By Dare AKOGUN
Between 2013 and 2019, the Kwara State Government awarded contracts for major road constructions across the state, among them the 32.8kilometre Ilesha-Baruba to Gwanara Road in Baruten local government. Eight years later, our reporter, DARE AKOGUN reports that controversy surrounding contract reviews and inflation have caused delay in project completion, leaving residents at the mercy of a dangerous road.
IT was 4:27pm on a sunny Monday in August when our reporter arrived at Kpura, one of the numerous communities in Ilehsa -Baruba – Gwanara Road in Baruten Local Government Area, LGA, of Kwara State.
Gogo Wazi-Kperogi, a 59-year-old market woman, sat on the ground, lost in thought.
She told this reporter that despite selling all her goods, she was unable to get home at the end of the day and her children would sleep without food.
This is because whenever it rains, the road at the Nune area of the long stretch Ilesha-Baruba-Gwanara Road is cut off by over flowing water from the Nune River. And no one could pass the road until the current subsides.
According to Wazi-Kperogi, it has not always been like this, but since the road was approved for construction in 2013, situation has become worse. During rainy season, life has been hard for people in the communities along the road.
The case of Hajiya Mariyama Danbawa is particularly pathetic. She lost her seven-year-old daughter, Aisha, on the road on August 10.
Her story: “Aisha suddenly fell ill in the midnight of August 9 and early in the morning of the following day, we tried to take her to the hospital at Ilesha-Baruba but because it rained heavily at night, the road was impassable. The bike that carried us fell down twice. She died before we reached the hospital.”
The road construction should have been a blessing, but the project is now a curse for residents along the road in BarutenLGA, one area of the state that has suffered neglect from successive administrations.
Controversy surrounding contract implementation
The road contract, initially awarded in 2013 at the total sum of N1,56 billion to DURAVILE Engineering Limited, was later reviewed upward to N2.15 in 2015 and then to N2.36 in 2017. Two weeks to the end of the last administration, on May 15, 2019, the contract was again reviewed upward to N2,78 billion to upgrade it to a surface dressed road.
While responding to the allegation of Elites Network for Sustainable Development (ENetSuD), a Civil Society Organisation on inflation of contract sum by his ministry, the Kwara State Commissioner for Works and Transport, Rotimi Ilyasu, had said in a statement in October 2020 that the administration at inception noticed a discrepancy in the amount received compared to work done on site. Ilyasu said the percentage of payment made by the last administration was 66.4 percent whereas the work done on site was 40 percent which was why the government compelled the contractor to return to site or face legal actions.
This payment compared to work done contravenes the Kwara State Public Procurement Law, 2018, Section 62 (1) and (3) which states: “Advance payment of 30 percent may be paid to a supplier or contractor, provided that advance payment above 30 percent may be paid where the supplier or contractor submits a written request justifying the need for such payment”.
(3) “After advance payment has been made to a supplier or contractor, no further payment shall be made to such supplier or contractor without an interim performance certificate issued in accordance with the contract agreement.”
Ilyasu in the statement further stated that the contractor was asked to submit the cost implications after a meeting with the government to upgrade the work to asphalt level because the government insists that it would not accept the initial contract of paying N2,781,716,900.95 for a surface-dressed road.
“The contractor came up with additional 1,056,895,118.75. This was rejected by the government and the contractor was offered only N265,412,446.50 to have the road upgraded to asphalt overlay for longer lifespan as the initial contract signed by the last administration was for surface dressing only,” he said.
With this, the total project sum increased to N3, 048, 129, 347. 50 which was approved by the State Executive Council, SEC, in a virtual meeting on August 7, 2020.
However, a document showing a re-evaluation of the total contract sum by ENetSuD, shows the contract had been inflated. By simply re-calculating the items, it was revealed that a total sum of ₦751,551,647.22 had been padded into the Bill of Engineering Measurement and Evaluation (BEME) of the project by the Ministry of Works and Transport.
In a letter to Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq, dated November 10, 2020, ENetSuD called the attention of the governor to the padding and accused the Ministry of Works and Transport of the lack of due diligence and/or deliberately preparing a fraudulent BEME approved for the project, thereby misleading the SEC, which then approved a faulty contract sum.
The letter, which was analysed by this reporter shows that the ministry only increased the sum of ₦265,412,446.50 for the asphalt which was the agreed sum by government to the contractor, without subjecting the inherited BEME to careful scrutiny. This was what was eventually sent as the actual contract sum and eventually presented and approved by the SEC.
A reliable top government source who confirmed that the contract was indeed inflated by ministry officials who were either negligent or trying to shortchange taxpayers said the government had put in place mechanism to identify the said civil servants and punish them according to the civil service rules.
