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INVESTIGATION: How contractors fleece government in UBEC school project contracts
In 2015, Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) awarded over 300 contracts for the renovation and rehabilitation of schools across 26 states, including Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The Guardian monitors the school projects in four states, and finds out that for more than two years after the contracts were awarded some of them remain uncompleted, while some are abandoned, despite the fact that UBEC has paid the contractors in full.
AJIBOLA AMZAT reports.
ON its website, the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), an agency of the Federal Government established in 1999 to strengthen early school education in Nigeria, identifies some of its core values as honesty and accountability; integrity and transparency as well as teamwork and commitment.
But The Guardian’s investigation in the last three months has revealed this claim to be misleading.
Several school projects awarded by the commission in 2015, which cost billions of naira, are till today uncompleted or abandoned by the contractors who already have been fully paid.
And despite UBEC’s claim of probity and commitment to duty, the government agency has watched defaulting contractors rip off Nigerian taxpayers and the affected school children, without a demand for refund, or sanction.
According to the document obtained from UBEC by The Guardian, over 300 school projects estimated at nearly N10 billion were awarded in 2015.
More than two years after the contracts were awarded, some of the classrooms that UBEC selected for renovations, especially in the four states (Anambra, Delta, Edo, and Ogun) monitored by The Guardian, remain in the state of disrepair or disuse. The projects are either abandoned or uncompleted.
In other schools, the rehabilitation work was simply sordid. Yet, UBEC has failed to sanction the defaulting contractors or compel them to go back to sites and finish the job.
The Federal Government signed UBE into law on 26th May 2004 after it decided to intervene in the provision of basic education with 2 percent of its Consolidated Revenue Fund.
The Act provides also for the establishment of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) to coordinate the implementation of the programme at the states and local government through the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) of each state and the Local Government Education Authorities (LGEAs).
The Guardian investigation, however, revealed that UBEC operates more often without close co-operation with its counterparts at the state and local government levels.
Contracts delayed despite full payment
St. Anthony School Azia in Ihiala South Local Council, Anambra State is one of the schools marked for rehabilitation in 2015. UBEC awarded the contract to Pranav Contracting Nigeria Limited at the cost of N35 million.
The contract included demolition and construction of two blocks of classrooms, the, supply of furniture and resuscitation of the school’s water borehole.
Till date, the two buildings remain uncompleted and the furniture is yet to be supplied.
One of the blocks was roofed and provided with windows only after a non-governmental organisation in Abuja complained publicly in a newspaper. That was the last effort made to continue the project, the school principal, Mr. Obiajulu Ifeanyi Leonard said.
The Guardian’s search of Corporate Affairs Commission’s record showed that former member of the House of Representative, representing Ihiala federal Constituency, Chuma Nzeribe, is one of the directors of the company that won the contract.
Mr. Nzeribe confirmed to The Guardian in an interview that the project was awarded to his company over two years ago but complained that the payment was delayed.
Within that period, prices of building materials have gone up, and UBEC did not approve the review of the quotation prices, he said.
Asked whether he was owed by UBEC, Nzeribe said it was not a matter of whether “we are owed [or not] but the fact that payment was done late, which affected the quality of the project due to high prices”.
The former lawmaker insisted that he has not abandoned the project. He said the school projects were located in his community and that it would be a disservice to his community should it not be completed since he staked his personal resources to attract them.
Nzeribe spoke to The Guardian in the presence of another guest in his home, Mr. Claudius, who claimed he is a UBEC Supervisor in Anambra.
Claudius described Nzeribe as a “good man”.
But The Guardian’s investigation further revealed that Pyramid Energy Limited, another company owned by Mr. Nzeribe, a titled chief in his the community has failed to complete the rehabilitation of a technical workshop and laboratory in Technical School Ubahuekwem, also located in Ihiala local government area.The project was awarded at the cost of N25 million.
In spite of this negligence, the “UBEC supervisor” said he believed Nzeribe would complete the projects as he promised.
“I pity these contractors on how they suffer to get paid for the jobs done. If the payments are made as at when due, we will not have much problem with jobs awarded, but they usually pay them when they will have problems continuing with the contracts”.
In the end, Nzeribe said work had already started in one of the schools and would be completed before the end of the month (March). This promise has not been kept till the time of this publication.
Sources at the two schools had earlier told The Guardian that work has stopped at the schools many months ago, and the community members are uncertain the contractors will return to complete it anytime soon.
Meanwhile, the delay has cost Technical College Ihiala more than what the school principal, Mr. Wilfred Nkwoka expected. According to him, the state government once brought two trucks of laboratory equipment to the schools, but returned it, as they could not find a laboratory to accommodate the equipment.
The two companies owned by Nzeribe are not the only defaulters in UBEC intervention school projects.
Also, a company Jesse Global Concept Limited was contracted to construct a perimeter fence and gate for Community Secondary School Nanka in Orumba South local government area, Anambra State. The school was founded in 1976.
The Guardian spoke with Mr. Monanu Reuben, the Principal. He said the project started in 2015, and the contractor has completed about 55 percent of the job, but he has not shown up again for more than two years.
According to the principal, the contractor said the work would resume after he must have collected the second part of the money. Now, the principal is unsure whether the contractor has collected the balance or not.
“The delay may have been caused by the introduction of TSA by the government, but I don’t know for sure. And without the fence, teachers could not control the students’ movement.
“Some youths in the village come at night to smoke marijuana in the school premises, and sometimes come to make love with young girls,” the principal said.
A check through CAC’s record showed that Jesse Global Concept Limited is located at No 2a Obafemi Anibaba Street, Lekki, Lagos. The company owned by Mr. Ezeanolue Okechukwu and Ezeanolue Jesse got N20 million for the contract.
