REPORT: TETFund projects create new problems for students, new challenges for schools (2)
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In this final part, the report sheds light on the ongoing and completed projects at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Federal University Dutsin-Ma, and Federal University Dutse. It also reveals the complications TETFund projects have created for students as well as what they hope to receive from future interventions.
DURING a visit to ABU in October, The ICIR observed that the bulk of projects listed the university under the TETFund 2014-16 Merged Normal Intervention Project are either undergoing construction or have been completed and are waiting for use.
One of them is the construction of a creche for the Home Economics Department, valued at N45 million. It is located about a kilometre away from the department itself, unlike the currently used creche that is operated within the faculty. The new creche is a stand-alone bungalow situated close to the school bookshop. Protected in an area barricaded with corrugated sheets, it was painted and nearly completed at the time of visit with about six construction workers on site.
The Skill Acquisition Workshop, valued at N38 million and built for the Centre for Entrepreneurship Development, has been completed. Beside the storey-building is a bungalow described as the management office. The furnishing was still being done at the time of the visit.
Six similarly designed toilets at various faculties were also confirmed to have been renovated under the 2017 Zonal Intervention Fund project right before the 2019/2020 academic year. At the Faculty of Social Sciences, the renovation came with newly fixed doors to the toilet rooms, repair of the lightning, replacement of the water closets, as well as painting. There are four iron doors fixed for both the male and female toilets, and running water is fetched into a large black drum.
A student of Library Science, who identified herself as Aisha, was visibly pleased with the infrastructural changes. “Before the renovation, students hardly used it because it was very bad,” she said, referring to the twin toilets at the Faculty of Education.
“On a normal day, you couldn’t even pass here because everywhere used to smell. You wouldn’t be able to sit down there,” she added as she cast her glance in the direction of a nearby park. “But it’s now better. At least, it is very neat.”
The repair came with constant water supply, which made it possible for students to clean up properly after using the facility. Before the rehabilitation, Aisha noted, she used to visit the main library, about five minutes away, to answer nature’s call. Other students of the faculty often made use of lavatories at the school mosque or Geography Department.
At the Federal University, Dutsin-Ma, many projects listed in the report to the National Assembly are also under construction. These include laboratories for the Faculty of Sciences contracted to Bifsam Limited. The storey building had been roofed at the time of visit but had not been plastered or furnished. The windows and doors had yet to be fixed too.
A newly built yet-to-be-assigned block of four classrooms and four offices had been nearly completed with the burglar proofs and ceilings in place as well as floor tiling all done. But wires had yet to be installed and the rooms had no furniture items.
The construction of a N90 million block of offices awarded to Vivid RBD Partnership was nearly complete with the exterior all taken care of. A running generator supplied power to workers making installations in the building. We also confirmed that the new University Health Centre contracted for N120 million has been built at Lot 3. It was far from complete though and there were signs workers planned to return to the building to continue. Some doors had not been fixed in the interior and sockets were yet to be placed.
Some projects funded by the Federal Government’s capital budget of 2018 were under construction as well. Several workers on site were laying blocks for the first floor for the Social Science faculty building contracted at the sum of N347 million. Likewise, the departmental building for the Faculty of Agriculture.
There were no workers at the construction site of the N246 million departmental building meant for use by the Faculty of Science, which had been built up to the ground floor’s lintel; but speaking for the contractor Omec Investment Nigeria, Ado Haruna explained that the workers were waiting for the casting to dry.
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In November, TETFund Executive Secretary Suleiman Bogoro commissioned eight projects worth N1.5 billion at the Federal University, Dutse, funded under the 2013 special intervention and 2016 normal intervention projects. The projects included departmental buildings for Anatomy, Biochemistry, Sociology, and Public Health, twin theatre halls, twin chemistry laboratories, microbiology laboratory, and the School of Postgraduate Studies.
The school apparently has a reputation for not wasting time in executing its projects. Because of this, the Students’ Union President, Muhammad T. Abbas, has argued that FUD is the “fastest growing university in Nigeria”. He also calls the students “children of TETFund”.
In January 2018, former TETFund boss Abdullahi Baffa Bichi was also at the school to commission 14 projects worth N1.4 billion. “Since the establishment of the TETFUND, this is the first time we are inaugurating the highest number of projects in a single day,” Baffa noted.
“We commend you for supervising these projects to completion, while many universities are battling corruption charges against contractors the FUD had the mindset to organise themselves to achieve such a feat.”
Before the additional laboratories were recently launched, the school only had three, one each for Biology, Physics, and Chemistry, which were not enough to cater for the demand. As a result, students could stay up till 9 pm for practical classes.
Projects confirmed to be ongoing as of December by The ICIR included the construction of twin biology laboratories, construction of biotechnology laboratory, construction of a block of 20 staff offices, construction of a physics laboratory, and construction of an office block for the Faculty of Management Sciences.