Section 75 (1) (2) (d) of the Kwara State Public Procurement Law, 2018 proscribes a five-year jail term for any offender without an option of fine. Section 75 (1) of the law states that: “Any natural person who contravenes any provision of this Law commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not less than five years but not exceeding ten years without an option of fine.”
(2) (d) defines such contraventions as: “…procurement fraud by means of fraudulent and corrupt acts, promises, threats, unlawful influence, undue interest, agreement, corruption, bribery or any other way.”
Paucity of funds, abandoned site
A visit by our reporter to the site in June showed that work was not ongoing at the site, and that major work had stopped on the project since April.
Findings by our reporter on the construction project, which started at Bonaparo junction in Ilesha Baruba, revealed that only six kilometres of the road have been asphalted, total earthwork done is 24 km while 10 out of the 13 box culverts have been constructed.
Efforts to speak with the ministry’s Chief Resident Engineer of the project, whose name was given as Akorede, proved abortive as he failed to honour numerous appointments and refused to grant the request to speak about the project on phone.
However, one of the site engineers who spoke with our reporter under the condition of anonymity stated that surface dressing of 10 kilometres of the road was done between 2014 and 2019.
According to him “The current administration did 14 kilometres earth work and almost all the hydraulic (box and culverts) and drainages are almost completed.
The work has been delayed “partly because of the rainy season and majorly because of paucity of funds from the state government,” he explained.
During a visit by this reporter to the office address of the construction company located at 86, Coca Cola Road, Ilorin, it was under lock and key.
It was observed that no sign of any form of activities is taking place in the yard, but a woman who sells drinks by the fence of the company mama Nkechi, said the workers have gone to other state where they have projects to execute.
According to her “This place is not always full if they don’t have any work to do here, they all left to Ogun where they are doing road work three months ago,” she stated. (This is not enough. What did you observe? Was anybody nearby? Did you ask people in the neighbourhood?)
Communities count their losses
The deplorable state of Ilesha-Baruba to Gwanara Road has become a source of sorrow for residents of the several communities along the stretch of road including Kpura, Kenu and Nune. Smallholder farmers and traders in these communities say the road has affected their livelihoods negatively as they now find it almost impossible to move their farm produce to markets in neighboring communities. Access to markets outside the state in Saki, Agbonran and Ogbooro in neighboring Oyo State has equally become a challenge, especially during the rainy season.
Our reporter observed that when it rains the road becomes muddy and completely unmotorable. Heavy downpour often results in the Nune River over-flowing its bank and forcing motorists to be stuck in communities at either end of the banks such as Kpura and Nune.
A lorry driver, Zakari Sule, who regularly plies the road from Okuta down to Boriya, a town bordering Benin Republic, said he spends a minimum of N43,000 repairing his truck each time it develops faults after plying the road.
Narrating his plight on the tough road, Sule said: “I changed 2 broken springs at N 15,000 each; two new hangers at N4,000 per one and then workmanship OF N5,000, making everything N43,000, which is the lowest I often spend.
Sule also revealed that during every trip on a market day, he pays between N1, 000 to N1,500 to revenue collectors and community levy to youths. According to him, the youths are responsible for filling bad portions of the road with stones and logs of wood to make navigation through the muddy portions possible.
Similarly, Fatima Gburoede, a business woman who lives in Kenu community said she could not quantify in monetary value, the yams and corn she has lost on the road while moving them to markets in Ilesha-Baruba, Bode, Okuta and other surrounding markets.
“In May this year, a tipper truck bringing in dried fish and elubo (Yam flour) I bought at Yashikira fell on the road very close to the Kpura bridge. All the fish and more than half of the yam flour were damaged. We left Yashikira at 6.00pm but reached Nune at 12.00am the following day,” Mrs. Gbueroede narrated.
In the same vein, Abubakar Kora, a rice farmer from Kpura community, lamented that the agrarian communities along the road often grapple with food wastage due to the nature of the abandoned road to the markets.
Although some transporters make brisk business, charging exorbitant fees due to the nature of the road, the consequences for them also far outweighs the gain. Samson Gure, a motorcyclist in the area said they charge about N2,000 during the dry season and as high as N5,000 for a single passenger without luggage when it rains.
Gure lamented that the situation has led to quick wear and tear of automobiles and increase in the prices of food and other commodities in the area.
Another resident, Joseph Wurisika, shared similar sentiments. He said it cost at least N25,000 to carry a 100kg bag of cassava flakes (Garri) on a commercial motorcycle from Boriya community about 67 kilometers to the market in Ilesha-Baruba during the rainy season This, according to him, is because the journey is often tough and rough.
According to Yunusa Ahmed, a retired civil servant from Kpura and the head of the local vigilante, the bad state of the road has greatly hampered access to healthcare facilities in neighboring communities when emergencies arise.
