How My Team Secured $57 Million For Water Projects In Ondo State

By Tunji Light Ariyomo

On Saturday 9th March 2024, scores of my friends and brothers from across the globe including the US-based talented visual artist, Sunday Oluwasomi, the scion of the late Olisa Raymond Olusoga (Prime Minister of Akure Kingdom) Engr Taiwo Olusoga, Aquinarian Tunde Aladenola, and a host of others called my attention to a negative counterclaim of an individual on one of my team’s best legacies in Ondo State. It was about our success in the financial closure of the sum of US dollars 57 million and the actual collection of the first tranche of the money into the purse of the Ondo State Government as well as my team’s accomplishment in securing AfDB first preliminary approval for an additional $112.72 million ($82.72 million for water, $20million for power, and $10 million in grant) whilst I served as the Special Adviser on Public Utilities, supervising Water Resources and Energy at cabinet level before my redeployment. Unknown to me, several other people who admire me had shared screenshots of the apocryphal claims with me via my Whatsapp inbox. My friend’s Dad, one of our political leaders in Ondo State, Chief Ademola Ijabiyi, was also very concerned and requested that it was important I be added to the platform where such dubious claims were made so I could lay them to rest. I was, however, encumbered with a professional assessment report that I had to submit on behalf of one of my mentees and could not react or respond immediately. I promised Chief Ijabiyi and the others that I would respond comprehensively.

In the interim, I did what was the most basic, I called witnesses! I left the duty of articulation of the roles played by my team to eyewitnesses who were part of the process. Today, there are at least one hundred civil servants who played one role or the other and are still in active service. So, individuals like Sunday Oluwasomi, Taiwo Olusoga, and Tunde Aladenola had the privilege of hearing truthful accounts of what happened directly from those who were involved. Even aspects of our patriotic escapades that I had forgotten were brought back to memory. Those who were directly and actively involved in the processes exposed the carefully orchestrated lies of those who desired to piggyback on the success of our sweat and have perhaps been surreptitiously deceiving others about their fabled roles. If individuals could outrightly tell bald-faced lies and deny what just happened only a few years ago where the hard records are still available and the dramatis personae are all alive, then this comprehensive account of what happened is necessary to set the records straight and for posterity.

For the benefit of the reader, the counterclaim against our legacy is that two commissioners under the previous administration of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko were responsible for securing the funds for Ondo State and that all our team did was get there, cash the cheques and begin to spend the money. The claim asserted that they brought in the sum of $75 million from the World Bank for the construction of the transmission mains of the Owena Multipurpose dam and its reticulation to the state capital. I hate to be seen to be addressing issues in a way that appears to pit me against Dr. Mimiko who is an iconic leader in the state in his own right. I will want this not to be misconstrued as that is not my objective. I am only setting the record straight.

Upfront, I herein state unequivocally that when I took over as the de facto leader of the state’s water project in October 2017 (by the Governor’s written directive, I covered the duties of the Commissioners in charge of Water Resources and Electricity Matters), I did not meet any record of the sum of $75 million World Bank fund whether in cash, cheque, bank lodgement, or approval-in-file. I concede that for about 8 years prior to my taking over, there were attempts to secure funds and several offers probably flew around just like I also got the first offer from the AfDB for $112.72 million. But offers are what they are. The real job is being able to develop the business case document, financial models, and ancillary technical documentation required to meet the conditions precedents attached to a serious offer. The serious efforts of those who laboured hard to achieve that must never be dismissed on the altar of cheap politics.

I must also hasten to add, that ever since I even left the water project, not a single kobo in new funds has been added to the state programme. In fact, the most anticipated fund in the state’s water sector today is the AfDB $112.72 million (now negotiated to circa $104 million) which is solely the benefit of the robust foundation laid by my team.

