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[INVESTIGATION] Cross River government awards 40 contracts worth over N6.9 billion in violation of procurement law

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By Archibong Jeremiah

Godswill Eteng, a native of Nko community in Yakurr Local Government Area of Cross River state, was shocked to hear that the state government had built a new Model School worth N145,015,738.88 in his community.

He first imagined it must be an error because he lives in the community and has neither seen any site designated for such a project nor has there been any word in the community to this effect. No such project had been started and there was no indication among community leaders that anything like that was in the government’s plan.

This contract and 39 others valued at N6.9 billion [N6,947,414,295.64] awarded by the state government formed the basis of an investigation by this newspaper, revealing large-scale breach of the public procurement processes.

Our investigation established that although the government budgeted N145,015,738.88 for a model school project in Nko, no such project was undertaken or planned in reality.

The other 39 contracts, our investigations show, were awarded to 31 different companies in manners that question the procedural and due diligence requirements as entrenched in the Cross River State Procurement Law, 2020 (Law No. 9).

No legal capacity and expertise

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Of the 31 companies that benefited from the 40 awards, seven were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, (CAC), a fundamental requirement of public procurement due diligence.

Indeed, this was in contravention of part 3, section 6 (b) of the State Procurement Law which states that all bidders “shall possess the legal capacity to enter into the procurement contract.”

These include Messrs G & D Construction Services Ltd, Messrs Ngboko & Sons Enterprise, Messrs Glory Land Mega Works Ltd, Messrs Solfina Works, Messrs Bejul Nig. Enterprise, Messrs Mayebe Golden Investment Ltd, and Messrs Javad Ventures.

Furthermore, another seven benefiting companies lacked experience and expertise with regards to the work they were awarded. These include Messrs Rizfort Global Investment Ltd, Messrs Iyan Ambo Nig. Limited, Messrs Rennies works Ltd, Messrs Royal Touch Technology Limited, Implementing Technology Ltd, Messrs Ijo Maritime Services Ltd, and Messrs Quintito Integrated Services Ltd.

Budgetary Violation

Our investigation also revealed that contrary to the provisions of section 1.4, sub-section 1 of the procurement guidelines and rules, requiring that “the project must have budgetary provision,” the state government awarded all 40 contracts without any budgetary approval. None of the projects was in the 2019 budget of the state government.

Of the 40 contracts, 12 were for the construction of model schools, 12 others were for the construction of motorised boreholes, another 12 were for the rehabilitation of classrooms and hostels while the remaining four were for agricultural projects.

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Cross River

Of the other seven incorporated companies, Quintito Integrated Services Ltd is linked to Gov. Ayade’s relative, Anthony Andor Ulayi.  Ulayi who is a Director in the company is related to Gov. Ayade through his half-brother, Placidus Ogar. Months after the contract, Ulayi was appointed Special Assistant to the Governor on Local Government Service Commission.

While the Cross River State Civil Service Commission Chairman, Inaku Jonathan Uko, is the MD of Implementing Technology Ltd and a Director in Ijo Maritime Services Ltd, Rennies Works Ltd, and Royal Touch Technology Limited. That violates part 4 (8g) of the Public Procurement Act, 2007, which states that “whenever it is established by a procuring entity or the Bureau that any or a combination of the situations set out exist, a bidder may have its bid or tender excluded from any particular procurement proceeding if: the bidder fails to submit a statement regarding its dominating or subsidiary relationships with respect to other parties to the proceedings and persons acting on behalf of the procuring entity participating in the same proceeding or whom remains in subordinate relationship with other participants to the proceedings.”

Same address two companies, contract loading, award backdating 

Messrs Rizfort Global Investment Ltd and Messrs Iyan Ambo Nig. Ltd operates from the same address, and Gabriel Datong Jonathan is the link between them. Nobody at the registered address recognised the companies and their directors.

Inaku Jonathan Uko
Inaku Jonathan Uko, Chairman Cross River State Civil Service Commission

Eight of the 12 contracts for the Model Schools construction were awarded to the four companies linked to the Chairman of the Cross River State Civil Service Commission,  Inaku Jonathan Uko. The award violates section 3 sub 1 (2) of the state procurement guidelines and rules which states that “contractors, no matter how competent, should not be loaded with contracts at any given time.”

