On June 1, a reporter from CrossRiverWatch visited the Cross River State College of Nursing and Midwifery Sciences, Itigidi, Cross River State.
Aji Eko, the institution’s registrar, was on his way to a nearby General Hospital when the reporter approached him.
During the interview that subsequently ensued, the reporter asked Eko questions about the contracts awarded by the state for the renovation of the school.
Shockingly, and unknown to the registrar, a N20 million sum had been awarded to a Quintito Integrated Services Nig. Ltd. for the renovation of the building his office was situated in.
It was also in the course of the exchange that he was told that N60 million had been awarded to a JND Consultant Ltd. for the completion of block work/fixing of doors and windows in a three-storeyed hostel block.
Two other contracts had also been awarded to two companies without his knowledge. This included an N18 million contract awarded to Renaissance Datarium for landscaping and the construction of the perimeter fencing of the college premises, and another N18 million paid to an Entek B for the construction of additional three classrooms to meet NBTE’s specification.
On learning about the several contracts, Eko was enraged, realising the state’s health ministry had played a fast one on the college.
The twist to the development is that, the projects are indeed ongoing, but they are being funded from the college’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and not the state government.
The institution decided to embark on the renovation project on its own because the government had claimed it was financially constrained.
Eko immediately rang Ruth Eta-Ebong, the provost of the college, to share what he had learnt with her. Just like the registrar, Eta-Ebong expressed her frustrations, stating the funding challenges that had been hindering the progress of the school.
She then instructed the registrar to take the reporter to all the project sites so he could see the level of work that had been done. Rather than do this, the registrar set up an emergency panel that further interrogated the reporter for over an hour about the source and authenticity of his information.
At the end of the interrogation, the officials declined to guide the reporter to the project sites. One of them also secretly told the reporter that they were afraid of losing their jobs.
The four contracts listed above and 32 others worth over N1 billion inspired this six-week-long investigation. In the end, the exercise uncovered a far-reaching breach of the Cross River State Procurement Law of 2020.
A scrutiny of the Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau (DPPIB) documents for the state showed that 79 contracts were awarded from the $20.4 million grant the state government got from the World Bank, through its States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) programme.
The 79 contracts were awarded between October 2020 and December 2021.
Of the 79 contracts, 36 were awarded by the immediate past government of Ben Ayade. The awarding of the contracts was in violation of the provisions of the state’s 2020 procurement law, and the Project Development Objective (PDO) of the SFTAS programme, which is to strengthen fiscal transparency, accountability, and sustainability in participating Nigerian states.
Interestingly, all 79 contracts were awarded at the exact amount the contractors proposed.
THE SFTAS PROGRAMME
To support the government in its objective to encourage a common set of fiscal behaviour aimed at achieving transparency, accountability, and sustainability among states in Nigeria, the World Bank developed a four-year (2018 – 2022) Programme for Results (PforR) facility called States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS).
This is worth $750 million.
The programme combines selected actions from the Fiscal Sustainability Plan (FSP) and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) agenda to form its disbursement-linked results, which states are to meet before they can access funds.
The $750 million financing of the programme is spread to cover $700 million in annual performance grants and $50 million in technical assistance support to states.
In Cross Rivers State’s case, the State Procurement Law of 2020 and PDO of SFTAS were violated just to award 35 contracts to friends and cronies at the expense of the people.
NO PRIOR BUDGETARY APPROPRIATION
Part 3, section 1 (b) of the state procurement law stipulates thus: subject to any exemption allowed by the law, public procurements shall be conducted based only on prior procurement plans, supported by prior budgetary appropriation.
Four contract awards were not found in the 2020 and 2021 budgets of the state as required. Two of these contracts were from the Ministry of Health while the others were from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The contract by the Ministry of Health were for the renovation of one of the institution’s buildings used for the Registry/Registrar’s Office, valued at N20 million and awarded to Quintito Integrated Service Nig. Ltd., and the renovation of General Hospital, Itigidi (female ward, children’s ward, and theatre), awarded to Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd. for N48 million.
The contracts awarded by the IRS included the procurement of Integrated Data Extraction and Analysis (IDEAL) software, given out to Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd for N21 million, and the printing of 7,000 units of vehicle registration booklets and 3,000 units of motorcycle registration booklets worth N9.5 million awarded to Odessys Services.
Investigations further revealed that three other contracts were awarded in violation of Part 3, section 6(a) of the procurement law, which stipulates that “all bidders in addition to requirements contained in any solicitation documents shall possess the necessary professional and technical qualification to provide the goods, services, or works.”