For the avoidance of doubt, the following individuals were part of my team on the state water project as of that time, Engr. Jimmy Akinrimade MNSE, then General Manager of the Ondo State Water Corporation, Engr. Steve Adesemuyi MNSE who was in charge of procurement, and Engr. Toba Akinde MNSE, who I later recommended to the Governor for appointment as the State Coordinator of the project. Other members of my team at the Office of Public Utilities (OPU) which had ministerial supervision of the Ondo State Water Corporation as of then, were Princess Abike Bayo-Ilawole, Engr. Olumayowa Ajumobi, MNSE, Mr. Deji Akinwumi, Dr. (Mrs) Tolulope Pius-Fadipe, Mrs. Doris Adekale, and others. I mentioned these names as they are all alive and well. These are mostly civil servants. They were committed to our success then. They supported me and were active witnesses to all that we did to secure the funds.

By the way, I was not “only part of the government negotiation team that held meetings with the World Bank and Federal Ministry of Water Resources” as claimed in one of the infantile comments, not at all. Rather, I was the leader of the Ondo State Government team that negotiated the funds with the French Development Agency (AFD), and the International Economic Relations Department of the Federal Ministry of Finance where an Ondo State son, Mr. Timothy Komolafe, ensured we were properly guided to abide by all due process requirements among others. My team simply fast-tracked the processes with our proactiveness and became the first state to execute the SLA on the 26th of March 2018. The claim that “(they) were at the point of accessing the money that (sic) (they) left the government and Akeredolu’s government continued from there” is therefore totally simplistic and untrue. No money could have been accessed by anyone without fulfilling all the conditions precedents, negotiation of terms, as well as the execution of the principal and subsidiary agreements. The agreement indeed marked the definitive period of the effectiveness of the fund for the state. My team delivered all these.

I can thus speak authoritatively about what the team I led did, how we did it, the amount of money involved, and why – at the risk of sounding boastful – what we did to secure that money within a limited time is purely the stuff of legends. Indeed, the last hurdle for us to cross was how to bypass the petition by a private company that had found a way to ensure that AFD inserted the settlement of its claim against the state government as a condition precedent to disbursement. Governor Akeredolu in the presence of the company’s representative gave me the carte blanche to resolve the issue. We took up space at the Heritage Hotel in Akure with the company and spent about four hours without success. They insisted on a payout of as much as N4 billion. It didn’t make sense to me. I reported to the Governor. Time was of the essence and I took permission from him to resolve it the way I could. All we had to do was convince the AFD to drop that requirement as a condition precedent. AFD stood its ground.

Then the epiphany dawned on me of a concept in law called the statute of limitations that we learnt as student engineers in our only introductory contract law class. The contract over which the company was imposing a claim upon Ondo State was already 9 years old. I immediately tried my best to again research the subject of the statute of limitations. The more I did, the more pleasant it sounded that I had found the holy grail as the contract was statute-barred. Having learnt proper legal referencing style from my former Special Assistant, Mrs. Babagbenga Alalade Esq, years back, I decided to produce a draft legal opinion on the subject. I focused extensively on Nigerian laws as my primary authority, followed by copious quotes from the legal jurisprudence of both the United Kingdom and France. Incidentally, the three countries (Nigeria, UK and France) each retain 6 years as the bar for a business-related claim. I inserted the French law deliberately since the AFD legal officers who would review the legal opinion in France were more likely to be French nationals.

After I was done, I decided to call two lawyers who were very close to me, my big Egbon, Rotimi Aladesanmi Esq as well as my good aburo Mrs Sandra Ogunmola, Esq. I told them about my quackery and apologised to them that my office did not have the money to secure the service of a lawyer. Out of patriotism and solidarity with the state, Bar. Aladesanmi asked me if the State Water Corporation had been maintaining correspondence with the company. I told him I had a hunch some months back that we might have insiders acting as fifth columnists and I had thereafter insisted that any correspondence on the matter must be solely by the state Ministry of Justice. I let him know that on several occasions afterwards when the GM approached me to allow him to send a polite letter to the company, I had always declined insisting instead that only the Ministry of Justice should issue any communication to them and that he and I must stick to engineering only. I added that to prevent any mistake when the GM told me that the legal officer of the Corporation was in support of a polite letter, I quickly got the Justice Ministry to write the Corporation to desist from any correspondence. Both lawyers appeared to substantially think I was already making sense. That gave me confidence and I decided to take the draft legal opinion to Mr. Kola Olawoye, SAN, the then Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, a fantastic administrator who would go to any legitimate length to assist us on our processes. The distinguished SAN read the draft and asked me who produced it. I jokingly told him one ‘charge and bail’ guy did. The Attorney General assumed a friend of mine did and chastised me never to refer to my friend as a charge and bail lawyer because he had produced a brilliant legal opinion! He told me he was adopting it verbatim – no correction.

