© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
REPORT: TETFund projects at federal universities suffer from abandonment, poor planning (1)
Since its establishment eight years ago, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has disbursed hundreds of billions of naira to government-owned schools to train teachers and address infrastructural deficits. Kunle ADEBAJO paid visits to three federal universities in Northwest Nigeria — Ahmadu Bello University, Federal University Dutsin-Ma, and Federal University Dutse to see how they use the funds. This is the first of the two-part report.
THE Federal University, Dutsin-Ma (FUDMA) in Katsina State owes a lot to Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) — including its capacity to operate at all. This much is obvious from a casual tour of its two campuses. The stamp of TETFund is on every major structure – from the senate building to the library, health centre, lecture theatres and office blocks at the take-off campus. And at the permanent site, about 23 kilometres away, one is welcomed by a long line-up of TETFund contract signposts at the main entrance.
In order to address nagging issues of inadequate funding to the country’s tertiary education system, TETFund was established in 2011 to intervene by providing resources for infrastructural development and staff capacity building. The fund is drawn from a two per cent education tax levied on companies registered in Nigeria, and is distributed annually to universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education.
As of 2018, the amount of tax paid by companies to the Fund was N1.659 trillion, and according to education minister Adamu Adamu N727 billion was allocated to the agency between 2015 and early 2019. Information obtained by The ICIR through a Freedom of Information request indicates that a total of N337 billion has been disbursed by TETFund to federal and state universities between 2011 and 2018.
Upon its founding in 2011, FUDMA, alongside eight other federal universities, received a take-off grant of N1.5 billion from the Education Trust Fund.
In March, tertiary institutions owned by the federal government submitted their budget performance reports covering the period between 2015 and 2018 to the Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFund. Documents from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), the Federal University, Dutse (FUD), and FUDMA—the focus of this report, were however not too helpful in shedding light on ongoing and completed TETFund projects.
ABU listed 20 ongoing construction and rehabilitation projects with completion rates ranging from zero to 80 per cent. There are also 24 consultancy projects about which the university disclosed much less information. Half of the contractors were, for instance, not named. Nine of the projects did not have their estimated costs written. Nine did not have the project titles written, and in two cases the only information available is that the consultancy projects were sponsored by TETFund.
For all 24 projects, the university did not state the contractors’ addresses, commencement dates, completion dates, amounts allocated, and the total amount spent from inception.
FUDMA’s report, highlighting projects implemented under 2014 to 2016 Merged TETFund Intervention, does not state the amount released so far and the level of completion. A lot of the project descriptions are also elusive: 150 Seat Capacity Lecture Theatre, Block of Classrooms and Offices, Furnishing of Laboratories, “Construction of Laboratories for”, “Supply of Equipment for” etc. Phrased like this, it makes them almost impossible to be tracked.
A similar challenge is faced with FUD, with the school’s report listing such vague projects as Construction and Furnishing of Twin Lecture Theatre, Supply and Installation of 309 No. of Various Equipment, Supply of 2 No. Colour Sharp Photocopier, Procurement of Assorted Textbooks and Journals, and so on.
None of the three universities has granted Freedom of Information (FoI) requests for details of TETFund projects approved since 2011, and only ABU and FUD have acknowledged receipt.
“The University is compiling these projects as part of our yearly activity and will be publishing the projects’ details as soon as possible,” ABU’s TETFund Desk Officer, Bashir Garba Ibrahim, wrote in an email to The ICIR in October. He assured that “a hard copy and soft copy will be provided to your organisation” but, months later, this has not been done despite multiple reminders.
In a letter dated December 17, seven working days after the FoI request got to the school, FUD’s legal officer, Mahmoud Bello, said due to the nature of the records requested, they are requesting for five additional weeks in order to “verify whether the documents/records exist or not”.
This request, however, violates the Freedom of Information Act which makes room only for an extension “not exceeding seven (7) days” if the records are enormous or consultations are necessary to grant the request.