The companies that lacked the professional capacity for the services paid for were Konkri Kong Nigeria, Conceal Nigeria Ltd, and Ishor Global Concept (Nig) Ltd.
Konkri Kong Nigeria, a company that registered itself as a generator merchant, was awarded a contract and paid N15 million to purchase 200 non-contact stand-by infra-red thermometers for the office of the governor.
Conceal Nigeria, an outfit that was registered as an estate agent and maintenance company, was contracted to print pantographs and HMIS data tools for N65 million.
Ishor Global Concept (Nig) Ltd was incorporated for cleaning/waste disposal services and was paid N40 million to build and equip Primary Health Care Centre Egbe Mbube, Ogoja LGA.
Another critical finding showed that despite being mandatory as contained in Part 3, section 6(b) of the law that all bidders “shall possess the legal capacity to enter into the procurement contract”, 24 companies that were not incorporated by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) got 28 contracts.
Three out of the 24 companies got two each out of the 28 contracts awarded. As for the procuring entities, the Ministry of Health topped the list with 16, the Ministry of Environment with seven, the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources with two, the Governor’s Office with one, the Ministry of Land with one, and Internal Revenue Service with one.
LEGITIMATE COMPANIES KICKED ASIDE
Some legitimate and qualified companies were overlooked during the bidding process to favour the illegal and unregistered ones. Twenty four companies that are under this category took the 28 contracts during the period.
Nine of the unregistered companies included Phoenix Prime Enterprise, Go Beyond Enterprises, Bura Kovis Services, Eblalaobu-lowo Enterprises, Bapy Hi-Tech Services, Fravakem Ventures, Action Multi Media, Wegosip Promotions, and Emui Resources Ltd.
There were five cases where the only legal company that made a bid was overlooked.
The companies that were overlooked during the period were Dadaman Global Invest. Nig Ltd. in its contract bid to print 7,000 units of vehicle registration booklets and 3,000 units of motorcycle registration booklets for IRS – N9.5 million, and Breatinor Ventures in its bid for the collection, evacuation and transportation of waste to dumpsites (waste to wealth programme worth N20.3 million in Ikom Urban).
In he same vein, the bid from Fergobest Nig. Ltd. for the procurement of nutritional pillar commodities MUAC tape, micronutrient power and Vitiman A capsules worth N10 million; Dual Basol Nig. Ltd., made a bid for the construction of state cold store on Barracks Road, Calabar worth N95 million; and Preyek Ventures made a bid for the procurement of 818 green bins transportation including Lot IV Ogoja Urban worth N40.5 million.
In the case of 14 other companies, more than one registered company made a bid, but none was awarded a contract.
Surprisingly, and in one instance, the contract to purchase IDEAL software was awarded at the sum of N21 million to Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd, two companies that did not bid for contracts, but miraculously got one.
The companies that put in bids for the purchase IDEAL software, but were overlooked, are Pierre Consulting, Direct Link Procurement and Supply Ltd. and Glory Land Mega Works Ltd.
COMPANIES AWARDED CONTRACTS LESS THAN 8 MONTHS AFTER INCORPORATION
This investigation also uncovered a case of four companies that got contracts not more than eight months after they got incorporated.
The companies were awarded the contracts in violation of the state procurement law which envisages that all contract-seeking entities would have been filing returns and paying tax, among other obligations, for three years prior to the bid date. They are also expected to provide a tax clearance certificate during the bidding process.
The presentation of a tax clearance certificate for three years is sacrosanct as it is mandatory according to the check-list of documents required for due process review and certification.
Shaema Global Services, the company that was awarded the contract to collect, evacuate and transport waste for feasibility and analysis under the waste-to-wealth initiative, got the task just eight months after its incorporation.
Patson Environment Services was also engaged to collect, evacuate and transport waste for feasibility and analysis under the waste-to-wealth program in Yala Urban, Lot Vii for N21.55 million. The company got the contract two and a half months after it was registered.
For the procurement of nine direct solar refrigerators and one ice park freezer worth N30 million, Erhnof Limited was contracted 18 days after it registered with CAC.
Bedas Enterprise was also paid N20 million for the procurement of delivery kits for safe motherhood (Lot I) 35 days after it got registered with the CAC.
CONTRACTS AWARDED TO POLITICIANS
This six-week long investigation also uncovered seven contracts awarded to four companies affiliated with politicians or politically-exposed persons, (PEPs).