“Facilities where proper health care services can be accessed in these areas are located in Ilesha-Baruba, Okuta or Yashikira. It can take about three hours during the dry season and six hours during the rainy season,” Ahmed said, noting that, “two persons from Kpura died on the road in March this year before getting to the hospital at Yashikira.”
Abdulrasheed Shola, a civil engineer, said though he has not been to the road site and cannot confidently give a technical submission about the quality of work done, he knows that when the soil is exposed to weather conditions like intensive rainfall, it will wash away the surface and expose the underlying materials.
According to him, “water aids compaction and consolidation, but excess of it will definitely wash away the underlying materials and cause soil saturation. When this happens, the bad part needs to be reworked before asphalt is laid on the road,” he said.
Kwara Government ignores request for information
Unfortunately, efforts to get the contract details of the Ilesha-Baruba to Gwanara Road project from the Ministry of work proved abortive. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) application sent to the state government was greeted with silence.
The first request dated 29th July, 2021 and a reminder on the 16th of August, requesting details of the project, specifically the name and address of the contractor approved for the construction of the road; the contract sum; duration and completion date; releases so far made to the contractor, including time and amount of each release was ignored.
Contrary to the provisions of the FOI Act, the state government neither responded to the request nor gave any reason for the denial of information weeks after acknowledging the receipt of the FOIA request.
Although the Act was enacted by the National Assembly, state governments often argue over the legal backing of enforcing the Act in their states. However, this argument was subdued in a judgement by Justice Oke-Lawal of an Ikeja High Court in 2017, where he stressed that the FOI Act would apply to the government of the federation as well as to state governments and would not need ‘domestication’ by states.
Also, several attempts made by this reporter to speak with Ilyasu was unsuccessful as messages (SMS and WhatsApp) to his phone were not responded to.
A visit to the ministry by our reporter to see the commissioner was also not fruitful as he was said to be absent the two times the attempt to see him in the office was made. Also, efforts to book an appointment with the commissioner through the Press Secretary of the Ministry, Bola Onile, was not successful as he promised to get back the two times the attempt was made.
However, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Rafiu Ajakaye, via a WhatsApp message, said between May and December 2019, the government wrote series of letters to the contractor to return to site, and by February 2020, the contractor was asked to submit a bill for asphalt finish as a surfaced dressed road was not reliable, especially within the agreed contract sum.
The CPS, who said he was speaking on behalf of the Commissioner for Works and Transport, “On March 3, 2020, the contractor submitted a contract sum of N1,056,895,118.75 for only asphalt finish. This will make a revised contract balance of N1,991,482,673.43 which is N934,587,554.48 plus N1,056,895,118.75.
“His Excellency, Malam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq on March 12, 2020, instructed that due to previous variations, revised total contract balance to include asphalt finish must not exceed N1,200,000,000 that is N 256,412,445.32 plus N934,587,554.48”.
Ilyasu stated that after the agreement was reached with a consultant, SANISI PARTNERSHIP LTD, to prepare a revised Bill of Engineering Measurement and Evaluation, BEME for the road to include asphalt finish at a contract sum to close the outstanding balance of N934,587,554.48 to N1,200,000,000.00. (This last sentence in incomplete. The way it is framed we do not know what happened after the agreement was reached.) (It is stated in the next paragraph sir after the screenshot of the WhatsApp message that the new BEME was submitted for Harmonized New revised contract sum of N3,048,129,346.47 in May 2020.)
He further stated that the new BEME was submitted for Harmonized New revised contract sum of N3,048,129,346.47 in May 2020, nothing that the only upward review by the present administration is N265,412,445.52.
The commissioner added that as at May 2020, the new balance to be paid on the project stood at N1,200,000,000.00, saying that the new revised work done asphalt pavement inclusive is 30 percent with the total present work at 52 percent as at September 2021.
According to the chief press secretary, “Ilesha Baruba-Gwanara Road is an on-going project. All on-going Projects were provided for in the 2020 and 2021 fiscal year budgets.
“Amount paid to date is N2,248,129,346.47, the balance on the project is N800,000,000.00, total deductions made on the payment made so far is N314,738,108.49 and net payment made to the contractor is N1,933,391,237.98.
“The completion of the Ilesha Gwanara Road project has been factored into the state’s supplementary budget which is before the House of Assembly. It is one of the projects with the recently accessed bond,” he added.
However, while speaking with our reporter on the alleged N750 million Inflation the CPS to the governor Rafiu Ajakaye, said the government has investigated the claims and observations there from have further been referred to various govt bodies, as allowed under public service rules, to handle the matter in a manner that best serves public interest.
“It is important to remember that the social audit is an initiative of this administration to ensure value for public money. An administration wanting to be dodgy will not voluntarily subject its activities and programmes to public scrutiny the way we have seen since 2019. This is unprecedented in the history of the state, “he said.
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.