Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Twenty two years after Nigeria’s foremost nationalist and first indigenous president, Dr. Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik) died, he is yet to get a final resting place befitting of his status.
When the Federal Government announced November last year that it had declared Azikiwe’s tomb and those of first Nigerian Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa and the late Head of State, Gen. Murtala Mohammed, as national monuments, the thinking was that the new status would lead to early completion of his mausoleum that was started over two decades ago in Onitsha, Anambra State.
The Owelle of Onitsha popularly known as the Great Zik of Africa was born on 16 November 1904. He died on May 11, 1996 and was buried in November same year during the regime of the late military ruler, General Sani Abacha.
In preparation for the burial, the Federal Government rehabilitated the Enugu-Onitsha expressway which was in a deplorable condition while its delegation led by then Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen Oladipo Diya announced that a mausoleum of international standard will be built at Zik’s graveside inside his Inosi Onira residence, Onitsha.
A contract to that effect was said to have been awarded and some skeletal works commenced on the site but nothing concrete was done until the return of civilian rule in 1999.
Daily Sun gathered that the Zik Mausoleum project may go down in history as one of the most delayed and passed around federal government projects in Nigeria.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in his eight years in power from 1999 to 2007 could not make any significant progress on the project as work was abandoned at the site owing to lack of funding.
The late Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration also re-awarded the contract after taking over in 2007 to a new contractor, Beton Bau Nigeria Limited, a civil engineering firm at the cost of N121 million. The project remained at an all motion, no movement stage again till Yar’Adua passed on and the baton of leadership fell on Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
In 2010, there were media reports that some concerned Nigerians and Ghanaians resident in America apparently irked by government’s neglect of the project tried raising funds online for the completion of the abandoned mausoleum.
In 2012, the Jonathan administration reviewed the contract and re-awarded it again at the cost of N1.5 billion. Kolawole Olatokun of BNL Engineering handling the project was quoted then in a report where he sounded optimistic that the project would be completed in 13 months in 2014.
But that was not to be as the contractor was said to have demobilized due to non-payment of certificates generated on the project. To complicate matters, Zik’s first son, Chukwuma Azikiwe before his death in 2015 had raised the alarm of an alleged fraud in the project. He alleged that some ministry staff awarded contract for the reconstruction of the Inosi Onira compound to the tune of N100 million without the knowledge of then Works Minister.
When the Muhammadu Buhari administration took over in 2015, in preparing its budget for the 2016 fiscal year, a total of N1,281,127,089 was proposed for the completion and furnishing of the abandoned Zik’s Mausoleum. The breakdown of the budget obtained by Daily Sun showed that the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing was to spend N1,143,575,058 for the completion of the structure while N137,552,031 would be used to furnish it.
Recently, the Minister, Babatunde Fashola was in Onitsha, precisely on Saturday May 19, for inspection of the mausoleum project and the second Niger Bridge.
After going round the two sites, Fashola gave five months (October) deadline to the contractor handling the project for completion threatening to remove him if he failed to meet up. He said that the Federal Government did not owe the contractor any more since all certificates generated had been paid while cost variations were also made to reflect the present financial reality in the country.
To ascertain the current state of affairs on the site, our reporter was at the Inosi Onira residence of the Great Zik at the weekend. Though the official spokesperson of the company handling the project was not around to speak, the reporter observed that workers were busy on the project.
Tiling was ongoing at the main mausoleum while handcraft designers were seen mounting what looked like a giant-sized ivory tusk design at the frontage. Others were also filing different welding works at another corner of the mausoleum. At the second section of the building, workers were also seen fixing plastic fittings for electrical wires.
Benjamin Odobo, site supervisor of a company engaged by the main contractors for the fittings job told the reporter that a lot of progress had been made since Fashola visited. Though he said he cannot speak on behalf of the main contractors, he stated that from what he has seen so far, the October deadline can be realized.
“The artwork is almost done while the electrical fittings are being installed presently. When the Minister came last month, that design that looks like elephant tusk was not there. The soak away pit has been dug while walkways have been created too. All the debris that clogged here before have been removed, so I can say that things are moving fine”, he said.
When our reporter contacted Zik’s son, Emeka Azikiwe; a former ambassador on phone to know his feelings on the project, he said that the workers on the site started work about three weeks ago. He stressed that it was still too early to make any conclusions on whether the project will really be completed this time.
Many are of the opinion that the Governors of the five South East states should also see the project as of utmost importance and rally round the federal government to ensure its final completion instead of leaving it as a subject of politics to successive administrations, more so when the federal government has pronounced that the mausoleum will be designated as an international tourist site.
At the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Deputy Director, Monuments, Dipo Alafiatayo explained that it was not their duty to complete the mausoleum.
He explained: “If it’s classified as national monument, it means that it partially comes under the control of the Commission, but what we usually tell people is that we don’t take ownership. Ours is to advice on how it can be maintained. People think when it becomes a national monument, we will take over and run it, we don’t have that kind of money to do full maintenance. We also try to popularise it to the world so that people can visit it and generate some fund for the locals. It becomes a tourist centre; we put it on our website and possibly on world heritage site so that anybody coming to Nigeria could visit it. There will also be a legislation to back it up and this will guide its usage.”