PROCUREMENT LAW IN ANAMBRA FACES LITMUS TEST AS WORLD BANK ASSISTED SCHOOL PROJECTS GET STALLED

Reporter : UCHE NDEKE

The Anambra State Government in 2018 awarded contracts for the construction of prototype 600-bed capacity hostel blocks and perimeter fencing of some secondary schools across the state to guarantee the security of teachers and students as well as provide conducive environment for teaching and learning.

The project, which is World Bank Assisted job, is under the supervision of the State Education Programme Investment Project (SEPIP) and is scheduled to be completed within one-year.

However, two years down the line, most of the contracts are yet to be completed despite the huge amount of money allegedly released for the contracts.

This is why Radio Nigeria correspondent in this special report visited some of the benefitting secondary schools to ascertain the level of work done and reasons for not meeting the contractual deadline.

This investigative report is supported by the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).

Nigerians are always excited whenever they hear that contract has been awarded for any project in their locality.

However, while some of the projects are executed according to specifications and time, most are never constructed or they are done shabbily, a situation attributed to poor procurement and monitoring processes.

The World Bank’s Country Procurement Assessment Report of 1999, shows that of every one naira spent by the Nigerian Government, 60 kobo was lost to underhand practices.

According to the report, an average of $10 billion is lost annually due to irregular practices in the award and execution of public contracts through inflation of contract costs, lack of procurement plans, poor budgeting processes, poor project prioritization, lack of competition and other kinds of manipulations of the procurement and contract award processes.

In response to this, the Nigerian government initiated a series of public financial management reforms between 2003 and 2007, which led to the enactment of the Public Procurement Act (PPA) in 2007.

The Act provides for the harmonization of existing government policies and practices on public procurement, and ensuring probity, accountability and transparency in procurement process; the attainment of competitiveness, professionalism in public sector procurement system by ensuring the application of fair, competitive, transparent, value for money, standard practices for procurement and disposal of public assets.

In 2007, the state governors in Nigeria resolved to enact State Fiscal Responsibility Act while donor agencies in 2010 supported them in the quest to identify the factors militating against the enactment of the procurement laws. Know

Though the Anambra State Government was among the states that passed into law the Public Procurement bill, lack of adherence and non-existence of a board to drive it, have hampered the implementation.

Radio Nigeria visited some of the schools located across the length and breadth of the state to get firsthand information on the level of work done in the construction of prototype 600-bed capacity hostel blocks and perimeter fencing of the schools and the reactions of the people to the job done so far.

Some of the schools visited include: Government Technical College, Nkpor; Government Technical College, Onitsha; Government Technical College, Ihiala; Abbot Girls Secondary School, Ihiala; Community Secondary School Omor; and Arch Bishop Herey Memorial Technical College, Ogidi.

Others are Community Secondary School, Ifite Ogwari; St. John Technical Colleg, Alor; Government Technical College, Utu; Nigeria Science and Technical College, Nnewi; Government Technical College, Umunze; and Government Technical College Umuchu.

According to official records obtained by our reporter from the State House of Assembly Committee on Economic Planning and Donor Agencies, some of the projects are said to have reached 80 percent completion while others range as low as between 40 and 50 percent completion.

This claim is however contrary to what the reporter met on ground in some schools where the hostel projects were still at the foundation level and fencing not done at all despite that most of them had 2018 as their completion timeline.

The contracts and amount awarded for each project were as follows:

Contracts for prototype hostel at GTC Nkpor, St. John’s Technical College, Alor and Arch Bishop Hereey Memorial Technical College, Ogidi, were awarded to Teetag Nigeria Ltd at the sum of #992,099,934.00 each on October 10, 2018, to be completed in April 2020.

An initial sum of N297,629,980.20 was released to the contractor and another N48, 588,662.53 was released in 2020.

community secondary school Utuh, awarded in 2018, still on foundation stage

A contract for the construction of a prototype hostel was also awarded to Roadlight International Limited in 2018 for three schools – GTC, Utuh; GTC, Ihiala and the Nigeria Science and Technical College, Nnewi to the tune of N992,099,934.00 for the projects while N458,869.540.50 was released for each of them also with the delivery date of April 2020.

