By Sunday ELOM
In Delta State, a number of projects worth over N186 million awarded in various communities of the state by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and the state higher education and housing ministries in 2018 and 2019 still remain abandoned, while some were poorly executed. This has not only denied the supposed beneficiaries their due share of dividends of democracy, but also hampered access to basic education in these communities and the state at large.
THE telling signs are beginning to show. Although the state was ranked 8th most educational developed states in Nigeria in 2021, it did not really translate to improved performance in basic education where it was ranked 15th in the 2020 West African Examinations Council. It is noteworthy that UBEC has no business abandoning or executing poorly constructed projects considering the huge funding at its disposal because it has enough resources. In the 2018 and 2019 budgets, the federal government approved the sum of 109.06 billion and N113.9 billion respectively for UBEC but it only has 244 completed projects to show for these investments.
Otolokpo Secondary School Corpers Lodge not constructed
Located in a sloppy-erosion-prone part of the community, the signpost of Otolokpo Mixed Secondary School stood boldly at the community junction, but the entrance to the school remains bushy. The school premises looks more like an unkempt palm plantation than a citadel of knowledge.
Although there are seven blocks housing classrooms and offices, there is neither old or newly built corps members’ lodge nor any residential building in the school. Meanwhile, Delta State Ministry of Housing awarded a contract for the construction of corpers lodge in the school to Toppet Nigeria Ent. on February 1, 2019 at the sum of N43, 349, 398.16.
The principal of the school, who simply identified herself as Mrs. Abogoh J. O, said she was transferred to the school in February 2019 and never heard about the corpers’ lodge project. She said no contractor approached her or the school about the project.
“I became the principal of Otolokpo Mixed Secondary School in February 2019 and till now, no contractor has come here to discuss about the corpers’ lodge. The contractors that came here in August and September this year were the ones who said they were given contracts to renovate the two dilapidated buildings in the school but they have not started work. I am just hearing about the construction of a corpers’ lodge for the first time.”
Abogoh said the only corpers’ lodge she knows of in the community is the one built outside of the school premises by a philanthropist, Uzum Oko.
“He built it and called it a corpers’ lodge. He only told us that whenever we have corps members, we should send them to go and live there,” she said.
A search at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), for details of the contractor showed that Toppet Nigeria Ent was incorporated on August 24, 2017 with a registration number: BN – 2532746 and situated at Plot 12, Block II, DDPA Housing Estate, Asaba but its current status is inactive. This means that it has not filed returns to the commission as required by law in the last three years.
A visit to the address showed that there was no office located in the address provided by Toppet Nigeria Ent. Further searches revealed Peter Okpuzor and Obiaderi Angela Okpuzor as directors of the company and Uju Cyril Mmuo as contact person for the company.
An email was sent to Mmuo’s email address but there was no response. When she was contacted on the phone number attached to her name, she denied knowing or having worked with Toppet Nigeria Ent.
“I don’t know any contractor. I am not working with any contractor and I have never worked for any. I am a federal government worker. I do office work. Please, I don’t know whoever that put my name there or what they are using it for but I don’t know them,” she said.
Omosuomo Inland Community project not completed
In 2018, the UBEC awarded a contract for the construction of a block of 2 bedrooms flat and 3 blocks of one bedroom flat terrace building as teachers’ quarters at Omosuomo Inland Community in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State to J15 Nigeria Limited at the sum of N30 million. However, a visit to the community showed that only one block of 2 bedrooms was constructed.
A resident of the community who identified himself as Honda confirmed to our reporter that the community is aware of the project. However, making reference to previous projects awarded to the community, he alleged that “the money for the project must have been shared by leaders and the contractor because this is not the first time it is happening.”
But efforts to speak with the headmaster of the primary school simply identified as Mr. Obuweya, were not successful. The principal was not in the office when our reporter visited the community. Also, he did not take several calls made to his phone number.
