish Alan Fisher. Nigerians eagerly awaited the outcome, as hundreds of supporters were seen at Tiger Bar in Makurdi Benue State to witness Naira-Victor’s extraordinary cooking marathon in setting a new Guinness World Record. The recent attempt by Victor is among several others that have attempted to break the record after Hilda Baci did in May 2023.

Flooding along the banks of River Benue has brought yearly disasters to the people of Benue State in north-central Nigeria, especially to the residents of Makurdi, Tarka, and Otukpo Local Government Areas of the state. The Benue State Emergency Management Agency stated in 2022 that a total of 134,797 people were displaced by floods in the state, after 18,349 houses and farmlands were submerged.  The annual plight of the residents has largely been due to the failure of the government at the federal and state levels to control the floods or mitigate their impact on the people and the environment. The federal government had allocated some flood control projects to the state that would have mitigated the impact of flooding, but the projects have failed to address the main issues despite millions spent. In Makurdi, the government, during the administration of Muhamadu Buhari, awarded contracts for the Idye Basin flood control project. at a cost of N700 million. But floods have continued whenever the rains are heavy in Makurdi.  In its 2022 budget, the Benue State Government also listed some projects it planned to execute to reduce the impact of climate change in the state, especially flooding. However, the government did not execute the projects, thus abandoning the residents to their misery. According to the budget document, such projects include Erosion and Flood Control at Hudco Quarters, budgeted at N10,000,000; Ecological Projects at N1,210,000,000, with N13,113,249 released in 2021, Engineering, Design and Construction of Drainage N18,000,000 Water Pollution Prevention and Control: Solid Waste and Dumpsite Management, N51,905,600, was budgeted in 2022, while N5,651,900 was released in 2021 for the project. During the tour of Makurdi, Tarka, and Otukpo, which are highly affected by flooding in the state, no project was seen by the reporter The 2021 budget shows that the state government paid N18,765,149 to contractors for different projects aimed at mitigating the flood disasters, while N1,289,905,600 was voted for similar projects in 2022. The Idye Basin flood control project in Makurdi appeared to have worsened rather than reduced flooding. Before the construction of the flood protection drainage, the residents said water never flooded their households. But since the project was executed, water has always found its way into their houses and farmlands. For Johnston Ejoga, 60, from Ohimini local government and a resident of Makurdi for the past ten years, the 2023 flood will always stick in his memory. He narrated how he woke up one day in July and found his room flooded by water. Johnston explained how his home appliances, which he had brought in from the United States of America, were destroyed that night.  He said the flood had destroyed the fence before entering the main compound of the house from the major road. “It was a terrible experience. I woke at night when I discovered the water had reached my waist level. I was shocked because it had never happened like that before. “I think the drainage built here is the worst anyone can imagine; when it rains, the whole road gets flooded, and when the water doesn’t see a road to pass through our houses, it becomes its refuge.” The major areas that have flooding to contend with in the state are Hudco Quarters, Wurukum, Gyado Villa, Wadata, and Innongun. In the 2021 budget, the Benue State government captured Hudco quarters but neglected other areas of the state capital which had witnessed severe flood incidents Around Gyado Villa, despite the yearly flooding, the government failed to initiate a project to control the flood. The government’s negligence extends to Wurukum, where existing drainages were blocked while other areas in the settlement do not have drainage. In Innongun Makurdi, water has always had its way into the houses of the residents, as it was mentioned that the constructed drainage was not able to accommodate the passing water that overflows to residential buildings, worship centers, and hospitals. The major failure, according to the residents, was the government’s inability to construct drainages to take the heavy volume of water that flows around the community during rainfall. A victim of the flood Grace Ogaba 60, from Ado, residing in Makurdi, said her health deteriorate after not having a place to sleep for more than two weeks when the flood took over her houhold “When the incident happened,  I moved my properties into one of the rooms and ran to safety. We stayed for more than two weeks there, and the worst that happened was not having a place to sleep or good food to eat.” Grace said the cold she caught through sleeping on the ground has resulted in her health challenge, which has forced her to resign from her job. “In my last visit to the hospital, I was told that I had gotten myself infected with pneumonia. When the incident happened, I was not able to carry any reasonable clothes when we ran to safety. Unfortunately,  when we returned, my house was broken into, with almost all my belongings taken away. For now, I am waiting to feel better so I can start from square one.” The Worst Hit in Makurdi The 2022 Benue floods led to the loss of lives. The Idye Basin flood control project was initiated to control water flow in the Benue State capital to reduce the incidence of floods and the loss of life and properties. But the failure of the project drove Mercy to the Tse Yandev IDP camp.  “I have lived here for a few years now; there is nothing at home for me to return to. I will better stay here and feed on my cloth sewing skills until help comes.”   For physically challenged Yougha Yakubu, 65, who manages to farm as a resident of Hudco Quarters in Makurdi, escaping with her five children was tough. She narrated how the flood water soaked her food storage and swept off her farm. “What I and my family survived with is the food storage we kept away from the house, and the small vegetable farm we had was washed off as well The experience I had was not one I would love to remember, but I thank the almighty that I’m alive.” She explained that escaping to a secure environment before the flood disaster was difficult, despite government initiative. “The government had asked us to move away from here, but it was not easy to leave the house to become a refugee in a camp. Even when the flood got worse and we left for safety, getting basic amenities like food and water was challenging. Lamentations in Tarka Tarka Local Government Area has benefited from projects worth N386 million from the federal government for flood and erosion control. But rather than stopping the situation, the residents have had a tough time dealing with rains in the local government headquarters, Wanune  The residents of Cach Mandela and Iorva Jime have been feeling the impact of the failed projects, with water running off the drainage and accumulating in their houses, which was not happening before the project execution. When the reporter visited Wannune, it was noticed that the drainages constructed under the Amper Flood Hazard and Erosion Control project could not hold the water. Climate change has posed a threat to education as well. Soundmind Secondary School in Tarka Local Government Area has had a difficult experience with students staying away for safety reasons when floods constantly take over their school during the rains. Collins Duger, 28, a university student from the community, explained how he has seen academic activities put out for days because of heavy flooding in the community. He explained that farmers have had their share of destruction with the concentration of water on farmlands after intensive rainfall. Collin explained that farmers have lost a reasonable amount of farm produce in the Wanune Community, while households have been affected by property losses Narrating the ordeal, Terwase John, a 65-year old commercial farmer in Wanune, had his rice plantation washed off in Tarka Local government. “When you work hard and there is nothing to show for it, it is always painful. I planted a large portion of rice, which has been my source of income for years. When the 2022 rains came, 90 per cent of the farm was washed off. He said the disaster affected his income and the education of his three children, who almost lost a term in school. Terdoo Aku, 55, a farmer in Guma, had his life turned into something he had not predicted. “My maize farm was destroyed,” he said  He explained how a better picture of the scenario could not be painted because of the time of the reporter’s visit, and he noted that the incident had given him the worst setback of his farming career, which dates back so many decades. Terdoo explained how the portion of land has been cultivated for decades, while such an issue has never been experienced before. Expert speaks The founder and executive director of Securecycle Environmental and Climate Change Initiative, Emmanuel Kilaso, has blamed government policies for the worsening climate change impact in the country. He explained that the numerous natural resources in the country have not yet been able to reflect on the growth rate. “Nigeria, a nation endowed with abundant natural resources, is facing an increasing threat from the impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, the failure of the Nigerian government to address environmental issues effectively has exacerbated the challenges, leading to a ripple effect that affects the entire nation.” “The absence of robust climate policies and effective implementation strategies has left Nigeria vulnerable to the intensifying impacts of climate change. Without comprehensive frameworks, there is insufficient guidance for sectors like agriculture, infrastructure, and