My Special Assistant, Dr. (Mrs) Tolulope Pius-Fadipe made eye contact with me. I pretended I didn’t see her. The Honourable Commissioner for Justice executed the instrument and handed same to me. By 2 pm, we had scanned and forwarded it to the headquarters of the AFD in France with copies to the country representative in Nigeria. We had the hard copy dispatched by courier. Not quite 30 minutes after the email, I received a phone call from AFD’s Country Manager in Abuja who sought my permission for a conference call with France. Their legal officer in France had reviewed the legal opinion (our letter) and had concurred with us that the requirement that granted an advantage to a private company to more or less put a lien on our request and demanded N4 billion from the government of Ondo State be dropped! Yes. It happened in one day. They apologized and assured me to await an email giving us all clear so we could proceed to the disbursement stage.

The email came and the important line was “There is no more issue on this point as my legal department took into consideration your last letter and agreed to clear the condition precedent”. That was how we resolved the last hurdle on that fund. It was only after I succeeded in removing that final obstacle that I forwarded the ‘all clear’ good news from the then Country Manager of AFD, Ms Jeanne VANUXEM-MILLELIRI, to the then GM of the Ondo State Water Corporation (Engr Akinrinmade) and the then State Coordinator of the Water Project (Engr Akinde) on August 24, 2018 at exactly 3:03 pm.

Ayo Sotinrin who was with the Governor when I passed the news via phone later told me that the Governor asked him, “How did Tunji do it?”. As the late Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu SAN later acknowledged in a private letter to then President Muhammadu Buhari, “Engr. Olatunji Ariyomo, FNSE, led the team that negotiated and secured the $57 million AFD funding for our administration… His team succeeded in scaling “18 No Objections” under 12 months which was a record by any sub-national government even by AFD standard”.

As if by divine intervention, the AFD sent me a dusburement schedule confirmation for the $57 million (with dates) on the very day we were receiving the Federal Minister for Water Resources. Mr. Yemi Olowolabi, a veteran journalist of the Tell Magazine era who was the Commissioner for Information had to break protocol to get the great news across to Governor Akeredolu carrying my mobile phone with him to enable both the Governor and his guest to read directly the giant leap Ondo just made.

Essentially, ahead of other states that were part of the NUWSRP III scheme, Ondo State reached financial closure in a manner that earned our state the direct commendation of the French Development Agency (AFD). How did we do it?

We were proactive. We did not wait for the AFD to spoonfeed us. During the development of the programme appraisal document, we fast-tracked the process by spending endless sleepless nights to ensure we crafted a programme that would serve the interest of the people of Ondo State. Working with the AFD country office and officers from their headquarters in France, we developed a PAD and Programme Information Manual that would be difficult for anybody to breach. When we eventually secured approval to commence implementation, the least of the RfPs that we produced was that of the PMS and the cartography which contained a minimum of 130 pages. We were yet to select a consultant (PMS), so we did all these by ourselves. I led from the front, drafted and poured through all the pages and knew everything that went into each line. We submitted to all world-class financial probity and accountability processes. We shielded the programme from the vagaries of politics and external influence. This was why I could boast when I was suddenly removed from the project that I was certain that the vile characters that were plotting and scheming to oust me from the project because they were eying the money instead of the goals were on a futile zero-sum mission. I was that certain. Yes, the processes can be delayed at a great cost if incompetent individuals are saddled with anchoring the project or positioned to lead the project. This is why the project is currently 2 years behind schedule. Though time itself is costly. That is the worst that can happen. The money for the project cannot be stolen or looted. They may not even be able to access the funds due to the stringent conditions we imposed from the very beginning. I secured the first tranche of disbursement before my exit from the programme. That was the only tranche accessed up until December 2023. The programme almost went into sleep mode afterwards. Governor Akeredolu had to beg the duo of Ayo Sotinrin and Tope Runsewe to step in and help as the leadership that took over after me was simply unable to understand the programme.

