This investigation by Elijah Akoji uncovers how a federal government agency awarded N56 million borehole project for communities in Jigawa State which were never executed despite release of funds.
Between 2018 and 2019, payment made by the Border Community Development Agency (BCDA) has shown that over 100 billion was paid to more than 30 companies without payment description, a procurement infraction that has made all projects within that period difficult to track, findings from Govspend.com have shown.
The Border Community Development is an agency under the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (Presidency), headed by Junaid Abdullahi, a son-in-law of President Muhammadu Buhari, who was appointed executive secretary on September 22, 2018, same year the infractions were reported.
Payment descriptions explain the purpose of payment for a transaction carried out and clearly state the location where the payment is used and for what purpose the payment was made, it is usually not more than 280 characters.
The contract for the construction of hand pump boreholes in Birnin-Kudu in Jigawa state worth over N59m by the BCDA in 2018 falls into the category of contracts that were deliberately made untraceable.
Borehole Contract awarded to an Internet Cafe
In 2018, findings from Govspend.com an open contracting website revealed how the BCDA awarded a contract for the construction of hand pump boreholes in Birnin-Kudu in Jigawa state worth over N59m to Wright Online Support Limited, a company that may not have had the competence and experience since it was registered as an internet company.
Wright Online Support Limited, according to data obtained from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP), shows the company was registered as an internet cafe company on the 7th of March 2012. Its registered address is No. 42 Crescent 241 Road, Gwarimpa Abuja, but currently operates from Suite 2 Ground Floor, City Plaza, Ahmadu Bello Way Garki 11, Abuja.
The Public Procurement Act, enacted in 2007, prescribes principles by which public procurement entities within the various Federal Government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies should conduct their affairs, and its include transparency, accountability and value for money.
The Procurement Act stipulates that bids shall be invited only from qualified/approved contractors/suppliers competent to do the work or provide the services to the nominated standards.
It also says that contracts shall be awarded to the lowest evaluated responsive bidder, and shall meet all technical requirements and standards on the basis of competitive tendering unless overriding technical grounds exist to justify any other course of action.
Borrowed company used to receive government contract
Aliyu Rainbow Abdulmutallab, the Executive Director of Wright Online Support Limited, told Solacebase how the contract was awarded to his friend by the BCDA, who later came to borrow his company to execute the borehole project in Birnin-Kudu, Jigawa State, denying he did not execute the project.
Abdulmutallab said, “My friend Alex was the one awarded the contract, he used my company to get the contract and I am not the one who did the project, but from all I know, the project has been executed and every document was duly signed even before the balance of his money was paid to him.
“If you want to know any other information about the project, kindly go and meet the agency or the honorable member representing the constituency that nominated the project. I am sure he will give you more information about the completion of the project, but all I can tell you is that the project has been executed and handed over to the agency.
“I have spoken to my friend Alex and he has instructed me that he has spoken with the agency and they told him about the inquiry, he has instructed me not to say anything again to anyone as regard the project. Whoever has questions to ask should go to the agency and ask their question.”
Procurement and Agency’s Claim
Abdulmuttallab’s response showed that the recipient of the borehole contract borrowed his friend’s company to get the contract, a development which indicates that he had an insider at the BCDA who wanted him to get the contract.
Solacebase checks showed that the contract violated sections 17 and 24 of the Public Procurement Act, which stipulates how contracts are to be awarded.
Some of these include that the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) must also be advertised in at least two national newspapers of general circulation – and the Federal Tender’s Journal; transparent pre-qualification of bidders; submission/receipt of tenders; evaluation of tenders; comparison of tenders and recommendation of the winning bid to Tenders Board /FEC, among others.
A BCDA senior official, Chris Umogbai, a deputy director in the procurement department, told this website that the contract was awarded to the most qualified company that bidded for the contract alongside other companies, after fulfilling all the requirements.
He said the BCDA did not know the owner of the company, and did not have to know the owner.
He said the selection of Wright Online Support Limited was done after all due diligence and requirement checks were conducted by the procurement department, adding that the BCDA does not award contracts to an unqualified company.
Mr Umogbai insisted the borehole projects were executed by the contractor even though he admitted he never visited the site. He however said only 70 percent of the contract sum was paid to the contractor till date.