health to adapt and mitigate the effects,” he said   Emmanuel blamed the climate crisis currently experienced in Nigeria on other issues such as deforestation and land degradation while emphasizing that the poverty level in the country has increased the practice of such practices, which are against sustainability. “The government’s failure to address rampant deforestation and land degradation exacerbates climate-related challenges. The hardship and high cost of living will spur citizens to go back to the traditional source of energy for cooking because it is cheap and easily accessible. The loss of forests not only contributes to carbon emissions but also reduces the country’s resilience to climate impacts such as flooding, droughts, and soil erosion. This also impacts the amount of rainfall and the quality of air that we get.”   He suggested that the government can curb the current climate crisis in the country through investment in critical sectors, such as “adequate investment in infrastructure, including well-designed and maintained drainage systems, flood control measures, and resilient urban planning, is essential. A government with the right attitude would prioritize such infrastructure projects to reduce vulnerability to flooding.” Millions Affected By Flood Impact  Data from the United Nations has revealed that floods in Nigeria have continued to impact a huge number of people in the country, with the 2022 incident killing 662 people while 3,174 were injured, displacing about 2.5 million, and destroying 200,000 houses. According to the National Emergency Management Agency, the flood has affected a huge number of people in the country, with 159,157 affected while 48,168 have sought refuge in different camps. The figures were revealed by the director-general of NEMA, Mustapha Ahmed, in October 2023. State Government Laments Failing to Give Spending Details  In October 2023, the state government, through the Commissioner for Works and Housing, Mr. Itiza Imojime, disclosed that the state authorities had given the go-ahead for the structures obstructing the passage of water to be demolished. “The State Executive Council has approved the demolition of all illegal structures and those built on waterways in Makurdi,” he said. As of December 2023, no structure built on waterways has been demolished by the state government, despite the October threat. Despite the lamentation, a Freedom Of Information (FOI) letter sent to the Ministry of Water Resources in Benue State […]

By: Manasseh Mbachii  On the 15th of November, 2010, IDS Limited, a construction company, was contracted to design and to construct the Cancer Screening Centre for the Benue State Government for an initial contract sum of N111 Million naira and later revised to N138 Million naira due to delay by the government in honouring contract agreement.  The project which was to last for a duration of 12 months was supervised by the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. The contractor told this reporter that  a payment of 77 million naira, representing 70% mobilisation fund, was released between November 15, 2010 to March 2012 under the administration of Senator Gabriel Suswam.  However, the construction of the Cancer  Screening Centre was not completed due to delay in the payment of outstanding fees as agreed by the contractor and the Benue State Government.  In November, 2015 the wife of immediate past Benue State Governor, Mrs. Eunice Ortom announced that her husband, Samuel Ortom would complete the Cancer Screening Centre Project initiated by his predecessor. Mrs Ortom made this disclosure while speaking at the 2015 breast cancer awareness campaign held at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi. On the 16th of July, 2016, Mr Tahav Agerzua, who was at the time, Special Adviser to Mr Ortom on Media and ICT announced that the Ortom administration had released N80 million for the completion of the project.  Investigation by this reporter however revealed that out of the N80 million reported to have been released, only N34 million was paid to the contractor, IDS Limited. Details of the payment made available to this reporter shows that the contractor received N12 million naira on the 26 October, 2016, and N22 million naira on the 14th of June, 2019.  