The 36 educational projects were awarded on the 26, April, 2019 but were backdated to 7, January, 2019 while the four agricultural projects were awarded on 9, July, and was backdated to 20, April 2019.

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Tales of shoddy execution

At Nko where a communal crisis has claimed several lives, our investigation reveals that the Community Secondary School was only repainted. There is no new construction. An alumnus of the school, Godswill Eteng, expressed disappointment at the development.

Pointing toward his former classroom, he said that such a project can’t be hidden when there are just two public secondary schools in the community. At the second secondary school in the community, the Comprehensive Secondary School, there was no indication of any project of the magnitude described in the procurement documents.

The 12 Model School construction projects were complemented by a motorised borehole, according to the procurement design. But reality presented a different picture. For instance, one was constructed at Nko but without the Model School.

Messrs Ngboko & Sons Enterprise, (not incorporated) was contracted to rehabilitate 1 no. 4 classroom block at Government Secondary School Ijiman Ugep, Yakurr LGA did a bad job despite being paid N14,321,507.15.

Government Secondary School Ijiman Ugep, Yakurr LGA
Government Secondary School Ijiman Ugep, Yakurr LGA

The staff rooms and two other classrooms are leaking. The main staff room has received considerable emergency remediation to hold the building together. The walls and the terrazzo floor were poorly done. A section of the building doesn’t have drainage. A beam attached to a major pillar in front of the school has detached and poses a threat.

At the Model School – St. Theresa’s Primary School New Netim Odukpani LGA, the signature of the shoddy job done by Messrs G & D Construction Services Ltd, (not incorporated) is visible.

From the entrance to the school, the green algae has taken over the lower part of the building. No outer drainage was done, and the inside floor is not leveled, making it impossible for water to run out from the single exit channel in the building.

Roofs of the Head Teacher’s office and the classrooms still leak. And there are cracks all over the building. Plumbing works in the sixteen toilets are badly leaking due to poor construction. The chambers are all open. Part of the ceiling in one of the walkways was left undone but the school fixed it since they found the material stashed somewhere.

St. Theresa’s Primary School New Netim Odukpani LGA
St. Theresa’s Primary School New Netim Odukpani LGA

The borehole contracted at N7,217,415.45 to Messrs Kanong Kataneh Nig. Ltd is not functional and there is no overhead reservoir tank, or a generator to power it.

Messrs Kwebeson Ventures Nig. Ltd was contracted to rehabilitate a hostel block at Edgerley Memorial Girls secondary school Calabar South at N49.5 million. After completion, the outer wall is riddled with cracks.

For N145,089,000.00 Messrs Johnny’s New Arrival Nig. Ltd was contracted to construct a Model School – PCN Primary School Ikot-Ishie, Calabar Municipality LGA. The project was relocated to Immaculate Conception Ikot Ansa without the knowledge of the host community. Since 2019 the contract is not complete, it has been under lock and key.

At the Presbyterian Church Primary School Ikot Nakanda Akpabuyo LGA, a contract for the rehabilitation of one number of six-classroom block was awarded to another (not incorporated) company, Messrs Glory Land Mega Works Ltd at N18,244,202.55.

The contract was done but #EndSARS vandalism touched the building. CrossRiverWatch observed that the building is not used for classrooms as intended but as an office complex shared by the Principal, Vice, and the Local Government Education Ministry. Students still receive lessons sitting on the floor with a leaking roof.

Also in Akpabuyo LGA, the construction of Government Primary Model School Idundu and a motorized borehole of N7,203,706.65 was awarded to another (not incorporated) company, Messrs Bejul Nig. Ent and the school project to one of Ayade’s appointees at N145,015,738.88.

Cross River

The building was poorly done: leaking roof, cracked walls and split beams by the walkway, posing a threat.

Remarkably, open defecation is practised in the school because all 16 toilets were abandoned. The borehole did not last two months before packing up and has not been repaired.

The rehabilitation of  3 classroom blocks at Government Primary School Ikang Central, Bakassi LGA was contracted to yet another company (not incorporated) Messrs Mayebe Golden Investment Ltd at N11,463,647.

