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INVESTIGATION: UBEC projects are failing, public-school students are suffering
Contracts worth over N300 million awarded to briefcase companies by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) for the construction and renovation of classrooms in Ebonyi and Imo states were either not done to specifications or never done at all, reports CHIKEZIE OMEJE who visited the locations.
On Monday, September 25, 2017, Girls Model Comprehensive Secondary School, Ugwuachara, Ebonyi State, welcomed its new students. In their first class, ‘Understanding Technology’, the teacher told them to buy textbooks to complement what they would learn in his class. He, however, said if they could not afford the books, they should cultivate the habit of going to the library to read the books.
“Where is the library?” a young girl in the front row of the class asked the teacher. The teacher hesitated and pointed to the direction of a building opposite the class, but added that they would not be able to use the library until the renovation of the building had been completed.
The building the teacher showed the students has a new blue aluminum roof. It is not painted. New iron doors and windows have been installed in a part of the block. The interior of the building is undone with cracks on some of the inner walls. There is no ceiling yet.
Before the rehabilitation started in April, the block contained the library and two classrooms. The books in the library were removed and packed into a store. Students vacated the classrooms for the renovation.
Chioma Amuta, the principal of the junior section of the school, told the ICIR that she thought the renovation of the building would have been completed by the reopening of the new academic year after the long holiday.
The school has two principals for the junior and senior divisions.
When a contractor came earlier in the year, he told Amuta that he had been given contract by UBEC to renovate a building in the school and chosen this particular block.
The contractor asked Amuta to remove what was in the building to enable him start the renovation. But the principal protested that instead of asking them to vacate the block which they were still using as library and classrooms, he should rather renovate the dilapidated and abandoned school laboratory whose roof had caved in or the hostel where the windows and ceilings were in terrible conditions.
Amuta said the response of the contractor was that he had chosen the building and he was going ahead with the rehabilitation.
“They came and said they were doing UBEC project,” Amuta said. “We don’t know anything about it. I don’t know the arrangement they had with UBEC. They just came, looked around and picked the one they felt was okay for them.
“We were hoping that they would pick the lab that is very bad but they picked this one. The machines in the lab are gone. Rain damaged everything.”
Regina Anuta, the principal of the senior section, said she did not discuss with the contractor about the renovation. She said the man met her in the office and told her that he had chosen a building to renovate.
“This one was manageable,” Anuta said, pointing to the block that is still under rehabilitation. “We used to have two classrooms here. But in others, nobody stays there and everything is damaged.
“He chose the one he liked. I was begging him to do the lab that’s really bad but he said he came in my absence and chose this one.”
The laboratory’s roof had collapsed. The students had not been making use of the laboratory for their science practical for the past three years. The science equipment and laboratory furniture were damaged by rain. Grass has grown around the dark and stagnant water inside the laboratory building.
The student hostel is in a terrible condition. Many of the windows of the hostel are missing. The staircase on the one-storeyed hostel has no rail. Portions of the ceilings in the hostel have caved in and faeces from bats drop on the students from the damaged ceilings. A teacher told the ICIR that many bats live inside the ceiling and she had tried to use chemicals to chase them away without success.
The roof of the hostel leaks. When it rains, the students use their buckets to collect the rain from the leaky roof to avoid soaking their tattered mattresses. But violent wind during rain, according to the students, blows water inside the hostel from the missing widows despite their effort in covering the openings with wrappers and cottons.
Rachel Umahi, the first lady of Ebonyi state graduated from the school. It is a boarding school and it is one of the seven comprehensive model secondary schools in the state. Ebonyi is adjudged educationally disadvantaged and has the lowest proportion of school enrolment in the south-eastern part of the country.
The principals and the teachers faulted the claim that the contract for the renovation cost N20 million. They wondered why the contractor refused to renovate the laboratory or the hostel which require urgent intervention but instead opted for the building they were using for library and classroom.
While the Ugwuachara Girls project has partially been done with the changing of the roof, doors and windows, the project for the rehabilitation of the Urban Junior Secondary School, Abakaliki was yet to start.
Philip Egwu, the principal of the Urban Junior Secondary School, told the ICIR that nobody had come to carry out renovation in the school. The last renovation in the school was done by the Ebonyi State Universal Basic Education Board more than a year ago.