Terver Akase, media aide to former governor Samuel Ortom could not provide answers when questioned on the remaining N46 million released by the Ortom administration, after previously directing this reporter to contact the project contractor for details. The cancer project which was aimed at reducing medical tourism embarked upon yearly by citizens of the state has over the years received budgetary allocation from the Benue state government. For instance, in 2021 and 2022 the state budget, about N12 million was approved for the completion of the cancer project. Findings by this reporter however revealed that the approved N12 million naira was not released to the contractor. When this reporter visited Pauline Maka Women Development Centre, Jonah Jang Crescent, High Level Makurdi, where the cancer project is located, it was observed that the cancer centre is completed but not in use for the purpose it was built. This reporter observed that the project is now housing Family Worship Centre, a church owned by Pastor Sarah Omakwu. It was also observed that the cancer project is in a dilapidated state, having some of its windows fallen off and electrical appliances disconnected. When contacted, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Joy Adole said the project has not been handed over to the ministry. “The cancer centre has not been handed over to us. We have drawn the attention of the current administration to the project. The contractor however said the government is still owing him. And, until his outstanding balance is paid before handing over the project to the ministry,” she said.  When the contractor, Architect James Ugo was contacted, he explained he was contracted to design and to construct the Cancer Screening Centre for the Benue State Government under the Ministry of Women Affairs & Social Development, on 15th November 2010.  He said, the contract was awarded for N111 Million, and revised to N138 Million naira due to delay by the government in honouring the contract agreement.  “Cancer Screening Centre is the project I was involved in from the inception. I was requested by the former First Lady, Yemisi Suswam to design and to construct. The initial contract sum was N111 million naira, and revised contract sum is N138 million naira. My outstanding balance from the contract sum is N15 million naira, and outstanding claims from the last time I calculated is N18 million naira due to delay in honouring valuation certificates as per contract agreement. In total, the government is owning me N33 million naira,” he said, adding that the balance keeps increasing. Mr James further revealed that he leased the cancer centre to Family Worship Centre, Makurdi Branch adding that the government should determine and honour outstanding claims amounting to N33 million as per agreement.  “Since dilapidation has set in due to non-use of the facility, the government should prepare a dilapidation schedule and re-award the contract as a renovation contract to us or any other Contractor. However, we give our word that, if paid our outstanding claims, we can go ahead and renovate the building at no additional cost to the government. When the government is ready, I will ask the people to leave, repaint, wash and clean. If there is anything that has fallen anywhere, I will just touch it and handover the keys,” he concluded. How Woman Dies in Benue From Cancer Sickness Mr James who lost his wife, Margaret Ugo, to endometrial cancer in 2021, said he never knew his wife would be a victim of cancer after he was commissioned to execute a cancer project adding that if cancer screening centre was in operation, it would have saved his wife’s life. “My wife, Margaret Ugo died of endometrial cancer in 2021, so I know the importance of cancer screening centre. Before this project was commissioned, there was a cancer awareness organised at Aminu Isa Kontagora. I never knew that I was going to be a victim of cancer after I was commissioned to execute a cancer project. The project that would have saved my wife’s life. By the time she was diagnosed with cancer, she was already bleeding,” he said. Cancer has remained top of the list of diseases that are indiscriminately reducing the welfare and wellness of persons across the world, particularly, in developing countries like Nigeria. Statistics provided by the World Health Organisation’s 2020 report shows that cancer tops the list of killer diseases with nearly 10 million deaths. Nigeria has one of the highest cancer mortality rates in the world, with approximately four out of five cases resulting in death, according to the Global Cancer Observatory. A cancer patient who did not want her name mentioned said it took months before she was diagnosed with cancer. She said there was no special cancer screening centre, so it was difficult to diagnose. “My husband never knew what was wrong with me. We moved from one hospital to another until I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in Abuja. I am now receiving treatment at Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi.”  He said. Chief Press Secretary to the Benue State Government, Tersoo Kula, said he would get back to this reporter on what the current government is doing to complete the centre. “We shall get back to you,” Mr Kula said but he hasn’t as of press time.   This report was produced under the UDEME project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID). Edited by Kemi Busari.

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Jairus Awo

Jairus Awo is a Nigeiran Muiltimedia public interest journalist. He believes in the power of the media as a catalyst to development and societal growth. You can tip him an idea on [email protected]

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