Level of work at Bishop Hareey memorial college, Ogidi, hostel block

( THE THREE PROJECTS HAS ONE AMOUNT OF MONEY WHICH IS 992…..WHILE 458,540 WAS RELEASED )

Contract for hostel block still at foundation level at GTC Nkpor

The fencing contract of GTC Nkpor was awarded at N31, 940,500.00 in February 2018 with N5,524,364 released and a completion date of December 2018.

The contract for the fencing of Community Secondary School, Ifite Ogwari, was awarded at N77,111,297.5 while records obtained from the Anambra state House of Assembly Committee on Economic Planning and Donor Agency, showed that N40.721, 750.09 had been released to the contractor, with completion date of 2018 December.

Fencing project community secondary School, Nnobi

The fencing of Community Secondary School, Omor, was also approved at N17,060,455.00 with N24,079.894 released and with a December 2018 delivery date, while the fencing of Abbott Girls Secondary School Ihiala, was awarded at the sum of N25,765,000 and N3,225,043.96 released, with a deadline of December 2018.

Community Secondary School, Nnobi, got a perimeter fencing project at a cost of N34,250.000 and records showed that N7, 459,482.18 was released as mobilization while another N4,567,221 was released in 2020 with completion time of December 2018.

OUR INVESTIGATIONS

Our reporter found that most of the school authorities and management were not aware of the details of the contract awards, including amounts, and this made it difficult to monitor progress and quality of work done by various contractors.

According to records (WHERE DID YOU OBTAIN THE RECORD) available to Radio Nigeria, though the contracts were awarded to firms with different names, some of the contracting firms had the same contact address and phone number, putting a question mark on the credibility of the contract awards and approval process.

At St. John’s Technical College, Alor; and Arch Bishop Hereey Memorial College, Ogidi, our reporter saw roofed hostel blocks but work was not yet completed despite the sums of 297, 629, 980,20 released in 2018 and 48,588,662.53 released to the contractor in 2020.

At Government Technical College, Nkpor, where contract was awarded for hostel block and fencing project, the hostel block was at foundation level while there was no sign of any perimeter fence.

Mr. Ifeanyi Afuluukwe, a teacher in GTC Nkpor expressed regret that land grabbers had been encroaching on the school land due to the non-completion of the fencing project.

“The project has not been completed. It seems it has been abandoned. There was a time they worked on the hostel to the foundation level, since that time, they have not worked on it.

“That of the fence has been abandoned also. They came and worked on it for some time and then left. Due to the fact that the school is not fenced, people have unhindered access to the school. Then some land grabbers are also encroaching on the school land,” Mr. Afuluukwe stated.

The General Secretary of Arch Bishop Hereey Memorial College, Ogidi, Mr. Emmanuel Chukwuzubelu and the Manager, St. John’s Technical College Alor, the Reverend Father Frances Unegbu, expressed satisfaction with the level and quality of work done so far, saying that the hostel blocks when completed would ease their accommodation challenges, which had forced them to reject some students seeking for admission into the school.

“I must say this is a very wonderful project, which is going to change the image of this school. It is a very big boost. Many people coming here to see the work have been asking – where did you get this kind of money to fund this kind of project? The hand of government is there and they are doing it very well. So, I must give kudos to the government for this. Without them, we can’t have this kind of thing. And I must commend the governor. This will help us to train our kids better,” the priest said.

He disclosed that the college currently had 1,023 students, but rejected 920 candidates who sought admission because of limited space.

Hear the Rev. Fr. Unegbu react:

“It touched me seeing parents and their kids rolling on the floor to be admitted here, reporting us everywhere that we don’t want to take them. But, little did they know that it was because of logistics.

“Once the hostel is completed, we can be sure to absorb people like that. According to the World Bank, the capacity for the new hostels is 600 beds.”

The contracts for hostel blocks in GTC Ihiala; Nigeria Science and Technical College, Nnewi; and GTC Utuh, were awarded to one contracting firm that has received over N458 million of the N992 million contract sum for the three projects.