Two of the PEPs were commissioners, one was an aide and relative to Governor Ben Ayade, and another is a popular radio presenter turned legislative aide.
Based on this, Glory Land Mega Works got three contracts, Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd got two, while Quintito Integrated Service Nig. Ltd and Wegosip Promotions got one each.
Glory Land Mega Works was contracted to purchase gunshot-infra-red thermometers at the sum of N45 million, the procurement of 70 life jackets for N10 million and another set of 70 life jackets for 10 million.
Interestingly, the company has Okon Nyong Owuna, Mabel Okon Owuna, Obassi-Akare Okon Nyong, Onor-Obasi Okon Owuna and Ekup-Nse Okon Nyong listed as its directors.
Mr. Okon Nyong Owuna was the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources in cross River State when the contract was awarded. He later resigned to contest for a southern senatorial district ticket.
Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd. was contracted to renovate General Hospital, Itigidi (female ward, children ward, and theatre) for N48 million and procurement of Integrated Data Extraction and Analysis (IDEA) software for N21 million.
The company has George O’ben-Etchi and O’ben-Etchi G. as its directors.
Both directors are believed to be Hon. George O’ben-Etchi, former House of Assembly member and the immediate past Commissioner for Social Housing. At the time the contract was awarded, he was the state’s Commissioner for Solid Minerals.
Quintito Integrated Service Nig. Ltd. was contracted to renovate a building for use as Registry/Registrar’s Office, College of Nursing Itigidi for the sum of N20 million.
The company has four directors. They are Enamhe Ushie, Blessing Anthony Ulayi, Prince Victor Necus-Agba and Anthony Andor Ulayi.
The company has, however, been linked to Anthony Andor Ulayi, who is related to Governor Ayade through his half-brother, Placidus Ogar.
Apart from being relatives, Ulayi was also Ayade’s Special Assistant on Local Government Service Commission during the latter’s administration.
Wegosip Promotions is an unregistered company but was contracted to procure and distribute 1,000 bales of LLNS for N10 million. The company is owned by Mr. Awade Friday, a popular vernacular English radio programme presenter called “Otwetwe” on Hit 95.9FM Calabar.
Awade, also known as the Last Prophet, contested and lost in the February 2019 general elections, where he ran on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP) for a seat at the Cross River State of House of Assembly.
He is currently a media aide to Peter Akpanke, the member representing Obudu/Bekwarra/Obalinku in the Federal House of Representatives.
It was further established that nine contractors never visited the sites they were meant to renovate and develop, despite collecting huge sums as mobilisation fees. One contractor abandoned the project halfway.
At the Cross River State College of Nursing and Midwifery Sciences, Itigidi, four contracts were awarded, but the contractors never stepped foot on the institution.
Quintito Integrated Service Nig. Ltd. received N20 million to renovate a building used as Registry/Registrar’s Office at the school, but never visited the site.
Likewise, JND Consultant Ltd. was paid N60 million for the completion of block work/fixing of doors and windows in a three-storeyed hostel block, but it never completed the project.
Renaissance Datarium got N18 million to landscape the college premises, including the construction of the perimeter fence, but it never did.
Also, Entek B was paid N18 million for the construction of three additional classrooms to meet NBTE’s specifications, but officials from the company never visited the site.
After receiving N48 million for contract execution, and despite having its offices located at an area very close to the General Hospital, Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd. never visited the health facility to renovate it.
Ishor Global Concept Nig. Ltd. abandoned the building of a new facility half way after collecting N40 million for the Primary Health Care Centre Egbe Mbube project. Before the contract was awarded, the healthcare centre operated from a community town hall.
Peter Enhievi Nigeria Enterprise was also contracted to equip the same Primary Health Care Centre for N28 million, but it had not delivered the equipment required till date.
De-sanitizers Nig. Ltd. was contracted to renovate the health care centres in Adadama, Abi, Etung and Boki local government areas for N45 million, but the contractor only renovated the PHCs in the first two LGAs mentioned and abandoned the rest.
Livics Nigeria Enterprises, an unregistered company was paid N43.5 million for the procurement of equipment needed at Callywood studios, the state’s movie producing project. Till date, the equipment has not been supplied.
Presently, Callywood studios which operates from Tinapa, has been abandoned for years. A recent visit to its location showed that it is still not in operation.