New solutions, new problems
In the light of increasing student population putting pressure on available resources, Ahmadu Bello University’s management kickstarted an ambitious plan to extend its main campus at Samaru. This extension is known as Phase II—or Site II. It is linked to the busier part of campus with a long stretch of a graded but yet-to-be-tarred two-lane road.
Some of the kerbstones had yet to be cemented into place and one or two motor graders were parked along the road. The track soon diverged into a single-lane arch of tarred road surrounded by a scattered group of new buildings, construction workers, security guards, and cement mixers.
“That is the second phase of the mega ABU,” said the school’s spokesman Shehu.
“It has been in the pipeline for long, but many Vice-Chancellors avoided moving to the second site. The VC took the bull by the horn, moved some faculties, moved and built some hostels, and commissioned the Phase II. It has been the plan for over 20 years. That is why we call him the ground-breaker Vice-Chancellor.”
Among the completed structures at Phase II are the Computer Science Department building worth N47.8 million, Geomatics Department building worth N92.3 million, a structure for the Environmental Design Department housing four 200 capacity and two 80 capacity lecture halls worth N95.5 million, as well as the proposed Building Department worth N228.6 million. None of the structures were equipped yet with needed furniture items when The ICIR checked. The proposed new Urban and Regional Planning Department with a contract sum of N152.9 million was still undergoing construction, with workers on site. Bricks were being laid for the second floor and the structure had yet to be plastered.
But the story of Phase II, as much as it is one of progress and constructions; is incomplete without an undertone of groans and anguish.
At 10 in the morning on October 8, the skies had darkened, and it had already started to drizzle as the clouds threatened a heavier downpour. Students could be seen hurriedly making their way on foot from Phase II to the T-junction linking it to the main campus. One of them, a freshman who hurriedly spoke to this reporter, confessed it has been difficult shuttling between the two locations. “But I’m already used to it,” he added after a brief pause.
Before the rainy season, covering the distance on foot took him 15 minutes with the use of a shortcut he discovered. But now, “there is a river there” and it takes between 25 and 30 minutes.
Across the street from the departments at Phase II is the newly built Dangote Hostel comprising 10 blocks of 360 rooms. But, for security reasons—according to university management, it only accommodates male students.
There are also buses, tricycles, and motorcycles that occasionally show up to transport students, but they are exceedingly short of meeting the demand.
While waiting by the roadside for a tricycle after a lecture, Faheedah, a Computer Science student, described her experience receiving lectures at the new department as “difficult”. She is, however, thankful the timetable was designed such that they didn’t have to visit the site more than once in a day.
Nearly 200 kilometres away at Dutsin-Ma, the transportation problem arising from relocating some departments is much worse. Here, trekking is not an option as the distance and dangers are far greater. As recently as October, a fatal road accident on the highway led to the death of a second-year student, Nana Firdausi Mustapha while others suffered serious injuries.
It is common for students from the departments of Computer Science, Physics, Mathematics, Agriculture, and others, who receive lectures at the permanent site, to wait several hours before finally getting a cab or bus. In their desperation to get back to the town, they hang on to anything that has wheels — including a truck in their hundreds or the trunk of smaller vehicles (for half the fare).
“Transportation is the main thing,” said Linda, a second-year Physics student, as she walked towards the school gate in the company of two friends. “In fact, the road can be spoilt; what we need are buses. They are very important, and they are not enough.”
“As you can see, we are waiting for a bus,” another student approached at the gate said almost reflexively. “Our biggest challenge is transportation.
“In a week, we used to be delayed as we are today for at least three days, out of the five workdays. That is the minimum. We even finished once by 12 in the afternoon and we didn’t leave here till around 4pm.”
At the time of the conversation, over 40 students camped in small groups at various places outside the school. Some estimated to be more than 100 had just left, minutes earlier, at the back of a truck.
The difficulty in getting transported is not limited to the distance between FUDMA’s permanent site and town, where the take-off campus is located; there is also no public or commercial means of moving from one place to another within the permanent site itself. But, at the moment, the structures that are in use are not far-flung from each, making it less unbearable.
Students: thankful but thirsty
Not only do students at the various schools face difficulty moving from the campus they are familiar with to new sites being developed using money from TETFund, they have other problems they think the authorities need to prioritise.
At Ahmadu Bello University, the sum of N22.7 million from TETFund that went into rehabilitating the Civil Engineering Department saw to the replacement of furniture items in the various lecture rooms, fixing of broken glasses, replacement of ceiling fans, and general painting of the structure. N41.3 million went into rehabilitating the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Science, including its Animal House; and N14.7 million was used to rehabilitate the Industrial Design Department. But students of these faculties believe the projects have not addressed some of their most fundamental needs.