Furthermore, to get full details of the contract, a Freedom of Information (FOI) letter was sent to the Universal Basic Education Commission, Delta State office on September 27, 2021, requesting the details of the contract including releases made with dates, contract documents and the contractor’s details. While the coordinator, Mrs. Sharon Edafilu was not in the office, her secretary, Mrs. Lydia Ayemi, insisted that details of projects executed by the commission in the state are only available at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja.
Although Ayemi accepted a copy of the letter, she refused to officially acknowledge it, insisting that “the coordinator may not accept or acknowledge the letter, let alone provide the information requested.”
False address by contractor
Following a search at the Corporate Affairs Commission’s (CAC) portal, the details of the contractor showed that J15 Nigeria Limited was incorporated on January 28, 2011 with a registration number: RC – 932807 and located at 25, G2 Street, Citec Estate, Jabi/Airport Road, Abuja, FCT.
However, when our reporter visited the address, it was found out that there was no office located in the address provided by J15 Nigeria limited. Rather, the address is a residential building. One of the occupants of the address told our reporter that there was no office in the building.
Further searches for more information including management team and contact details of the contractor yielded no positive result. The CAC search details also showed that J15 Nigeria limited status is inactive.
Till the time of filing this report, the Delta State UBEC Coordinator did not provide the information requested in the freedom of information act letter.
ICE Centres project awarded to contractor without record, poorly executed
The Delta State Ministry of Higher Education on September 17, 2019 awarded a contract for the renovation of 3 Institute for Continuing Education (ICE) Centres at Sapele, Oghara and Oleh to Vovi International Company at the sum of N48, 031, 910.54.
Two years after, visits to the centres showed that although the contractor renovated one block of varying number of classrooms at each of the centres, the materials used for the work are substandard. Almost all the metal windows and doors have broken down. Also, the handles of most of the Mild Steel Mortise door locks the contractor used have broken down while many of the locks are no longer functional.
Commenting on the project, the principal of the Sapele Centre, Mr. John Ogonah, who claimed the school management did not know about the project prior to its execution, appreciated the renovation work but acknowledged that “some of the materials used are sub-standard.”
“Look at everything they did. The handles of the keys on the doors have broken. The iron doors are very fragile. The frames are not strong enough. If you push the doors with your leg, it will open. We were made to understand that they were supposed to provide seats for students and tables for teachers for the three classrooms but they didn’t provide seats,” he said.
He added: “The contractor just came and said this is what he wanted to do [because] the approval came from the ICE headquarters in Asaba. Everything was between the contractor and the officials there. We don’t really have any power to challenge the contractor because everything was done via the Ministry of Higher Education, Ministry of Housing and ICE Management.”
Searches through CAC records and using online search tools showed that Vovi International Company is not registered and should never have been awarded a contract.
According to the provisions of Part 4, Section 16 (6) (b) and (e) of Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) Act, 2007, “A supplier, contractor or service provider shall possess the legal capacity to enter into the procurement contract [and] have fulfilled all its obligations to pay taxes, pensions and social security contributions.”
To get the contract details including details of the contractor, our reporteron September 27, 2021, sent a Freedom of Information request to the Delta State Commissioner for Higher Education, Mr. Patrick Muoboghare. The information requested include the name and address of the contractor; details of the contract sum, duration and completion date of the contract; details of releases made to the contractor, including details of time and amount of each release and the contract document signed with the contractor.
The higher education ministry acknowledged the request but refused to release the information requested. Meanwhile, a representative from the ministry, who identified himself as Peter, called this reporter on the phone on October 6, 2021, to reaffirm the ministry’s willingness to release the information. But that was not the case till the time of filing this report.
Emoghwe primary school projects executed but…
Among other projects awarded in Delta State in 2018 by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) is the construction of one block of three classrooms with furnishing and provision of furniture at Emoghwe Primary School, Esaba in Ughelli South Local Area, awarded to Henzovic and Zemdi Nigeria Limited at the sum total of N23,880,000.
It was observed that the contractor constructed one block of two classrooms as against three. Disingenuously, the contractor used plywood board to partition one of the classrooms into two, thereby creating three classrooms. About 60 plastic tables and chairs each were also provided for the classrooms.