When asked during a phone conversation why the contract his company collected N48 million for was never executed, George O’Ben Etchi, owner of Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd., was startled.
He, however, later responded by claiming that the contract was not awarded to him directly, and that he only helped a young friend in securing it.
“Someone approached us to use our company to do a job. I was in the United States of America then, and I did not know the details of the job but I said he could go ahead and make use of the company. When the payments were done, we made sure the money was released to him,” O’Ben said.
“Usually, when they get jobs at Lafarge and they don’t have the requirements, I say go ahead and use our company, but once money is paid we give it to them. Some people charge 10 per cent, but I don’t. I use that to help and empower young people. Give me some time to make my findings and I will get back to you.”
Two hours later, an agitated O’Ben was sitting face-to-face with this reporter in Chef Zanga’s kitchen in Calabar. At the gathering, he revealed that the friend O’Ben assisted was Duke Igebu, who used to be a personal assistant to Betta Edu, the immediate past health commissioner of the state. Edu is now the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
Edu had enlisted Igebu’s services right from her days as the director-general of the state’s Primary Health Care Development Agency.
When O’Ben was asked about another contract, the purchase of IDEAL software for the sum of N21 million, he got angry.
“This is outright fraud, I may sue the IRS. I did not bid for this and they also did not pay the money to my company,” said O’Ben.
When contacted, Anthony Andor Ulayi, a director in Quintito Integrated Service Nig. Ltd., who was also an aide and relative to Ben Ayade, the then governor, said he knew nothing about the N20 million the company collected for the renovation exercise at the college of nursing.
“It was a friend who approached me to use my company, I am not aware of this particular contract. Let me call him,” said Ulayi.
Ulayi, however, refused to reveal the name or identity of the “friend”.
Awade Friday, owner of Wegosip Promotions, insisted that his company was duly registered with the CAC. He, however, could not provide the registration number.
The owner of the popular vernacular English radio programme on Hit 95.9FM Calabar, Otwetwe, said he delivered as contracted and presented an evidence in form of the soft copy of a document. Surprisingly, he would quickly delete the copy moments after sharing it with this reporter.
STAKEHOLDERS CALL FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT
Civic actors have condemned the brazen abuse of the procurement process in Cross River State and called for transparency and accountability.
Efanga Etim, Cross River State/South-South Zonal Lead for the #FollowTheMoney campaign, commended the investigation and called for law enforcement.
“It’s just disheartening to hear this. I want to first thank you for taking out time to uncover all this massive information,” he said.
“Corruption is killing us as a nation and we won’t stop until we fight it and ensure it is reduced to nothing in this country.
“The agencies are really not doing enough to combat corruption, I must say. The agencies should start enforcing laws to combat corruption in Nigeria, once they do this, corruption will reduce.”
Lawrence Peter, the leader of Cross River State of Policy Alert, urged respective authorities to spring into action.
“There is a gap between policy implementation and transparency. Most of the problems we have today about budgeting and project executions are major because of some political errors,” said Peter.
“It is time the government looked into issues of transparency, accountability and service delivery particularly in the public sector. We need a clear record on transparency and accountability.”
NO RESPONSE FROM THE GOVERNMENT
Two separate visits were made to the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Environment, and Land, as well as the Internal Revenue Service and Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau, but all the agencies are yet to provide answers to the questions on the non-execution of contracts.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request seeking answers to why the state procurement law was not strictly followed in the award of the 36 contracts was also sent to the heads of IRS, DPPIB, Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Environment, and Land, but it had not been responded to.
When a phone call was placed to Pauline Obute, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Health, she said she would facilitate a meeting with the contractors to answer questions relating to the contracts that were awarded to them.
“We will call for a meeting with the contractors; we will not speak on their behalf. I became Permanent Secretary in December 202. You will need to get ethical approval to get all the information,” Obute said. But the meeting never happened.
On his part, Cliff Ayang Oyira, Director of Planning, Research, and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, said the six contracts awarded from his ministry never originated from there as he would have been aware of the exercise.
“I will be with to you, I am not aware of such contracts. My office is the ideal office to deal with such things but I’m not aware, sadly,” said Oyira.
When contacted, Samuel Ikpi, the procurement officer at the Ministry of Environment, promised to respond to all the questions he was asked at a later time, but had not done so. His phone number also never connected afterwards.
In the same vein, the Ministry of Land, the Internal Revenue Service and the Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau are also yet to respond to the inquiries made by this reporter.
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for investigative reporting, ICIR
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