Elijah Ojonicko AKOJI
This investigation reveals corruption in multi-million naira contracts awarded to briefcase contractors who did not implement the projects after collecting the money. The Federal Government paid the contractor to construct solar-powered and hand pump boreholes in Yobe North Senatorial District.
In Yobe North, where Nigeria’s Senate President Ahmad Lawan comes from, over N350 million from the federal budget has been spent on phantom water projects, which Senator Lawan purportedly brought to his constituency.
The sleaze has denied people in Machina, Karasuwa and Jakusko access to potable water.
The projects — to construct solar-powered and hand pump boreholes in these areas affected by Boko Haram insurgency and where people are still in displaced camps — were awarded by Hadeja Jama’are River Basin Development Authority, an agency under the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.
The water facilities were supposed to be constructed between December 2020 and March, but an investigation by WikkiTimes has found that the boreholes were not constructed, despite paying the contractors.
In the 2020 national budget, over N121 million was earmarked to construct hand pump boreholes across Yobe North Senatorial District. In addition, N228 million was approved to build solar-powered boreholes across Machina, Karasuwa, and Jakusko local government areas in Yobe North as constituency projects of Senator Lawan, to be implemented by Hadejia Jama’are River Basin Development Authority.
Then last December, Mellon De Company limited was paid nearly N30 million and another N97 million last March for the solar-powered boreholes, according to Open Treasury Portal, an open contracting platform of the federal government.
Another company Imdupa Global Ventures limited was paid over N66 million on two tranches to construct hand pump boreholes. Both companies were paid on the same day.
The other company Mellon De Company was incorporated in 2018 and had operated for less than three years when the contract was awarded.
By giving contracts to Mellon De Company, Hadejia Jama’are River Basin Development Authority breached the public procurement law, requiring companies to provide tax clearance for at least three years to qualify to bid for a federal contract.
But there are no available records that the projects were advertised for open bidding, another breach of the procurement law.
A barrage of manipulations and cover-ups
When WikkiTimes inquired about the projects, the Office of the Senate President claimed that the boreholes had been entirely constructed and produced fake pictures to back up the claims.
Suleiman Jamo, an adviser to the Senate President on Budget, insisted that the boreholes had been completed and commissioned across the areas nominated to benefit from the projects, but the pictures he provided as evidence were fake.
The pictures he sent to WikkiTimes exposed an alteration of a photograph from another solar-powered borehole project executed in a different local government area by another agency, Upper Benue River Basin Development Authority.
Forensic examination of the pictures provided by Jamo revealed that the project was part of the constituency projects executed by the Upper Benue River Basin Development Authority in Bade Local Government Area and not the boreholes that were to be handled by Hadejia Jama’are River Basin Development Authority. Both agencies awarded contracts for boreholes in Yobe North last year.
Evidence obtained from the pictures further revealed how the name of Upper Benue River Basin Development Authority was erased on the signpost with white paint and replaced with Hadejia Jama’are River Basin Development Authority.
“You took so much risk going to these areas you claim you have gone to. We all know these areas are high-risk areas,” Jamo said during a telephone conversation.
“We would have provided you with the exact locations where these projects were executed by attaching you with someone who would have guided you through even though I know it’s an independent enquiry.”
When WikkiTimes reached out to the Senate President’s aide, he requested more time to prove that the projects were done and later sent the altered pictures.
In the pictures sent by Jamo, the company paid for the construction of the solar-powered boreholes was different from the one on the signpost. Mellon De Company received millions in different tranches for the solar-powered boreholes, but the signpost bears Imdupa Global Ventures Limited, which was awarded the contract for the hand pump boreholes.
Phantom boreholes in Yobe North
WikkiTimes visited all the places that the boreholes were to be located in Yobe North but found no evidence of the boreholes built by the companies or the Hadejia Jama’are River Basin Development Authority.
“Last year during the COVID-19 period, the agency constructed one solar-powered borehole at Dami ward, a border community with the Niger Republic which is still experiencing series of attacks by Boko Haram and also not accessible because of the desert nature of the area. Aside from that, I am not aware of any of the project again in my LGA,” said Alhaji Mustapha Balum, project coordinator to Senator Lawan on constituency projects in Machina, who is also a special adviser to the governor of Yobe on Political Affairs
“All the communities in Machina are desert areas and rocky areas and cannot be easily accessed,” Balumi added.
“Only a four-wheel-drive van can go to most of the communities. Boko Haram has chased most people away from these communities, and drivers don’t like going to these desert communities.”
While there was no trace of such solar-powered or hand pump boreholes across the Machina communities, Malam Bura Lango, a former councillor of Machina, told WikkiTimes that residents of the area suffer water deprivation.
“We don’t have wells here because we can’t dig any, neither can we dig a borehole either solar or hand pump,” Lango said.
“We live in a rocky environment where none of these can easily be done no matter how hard we try,” he continued. “We have always depended on water from far distant communities which are about 15 kilometres away from here. But we have learned how to manage and also stay without water.”
In Karasuwa, no trace of any of the boreholes was on the ground across the communities.
Umar Kaigama, a Chad Basin Development Authority staff and the project coordinator to Senator Lawan on constituency projects in Karasuwa told WikkiTimes that no solar-powered or hand pump boreholes had been constructed in the area in recent times.
“Hadejia Jama’are River Basin has executed no solar or hands pump borehole between the period you have mentioned,” Kaigama said.
Ahmed Muhammed, a resident of Jajimaji and Usman Danladi of the GarinGawo community, told WikkiTimes that they had not seen any solar-powered boreholes, saying that if there is, it will be visible for everyone.
“Boreholes are something anyone can’t hide. If there are any around, you would have seen it yourself. Contact the agency, they might tell you the exact communities where these projects were executed, but definitely, I tell you it’s not here,” Muhammed said.
In Jakusko, Yahaya Abdullahi, a civil servant and member of the project monitoring team in the area, told WikkiTimes that the agency had newly constructed no solar-powered borehole or hand pump in recent times.
“I am aware of the project on the budget, but I am not aware that the project has been awarded,” he said.
“I can’t tell why the project has not been executed. Over here, it is very difficult to dig well and even boreholes. So it is challenging for individuals to dig boreholes. The little across these communities is what the people depend on over here in Jakusko,” Abdullahi said.
However, Hadejia Jama’are River Basin Development Authority claimed that the projects had been fully executed but failed to say precisely where the purported boreholes were.
“We have done all the projects, and you know these areas are not accessible. Even the car that went to one of the areas to construct this borehole broke down in the desert more than three times, and it took them several days to get there. It’s a typical Sahara desert and not motorable,” said Umar Mustapha, director of procurement in Hadejia Jama’are River Basin Development Authority.
When Mustapha was notified that a freedom of information request had been sent to the email of the managing director of the river basin during a phone conversation, he told the reporter, “Any email you send to the managing director’s email is not official and will be there for years”.
The managing director did not respond to multiple requests for comment via text message, WhatsApp and phone call, but Mustapha advised WikkiTimes to send a physical copy of the inquiry about the projects.
Mustapha said. “The right thing to do is to bring it to our office yourself or send it through a courier service. We will receive and acknowledge accordingly. We will follow the due process of giving you the necessary information you need.”
But weeks after the letter was sent via a courier service, the agency has not responded. While the agency insisted that the boreholes have been constructed without showing where they are located, residents of Yobe North still do not have access to such boreholes.
This story was produced in partnership with Civic Media Lab.