Investigation showed that the three hostel blocks were still at the foundation level, a situation that residents described as very unfortunate.

Pastor Onyenesi Nwachukwu of the Nigeria Science and Technical College, Nnewi; narrated how enthusiastic they were when the contractor began to clear the land shown to him by the school for the construction of students’ hostels but expressed regret that work stopped abruptly.

“They started and we were very happy that very soon, we will have a magnificent building as hostel that will accommodate many students.

“We need it earnestly. But unfortunately, after some time, the work just stopped. Since then, we’ve not seen the contractor or his representative. We need it desperately for the welfare of the students,” she stated.

But Pastor Nwachukwu gave an indication why work might have stopped on the project.

She said: “Well, I don’t know why the delay. But I remember the man coming here to mold blocks was complaining that he was being owed.

“He even threatened to carry the molded blocks away because he was not paid. Along the line, we started dragging with him that he would not carry anything away from the school compound without the knowledge of the people concerned.

“It is a state government owned school, but the federal government is interested in technical education. So, we have had to receive people who came to assess the school from Abuja. We don’t have enough materials and equipment needed for technical education.”

The Vice Principal, Academics, GTC, Ihiala, Mrs. Victoria Ezeokoli, said the importance of technical education could not be over emphasized, hence the need for government to prevail on the firm to deliver the hostel project as promised.

“It is at foundation level and nothing more. It is painful that when they came with a claim to execute the project, they made the teachers who farmed here to harvest their crops. They were in a hurry. They started the work and after the foundation, they left.

“The hostel project, if completed, would have been a very wonderful one. The students would have been here and the population of the school would have grown more than it is now,” the Vice Principal lamented.

A teacher, Mrs. Ify Ukatu, recalled how they were made to harvest their farm crops prematurely when the contractor claimed that the work would be completed in records time.

“I am not happy that they made us to lose our crops and did not complete the project. We also learnt that some teachers would have been living in the hostel with the students. I was hoping that one day, I would be among the beneficiaries, that my house rent would have been taken care of. I am particularly sad that our own is suffering like this. If you see how technical schools in other places are booming, you will be depressed about the situation here,” Mrs. Ukawu stated angrily.

Though perimeter fencing was done in some portions of Community Secondary School, Ifite Ogwari, the people alleged that the job was done with sub-standard materials, causing the already done areas to collapse as confirmed by the Vice Principal, Mr. Benjamin Nnalue.

“I am not happy about the quality of work being done here. Well, we are just waiting for the contractor to say that he has finished the work before the school can raise an alarm.

“If you raise alarm now the contractor will say that you are too forward. The Principal had already alerted the contractor with regard to the dilapidated gate,” Mr. Nnalue said.

Community Secondary School, Omor, had a large expanse of land with the fencing contract of N17million of which N13, 079, 894.00 had been paid to the contractor.

However, according to the Principal, Mrs. Christiana Obiora, the job was poorly done leading to almost a total collapse of the fence.

She narrated how she confronted the contractor and also wrote to the State Ministry of Basic Education over the quality of work done and noted that the security of students and teachers was not guaranteed as motorcyclists now used the centre of the school as a route.

“The fencing project is not complete. It was in 2018 that the contractor came and told us that the contract was awarded to him. And they were given deadline to complete the project by December. So, he started and went half way in 2019. In 2020, he completed it.

“After three days of the completion, there was a heavy downpour in the night. That was when those places you saw fell. The report I made in 2018 when he started was first, there was poor quality of blocks and, second, that the foundation was not up to two feet.

“I called him and told him, he didn’t listen to me. That was when I made that report to the Ministry. The Ministry sent four persons who came and they condemned the trips of sand he heaped, insisting that the specification was white sand, By the end of 2019, he continued with the same sand. That fence fell in April and since then, he has not been around,” the Principal narrated.

Abbott Girls Secondary School, Ihiala, is said to be one of the oldest schools in the state but its structures and environment beg for urgent government attention.

