How Borno water agency violated extant laws in the execution of water project

BY Muhammad M. Ali

In this investigation, Yerwa Express News reveals how the Borno State Rural Water and Sanitation Agency violated the state’s procurement law in the execution of a water project, to the detriment of the people.


WHEN Hauwa Ali lost her husband four years ago and was left to fend for eight children, she knew life would be tough, but she didn’t envisage trekking at least a kilometre to fetch water for her family’s use.

The widow, who lives in Umarari Bulamari area of Maiduguri Metropolitan Council in Borno state, said residents sometimes rely on local water vendors who sell 240 litres of water at the cost of N350.

Water vendors at a private borehole in Umarari Bulamari
Water vendors at a private borehole in Umarari Bulama

When there is no water, Hauwa Ali, 40, who is solely dependent on a N50,000 capital selling local perfume, treks at least a kilometre with her children to fetch water.

“I sometimes buy four trips of water, each at the cost of N350 weekly. However, the worst happens when we are out of money. In some intervals, a good Samaritan offers some help with water but it is not always the case,” she said.

“My legs are all aching now because anytime there is a need to fetch water and my children are in school, I have to do it myself,” the widow added.

Hauwa’s story is not so different from that of many other residents of Umarari Bulamari, a predominantly trading community of about 20,000 residents, according to community leaders.

Epicentre of Umarari Bulamari
Epicentre of Umarari Bulamari

The community has two boreholes: the Umarari Bulamari new borehole, located close to the house of Bulama (the community head) and the ‘Umarari Bulamari old borehole, about a kilometre away from the first one.

The boreholes are powered by diesel. However, they operate at interval days, sometimes after a week, because the supply of the diesel by government is insufficient. Though the community is connected to electricity, the boreholes are not. Residents of the community say solar-powered boreholes could ease their sufferings.

The new borehole was constructed in 2016 by the present Vice President of Nigeria,  Kashim Shettima when he was governor between 2011 and 2019. According to community leaders, the old borehole was constructed by the then administration of the Late Muhammad Goni between 1979–1983.

At the time of this reporter’s visit to the community, schools in the state were in session, but many children were seen fetching water when the new borehole came on. A Primary 3 student in one of the community government schools, who spoke with the consent of her mother, said, “Any day the borehole comes on, I go to school at 9 a.m. because I need to fetch water, and the borehole will stop working by 2 p.m.”

Residents Stationed at Umarari Bulamari New Borehole
Residents Stationed at Umarari Bulamari New Borehole

Borno State is one of 16 Nigerian states with a high number of out-of-school children, with a figure of 266,478. Bauchi State has the highest number of out-of-school children at 1,239,756, while Edo has the least at 76,446. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, reported in October 2023 that the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria has hit 20 million.

“The Umarari Bulamari new borehole gets an allocation of 100 litres of diesel for two weeks, which isn’t enough to operate the borehole every day,” a resident of the community and a civil servant working with the Borno State Ministry of Water Resources stated this in an anonymous capacity.

The residents complained that the insufficient supply of diesel is sometimes forcing them to search elsewhere for water.

“Sometimes the Umarari Bulamari new borehole will not work for about a week simply because there is no supply of diesel from the government. It is really frustrating,” Hassan Bukar, a 30-year-old resident of the community, said.

“I was here since morning with my children, but due to long queues, I could not fetch two buckets of water,” said Hannatu Ibrahim, a 35-year-old community resident.

“The borehole will stop work by 2 p.m.,” the mother of 10 lamented and explained that the borehole is not guaranteed to work daily.

The Community Head, Bulama Mala Ali, said they had made efforts to rescue the situation but to no avail.

Picture of Bulama Mala Ali, the Community Leader
Picture of Bulama Mala Ali, the Community Leader

“We have been to the Ministry of Water Resources many times, and they promised us that they will find a solution to our problems. Just recently, we suggested that since electricity has returned to Maiduguri, they should connect the boreholes to electricity, but we are yet to see them,” Bulama Mala said.