According to the information on the signpost erected by the contractor, the project was facilitated by the former House of Representatives member representing Ughelli North, Ughelli South and Udu Federal Constituency, Hon. Solomon Ahwinahwi.
All attempts to retrieve Hon. Ahwinahwi’s contact details for comments failed. However, a message seeking his comments on the project was sent to his active Instagram page with 2,444 followers, where he recently posted on October 2, 2021, and his Facebook page with 4.6k friends, did not elicit a response as at the time of filing this report.
Also, our reporter sent an email to the incumbent House of Representatives Member, Hon. Francis Waive, requesting his comments on the project but there was no response. When a call was made to his phone number, the receiver who identified himself as Barrister Peter said that Hon. Waive was not in the office but promised to inform him (Hon. Waive) about the request. However, the request was never responded to. A WhatsApp message sent to the same phone number was read but never responded to.
Furthermore, this papersent a Freedom of Information request to the Universal Basic Education Commission, Delta State office on September 27, 2021 requesting for the details of the contract. The information requested include contract amount sum, releases made to the contractor with dates, contract timeline, contract document signed with the contractor and contractor’s contact details.
The secretary to the Coordinator, UBEC Delta office, Mrs. Lydia Ayemi maintained her earlier stance that no details of the projects executed by the commission are domiciled with the state office. Although Ayemi accepted a copy of the letter, she refused to officially acknowledge it, insisting that the coordinator “may not accept or acknowledge it.”
Wrong address of Contractor’s office
A search conducted at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), shows that the contractor, Henzovic and Zemdi Nigeria Limited was registered on February 6, 2014 as “general merchants and traders” not a construction firm.
Its given address is Suite A15 Bobsar Complex, No 4 Michika Street, Area 11 Garki, Abuja, FCT. But when our staff visited the address, there was no trace of an office being used by Henzovic and Zemdi Nigeria Limited.The occupant of the said address is a laboratory called Ustrust Medical Company Limited.
Registration records show that Abubakar Haliru and Henry Odimba are the directors of Henzovic and Zemdi Nigeria Limited. But none of them could be reached as their contact details could not be traced. Effort to contact Henry Odimba on his LinkedIn page failed as his message box is locked. A message seeking his comments on the project was sent to his Facebook account, but it did not receive a response as at the time of filing this report.
Out of the seven projects our reporter visited, only two projects have been completed. They include; renovation of one block of two classrooms at Eghereka Primary School, Ewu in Ughelli South Local Government Area, awarded to Yaladif Investment Services Limited at the sum of N12,000, 000 by UBEC and renovation of a block of six classrooms and furnishing at Enokoragha Grammar School, Enokoragha Town, Burutu Local Government Area, awarded to Michael Jacobs Limited at the sum of N30, 000, 000 by UBEC.
During a visit to the schools, the renovated buildings were in good condition as they appeared solid and new. At Enokoragha Grammar School, the contractor also provided wooden desks for the classrooms.
The headmaster of Eghereka Primary School, Mr. Thomas Ajagboja, expressed his satisfaction with the work done by the contractor. According to Ajagboja, “This project was satisfactorily carried out. They [the contractor] did the renovation about two years ago and we have been using it without problem. We are okay with it.”
The practice of silence and aggression in Delta State
In Delta State, most headmasters and principals of some schools this reporter visited vehemently refused to disclose their names. Theyinsisted that before they could grant our reporter audience or disclose their names, a permission letter obtained from the state education ministry must be presented.
They alleged thatjournalists can easily obtain information from government officials as long as it would not be critical or damaging to the government and its agencies. But when the information is probing or intended for accountability and transparency, officials would keep mute and most times become aggressive. They further alleged that government officials are generally discouraged from providing such information to members of the public, particularly.
