One of the abandoned projects by the contractors
For one week, the Senate Committee on the Niger Delta embarked on an inspection tour of projects being executed by the Niger Delta Development Commission. But after its fact-finding mission, Omololu Ogunmade reports on the frustration and anger of the senate committee over the lackluster approach to the execution of projects by the contractors engaged by the NDDC
After several kilometres away from their base in the capital city, they finally arrived at their destinations in Abia, Cross River and Akwa Ibom States.
It was an inspection tour of projects currently being executed by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by members of the Senate Committee on the Niger Delta that lasted for one week. At the end there were mixed feelings of the good and the not so good.
The tour witnessed a measure of happiness and relief at some project sites, just as it recorded regret and anger at some other locations.
The inspection team was led by Senator James Manager, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta. Other members of the committee in the team were Senators Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman, the committee’s vice chairman; Boluwaji Kunlere (Ondo), Bashir Mohammed (Kano), Maaji Lawan (Borno), George Sekibo (Rivers), Heineken Lokpobiri (Bayelsa) and Hope Uzodimma (Imo).
With the commissioning of a 1.7 kilometre road as well as 25 gallons of water scheme in Obiga Asa in Ukwa West Local Government Area of Abia State, the journey into other project sites began following a visit to the Government House, Umuahia, the state capital, where the team was received by Governor Theodore Orji.
At the Government House, Manager unfolded the committee’s mission, where he disclosed that the tour was necessitated by the need for oversight responsibility of lawmakers, disclosing that in parliamentary parlance, oversight is as important as budget passage. According to Manager, in view of gross underdevelopment in the Niger Delta,the Federal Government was compelled to intervene through the establishment or initiation of three institutions and programme. He listed such institutions or progamme as Ministry of Niger Delta, NDDC and Amnesty Programme.
Manager also said the visit had become compelling in view of the recent presentation of NDDC budget before the Senate. According to him, the committee had deemed it fit to put aside legislative work on the budget until it had embarked on the tour with a view to ascertaining the degree of application of the previous budget. He said the committee’s findings would thereafter be presented on the floor of the Senate for proper examination by the entire legislative institution. “We have not opened a single page in the 2013 budget of the NDDC sent to us because of this exercise,” Manager said.
Responding, Orji who pleaded with the committee to accelerate the passage of NDDC budget, describing the commission as a partner in progress and development of the state, while assuring the senators that if NDDC is well funded, it has the tendency to deliver the goods to the people of Niger Delta.
From the Government House, the committee proceeded to University of Agriculture, Umudike, where it inspected a 500-room students’ hostel. The project had been awarded as far back as 2004 with the aim of providing succour to the students of the institution who have been grappling with accommodation problem since inception.
At the university, students are compelled to pay as high as N120, 000 per annum for a single room in the local community, because of non-availability of students’ halls of residence.
According to the managing director of the NDDC, Mr. Chris Oboh, the project was only 30 per cent completed when the current governing board of the commission took over. He expressed dismay that the project was still at 70 per cent completion stage despite the encouragement he said NDDC had provided to the contractor with total payment of his contract sum as well as a recent meeting of the two parties where he said agreement was reached that the project should be delivered at the end of January.
Going down memory lane, Oboh disclosed how the project was first awarded in 2004 at the cost of N427 million and reviewed upward to the tune of N727 million in 2007 before it was recently increased to a whopping N1.4 billion to conform with the current reality. Oboh regretted that the contractor had failed to comply with agreement on the project.
With such information that the contractor was not owed, the leader of the inspection team, Senator Manager was enraged and fired a salvo saying the project must be ready for commissioning by April this year. He also emphasised that the quality of the project must not be compromised in view of the new set date for delivery. The NDDC also summoned the contractor to its Port Harcourt office last week for further discussions on the project.
The Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Hillary Edeoga, who thanked both the inspection team and NDDC for the project, recalled that the institution took off with only 300 students and now has over 30,000 students, saying the project will be a relief to the students of the institution when completed.
The team then proceeded to Ihube-Nkwagu-Mballa Road in Abia State where progress on another project had been stalled by the contractors’ with seeming confusion on how to construct a bridge across a river which had been getting wider and wider when compared to the time of the project’s first award in 2008.
The design of the bridge when the project was first awarded in 2008 according to reports was shorter than what obtains now as a result of activities of illegal miners at the river bank. Against this background, Manager advised the commission to assemble a team of experts to advise it on the way forward for the project adding that with the current trend of events on the bridge, there was a need for a proper study of the environment.
The team proceeded from there to the sites of two other projects in Ukwa East Local Government Area of the state. The sites of the projects were an eye sore as roads with awarded contracts for rehabilitation had become so terribly dilapidated. The first project, a construction of 35.13 kilometre Uzokwu-Owaza-Iguruta Road awarded to United Dominion Co. Ltd. at the sum of N5.9 billion is a single carriage two-way road with bridges. The project was only 29 per cent completed at the time of inspection. The second project, the Obioha-Ohanku-Aba Road being handled by Herbertech, a 32.30 kilometre-road which involved eight kilometres of clearing and surfacing was awarded at the cost of N2 billion. It was only at 30 per cent completion stage. Right now, there are no indications that these projects will be delivered soon.