He urged the government to use the transformer stationed close to the borehole to connect it to electricity.

Government intervention not implemented

While the people of Umarari Bulamari have continued to wait for government intervention, investigations reveal that the state government had awarded contracts in 2021 for the installation of solar panels and the construction of a 40,000-overhead tank for the Umarari Bulamari new borehole to improve water supply in the community. These two projects were, however, not implemented according to government contractual terms.

Records from the Borno State Bureau for Public Procurement show that the contracts were completed on January 6, 2021. However, on-site investigations reveal otherwise, as there were no traces of such intervention in the Umarari Bulamari community.

The 2021 2nd Quarter SME Contract Information for the Borno State Bureau of Public Procurement shows that the project for the purchase of solar panel inverters and other accessories was awarded at the cost of N1,480, 000 while the construction of a 40,000-litre overhead tank was put at the cost N2,000,000. The document shows that both projects for the newly drilled borehole at Umarari Bulamari have been completed.

The document stated that the two contracts were awarded on “5/1/2021 and completed on 6/1/2021.” It named IK Chumax Global as the contractor for the purchase of the solar panel equipment while Abba Tor and Sons Nig Ltd is listed as the contractor for the construction of the 40,000-litre overhead tank.

However, when this reporter visited the site of Umarari Bulamari new borehole on May 9, 2023, there was no trace of solar panel, inverter or any accessories.

Hannatu’s daughter, taking her first trip home after Umarari Bulamari new borehole came on
Hannatu’s daughter, taking her first trip home after Umarari Bulamari new borehole came on

“What happened was the rehabilitation of an existing overhead,” a resident and civil servant in the community told our reporter in confidence.

Community leaders also said there was no such intervention as spelled out by the project document, within the community in 2021.

“The Umarari Bulamari new borehole gets an allocation of 100 litres of diesel for two weeks which isn’t enough to operate the borehole every day,” the civil servant stated and explained that no solar panel project has been sited in the community.

The rehabilitated overhead tank of Umarari Bulamari New Borehole
The rehabilitated overhead tank of Umarari Bulamari New Borehole

This was also confirmed by Modu Jarturma, another community leader who said, “No solar was installed on the Umarari Bulamari new borehole in 2021, and no construction of tanks was made either.”

We have done our part – Contractors this reporter contacted IK Chumark Global Nig Ltd, the contractor responsible for the supply of solar panel equipment for the project. The CEO of the company, Ikechukwu Nwanbo, however, told this reporter that he had done his part by supplying the solar panels to the Borno State Rural Water and Sanitation Agency.

When pressed by this reporter, Nwanbo showed invoices and receipts endorsed by the agency.

The invoice and receipt read: “16 units of panel (each at N45,000) N720, 000, a unit of inverter at cost of N400,000, 4 units of cable (each at N90, 000) at the cost of N360,000). Total: N1,480,000.”

Invoice presented by Mr. Nwambo
Invoice presented by Nwambo

There was, however, no certificate of contract completion or any other related document to justify Nwanbo’s claim.

According to Nwambo, his contact person within the Borno State Rural Water and Sanitation Agency is one Engineer Babagana Sa’ad which this reporter later discovered is the current Director of Operation at the water agency.

“I am only a supplier and I have done my part. The items were taken from my shop by Engineer Sa’ad and Engineer Gujja. This is the invoice receipt they acknowledged. I don’t know how they used the materials,” Nwanbo said. Abdullahi Alhaji Gujja is an Assistant Technical Officer at the Borno State Rural Water and Sanitation Agency.

For the 40, 000-litre water tank, our correspondent reached out to Usman Tar, the CEO of Abba Tor and Sons Nig Ltd, by phone which was provided in the procurement record. The contractor also claimed to have done his part.

“We constructed the overhead tank. It was 40, 000 litres. We received our payment. I will check the receipt and show you,” Tar said in a phone conversation with this reporter.

Usman Tar also promised to take this reporter to the project site but he did not keep to any of these promises. This reporter followed up on him with calls but he neither answered nor returned them.