“I know you are a press man but I must have to see your identification letter from the government or any of the parastatals. Any press person can enter here and question me at any time but if it is about any particular project, I don’t talk because you don’t know the dimension the person is coming from. It must be specified in the letter that this is what the person wants before we can talk about it. I have not seen any written permission from you, why should I tell you anything?” headmaster of Eghereka Primary School, Ewu said.
Another school head in Burutu Local Government Area,who also insisted he would not entertain any question from the reporter said: “We understand what you want but the truth is, recently, a publication came out and some people took it up. Because of that, they [the government] banned all the school heads and workers from giving information on any account. He however refused to disclose the details of the said controversial publication.
“So, if something happens and they discover that you are involved, you are in danger. So you see that anything you want to do, you have to be careful.”
The school head earlier insisted that the reporter should not take photographs of the project. “Don’t enter any classroom. Don’t take any picture now. If you must take pictures, come and do that when students, principal and teachers are no longer in classes because if you do it now, they [the government] will know that I allowed you access into the school and I will be in serious trouble. I don’t want anything implicative.”
Enquiries revealed that the state government has an undocumented practice against public office holders who dare release information that expose corrupt practices in the state. The victimization of those who had gone against the government’s wish created silence and aggression in the state. Thus, government officials in different ministries, departments and agencies have to aggressively decline probing information that are of public interest from the media in order to protect their jobs and lives.
A principal of one of the schools visited said that only few school administrators in the state would speak about any project because “they [the government] don’t tell us about any project they want to do.
“Secondly, if you leave here, they won’t look for you but the principals are employees of the government and you may discover that those executing the projects belong to a party that may be the ruling party within the area or the state. If you make some pronouncement, they will ask you who permitted you to say such things and the next thing is to throw you out of your job.
“Even if you say in your story that a staff of the school said something without mentioning any name, they will call the principal to identify the staff and if he cannot bring anybody, it means he did it.”
According to the principal who also called a staff into his office as “a witness” during our reporter’s visit, people prefer to keep mute because most of them “cannot go about looking for a new job and they don’t want to throw away their retirement benefits or face lawsuits, using the little money they have saved to pay lawyers because they [the government] cannot be financing you to fight them by paying your salary.”
“They will stop your salary. They will say you are no longer capable and then replace you with another person because they always have a reason to deal with you,” the staff added.
However, whereas this allegation could not be backed with practical evidence of reported or documented victims, this reporter experienced the alleged silence and aggression practice as officials in majority of the schools visited in Ughelli South, Burutu, Sapele, Oghara, Oleh and Ika North local government areas refused to identify themselves, give information that is of public interest and, in most cases, aggressively sent this reporter out of their school premises.
Furthermore, ministries and agencies’ refusal to release information requested from them via Freedom of Information (FOI) letter also casts suspicion on the government’s dealings with public-interest information and makes the allegation more believable.
Poorly constructed buildings put staff and students in danger
Civil engineering and architecture experts have identified use of substandard building materials, non-adherence to building codes and standards and unprofessionalism [generally regarded as man-made conditions] as the major cause of building collapse cases in Nigeria.
According to a study by a senior lecturer in the department of Civil Engineering, Covenant University, Ota, Nigeria, Paul Awoyera and his colleagues early this year (2021), 87.5% of building collapse cases over the past decade in Nigeria is caused by man-made conditions.
The study further pointed out that building projects are poorly executed most of the times because clients become the contractor and the contractor listens and obeys the clients’ instructions forfeiting safety to keep his job.”
Also, a research by Associate Prof. Ikebueze Godwin Chendo and Arch. Nicholas Iheanacho Obiof the Department of Architecture, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, revealed thus: “The use of substandard materials and untested construction methods is a major contributor to structural failures of buildings. It is necessary that steel reinforcement bars undergo tensile strength tests to determine its standard strength.”
In addition, the research stated that non-adherence to approved building plans could make a building dangerous to use. “Sometimes, a building originally specified to undergo in-situ concreting is changed to pre-cast methods because the expatriate contractor tends to prefabricate the components overseas and ship them to Nigeria. This practice if not properly controlled could spell danger years after the buildings are in use.”
* This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.”