Nigeria’s development hopes hinged on prostrate institute
It is heart-breaking that despite the rhetoric of successive governments in Nigeria to invest in education, especially science and research, such promises end up unfulfilled. KENNETH OFOMA writes on the deplorable state of research institutes in the country, particularly the Project Development Institute, Enugu
One of the foremost science and engineering research institutes in Nigeria, the Project Development Institute (PRODA) Enugu is on the brink of collapse due to maladministration and poor funding.
The state of infrastructure at the institute could best be described as a giant lying in ruins, and largely decapitated and unable to fulfil not even one of its mandates.
Investigation has revealed that the much-talked about local production of pencil in the country, as promised by the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, two years ago, may remain a mirage if nothing is done to revive PRODA, which is saddled with the responsibility of delivering that promise.
The institute, formerly known as the Research and Production Department of the old Eastern Region, which served as the brain box for the manufacture of famous ‘flying Ogbunigwe’ (flying bomb) by the defunct Republic of Biafra, during the civil war, was later on converted to PRODA at the end of the civil war in 1971 by the Federal Government.
The institute, which had as its pioneer Director General and Chief Executive Officer, the late Prof. Gordian Ezekwe, a renowned scientist, who later became Minister of Science and Technology, is currently a shadow of old itself and on the verge of losing its core mandate of man power development in the area of research and development (R&D).
Although at present, there is nationwide industrial action by the labour unions under the research and allied institutes in the country, which started on November 14, but investigation revealed that PRODA had long before the general strike been crippled by internal strife and maladministration resulting in partial shutdown of production.
But concerning the general strike embarked by the Joint Research and Allied Institutes Sector Unions (JORAISU) comprising Academic Staff Union of Research Institutes (ASURI), Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) and Non-Academic Union of Research Institutions (NASURI) among others; the labour unions are demanding adequate funding of research and allied institutions and Colleges of Agriculture and Forestry; fast tracking the enactment of the National Research and Innovation Act; correcting the disparity in the salary of staff in research and allied institutions and universities; and a separate salary structure for researchers in R&D institutions and immediate intervention in their terrific impoverishment.
Other demands are, removal of the disparity in retirement age of research directors in research and allied institutions and professors in the universities; enactment of establishment Act for R&D institutions that have none; provision of budget line for research in the approved budget of R&D institutions in Nigeria; intervention over lack of resolve to checkmate illegal encroachment by Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) into Federal Colleges of Agriculture; ensuring that appointment of executive directors of research institutions is not politicised, and compelling the need to sustain the Committee of Directors for Research institutes (CODRI).
However, aside the general strike, PRODA has been saddled with multifarious maladies which had crippled its operations for long. Some union leaders, who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity for the fear of victimisation, blamed the management of the institute led by the Director General and Chief Executive, Dr. Charles Agulena, for most of the peculiar challenges facing PRODA.
For instance, the unions (ASURI, ASCSN and NASURI) blamed the inactions and lackadaisical attitude of PRODA management for the con- tinued theft and cannibalisation of PRODA equipment and facilities although the management had hired a security outfit to provide security.
They therefore called for termination of all security contracts and replacement with either police or the Nigeria Security Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
Other petitions, position papers and memos presented to management or the parent ministry (Science and Technology) on different occasions, contain plethora of allegations and suggestions for the reversal of the downward slide of the institute.
The unions regret that despite being one of the oldest research institutes in the country, PRODA, is currently the worst in terms of infrastructural development and the only without an outlet. Currently there is no steady power supply to the institute for close to two years hence little or no work was going on before the nationwide industrial action.
The motto of PRODA, upon which its mandate (research and development) is based, is “industrialisation through self-reliance”.
According to Decree No.5 of 1977 and modified in 1992, the mandate states that: the design, development and pilot plant production of primary power equipment, employing solid and liquid fuels, gas, steam, etc, as working fluids, to include (i) steam raising equipment and accessories; (ii) mechanical power transmission elements, speed converters and variations, couplings, system brakes, etc; (iii) electrical power transmission elements, switch gears and accessories.
Others are, establish and operate a power equipment test laboratory; transfer power equipment production technology to private sector industries, and render consultancy and extension services to such and other industries; collaborate with higher institutions, government agencies and international organisations in the execution of its programmes and projects; establish and operate a mechanical/ electrical training school for graduate and other trainees for practical work attachment in its work; and undertake any other activities in connection with all or any of its functions.
Based on the structure and organogram of the outfit, the execution and fulfilment of these mandates has been entrusted in the hands of a Governing Board that reports to the minister, and overseas a PRODA management committee headed by a Director General/CEO, and comprising heads of departments – Engineering Research Development and Production (ERDP), Materials Energy and Technology (MET), Electrical Power and Electronics Development (EPED), Ceramics Production (CPD), Admin and Finance (A&F) and Industrial Promotion and Information Dept. (IPID).
Various divisions make up the different departments but the divisional heads take no part in the PRODA management deliberations. The unions in PRODA are unanimous that the institute has failed in all respects in delivering on its mandate; and has indeed fallen short of the expectations of the nation.
For those familiar with the renowned exploits of the institute in the days of the yore, they have already concerned PRODA to the moribund status of other dead industries that used to be the pride of the Eastern Region.
Such industries include but not limited to: Anambra Motor Manufacturing Company (ANAMMCO), Enugu; Niger Steel Company (NIGERSTEEL), Emene, Enugu; Nigergas, Emene Enugu; and Nigeria Cement Company (Nigercem) Nkalagu, Ebonyi State.