The Guardian called the phone number contained in the UBEC document (08066691646 and 08073370827), which was also confirmed by the school principal, but the man who answered the call declined to answer questions on the project. Pressed further, he said he did not handle any UBEC contract at Commercial High School Nanka.
In what seemed an afterthought, he said: “UBEC should write me if they want any confirmation from me. I don’t know you so I am not comfortable speaking with you. I don’t know how you got my number.” He did not speak any further on the subject.
Meanwhile, one of the most problematic school projects awarded by UBEC in 2015 is located in Atoko Ogbele Primary School in Oshimili South LGA of Delta state.
The N24.3 million-worth contract was awarded for the rehabilitation of three blocks of four classrooms, including a supply of 130 dual desks for pupils, six sets of teachers tables and chairs, one set of headmaster’s semi executive office furniture and pavement around the building.
But work is yet to commence on the site till date, nearly 30 months after the contract was awarded.
According to the UBEC document on 2015 procurement plan, Albaraka Building Construction Ltd was contracted for the job.
The company located in No 3 Ali Akilu Road Kaduna, Kaduna State is owned by Messrs Bulus Drambi Kwada and Abubakar Garba, as revealed by a CAC search.
An official of the company, Issah Jwaggah, told The Guardian on phone that Albraka Building and other construction company won the contract. But it was the other company that was later paid for the job.
According to Jwaggah, “UBEC gave two contractors the same contract. So we have to pull out because the other contractor was there before us. He has already removed the roof. And since we could no longer work at the site, UBEC allocated another school to us in Plateau State. And we have already completed the project.”
But Atoko Ogbele Primary School remains abandoned and the community does not know which contractor to hold accountable.
The Education Secretary at Oshimili South local council, Kelvin Oranyeli, blamed UBEC for the mix-up. According to him, UBEC usually does not involve local education authorities, so it is difficult to know which contractor to hold accountable for non-implementation of the project.
His statement corroborated the concern of Mr. Ogundimu, an engineer and a SUBEB officer in Ogun State, who described UBEC’s mode operation as non-inclusive.
For example, Ogun State SUBEB was not informed about the school project awarded in A.N.L.G Nursery and Primary School at Olomoore, Abeokuta.
“What we know is that no renovation has happened in the school,” Oranyeli said.
The head teacher of Atoko Ogbele primary school, Mr. Ibeh Alex, expressed deep frustration while speaking to The Guardian. Though he has heard about government’s plan to rebuild the community school, nothing has happened till date.
Already, the two block of classrooms have become dilapidated and unsafe for the children. The ceilings have caved in and the walls cracked at different corners, giving spaces for reptiles to hide. Yet, the pupils and their teachers have no option than to use the classrooms.
“But when it rains, we cannot hold classes, so we send the children home,” Alex said.
The situation in Delta State schools is not different in a significant way. At the time of visit in late December, most schools have gone on vacation.
But The Guardian interviewed a lady who teaches at Ikeken Primary School Uromi Esan North East LGA, Edo State.
The lady objected to having her name in print because she was not authorized to speak on behalf of the school. But her account corroborates a report published by Budeshi on the state of UBEC project at Ikeken Primary SchoolUromi.
According to her, 125 customized pupil desks were supposed to be supplied to each of two blocks of classrooms at Ikeken Primary School, but the company, P & V Corp Limited, supplied for only one block of classrooms, leaving the rest without supply.
The Guardian could not reach the company for an explanation because its phone number was not available.
Budeshi report also raised a question about renovation and rehabilitation of Eguare primary school in Ebele Igueben local council area, Edo State. No renovation work was carried out in the school despite the fact that the contractor was paid N29 million, the report stated.
After obtaining 2015 procurement plans through FOIA, The Guardian in a mail sought clarification from UBEC on the contract procedures.
In his reply dated March 23, the Executive Secretary of UBEC, Dr. Hamid Bobboyi, confirmed that the school projects in Anambra States were contracted to the two companies identified to be owned by Mr. Nzeribe.
He wrote in the mail that he has noted the observation raised by The Guardian and promised to take further action.
“From our investigation, the work is still in progress at the school…This is well noted and further action is required.” UBEC has not taken any action as at the time of this report.
In his response to the question about the neglect of Atoko –Ogbele pry school, Dr. Bobboyo wrote that UBEC initially received the request and proposed to intervene.
But “at the stage of the award, it was found out that a different contractor had already mobilized to the school and commenced work. Therefore, the Commission relocated the contractor to L.E.A Primary School, Pai, Pankshin Plateau State.”
He said the contractor for L.E.A has completed and handed over the project since August 2016 as awarded. But The Guardian’s visit to Atoko Ogbele showed that nothing has been done yet.
However, the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) through its initiative, Budeshi, had also monitored several schools in five states including those monitored by The Guardian. And the organization found similar “inadequacies and gaps in contract implementation” of UBEC.
Gift Maxwell, Budeshi Programme Director at PPDC, in a mail to The Guardian noted that UBEC had already given a clean bill of health to Mr. Nzeribe’s company on the N35 million contracts at St. Anthony School, Ihiala. This is the same project that The Guardian’s investigation and Mr. Nzeribe himself had confirmed to be uncompleted.
“The project was completed and handed over,” Mrs. Maxwell quoted UBEC report.
She, however, said the Commission did not comment on the status of the project at Government Technical College Ihiala, which The Guardian’s investigation also revealed to be uncompleted.
UBEC ’s contradictory reports show its inconsistency, and more importantly, a disregard of its core values.
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.