Abandoned secretariat building contributes to state workers’ frustration in Sokoto
Legal tussle stalls multi-billion secretariat project
By Tunde OMOLEHIN
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IN Sokoto State, many office messengers travel several kilometres between the state secretariat complex and the auxiliary secretariat in Giginya on a daily basis in an attempt to meet the demands of their jobs. Their frustration provides an insight into how the abandoned multibillion-naira secretariat project contributes to the workers’ plight.
At 7:45 am, on a Monday morning, this reporter arrived at one of the apartments in Giginya Secretariat on the outskirts Sokoto city. The buildings comprise blocks of residential houses originally built for civil servants in the 90s by the Second Republic governor of the state, late Shehu Kangiwa. At the main gate was a middle-aged man who had been waiting for a scheduled meeting with this reporter. Just before the meeting began, the man shook with fear.
“You know we are civil servants and we are not permitted to speak with the media,” he said, referring to other workers, “All of us have one or more stories to tell,” he added. To hide his identity, he agreed to be identified simply as Malam Kabiru.
Taking messages from one office to another is a journey
For Kabiru, life as a messenger, otherwise called dispatch-man within the civil service, has been stressful and laborious. Since he joined the state’s workforce many years ago, his daily routine has been shuttling between various offices within Sokoto capital city to deliver official documents.
Kabiru lives in Mebera and treks about 12 kilometres to work in Giginya and thereafter begins a daily routine of dispatching official letters, files and documents to the main secretariat complex in Sokoto city, covering no fewer than 10 kilometres. In the last two decades he has been dispatching government’s files, letters and memos, and must have covered thousands of kilometres. But he has little or nothing to show for his hard labour.
“My responsibility is to deliver files and important documents of the ministry from here, (Giginya Office complex) to the Cabinet Office at Usman Faruk Secretariat,” he told our reporter.
The Cabinet Office complex is an old administrative building housing key government departments including the offices of the Deputy Governor, secretary to the state government and that of the Head of Service. Other key ministries domiciled in the complex are finance, justice, budget and economic planning, works and transport, local government and community development, among others. It has an empty vast land earmarked for the construction of permanent buildings to accommodate all the ministries temporarily operating at the old complex.
But the non-completion of the buildings eight years after the contract was awarded is causing untold hardship to many civil servants, especially junior staff like Kabiru, who have to carry files and other documents from the temporary secretariat to the permanent site.
Corroborating Kabiru’s narrative, Abdul Magaji, an administrative officer, said he uses his private car to convey some of the messengers in their routine trips to the main secretariat complex. “Sometimes, I spend personal money to convey them (messengers) to the main complex where they usually deliver their messages either at the Head of Service or SSG’s offices on a daily basis.
“Before the advent of this administration, each ministry got its monthly overhead cost from the government from where money was given to these messengers and some of us to fuel motorcycles and cars. But, now, it has stopped. There is no money to pay for daily overheads.
“That is why there are complaints of shuttling long distances by these dispatch riders. They now use their personal money to run around the two secretariats to either deliver one document or convey very important messages without any remuneration,” 51-year old Abdul lamented.
Another government worker, Musa Lawal, recalled the excitement of workers when the then Aliyu Wamakko administration announced plans to relocate ministries to a permanent complex in Giginya in 2013. He said that the governor awarded a contract for the secretariat project to ease the suffering of civil servants traversing between the main complex in Sokoto City and Giginya.
But “it has been eight-year now; we are still listening to the same old story on the secretariat project. We want this present administration to fast-track its completion to ease our movement from one location to another.”
He believes that the completion of the project will bring to an end to decades of suffering for workers who travel several kilometres between the main and temporary secretariat.
On June 3, 2013, the Sokoto state government signed a contract to construct the Head of Civil Service Office complex and additional office structures at the Usman Faruk Secretariat. The buildings were to accommodate ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) that are, at present, located at the Shehu Kangiwa Secretariat.
According to the official documents sighted by this reporter, it was with a view to centralise the administration of the government by turning the Usman Faruk Secretariat into the main secretariat complex in Sokoto. After a procurement process, an indigenous construction firm, Messrs. Edile Construction Nigeria Limited won the bid for the job at the cost of N5.7 billion. The contractor moved to the site as soon as the government paid 30 percent mobilisation.