Section 18 (16) of the Borno State Procurement Law (2019 as amended) states that in a situation of controversy over execution of contracts, “the burden of proving fulfillment of the requirement for participation in any procurement proceedings shall lie on the supplier or contractor.”

However, neither  Nwambo nor  Tar could provide any evidence to prove their claims.

Abuse of procurement procedures, discrepancies in contract execution

The 2021 2nd Quarter SME contract records show that both contracts were awarded on 5th January 2021 and completed January 6, 2021. However, when asked whether the contracts could have been completed in a day, Abubakar Habib, a civil engineer with AA Construction Company in Borno State, said “it is not possible,” and described it as “a big contradiction.”

Habib explained that there are several processes to follow before constructing an overhead tank. “Even when you have the tank constructed already, you need to cast a flow for the tank. And that also will take some days,” he said.

The procurement record also shows that the contracts were awarded by way of selective tendering. Selective tendering (sometimes known as restricted tendering) is a bidding process where only certain vendors can bid for the project. Specifically, these will be vendors that the buyer has personally invited to vie for the contract.

The contract for the supply of solar equipment showed three companies bidded for the project. They are IK Chumax Global, Kilme Metine Company Nig Ltd, and Discovery Concepts Interlinks.

In the contract for the construction of 40, 000 overhead water tank, records show only Abba Tar and Sons Nig Ltd bidded for the contract.

IK Chumax Global, however, confirmed that his company did not participate in any bidding process, despite what is stated in the procurement records. Nwambo also admitted that he does not do contracts, but admitted that the agency buys supplies from him.

“Anytime the agency wants something, they come to my shop and take it. This one was Engineer Sa’ad and Engineer Gujja that came to my shop and took it,” Nwambo said after this reporter showed him a report of the Bureau where his company was mentioned as a contractor.

Section 18 (5), of the Borno State Procurement Law (2019 as amended) states that, “subject to the prior review threshold, as may be set by the Bureau, any procurement purported to be awarded without a “Certificate of No Objection to contract award” duly issued by the Bureau shall be null and void.”

Yet, neither Nwambo nor Tar could provide a certificate of no objection for their contracts award.

Controversy over status of companies Section 18(6b) of the Borno State Procurement Law 2019 (amended) states that “all bidders, in addition to the requirements contained in any solicitation documents, shall; possess the legal capacity to enter into the procurement contract.”

However, a search through the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, portal revealed that all three companies that bidded for the suppoly of solar equipment; IK Chumax Global, Kilme Metine Company Nig Ltd, and Discovery Concepts Interlinks were not registered.

When this reporter contacted Nwambo of IK Chumax Global, whose company presumably won the contract award, at his shop, opposite Borno State Mechanical Workshop, he said the name of his company is IK Chumark Global Nig Ltd not IK Chumax Global as stated in the contract document. Yet, a similar CAC search of IK Chumark Global Nig Ltd showed no results.

When asked again whether he knew his company was not registered, he insisted that his company had been registered and said he has a certificate for incorporation. When asked to show this reporter the certificate, Nwambo declined, instead, he asked the reporter to go to the CAC to get the certificate or go to the Borno State Rural Water and Sanitation Agency to confirm the status of his company.

“How can you ask me this question? The company I am paying taxes for every year and you are asking whether it is registered. Stop disturbing me,” Nwambo said.

Mr Ikechukwu Nwambo’s shop opposite Borno State Mechanical Workshop
Ikechukwu Nwambo’s shop opposite Borno State Mechanical Workshop

Abba Tor and Sons Nig Ltd, the contractor for the 40,000-litre water tank was, however, found to be registered with the Nigerian CAC. But the status of the company was given as inactive.

This reporter made several attempt to reach Tar through calls to ask whether he knew his company was inactive, but he did not respond to calls.