As The ICIR would later discover during visits paid in October to ABU and FUDMA, and in December to FUD, it is not only the universities’ reports to the National Assembly that could be easily faulted. There are also question marks hovering over the physical projects themselves.
Poor quality, maintenance
Due to the small size of the take-off campus, the Federal University, Dutsin-Ma has diverted most funds from TETFund to develop a new location at a village called Sabon Garin Turare. The ambitious plan announced by the management years ago was to have students move permanently to this location at the start of the ongoing academic session. But, so far, only students of certain faculties, including Sciences and Agriculture, receive lectures there.
Already, there are two senate buildings, one on each campus. The Vice-Chancellor, Public Relations Officer, and other top officials now work from the maturing permanent site.
But a lot of things are wrong still.
A glimpse of the quality of construction going on at the permanent site and maintenance is first had at the school gate, where roads leading into the premises have started to fail with the tar totally gone in some parts. Construction workers, surrounded by huge heaps of sand, granite stones, and cement blocks, were busy laying bricks for a fence.
Despite their infrequent use and recent creation, items of furniture in lecture theatres belonging to the Faculty of Science have also started to get damaged. Though still looking relatively new, some of the rows have missing plywood boards, especially those meant for sitting. Other boards are inflicted with various levels of mutilation.
A similar problem was observed at Ahmadu Bello University where one of the class representatives at the newly renovated Industrial Design Department complained that “some of the chairs are already broken [and] didn’t last up to a year.”
At the Federal University, Dutse, clear signs of rooftop can leakage can be seen at the Department of Biochemistry. The brown storey building was built with N224 million from the 2013 TETFund disbursement and commenced operations fully in the 2018/2019 academic year. Several brown patches on the first floor’s white asbestos ceiling as well as moist wall painting, however, indicate there are cracks in the structure.
Last year, 15 standalone solar-powered street lights were installed at various spots on the campus. But, today, many of them, with the solar panels missing, have ceased to work.
The poor maintenance of few available toilet facilities has also caused hardship for students with many, some say, resorting to open defecation.
There are about two standalone lavatories for students, one at each campus. Both were funded by TETFund but none was in use when this reporter visited. The toilet at the permanent site, funded under the 2013 Special Intervention Project, was under lock. The interior, including the water closets, were covered in dust, mud, and litter.
The second one at the take-off campus funded in 2011, though not locked, had long been abandoned. Giving fair warning of what is inside, a ton of fresh refuse was deposited in the facility’s surrounding, not sparing the entrance. The iron door was stiff from rusty hinges; and the interior housed almost everything pointing to long-term abandonment: a termite-infested ceiling, green algae-laced walls, pit toilets filled with hardened faeces, cobwebs, weeds showing signs of goat bites, heaps of plastic waste, as well as lumps of animal dung, both stale and fresh.
“The biggest problem is public convenience,” a prominent student leader, who asked not to be named, told The ICIR. “You can see, around the whole school, it is just that one I showed you. Within the faculty buildings, there are staff toilets but they used to be locked up. Students don’t have access to them.”
Grand halls abandoned due to insecurity
Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Sulieman Bogoro, acknowledged in October that only 15 per cent of students enrolled at public tertiary institutions are accommodated in school hostels. To solve this problem and that of congestion of available bed spaces, the professor stressed the need to build more hostels. The problem is, however, more complex than the lack of infrastructure.
About a 25-minute walking distance from the gate are two huge but abandoned structures. They are halls of residence that should have been occupied respectively by the 5,600 male and female students of the university, who instead opt for private hostels and accommodation options in the host community. But you can’t blame them.
Because the permanent site is not fenced and has no visible security system, students consider it suicidal for anyone to lodge in the halls. There have been reports of kidnapping and robbery in the area, which is enclosed within a thick forest embrace. Local farmers move in and out of the campus as they please, sometimes on bicycles, using well-trodden footpaths.
Sabon Garin Turare, the permanent site’s host community, shares borders with the Rugu forest, which is notorious as a refuge for bandits.