He said he had no idea of a contract being awarded for any renovation in the school. He, however, said he had never been consulted for any past projects in the school.
Another project awarded for the rehabilitation of Government Primary School, Afikpo in Ebonyi State in 2016 has not been executed.
Theresa Eze, the headmistress of the school, told the ICIR that she has not seen any contractor and was not aware of the renovation project. Two classroom blocks for Primary 4 and 6 have been abandoned because they were in bad condition.
Eze said the pupils in the dilapidated buildings have been moved to the other two buildings that contain the rest of the classes. She said the school established in 1924 can also be fenced to provide them with a measure of security.
The two companies awarded the contracts for the rehabilitation of the secondary schools are Centre Energy Services Limited and Wellness Energy Result Limited. Both companies were registered on the same day with the same address as a law firm that has occupied the same office at Willand Plaza, Zone 4 in Abuja long before the registration of the companies.They were registered on July 7, 2011, by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Centre Energy Services Limited got the contract for the rehabilitation of Girls Model Comprehensive Secondary, Ugwuachara while Wellness Energy Result Limited secured the contract for the renovation of Urban Junior Secondary School, Abakaliki.
Vision Global Synergy Limited got the contract of N20, 094,000 for the rehabilitation of Government Primary School, Afikpo. The company has an obscure address at Anafara Plaza in Gwarimpa, Abuja.The amounts of the contracts were almost at the same price respectively based on information obtained from the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), an organisation that is advocating for open contracting in Nigeria.
UBEC was established in 2004 to eradicate illiteracy, ignorance, and poverty in Nigeria through a nine-year basic education. UBEC, which is funded by 2 percent of Consolidated Revenue Fund, is meant to support states and local governments in financing the basic education in the country.
THE BIG SCAM?
In 2014, UBEC awarded a contract of N184 million for the construction of Almajiri school in Ebonyi State. The contract was awarded during the time that Goodluck Jonathan, the former president, approved the construction of hundreds of Almajiri School, mostly in the northern part of the country.
Almajiri system is prevalent in the northern part of the country where children are sent to Islamic teachers to learn the Koran. In the process of this informal arrangement of religious education under “Malams”, the children roam the streets, begging for alms. To curtail the menace of Almajiri, the schools were constructed to integrate them into Western education.
John Nweze, the focal person for Islamic education in the Ebonyi State Universal Basic Education Board (ESUBEB), told the ICIR that the state does not have Almajiri children, adding that there was no such project in the state.
The only Islamic centre in the state is a private school in Afikpo.
Nweze, however, said UBEC awarded a project for the construction of a block of two classrooms at an Islamic centre in Afikpo.
He said they only got to know about the project when UBEC officials wrote a letter to ESUBEB that they were coming to supervise the project and needed someone to take them to the place.
He said he accompanied the UBEC officials to the school and explained that the project was for the construction of a block of two classrooms, but the school decided to reinforce the building to have a hall on top of the building. The cost of the additional hall was paid by the school.
Eze said the project could not have been awarded at N184 million because it was just a block of two classrooms and the school was paying for the hall. The file containing information about project when the UBEC officials visited the Islamic school in 2015 showed that the first tranche of money released to the contractor was just N2.6 million.
The School of Arabic and Islamic Studies Centre, Enohia, Afikpo was founded in 1963 by Ibrahim N’ass Nwagui and is funded by Muslim World League Makkah AlMukarraawah in Saudi Arabia.
Yakubu Ibrahim, a teacher in the Islamic Centre, corroborated what Eze said that the UBEC only awarded the contract for the construction of a block of two classrooms but the school management decided to add an exam hall on top of the building.
The building has been roofed but it has no doors and windows. No furniture has been provided and it is yet to be painted. The private secondary school was still on holiday when our reporter visited in September.
The project was awarded to Papacy Ventures Limited, a company whose address is located at a private residence in EFAB Estate, Mbora, Abuja.
ESUBEB NOT AWARE OF THE PROJECTS
Hyacinth Ikpo, the chairman of ESUBEB told the ICIR that he was not aware of the projects awarded by UBEC and could not monitor or provide any information about them.