Besides the Obiga Road as well as the 25 gallons of water scheme commissioned in Ukwa West, no other project in Abia State looked promising to the team as observation showed negligence of work on the part of contractors and ineffective supervision by NDDC with contractors showing no justification for the money collected.
The inspection tour afterwards took the team to Nsasak Road. The 170-kilometre inter-state road awarded in 2012 to Seyang was one of the most promising projects inspected during the tour. A section of the road being constructed that links Akwa Ibom to Abia and Rivers States was said not to be passable since 1996. The road, when completed, will also be the shortest link from Akwanpa in Akwa Ibom to Cross River State. It was also described as one road with potentials of great economic benefits to the people of the three states. The contractor was applauded for the quality of job done between June last year when it was awarded and February 2013.
While receiving his colleagues at the site of the project, Senate Committee Chairman on Business and Rules, Senator Ita Enang, who hails from the state, described Seyang as one of the best contractors in Akwa Ibom State which he said had deployed 100 per cent of its work force who were indigenes to the site with sophisticated equipment. Although the duration of the job will elapse in August 2015, the contractor promised to complete it well ahead of the scheduled delivery date.
During a courtesy call on the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godswill Akpabio, the governor blamed the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) for the usual delay in execution of NDDC projects. Akpabio said whereas BPP was intended to enhance due process in contract awards, it has become a major albatross as he noted that a governing board of NDDC which comes in for a four-year tenure might end up spending the whole lot of three years waiting for BPP and having only one year to work.
He also tasked the commission to be wary of carrying out sub-standard jobs as he used the operations of his government as an instance of the pursuit of quality delivery, disclosing that the road projects embarked upon by his administration have the capacity to last for at least 15 years. According to the governor, the delivery of sub-standard jobs usually leads to waste of funds and attendant economic loss for the people. “If you want to build a five star infrastructure, go for five star contractors. NDDC shouldn’t be a means of empowerment, it should be a means of infrastructural development…You must not continue with politically motivated contracts,” the governor advised.
The team proceeded from there to the site of a hostel for students of University of Uyo Teaching Hospital on the outskirts of the town. The quality of job at the site was condemned by the committee which described it as sub-standard. The NDDC chairman, who threatened to revoke the contract if at the end of March, the job is not delivered, said the commission had fully paid the contractor. Manager and his committee described the job as far worse than the hostel earlier inspected at Umudike.
He said: “The quality is below the standard. This is wickedness to your people. You have taken money over a time frame. You either do the job or give up. To summarise it, there is total disappointment here. What we saw in Umuahia was far better.”
But in his defence, the contractor said since the job was moving towards completion, there was a need for the builders to be careful, claiming that rushing the job at the moment could be detrimental. “We are trying to give NDDC a good name,” he said.
But Manager still gave the contractors two weeks to make up for his perceived failures after which action could be taken against him.
However, the sense of bitterness with which the team left the hostel site was assuaged when it arrived at Iwochang – Okorutip road project site in Ibeno Local Government Area of the state.
The 6.8 kilometre project involves the construction of a long bridge meant to link several communities on either side. Residents of the communities had from the time immemorial had to cross to the other side of the river through boats. In the process, a number of lives were said to have been lost in the large river. The project which was at 95 per cent completion stage was inherited by the Oboh-led commission when it was only at 45 per cent completion stage.
The contractor, Tony Chukwu, was applauded by the team for what was described as a job well done.
While receiving the team into the state house in Cross River State, the Acting Governor,Larry Odey tasked NDDC to make quality delivery its watchword. He also encouraged the commission to ensure speedy delivery of projects in the state, noting that even though Cross River State is not an oil producing state, it suffers the effect of oil production from neighbouring states and therefore deserves to be given a worthy consideration in the execution of NDDC projects.
The last project inspected during the tour was a hostel for students of Cross River State University of Technology. Again, this project provoked NDDC and the visiting committee to anger. The 500-unit hostel awarded to Directed Services Ltd was described as the worst hostel contract the team had inspected. NDDC’s managing director who said the job ought to be delivered in January added that the commission had ensured that it never starved the contractor of funds.
Senator Manager blamed lack of commitment on the part of the contractors on the failure of NDDC to put in place an effective evaluation and monitoring technique which can enhance contractors’ commitment.
Turning to Oboh, he said: “You do not owe them. Why then can’t you get value for your money? If supervision is heightened, we will get better results. MD, for us to move to the next level, we cannot continue like this. Are you not embarrassed?”
In his reaction, Oboh promised to improve on the commission’s attitude to supervision.
In all the projects inspected, only two were given pass marks, a situation that shows NDDC is still far from living up to its responsibility.