When the Governor announced a cabinet reshuffle and had me assigned to solely Energy, some people suggested that I should write a petition to the AFD and allege political interference in order to stop the project. I refused bluntly. I have never fought over money in my life. The money we secured was for the benefit of the people of Ondo State. Phase one of the project was solely for Akure metropolitan area. As a child, I enjoyed pipe-borne water in Akure. My sole motivation was therefore to help Akure regain that lost era. I have never been a fan of borehole drilling as I saw it as an unsustainable workaround that must not be encouraged because it takes the average aquifer years to recharge adequately. Upon realization that not a single community along the transit route of the water mains from Igbaraoke to Akure was included in the project, I held meetings with notable traditional rulers from Ifedore, particularly the Olowa of Igbaraoke, Oba (Dr) Adefarakanmi Agbede OFR in his palace. I assured Kabiyesi that we would leave no stone unturned to ensure that the water project was extended to all communities adjoining the route of the transmission mains such as Igbaraoke, Ipogun, Ilara, Ibuji, Ijare etc and that we would leverage that advantage to take reticulated water to places like Ondo East and Ondo West. The business mogul, Chief Michael Ade-Ojo also placed a phone call to me, offering to fund the T-off of the water from the mains to Ilara. I thanked Baba Ade-Ojo for his selfless offer and informed him that the governor had already approved my proposal to extend the reticulation to all towns along the mains’ transit route.

This is what led to our additional effort to secure the $112.72 million from the African Development Bank (AfDB) starting in May 2019 with an earlier Mission Visit by the AfDB team. This second fund was to address (i) the outstanding 50% reticulation coverage of Akure metropolitan area under the AFD’s sponsored Owena Multipurpose Dam Water Project and reticulation to all satellite towns and communities along the water transmission route from Igbara-oke to the state capital, (ii) the reconstruction of the collapsed spillway and the restoration of the raw water line and the High Lift Pumps for the new intake at the Owena–Ondo road (Elegbudu agba) water supply scheme with design capacity of 19,800m3/day of treated water, which was originally built in 1965 but had since been in deplorable conditions, (iii) rehabilitation of treatment plants and augmentation scheme for Owena Ondo road, (iv) rehabilitation of Olokuta booster station serving the Owena Ondo road scheme, (v) construction of booster station for the rising mains serving Idanre and Ondo towns (in Ondo West and East LGAs) in addition to the relocation of transmission pipelines on that route, (vi) rehabilitation of Owo-Osse water supply treatment plants and augmentation scheme, (vii) repair, relocation and reconstruction of Owo Township water distribution pipes, (viii) upgrade and rehabilitation of the 2,115m3 service reservoir in Owo, (ix) replacement of damaged transmission mains to Owo and adjoining satellite beneficiary communities, (v) as well as critical intervention in Ilaje local government areas in Ondo South. Our engineering estimate for these projects at the time was USD 82.72 million. In addition, the state government was providing off-grid electricity supplies to communities in Ondo South that were far away from the national grid. We, therefore, made an allowance of USD 20 million for the implementation of commercial mini-grid power projects in 10 communities with distribution infrastructure, metering and other ancillary services. The late Governor fully supported my initiatives and via a letter with reference number H.E/VOL III/138c dated 3rd of June 2019 presented a formal request to the Federal Ministry of Finance and the AfDB for a total sum of USD 102.72 million with an additional grant component of USD 10million to enable the state government implement quick-win water and power projects across the state. The Governor put the state’s Office of Public Utilities which I headed, the state’s Technical Team and Steering Committee on Urban Water Supply which I chaired, the state’s Water Corporation which I supervised, the state’s Electricity Board which I supervised and the state’s Technical Team on Power which I headed, in charge, with the duty to midwife the processes. We secured the preliminary concurrence of AfDB shortly after. Of course, following my exit from the programme, I learnt that these clearly defined project pipelines that cut across the state were altered and the estimates for off-grid power intervention in Ondo South were completely expunged despite their detailed communication to the AfDB and the Federal Ministry of Finance.