But a few months after the commencement of the job, a former Commissioner for Information, Danladi Bako, said the government revoked the contract, citing low pace of work by the contractor. While the contractor promptly refuted the claims, the government went ahead to award the contract to another indigenous firm, Messrs. Habmostar Construction & Engineering Company at the cost of N5, 284,206,081 with a mandate to complete it before the expiration of the administration’s tenure.
The new contractor never showed up at the project site till the expiration of the Wamakko’s administration after allegedly pocketing the sum of N1.5 billion being the required 30 percent down payment in the contractual agreement. A visit to the project site showed a picture of a public structure left to rot away by two successive administrations in the state. Relevant officials at the state Ministry of Works and the office of the Head of Service declined to speak on why the project was abandoned when our correspondent visited them for interview.
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request sent to the office of the Commissioner of Works, Salihu Maidaji, was declined on grounds that the matter was already before the court. The Acting Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Works, Smaila Wali, said the ministry knew nothing about the project, adding, “We are only given a supervisory role. I will want you to visit the office of the Head of Service. They are the clients for the project. There, you can be briefed on the details of the project. But bear in mind that the state Ministry of Justice is prosecuting a case against an aggrieved contractor. Maybe you can contact the commissioner in charge for the legal details also,” he said.
When contacted, the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Suleiman Usman, SAN, acknowledged a text message sent to his cell phone, but he refused to provide further details surrounding the project as requested by this reporter.
For four weeks, our reporter made several attempts to have an audience with the aggrieved contractor to no avail. But the company’s lawyer, Lagalo Dan Lagalo, in a telephone conversation said his client had dragged the Sokoto State Government to court to enforce his fundamental rights. He hinted that the case has been moved to the Supreme Court after the company secured landmark victories at both the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The lawyer, however, declined further comments on the matter. But court papers obtained by our reporter showed that a lawsuit was first filed before Justice Abubakar Muazu Lamido of Sokoto State High Court in 2014.
In the suit with Number: SS/ OS/1/2014 Between Edile Const. Nig.Ltd V Sokoto State Government & Anor, the applicant had challenged the decision of the state government to abort a valid contractual agreement without any wrongdoing on the part of the contractor.
Among reliefs sought by the aggrieved contractor is an order re- straining Sokoto State government, its agents, servants or representatives from enforcing, implementing and, or giving effect to the purported revocation, as well as unjustly interfering with the progress of work done. The plaintiff had insisted that the action taken by the government was malicious and done in bad faith, and not in accordance with Clause 42 of the contractual agreement.
Parts of the prayers before the court is to determine whether the agreement dated 3rd June 2013, freely entered into by the plaintiff and the Sokoto State Government was valid, subsisting and, or binding on the parties. The contractor also sought an order of court declaring as null and void, the revocation paper dated April 15, 2014, by which the 1st Defendant (Sokoto State Government) purported to revoke, determine and, or terminate the contract awarded to the plaintiff and a declaration that the said revocation was malicious and in bad faith.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that both the lower and appellate courts, all sitting in Sokoto have since delivered their verdicts in favour of the contractor but the state government rejected the courts’ decisions.
Checks by this reporter show that the former governor of the state, Aliyu Wamakko, had initiated several multibillion naira projects towards the end of his administration. These include the state Independent Power Project (IPP), the College of Agriculture situated in Wurno, and an International Conference Centre. Others are the 37.1 kilometres Rundi-Katami Road in Silame Local Government Area, the 45 kilometres Balle-Kurdulla-Niger Republic Road in Gudu Local Government Area, the Deputy Governor’s official residence, renovation of state High Court Complex and series of water projects.
Wamakko, now senator representing Sokoto Central Senatorial District, has come under serious criticism for his inability to complete many of the projects he initiated while he served as governor for eight years. While in office, he always boasted that every project embarked upon by his administration would be completed and handed over before May 29 handing over date. To achieve the goal, he had directed his works commissioner, Umar Nagwari, to provide strict supervision of all projects under the ministry and vowed to deal with contractors who were not serious about their jobs.
Despite the promises made by the former governor, our reporter found out that only a few projects initiated during the twilight of the administration were completed. For instance, the contracts for the construction of the state’s Independent Power Plant and the Usman Faruk Secretariat never saw the light of the day. Wamakko’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Bashir Rabe Mani, would not offer any explanation on why the for- mer governor could not deliver on the projects he initiated. Mani, who had initially promised to contact Wamakko for a response, did not get back to our reporter and would not take further calls or respond to text messages sent to his phone.