“The renovation is not in terms of the quality of education. It is in terms of the structures; not necessarily equipment,” a final-year student of Civil Engineering complained to this reporter.
He said he had to spend N20,000 out of his pocket to conduct some experiments for his final-year thesis because the mould at the Soil Laboratory needed for casting is not enough.
“The HOD said he is not aware when we met him. And we can’t wait on the department, if not they will delay us. We just went ahead and provided it ourselves,” he added.
A look through the department reveals piles of old, dusty furniture still lurking in one of the corridors, right next to a lecture room.
Another final-year student at the faculty, who gave his name as Mustapha, appreciated that the building is wearing a new look and remarked with a chuckle, “At least, you will stay in your class and feel like a human being.” He noted that there isn’t enough equipment to run tests in the laboratories as he and his colleagues had to get some materials themselves.
Also, at the Faculty of Pharmacy, one of the top executives of the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigerian Students (PANS) lamented the superficiality of the rehabilitation.
“We are having challenges with the weighing balances. Also, our tabulating machines are old model. What we need now are not the structures, actually. It’s the apparatus. Let us be objective. Most of the things we are using are what professors have used before. You’ll hear someone who has been professor for 20 years tell us we are still using what he used as an undergraduate,” he told The ICIR.
“What they are doing is good,” he admitted, “but for Pharmacy, we are done with structures; they are enough for us. What is inside the building is what matters. What we need, gaskiya, are the laboratory equipment.”
He explained that the average student of Pharmacy goes through between 15 and 18 hours of practical classes every week.
Speaking along similar lines, Ahmed Ibrahim, a fourth-year student of Statistics, said they need the university to help them with a better computer laboratory as many of the computers are damaged. This forces students to, sometimes, walk down to the Digital Centre at the Faculty of Engineering to use the computers there instead. Ibrahim concluded that there’s still more that need to be done.
“We need computers. We need all the classes to be renovated. There’s no cross-ventilation. Students are many during lectures. Some even sit on the floor during a two-hour lecture period,” he said.
“But we appreciate this, we are very grateful,” he added.
ABU’s Director of Public Affairs told The ICIR students are consulted regarding when it comes to academic issues, including infrastructural development. This is done through the Directorate of Academic Planning and Monitoring which, he said, interfaces between students and lecturers, allowing them to “voice their feelings”.
According to him, “Whatever is projected to be done must have been a product of continuous interface, discussions, and contacts with the students. You can comfortably say whatever is done for the academic areas (classes, theatres, facilities) of course, there are inputs. Not at the point of doing but as a process before decisions are taken.”
For a third-year student of Sociology at the Federal University, Dutsin-Ma, the focus of TETFund capacity building support should also be shifted to encourage students. Excellence should be rewarded and students, like their lecturers, should be able to get financial support for their research work.
He complained that, though he has been hanging around the take-off campus for over four years, he has not seen any visible improvements except at the e-examination centre. When it was pointed out that a lot of projects are ongoing at the permanent site, he replied, “But we, we are here. Here, you can’t feel the impact.”
Physics students who spoke to The ICIR, also, are not satisfied with the capacity of the laboratories, which they described as “too small”.
“We have BSc Physics, BSc Physics with Electronics, and others. BSc Physics students are almost up to 100 and something, while we are 63,” one of them said. “This one that’s at the permanent site, it’s not even enough for us that we are 63 in number, let alone all of us together. So have to use it in batches.”
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FUD’s Students’ Union President, Abbas, said there’s a lot of projects students still need funding for, considering that the school is relatively new. He would like to see more hostels accommodating female students and more lecture theatres. He noted that the biggest lecture hall in the school, the Nuhu Muhammed Hall, can only take in 500 students—which is not enough for some of the combined classes.
“Besides, the population of the school is increasing,” he added.
Though he insisted it is not a priority, Abbas said he wishes the school had a standard stadium where students can develop themselves physically and prepare adequately for sporting competitions.
Square pegs in round holes?
While it is good news to the university communities that a great number of the projects are either undergoing construction or nearing completion, one dangerous trend that has been observed is the awarding of contracts to companies likely not competent to handle them.
In October, The ICIR obtained information from the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, on 28 contractors—16 from ABU; seven from the Federal University, Dutsin-Ma; and six from the Federal University, Dutse. According to the commission, 10 of these companies were set up for completely different kinds of transactions, while nine others are “general contractors” or have similarly vague descriptions.
At Ahmadu Bello University, for example, Messrs Sources Plus was awarded the contract of constructing a building for the Department of Geomatics, but was established in 1998 “to carry on business of marine services, hire of fish, trawlers, boats, sales and services of port etc.”