Sitting at the short end of the stick are the two beige-coloured, three-storey halls, funded by TETFund’s Special Intervention of 2013. The buildings have a barbed fence and electric poles are erected outside for the supply of the power. But, as a result of disuse, the ceilings have already started to cave in and the roofs coming off. The thick bushes occupied the yard and frontage—likewise right outside the walls.
There is also a massive hole in the generator house for one of the halls that faces outside, suggesting that it was burgled with the diesel generator carted away. The generator in the second hall was still intact and, in fact, switched on at the time of visit, even though the building was not in use by students. There were, however, rubber shoes placed right outside the gate and about six children, likely of local farmers, playing inside. It is not clear how they made their way in as the gate was padlocked.
No motorable road network leads to both halls yet.
“If they fence the school and hire security guards,” one student said, then they would be more confident to move in.
Meanwhile, a similar project at the Federal University, Dutse, has been in use since as far back as 2015. The accommodation facility, named Shekarau Angyu Hall, is used by male students and has two blocks completed by TETFund. Undergoing construction are an extra block of room and a lavatory said to be funded using development levies from students.
Puzzling projects at Dutsin-Ma
There are two 150 seat capacity lecture theatres being constructed, one for the Faculty of Science awarded to Imanil Haq Nigeria Ltd and the second to M/S Elegance Construction Ltd. Both were nearing completion, the buildings already plastered. There was fresh cement around the iron doors and glass windows in one, suggesting they had recently been fixed. But there is one suspicious detail.
Despite the similarities in the structures—both having the same architectural design, similar doors, and capacity of the theatres – there is a significant difference in the contract amounts. According to an official document obtained by The ICIR, while one was awarded at the rate of N154 million, the second contractor is to get N116 million. It is not clear which of the contractors is getting N38 million more than the other.
It also raises eyebrows that the Entrepreneurship Study Centre contracted to Sanbath (Nigeria) Limited under the 2012 TETFund Special Intervention Fund had yet to be completed. Judging from the moist cement surrounding them, most of the windows had just been placed days before the visit. The storey building had yet to be painted and the metal scaffolding around the structure were still firmly in place. Speaking on behalf of the firm, Chinedu Oti insisted any information about the project has to be sought from the school.
Other projects at the permanent site executed under the same intervention fund of the same year and even a year later, such as the school library, the ICT Building Centre, various academic buildings, as well as two halls of residence, have long been completed.
Elusive projects at ABU
According to documents obtained by The ICIR, ABU received grant from TETFund to construct a new medical services building worth N74 million. There was, however, no sign of a new structure or ongoing construction at the university medical centre. Every worker asked, five of them, had no idea about the project and one wrongly directed the reporter to the administrative block, which isn’t new.
At the Director’s office, the receptionist said, “it’s like it is already done”, referring to the construction, but he did not offer any insight into the location.
“Just put it in writing, whatever you need, the director will approve it and assign you to someone who will help you get all the information you need,” he said. “But the project is done.”
He referred the reporter to the next office where a lady replied that she needed to see a letter of introduction before she could provide information.
“And then, you need to also bring a letter from the Senate Building,” a male colleague chipped in. “Even our students cannot come verbally, carrying identification cards, we don’t take it. Talk less of somebody far.”
A close to an hour-long search through the Agricultural Extension Department for “the construction of greenhouse” project also yielded no result. Alongside the supply of teaching and research equipment, the project was expected to gulp N21.8 million and had been, according to the school, 10 per cent completed as of March.
While several greenhouses were seen scattered over the area, one set belonging to the Department of Agronomy and another group to the Department of Crop Protection, only a few were still in use and none has been constructed recently. There was also no TETFund contract signpost in sight to indicate a construction site for a greenhouse. All the students asked were only familiar with existing structures.
TETFund-sponsored abattoir, field?
ABU’s Director of Public Affairs, Isma’ila Shehu, told this reporter that when Ibrahim Garba, the university’s Vice-Chancellor resumed in 2015 he met some backlogs, which he cleared before moving on to other projects. But there may still be some remnants from the previous administration.