“He said he is a journalist from Abuja,” Ikpo complained to the visitors who were in the waiting room in his office. “And he is coming to ask me about the project given by UBEC in Abuja. Am I the one to tell them how to do their job?
“I can’t tell you what I don’t know. We don’t supervise their projects. The one that involves me they bring money and we bring money that is the one I know. I’m not going to ask them. They are my bosses. They award a contract, they supervise the contact and they pay the contractors.”
When Ikpo was reminded that primary and secondary education is the responsibility of the state, not the federal government, he said UBEC could decide to have interventions in the schools without consulting the state.
“Yes, we own the basic education to the extent that we are given projects and we do it. They do their own projects. They can decide to intervene in each state. They decide to build a block of the classroom. They send their contractor. The contractor will do the job and they will supervise and pay the contractor.”
Ikpo said the last time UBEC officials came to his office, they told him to supervise their projects but he replied them that he could not supervise a project without the bill of quantity.
Chukwu Nwazunku, the UBEC focal person in Ebonyi State, also said he was not aware of the four projects by UBEC in the state.
He explained that execution of projects in schools by UBEC is done through direct intervention or counterpart funding with the state, adding that the direct interventions were usually new construction, not renovation.
Nwazunku insisted that he had no idea of the four projects but pointed out that UBEC usually sent officials from Abuja to monitor projects.
NO PROJECTS DONE IN IMO STATE
Last year, UBEC awarded two contracts for the construction of classrooms at Ekubga Home Primary School, Egbema and Central School, Amucha, Njaba, Imo State. The contracts included the provision of desks and tables to both schools.
Both projects for the two schools have not been carried out when ICIR visited.
Chinyere Oji, a teacher at Ekugba Home Primary School told the ICIR that a contractor came to the school last year to inquire where he could construct classrooms. It was agreed that the classrooms should be constructed on a space behind the old structure but the man never came back.
The school has just one hall where all the pupils are taught. The hall is not plastered. Teachers interchange two blackboards to teach different classes.
“Sometimes, we ask some teachers to stop teaching to allow others to teach because of the noise when we are all teaching at the same time,” Oji said.
The school, located at the oil producing community, has only five teachers but three have stopped coming because they have not been paid three months’ salary.
Oji said the headmaster had been sick for almost two years. She has been the only teacher coming to school since it reopened four days earlier for the new academic session. She said she had to go to the villages to ask the pupils to start coming to school.
According to her, the school used to have up to 300 pupils but the majority of them have stopped coming because there are no classrooms. She said the pupils reduced to 105 last term, but she was not sure if up to 50 of them would return for the new term.
At Central School, Amucha, Njaba, the contractor has not shown up and the school management was not aware of the contact.
Elizabeth Okpara, the headmistress of the school, said she paid with her money to renovate some parts of the buildings to make it comfortable for the pupils.
“You can see how bad the buildings are,” Okpara said. “The steps you see here, I used my personal money to do it. Nothing is new here”
“The teachers don’t even have tables and chairs. There is nothing in this school. I have been praying to God to do something for this school.”
She said she has more than 200 pupils in the school.
Okpara invited Donatus Agukwe, the chief of the community to inquire if he has heard of any project for the school.
“We haven’t seen anything,” Agukwe told the ICIR. “The only modern building was done by an individual from the community. Since civilian regime, nothing has come to this school. Ask the people in Abuja to show where they did the project.”
ABUJA DID NOT SHOW THE PROJECT
The ICIR first approached Osom Osom, the public relations officer of UBEC to get the commission to provide the status of payment for these projects in Ebonyi and Imo states. He asked our reporter to write the name of the projects and he would get the appropriate department of the commission to provide the information.
Osom later said they would not respond without a letter addressed to UBEC. Subsequently, the ICIR wrote a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the executive secretary of UBEC on October 9, 2017, to provide the details of payment for the projects. UBEC did not respond to the request.
The FOI provides that all information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds of public institutions to be widely disseminated and more readily available. The Act also requires public institution to provide the requested information within seven days that the request is received.
However, a source said the companies that got the contracts could mostly have been owned by UBEC officials, their relatives or friends. According to the source, UBEC will be reluctant in releasing the details of the projects because its staff will be indicted.
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.