Looking the other way
Despite promises at his inauguration to continue with all projects and policies of his predecessors, Governor Aminu Tambuwal has failed to complete the multi-billion naira projects left behind by both Wamakko and Attahiru Bafarawa. He reasoned that since large sums of money were spent on the projects abandoned by his predecessors, it could make sense for his administration to complete them.
However, six years after he took over from Wamakko, nothing has been done to complete abandoned projects that litter the state. The governor had shown an early commitment by completing the International Conference Centre situated at Kasarawa area of the state, one of the many left behind by his predecessor. But that interest has waned. Rather than complete abandoned and exist- ing projects, Tambuwal has recently signed fresh contracts worth over N20 billion and made a down payment of N6.2billion representing 30 percent of the contract sum to the new contractors.
The projects include the construction of two flyovers at Runjin Sambo and Rijiyar Dorowa areas within Sokoto metropolis, dualisation of Tashar Illela Road, and construction of the State University Teaching Hospital. Others include the dualisation of Maituta Road, Waziri Abbas Road as well as the construction of a Premier Hospital at Sabon Birni Local Government Area. He has also unveiled a plan to borrow N65.7 billion to embark on new infrastructure projects a The state Commissioner for Finance, Abdusamad Dasuki, told this reporter that the money will be spent on critical sectors of the economy, including agriculture, health, housing, urban renewal, infrastructure and education. He said that the move was to fast-track the economic transformation and “to position Sokoto as a leading economy in Nigeria and Africa.”
Why inherited projects were halted
The state government says it is aware of the plight of civil servants who have to trek several kilometres between the main secretariat complex in Sokoto City and the Giginya temporary secretariat. The Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Governor, Muhammad Bello, told our reporter in an interview that as part of measures to ameliorate their suffering, the government gave loans and provided mobility to the junior civil servants working between the two secretariats.
“We are aware of this development as a result of moving a bit distance between Shehu Kangiwa and Usman Faruk Secretariats on a daily basis. This has been on for decades now,” he said. “But the present administration in its friendly approach to this situation has provided soft loans through owned microfinance banks to this category of civil servants to help leverage their plights. The Governor has also provided motorcycle loans to some of the messengers to enable them to solve the problem of mobility in the course of discharging their daily duties, pending the completion of the project in question,” Muhammad told our correspondent.
The governor’s aide, however, insisted that Tambuwal has not abandoned the secretariat project as being speculated in some quarters. “I want you to know that the government is an institution that must not be halted at the expiration of a particular administration,” he said. “We are reviewing the terms and conditions of all the projects inherited from the immediate past government. This is necessary to enable the present ad- ministration to have a clear picture of what is expected to be done or any improvement needed to have the project completed.
“For instance, the contract for the deputy governor’s official quarters has just been reviewed and awarded to a new contractor to ensure a standard job is carried out. I am sure other projects like the secretariat complex will follow suit. The government has not in any way abandoned any project initiated by his predecessor,” Muhammad said.
Abandoning projects is normal – civil society The National Coordinator, Coalition for Transparency, Accountability and Good Governance (COTAGG), Mike Opia, has insisted that Nigeria’s political elite have seriously abused the country’s procurement laws and processes. “The public procurement law in Nigeria has un- fortunately been used by government operators to perpetuate corruption rather than check corruption,” he observed.
“In the first place, the bureaucratic nature of the law has been used by the authorities to delay contractual obligations leading to abandonment and pocketing of the funds. So, the ills the law was meant to solve have been turned around to be the tool for their corrupt tendencies.”
Addressing the situation in Sokoto, Opia maintained that various governments in Nigeria are fond of abandoning old projects, so they could award new ones. “The reasons are obvious – if they award new contracts, they will collect kickbacks which they can’t collect from the old ones. Again, some of them are pursuing vain- glory,” he said. “They always seek to show that they started and finished the said projects irrespective of the costs to society.”
He, however, called not only for transparency in the award and execution of contracts but also in the leadership recruitment processes, adding that development will continue to elude the country until leaders are responsible to the electorate. He urged policymakers to review the current procurement law and make it less cumbersome so that the operators will no longer hide under the unnecessary bureaucracy to perpetrate corruption.
Opia appealed to the legislature and civil society actors to step up oversight functions on projects and whistle-blowing, respectively. He maintained that until all stakeholders become watchdogs over public projects, those in charge of contract awards and those in charge of execution would continue to frustrate implementation.
•This report is supported by the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.