The renovation of the auditorium and banquet hall and Arewa House, an event centre, was contracted to Messrs Kadforex Integrated Services, which was set up “to carry on the business of boreholes, drilling and maintenance, installation of pumps water, chemicals, minerals/quarry suppliers services” and also deals in the “produce of mines”. The construction of a greenhouse and supply of research equipment for the Agricultural Extension Department was contracted to Messrs Urban Code Nigeria, a company whose object is “to carry on business of investment in and purchase of cavire [sic], hold, develop, manage, exchange, etc.”
Other companies, hired to renovate and construct buildings, but with similarly odd profiles are Konsarch Konsortium, Messrs Khalid Integrated Link, and Vivid RBD Partnership.
At the Federal University, Dutsin-Ma, Imanil Haq Nigeria Ltd, a company set up “to carry on the business of marine services, hire of fish, trawlers, boats, sales and services of port etc.” was engaged to construct a block of classrooms and offices as well as a 150-capacity lecture theatre.
And at the Federal University, Dutse, one of the curious instances is that of the construction and furnishing of the School of Postgraduate Studies, which was contracted to Adams Technical Service, a company whose job is “to carry on business of electrical installations, distribution, generation, including rural electrification etc.”
The university also strangely signed Bravura Tech Ltd, formed “to carry on the business of an information technology and communication company and engage in all aspects of IT services etc.”, for the supply and installation of library furniture.
Oversights such as these are not harmless. In February, a N1.9 billion “ultramodern” TETFund library which was undergoing construction at the University of Lagos collapsed; and many, including a panel set up by the school’s Governing Council, have blamed the incident on the contractor’s incompetence.
Kunle Awobodu, who is the Vice President of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB), also said the disaster could have been averted if the contractor were experienced. “From all the information we have, the contractor does not have the experience and competence for that magnitude of job,” he said.
Caveat: Please note that records obtained from the CAC may not necessarily reflect later updates in the companies’ memorandums and articles of association.
Speaking on behalf of Aecren Limited, for instance, an employee identified as John told our reporter the company’s object was updated in 2018 from “general contracting and trading” to “construction”.
Adeoye Moradeyo, a consultant architect at Aecren Ltd, another company hired by ABU, also told the reporter that, in spite of information from the CAC, his company is registered as a “bona fide” architectural firm both with the commission and the Architect Registration Council of Nigeria. He added that this categorisation is reflected in Aecren’s Memorandum of Association. The ICIR could not reach out to other companies for clarification at the time of filing this report due to scant publicly available information.
University authorities decline comments
It has been difficult getting university officials to comment or clarify some of The ICIR’s findings at the various campuses.
When we reached out to ABU’s Director of Public Affairs with our observations, including about the students’ transportation challenge, university’s consultancy firm, and apparently abandoned projects, he replied that he has forwarded them to Aminu Sambo, the school’s Director of Physical Planning and Municipal Services.
He also gave Sambo’s contact, but the latter’s phone has been switched off on four separate days when The ICIR called. We asked Shehu for an alternate means of communication, but he has not replied, despite WhatsApp indicating that he read the message.
On December 12, FUDMA’s PRO II, Muhammad Falalu Mukhta, acknowledged receiving questions from this reporter, including about the abandoned halls of residence and the delayed work at the Entrepreneurship Study Centre.
After multiple reminders, Habibu Matazu, the university’s Acting Director of Public Relations and Protocol, replied that he has discussed with the school management and they came up with two resolutions.
“One, you should write officially to the Registrar and forward all your requests. Two, you should come to the University to conduct the interview formally and state the day and time you would want to come,” he listed them.
During an earlier phone conversation, Matazu had however promised to provide answers within four days after consulting the university’s Director of Works and TETFund focal person.
“But as regards the hostels,” he added, “when you go to the main campus, you will see that at the university entirely there is no fence. And due to the present insecurity, we have allocated these rooms to the students last year. So, we called some military officers from Biu [Nigerian Army University]; they came to assist us and advise the university.”
The officers said the school is not secured and advised that rooms should not be allocated yet to students. Matazu said, thankfully, the state Governor Aminu Masari has intervened by awarding contracts for the fencing of the campus and the digging of trenches.
“This contract, I assure you, will be commenced by January,” he said. “Even, in the university, some of the structures there I think will be given a facelift.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities at FUDMA, Yahaya A. Mohammed, politely declined to give any comments on how TETFund projects are handled at the school and instead directed this reporter to the Advancement and Linkages Unit. There, Lawal Olanrewaju, an administrative officer, explained he could not respond to questions due to the university’s “bureaucratic structure”.
“We cannot just give you any information until you secure appropriate approval from the management,” he said.
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academics at FUD, AbdulKarim Sabo, in his own response, explained that the information requested cannot be shared until the TETFund publishes its report.
“In view of the current visit made by the TETFund Implementation Monitoring Committee, I could not make the information you are requesting [available] at the moment,” he said via a text.
“Such information will be published by the monitoring committee at some time and we will not pre-empt that.”
This investigation was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.