During the unproductive search for a newly built greenhouse for ABU’s Agricultural Extension Department, this reporter discovered a contract signpost indicating that the university “rehabilitated” the product laboratory belonging to the Department of Animal Science using the TETFund Special Intervention Fund of 2015. On moving closer, however, he was informed by a post-graduate student exiting the premises that the structure is a go-to place for people interested in buying meat.
The “laboratory” itself, the interior shows, has been converted into an abattoir, where cows are slaughtered and cut into sizeable chunks. Repeated heavy machete strokes slicing through bone were audible from the entrance. While the anteroom was empty and had a few laboratory machines, in the inner room there were close to 10 men, none of them students, who were busy preparing cow meat for the market. The day was Wednesday. It was 10 in the morning.
The air conditioners and a few other objects had the characteristic TETFund print on them but, asides this, there was no sign of any major rehabilitation. One of the workers said the renovation started in 2014 but has yet to be completed till date. The supervisor, when he was approached for clarification, declined to give comments.
Another highly suspicious project, also belonging to the Animal Science Department, is the construction of “a block of staff offices, laboratories, post-graduate lecture halls” contracted to Choice Leisure Limited. It received funding under the 2014 TETFund Special Intervention Project.
The derelict contract signpost, about eight feet tall, is an odd object viewed against the stretch of lush green behind it. There are no block of staff offices, laboratories, and lecture halls in sight — only two standard-size goalposts standing opposite each other in a partly fenced football field.
“I find it amazing as well that there is no construction going on here,” a fourth-year student told the reporter. “The signpost has been there before I gained admission and is still there till today.”
Some metres from the field, in the northwest direction towards the gate, stands a giant structure proposed as a 1000 seat capacity multi-purpose theatre for the university contracted to MBM Intercontinental Nigeria Limited. Though the theatre is funded under TETFund Special Intervention Project of 2009, it has yet to reach completion. And, according to construction workers on site, work has not gone on for several months. The two-storey structure, surrounded in all directions by wild weeds, has been roofed but no wiring had been done and the doors and windows had yet to be fixed.
A university consulting for itself
In a possible violation of Nigeria’s procurement laws, Ahmadu Bello University’s consultancy firm (ABUCONS Nigeria Limited), owned by the school and registered in April 1987, has been saddled with consulting for several construction projects on campus. These projects cut across both those funded by TETFund and those under the NEEDS Assessment Presidential Intervention fund.
The projects include, for example, the construction of a foundry workshop for the Department of Metallurgy and Engineering under 2016 NEEDS intervention.
For the rehabilitation of the Civil Engineering Department, ABUCONS, according to the contract signpost, is handling the architecture, structural and civil engineering, electrical and mechanical engineering, as well as quantity survey.
It also consulted for and managed the rehabilitation of product laboratory at the Department of Animal Science executed under TETFund’s 2015 Special Intervention Fund.
Section 57(9) of the Public Procurement Act prohibits conflicts of interest and makes it unlawful for any public officer to engage in any commercial transaction “likely to confer any unfair advantage”. Section 58 also criminalises procurement fraud by means of unlawful influence, undue interest, or favour.
Aliyu Aliyu, Head of the Regulation and Database Department at the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), told The ICIR the question of university consultancies getting contract awards is “quite a delicate issue”, adding that the bureau’s lawyers have been battling to resolve it. The BPP also faces similar dilemmas with civil society groups and companies established through legislation.
“What we try to establish is, was the job given to them automatically or were they made to bid for projects? How are the people providing that service, how are they paid? That is what is important,” he said.
He added that it would be unfair for the staff of the consultancy firms to also be employees of the university who are on the government’s payroll. This means they have an advantage over other companies who have to pay taxes and their workers from their profits.
“We took them up on that,” he noted.
He also said many universities claim to employ independent consultants separate from regular staff members. Aliyu does think it is unlikely for a university consultancy firm to get a contract award if it is less competent than other bidders.
“Consultancy projects are strictly competence more than even price,” he said.
This investigation was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.