Apart from the leaking roofs in the examination hall and some classes, the girls living in the dilapidated hostel are said to be facing a great risk of being raped by hoodlums as narrated by the principal, Mrs. Savena Chukwunedum, who was also once a student of the revered college in the ‘60s.

“I have started writing to the government of Anambra State. Nothing is happening here in terms of fencing. I have been following this man. I came here two weeks before COVID. The man cannot even do five percent of the work. I called him and he told me that I did not give him the job, that I should not disturb him.

“If you go to our hostel, two days ago, boys came from outside and jumped into the hostel for female students. Thank God that our security and corps members were alert.

“I have been begging this man please, even if you put only gate at the entrance so that they will know that the fencing project is going on,” she complained bitterly.

Mrs. Chukwunedum therefore appealed to the government to carry school management along always when awarding contract for projects in their institutions.

While hostel project at the GTC, Onitsha, had been roofed, the fencing contract at Community Secondary School, Nnobi was trailed by controversy, as some portions remained unfinished as at the time our reporter visited.

Some teachers who did not agree to be recorded said the terrain and erosion prone nature of the area may have discouraged the contractor from continuing with the work.

The Principal of GTC, Mr. Mathias Emesi, was excited at the level of work and the impact it would have on the learning and teaching of the students, especially this COVID-19 period when social distancing had become very necessary.

A legal practitioner and stakeholder in Ayamelum Local Government Area, Mr. Joseph Aghanti, while reacting to the delay in completion and alleged shoddy jobs done by some contractors, said it was very difficult for government to monitor projects particularly if agencies responsible connived with the contractors.

“Sometimes you see connivance between contractors and the monitoring agencies of government and that is why when somebody fails to carry out a contract in accordance to specifications, government will not be bold enough to question the individual.

“And most times the benefiting communities don’t even know the amount and contract agreements to enable the leadership of the town to monitor quality and pace of work.

“The local governments should also have a committee that should be monitoring projects awarded by the state government in various communities within their areas,” Mr. Aghanti admonished.

A member of the Anambra State Committee on Public Procurement Bureau, Prince Chris Azor, said the state before now had a public procurement law enacted in addition to the fiscal responsibility law but noted that unfortunately, it was not operational.

According to Prince Azor, between 2011 and 2020, the state was operating on ad-hoc basis, setting up tenders board and committees that were awarding contracts, trying to do things on the basis of good intention but not actually making the procurement law operational.

“My brother, there is no way one could say there was that conformity with the due process before now. But you can see the background. If the law was not operational, there is no way you can beat your chest to say that things that were done before now actually met international standards. But, now, we have the law in place and the institutions the law recommends are also in place.

“The Public Procurement Law generally is a sunshine law. It beams its searchlight on the operations, on the people that are mandated to make it work and on the process.

“But, let me tell you, public procurement process is where you have the highest level of corruption in terms of government business. If you get it right at the level of public procurement, you are almost coasting home to victory in terms of governance,” Prince Azor Insisted.

Speaking on the schools projects, the Chairman, Anambra State House of Assembly Committee on Economic Planning, Sustainable Development Goals and Donor Agencies, Mr. Ebere Ejiofor, wondered why the supervising ministry and agencies would approve payments for contractors who had not put much work on ground.

Mr. Ejiofor, who had visited some of the projects on oversight function, said the legislative arm of government would not relent in making sure that money meant for public projects was properly utilized and work done according to laid down specifications.

“It is unfortunate just look at the building. This is a new job but it was poorly done. No living human being can do this type of work, not to talk about a project running into several millions of naira.

“Look at the gate, it is falling off. And this is not the vision of the Governor of Anambra State, his Excellency Dr. Willie Obiano. I went to the back, almost all the fence there is falling off. There is no strong base. I mean the foundation is faulty. It is just like they brought block and put it on top of the sand and went their way. It seems that nobody is supervising this work. This is a poorly done job, very shoddy.

“So, we have to write the Commissioner for education, some of the contractors who is (sic) handling the poor projects for them to appear before the House Committee on SDGs to explain to us why they allow this to happen, wasting the good intention of our Governor. I can’t understand how a government can spend millions of naira on a project and nothing tangible was done,” the lawmaker fumed.