The AFD and not the World Bank gave Ondo State the sum of $57 million for the construction of the transmission main and the reticulation infrastructure in the state capital. The project is ongoing. The money cannot be looted – not with the way we designed the programme. The World Bank invested in a lot of institutional strengthening and water sector governance being spearheaded by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources. Incidentally, an engineer and an Ondo State son, Engr. Benson Ajisegiri was the Director at the Federal Ministry of Water Resources as of then. The World Bank provided the sum of $2.3 million for each of the 9 states on the NUWSRP III programme with a substantial works component. I worked with other Commissioners and Advisers on Water Resources to correct the attempt by the Ministry to target that money solely at institutional governance at the expense of tangible works programmes. In fact, I spoke on behalf of the others. I showed the officials of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources from the principal approval by the World Bank that the $2.3 million was structured to substantially address works – physical output specification, tangibles that the ordinary people on the street could appreciate and that could further engender confidence in political leaders to support water-related programmes. Officials of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources led by Engr. Ajisegiri concurred with my argument. For Ondo State, we agreed that ahead of the effectiveness of the AFD fund, we would rehabilitate parts of the Owena Ondo Road water scheme as a Quick Win and have the water transmitted to a ring-fenced and commercially viable place in the state capital since the residents were adjudged in the entire Ondo State by our survey as the people most likely to pay. It was agreed that it would be our opportunity to practically assess water commercialization ahead of the full-scale reticulation project.

So, let’s put it in context, ever since my exit from the state water project, there was no new fund attracted to the water programme by any of my successors. The funds expended on water-related projects in Ondo State were solely the ones my team succeeded in creating, attracting, initiating or fast-tracking. This included the $2.3 million which the procurement was eventually done by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, the N702 million counterpart funding that I secured from Access Bank Plc with procurement done in Ondo State, and the first tranche of $5 million being part of the larger $57 million from the AFD. Indeed, because the project was lagging, the new handlers could not access any more money from the $57 million until December 2023! Likewise, the biggest funding prospect for future activities in the water sector in the state is the AfDB fund that I initiated! Essentially, years after exiting the state’s water project, I have earned the bragging right to say that my efforts continue to pave the way for the state in an enduring manner. I have been part of a Federal Government project worth $7.1 billion, yet, I will defend a legacy that costs only $1 if it is threatened by folks who know nothing about the sweat quotient that goes into project development.

By the way, it must be stated that the whole Owena water transmission and reticulation project was inspired by the late Dr. Olusegun Agagu. He birthed the vision and succeeded in getting President Olusegun Obasanjo to cede the water distribution aspect of the Owena Multipurpose Dam project to the Ondo State Government. Dr. Agagu already paid half of what was required to the contractor before his sudden exit from the government but the project was subsequently bungled and frustrated.

I have done my best to stick to issues that celebrate the accomplishment of my team in this piece. I could never have achieved any of these without the support of those earlier mentioned and my friends in Abuja who provided accommodation on those occasions when my office could not fund same or those like Taiwo Olusoga who repaired my ‘dakudaji’ official car. I wasn’t provided an official car while in government. I walked into the old yard of the Water Corporation and picked an abandoned ‘SUV’ I learned was bought by Boye Adegbemisoye several years back when Dr Agagu was the Governor and I enjoyed using it, no doubt, bar the incessant breakdown. I am sure I am still owing mechanics on that ‘SUV’ including Engr Taiwo Olusoga! Nonetheless, I am leaving the motive behind my removal from the water project after I successfully secured the first tranche of disbursement into the Access Bank accounts that I opened for the project to history to judge.

Engineer Olatunji Light Ariyomo, FNSE, is a former Special Adviser on Public Utilities/Energy to the Government of Ondo State.