What was met on the ground was 4 classroom blocks, not 3 as documented. This investigation uncovered that there was no proper needs assessment at this school before the contract was awarded else what the school needed most is toilet facilities as staff and students practise open defecation like their colleagues in Idundu.

All the Model Schools have something in common – no electricity, no burglary proof on the windows and doors.

Section 2.1 sub 2 of the guidelines and rules for procurement in Cross River states that “the general supervision of work by the site agent or project officer should include the holding of site meetings to resolve issues or problems. It should also include measuring work done and issuing progress reports.”

Our investigation reveals no evidence that this requirement was complied with by the State Department of Due Process and Price Intelligence with regards to the project execution at Bakassi, Calabar South, Calabar Municipality, Akpabuyo, Odukpani, and Yakurr LGAs.

For months, the Cross River State Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau had no Director-General since  Alphonsus Ogar Eba was appointed the State ruling All Progressive Congress, (APC) chairman. But in the course of this investigation, the Governor appointed  Francis Odachi Ekpo to replace  Eba.

Efforts made, including an official request to speak with him failed. He later responded to a phone call, saying: “You said you are a journalist, do your job, your letter was vague. I don’t have time to search through the records.”

Efforts made, including an official request to speak with him failed. He later responded to a phone call, saying: “You said you are a journalist, do your job, your letter was vague. I don’t have time to search through the records.”

Otu Otu Ita, SA Budget to the Cross River State Governor said he doesn’t believe any expenses were incurred outside the budget.

The SA Budget said: “This shouldn’t be a phone talk, I’m supposed to be reviewing the document that you studied, for me to also have a clear knowledge of what you are saying. But when a budget is presented there are windows for review, like an amendment, or a supplementary budget.

“You can have a situation where the budget provision was being transferred from one agency to another and the money being transferred, what they call virement, in that case, if that is the situation, I don’t think there is something wrong about that.”

He added: “some activities are unforeseen and for that reason, the budget made provision for capital services provision and margin used to service recurrent expenditures while capital services are used to service capital projects that were not originally captured in the budget, like the ones you are mentioning now. Money will be collected from that capital services provision to implement the expenditure activities.

“The truth is that in Cross River State no expenditure is done outside the budget, if there is any it is a case of misappropriation and His Excellency doesn’t … it will not happen because of how the Governor does his things.”

He then directed this reporter to the 2019 budget where capital services provision and margin which he believes the projects in question might have been funded. Capital services provision has N1 billon (N1,000,000,000) while margin has N150 million (N150,000,000). If added together, it still cannot fund the projects.

“It’s possible that funds were made available for some, not all. Remember, I came in 2021. I have worked with Gov. Ben Ayade for one year, and I have come to see that the opinions I used to hold about him were not true, he is very thorough,”  Otu said.

When contacted,  Jonathan Uko, the Chairman of Cross River State Civil Service Commission said he was out of the country and couldn’t talk on the phone. He said he could be reached on WhatsApp, but he is yet to reply to questions sent.

The Cross River State SUBEB Information Officer, Uchino Amatey was contacted for comment but she is yet to respond.

The Executive Director of “We The People,” a public advocacy group,  Ken Henshaw said he is angry about the findings of the investigation, but he was not shocked. He accused Sen. Ben Ayade’s administration of using contracts as settlements for his political loyalists.

In his words: “While I am angry, I’m not shocked as someone who has been in the development space for over 20 years because we have a character in this country, especially at the sub-national level where the award of contracts is a reward for supporting politicians.

“The primary thinking behind the award of contracts by Governors, is not for development and has never been. It is a strategy to share benefits with friends and cohorts. That is why most of the projects you have shown do not arise from the needs of the people. The Governor has openly said the appointment of Special Advisers and Assistants is a scheme for empowerment.

“These things should be prosecuted in the law court. As long as they are not in the budget, they should not enjoy public funds. Civil Societies have to take this up and run a campaign, and the communities where the projects are in need to be informed about this report. Over N6 billion spent judiciously should make a decent impact.”

Kingsley Eworo of Budget, Transparency, and Accountability Network, BETAN, said the State needs to sit up, and those responsible should be prosecuted.

“The monitoring and evaluation team might have been ‘taken care of,” Eworo suggested.

This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

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