The Commissioner for Basic Education in Anambra State, Professor Kate Omenugha, in an interview, said that the projects were solely funded by the state government but that the government had an agreement with the World Bank to be reimbursed for work done.

She explained that World Bank under Disbursement Led Indicators reimbursed the state for money used for accreditation of some schools after confirmation.

“The reimbursement from World Bank was under a different project arrangement called Disbursement Led Indicators. So the state government decided to use it to embark on construction of hostel blocks and fencing of some schools,” Prof. Omenugha stated.

She said after the reimbursement was made, the state decided to use the fund to build hostel blocks in technical colleges and fence some schools.

While agreeing that land grabbing was a challenge in some schools, Prof. Omenugha said the government decided to step down some projects in order to concentrate and finish some others.

“Let me tell you, the projects are not abandoned. I agree that some places like GTC, Nkpor, had a very bad road condition and the contractor could not send in materials there so they are continuing now that dry season set in.

“There are some that were also stepped down so we can concentrate and finish some but not abandoned. The contractors did not collect money and run away,” The Education Commissioner explained.

The Commissioner said the government had set aside funds for the projects as work had reached completion stages in Umunze, Umuchu, Umueri, Aguleri, while Governor Obiano looked forward to inaugurating them soon.

On the poor quality of the projects done in some of the schools, the Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Mike Okonkwor in a telephone conversation with our reporter, said though his Ministry and its education counterpart were responsible for the supervision of projects, he would make effort to personally visit the said schools with a view to ascertaining what was on ground.

Mr. Okonkwor, however, stated that the government would not tolerate a situation where any contractor would collect money and go ahead to do a shoddy job.

Was due process followed in the award of the contracts?

The Chairman of the Governing board for Public Procurement, Mr. Melie Njepu, claimed that the contract awards followed the public procurement law in the state and that if they did not, the council would not have approved them.

He noted that when the contracts were bided, the biddings were sent to the procurement council for approval.

Mr. Njepu argued that the state government was never reckless even before the establishment
of the Procurement Law as there was a tenders board in charge of contracts.

RESPONSES FROM SOME OF THE CONTRACTORS

The Resident engineer to the contracting firm handling the fencing of Community Secondary School, Omor, Mr. Onyeka Ibe, said the topography of the area played out on the project and not the quality of work put in place.

“Initially, we used pipe to do the gate, they complained and we pulled it down and use dangle iron to reconstruct it. We used pipe but the recommendation was angle so we later used it,” Mr. Ibe explained.

On the quality of work done on the fence, Mr. Ibe said, the soil texture was clay and the place was often water logged.

“That place is supposed to be Bond wall; that is retaining wall but the specification they gave us was normal blinding and block wall. That was the problem we had there, it was supposed to be retaining wall, the entire place was too sloppy and water logged.

“We did retaining wall in some of the places that fell. Now we are trying to rectify the situation as work is ongoing,” the contractor explained.

When contacted on telephone, the contractor handling the fencing of Abbott Girl Secondary School, Ihiala, Mr. Enon Horsh, blamed the delay in completing project on lack of funding.

“We started work even before we were mobilized. We have submitted a bill since and they are yet to pay us. Once we are paid we will commence putting pillars and finish the work. This work is pay as you go, what we put on ground is even more than what government has paid. As soon as they pay us, we start work,” Mr. Horsh remarked.

The intention of the Anambra State Government when it awarded contracts for the school projects in 2018 was to provide an atmosphere suitable for teaching and learning in schools as well as to encourage technical education, which would prepare students to become self reliant while contributing to the overall development of the state and nation at large.

However, for most of the respondents, it may not be enough to award contracts without following it up to the point of completion.

The respondents also say that for the Nigerian masses to hope for a turnaround in infrastructure, the Public Procurement process must be rightly implemented.

They alleged that public procurement process had become a major conduit for syphoning public funds as about seventy-eighty percent of government activities were often centered on it.

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