“Only 70 percent of the money was released and that’s what we paid the contractor. But he delivered the project because the official in charge of the project who signed confirmed the contractor delivered,” said Umogbai.
But Solacebase request to speak to the official who signed the project as done was not granted. Umogbai promised to get back to the reporter but he never did. He only sent videos and pictures of the borehole projects he claimed were those of Birnin-Kudu, Jigawa State.
Checks by Solacebase show that the project did not follow due process as it was never advertised in any of the national dailies as stipulated by the law, which allows qualified bidders to bid for the contract. This is evidence that Wright Online Support Limited was selected and awarded the contract.
When asked to respond if the agency is aware of who Alex is, and if he was among the director of Wright Online Support Limited when the contract was awarded, he said, “We have no idea who Alex is, we only know of Wright Online Service Limited, it was the company we awarded the contract, not Alex. You should go and ask the company who Alex is, I don’t engage in trivial things, we have not done anything illegal.”
He said the omnibus clause in the memorandum of association of the company gave it the right to execute such projects, adding that the clause contains other things the company can do besides internet café.
Paragraphs 3 A, D, and E of the memorandum of association show that the company at any time can also execute secondary functions which include construction projects like the borehole contract.
No Evidence Of Project On Ground
Visit by Solacebase to Birnin-Kudu where the project was said to have been executed only shows debris of old and dilapidated hand pumps constructed over 10 years ago as attested by leaders of the communities. No such projects constructed recently were seen on ground at the locations.
Umaru Aliyu Sulaiman, the ward development committee chairman of Birnin-Kudu LGA, refuted the claim of the agency, saying “Most of the borehole projects in Birnin-Kudu LGA, were executed by the state government, and the efforts of other donor agencies like UNICEF and some NGO’s, it will be difficult to find any water project executed by any legislator.
“Projects are not things that can be hidden, you have seen for yourself and you can now conclude on the outcome or impact if there is any.
“We are hoping to see projects on water, schools, and community roads to link communities together and better help to create development as well as renovating PHCs across the wards and communities.”
in Ungwar Adoji, and Budunga communities, despite evidence provided by the agency showing site pictures of the projects being executed, there was no trace of such projects when Solacebase visited the location. Residents also denied there was any such project.
Salisu Tanko, the District Head of Ungwar Adoji explained that the boreholes across the communities were executed when the current governor of the state, Abubakar Badaru came onboard. He said there is no project sponsored by any legislator or agency in the community, “It’s over 6 years since most of these boreholes were constructed even though most of them have gone bad, we won’t give credit to the wrong person or agency.”
Worse still, a visit to Buji LGA in Jigawa State, showed that despite the money released to the contractor, nothing was done and the project was never executed.
Bala Mai Sarki, the District Head of Gantsa revealed that his ward has never benefited from any of such projects, “The state government through the Jigawa State Water Board in 2019 built most of the hand pumps and solar-powered boreholes in most of these communities, this project was executed across almost all the 27 LGAs and it was commissioned by the state government. May be the agency has constructed the borehole somewhere else, but not here in Gantsa community.”
Section 58 of the Public Procurement Act, 2007 prescribes 5- or 10-years imprisonment for awarding contracts or making payment without due process and in line with the law.
Experts Fault Weakness of Procurement Laws
In a country like Nigeria that struggles with transparency and accountability, expenditures not properly stated should be a cause for concern. The auditor-general’s reports flagged many MDAs for expenditure on so many unexplainable projects for which these MDAs failed to provide evidence. Monies can easily be embezzled or diverted for personal reasons.
According to Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, the ICPC Chairman, diversion of funds is a common outcome and the reason why most MDA’s withhold payment descriptions is because of how difficult it will be to track these projects. He stated that in most instances, there are usually a number of ghost beneficiaries.
According to Daniel Otutu, a procurement expert, the procurement process in Nigeria is the weakest procurement law in the world.
“We have seen how projects are executed in different countries and the procurement process, but the Nigerian procurement law is the most abused law I have ever seen, which will continue to encourage corruption.
“Truth be told, unless people start going to prison for bridging the procurement laws, the act will never change, and our development process is on the verge of collapse. What will it take for an agency to include a payment description after making expenses, you will come to see that the withholding of the payment description is to frustrate project tracking, because from the onset they already have the intention of not executing the project.”Otutu said.
– This report was published with support from Civic Media Lab