CAC search on Mr. Tar’s company name
CAC search on  Tar’s company name
B2bhint search indicating Mr. Tar’s company as inactive
B2bhint search indicating  Tar’s company as inactive

Borno Agency says project located in another community

The Borno State Rural Water and Sanitation Agency, the procuring entity, when contacted, claimed it executed the contracts but not in Umarari Bulamari community.

The agency said the contracts were executed in a community known as Umarari Bulamari Kangale, not Umarari Bulamari as stated in procurement records. Engineer Babagana Sa’ad, the agency’s Director of Operations, who spoke to this reporter, insisted that Umarari Bulamari was not the targeted community.

He argued that it was not the habit of the agency to divert contracts but explained that the agency only “forgot” to add Kangale to the name of the community on the project documents.

“It was the locals that told us the location is Umarari Bulamari and we wrote it like that. What was omitted was only Gangale,” Engineer Sa’ad said.

This reporter found that the distance between Umarari Bulamari Gangale and Umarari Bulamari is about a half kilometer walk. The two communities, however, have two separate community leaders (Bulama). When Engineer Abdullahi Alhaji Gujja, the Assistant Technical Officer at the Borno State Rural Water and Sanitation Agency took this reporter to a solar powered borehole in Umarari Bulamari Gangale, the reporter observed that the facility fits the contract description.

Image of Umarari Bulamari Gangale Borehole
Image of Umarari Bulamari Gangale Borehole
Solar component of Umarari Bulamari Gangale Borehole
Solar component of Umarari Bulamari Gangale Borehole

However, there was no sign-board to confirm that it was the project described in the procurement record. “We put up a sign-board. I think it was stolen,” Engineer Gujja said.

Some residents of the community said the project was executed in 2021. Others said it was just a year ago.

“It was constructed in 2021. It is not even commissioned but we have started using it already,” Ahmed Bukar, a 35 years old whose house is close to the project site, said.

“I cannot tell exactly when this project was carried out but I know it is up to a year now,” Bashir Musa, who said he has lived in the community since 2015, said.

However, when this reporter asked the Bulama of the Umarari Bulamari Kangale community, Bulama Abba Modu, when the project was executed, he was not specific, even though he confirmed that the borehole and solar system were constructed under the administration of Governor Babagana Umara Zulum.

Some of the elders of the community who accompanied this reporter to the community leader were also not specific. They also claimed the project was executed two years ago.

From the project site, this reporter, along with Engineer Gujja, went back to the agency to meet Engineer Sa’ad, the agency’s director of operations where this reporter requested to inspect the project file in order to clarify the issue of location and contracts award procedure, but he declined.

“It is Umarari Bulamari that is written in the records,” he confessed adding that “It was the locals that told us the name of the location is Umarari Bulamari and we wrote it like that. What was omitted was only Gangale,” Sa’ad insisted.

Section 18(12,14) of the Borno State Procurement Law 2019 as amended states that “every procurement entity shall maintain both file and electronic records of all procurement proceedings made within each financial year and the procurement records shall be maintained for a period of ten years from the date of this award.”

The law also states that “All unclassified procurement records shall be open to inspection by the public at the cost of copying and certifying the documents plus an administrative charge as may be prescribed from time to time by the Bureau.”

The agency, however, denied the inspection of the files in gross violation of the procurement law.






     

     

    Offenses and punishment

    Even though on paper, the Borno State Rural Water and Sanitation Agency claimed to have followed all the state’s procurement procedures in execution of the contract, in reality, it did not. There was no assessment of problems and competitive bidding as provided by the state’s procurement law, 2019 as amended. The staff of the agency expected to monitor the execution of the contracts to ensure compliance to these procedures failed to do so.

    This violation is frowned out by section 59 (5) of the state procurement law 2019 as amended which states: “Any person whilst carrying out his duties as an officer of the Bureau. Or Any procuring entity who contravenes any provision of the Law commits an offence and is liable on conviction to cumulative punishment of:- (a) a term of imprisonment of two years with an option of fine and restitution; (b) summary dismissal from government service.

    This report republished from Yerwa News Express is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).

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