PRODA was a household name from the ‘70s through to the early ‘90s on the strength of its technological achievements. Research efforts were adjudged people-oriented and the achievements include; the PRODA Foundry/Metallurgy unit which played a key role in components production for auto parts, IC engine parts, industrial plants, etc, and built a strong client base for quality materials-related jobs and services; PRODA low-cost vehicle made the headlines in the ‘90s.
All the component parts were locally sourced or produced with the existing facilities; and the ceramics production department impacted significantly in the production of burnt bricks used in the development of new settlements during the expansion of Enugu and Owerri; household pottery in millions of homes; and refractory bricks used for furnace linings in various industries.
Other exploits include; the engineering department developed numerous agro-processing machines, including oil palm, cassava, soya beans, maize etc; developed technological advances in the energy sector with the production of smokeless briquettes from Nigeria Coal Corporation and electric motors; production of ethanol from molasses over 20 years ago (the plant has still not been commissioned despite the colossal amount appropriated for the project); the PRODA Pencil project, which was said to have guzzled over N300 million and is no closer to realisation since its initiation in 2006 (many believe PRODA has missed the mark through incompetence and funds misappropriation); the coal carbonisation, embarked upon over 30 years ago, was designed to explore the potential of Nigerian coal for miscellaneous industrial and energy uses (the project has left a trail of profligate spending and shattered dreams, though not declared dead yet).
The list is actually endless, including the fact that PRODA was once the go-to establishment for glass blowing projects and jobs, which has been affected by the “right-sizing” exercise of 2007 that deprived PRODA of all the technical staff of that unit. Investigations reveal that the last 10 to 15 years have seen successive PRODA management and the supervising ministry, Ministry of Science and Technology, engage in actions that have contributed to the reverses suffered by the institute.
For instance, it was alleged that annual budgets for capital projects have only been exercises in futility as implementation over the years hardly ever gets up to 25 per cent even as the same items got repeated in the next budget. Tenders, when cash backed, were said to have been faulty. Management was alleged to have shown scant regard for the technical requirements that would get the institute rolling.
Expenditures were not authorised unless some personal benefits accrue to the approving authority. Funds have usually been guzzled up by per diems on local trips and fares and estacodes for foreign trips, where management enjoy the privilege, as well as the favours granted the authorities in FMST.
Project funding is said to be selective and staff training is a mirage. In 2007 there was a right-sizing of staff in the guise of re-engineering the institute for better performance. It was alleged that 90 per cent of those laid off were technical/ research orientation.
There was an element of witch-hunting in some of the lay-offs.
The institute lost very experienced personnel in that exercise. New members of staff were employed to satisfy the whims and caprices of those in government and management, and grossly failing to address the technical manpower shortcomings of the institute. In fact, administrative staff members were more than technical staff, which is an anomaly in a research institute like PRODA.
Staff welfare is said to be low, leading to flawed promotion exercises, denied promotions, denied advancements, zero training and retraining, improper or un-implemented beneficial government circulars viz.
28 days in lieu of accommodation and transport allowances, and pension deductions at variance with terms of government directives, and zero quality control laboratories or equipment. To cover up the bad situation, unions were never invited during oversight visits by ministers and National Assembly members.
Some of the labour leaders noted that paucity of funding is no longer a big issue in the institute as the current Minister of Science and Technology has assisted enough, but the challenge is maladministration and misappropriation of resources by the management. Efforts to get the reaction of the Director General of PRODA, Agulena, proved abortive as he did not respondent to calls and text messages sent to him.
However, a top management official, who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak with the press, dismissed the allegations against the management, saying that what was happening in PRODA was not peculiar but a general problem of other research institutions. While blaming the workers for “failing to understand”, he fingered paucity of funds as the major challenge facing PRODA.
He, however, said that management would not join issues with the labour unions since they had already reported the matter to Abuja. As a result of the observed challenges and anomalies facing the institute, voices from within and outside of the institute have called for help and urgent steps to salvage it.
There is a clarion call for bodies like Ohanaeze Ndigbo to step in and initiate a revival and rebirth process through a coordinated pressure on the Federal Government to take the right course. There is also a call for the Federal Government to probe the transactions involved in the PRODA Pencil, Coal Carbonisation and Biofuel (ethanol) projects.
It is also suggested that in line with modern global best practices, there must be a proper assessment of the equipment/material needs of the institute to enable it effectively carry out its mandate and generate revenue.
There is a serious call for restructuring of the management model as the current structure is an obstacle to the achievement of the mandate of the institute. Efforts must of necessity be made to redress the technical/research staff to administrative staff ratio, which stands at a ridiculous 40 per cent to 60 per cent in favour of admin. The need to have PRODA outlet in each geo-political zone of the country, it is stressed, must be addressed.
Exposed! Nigeria’s Deputy Speaker in N1.1bn water contract scam (II)
In conclusion of this two-part story, MOJEED ALABI reports the details of the contract scandal involving the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Lasun Yusuff, who secures contract award from the same government he serves
Exposed! Nigeria’s Deputy Speaker in N1.1bn water contract scam
Communities cry over shoddy projects
After about four months of investigations, New Telegraph’s reporter, MOJEED ALABI, exposes the corrupt practices in the execution of controversial N1.7 billion mini-water schemes in three communities in Osun State by members of the National Assembly, including the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Lasun Yusuff
On Friday, January 5, the sun was fierce and scorching in Ife-Odan, a nascent community in the West Senatorial District of Osun State.
Ileri-Oluwa Oloyede, an SS 2 student of Faith Foundation College, Ife-Odan, had just returned from market where she had helped her mother in her palm oil business. But the 16-year-old girl still had one more chore to do; to fetch water for the urgent need of the household.
Considering the stress she had gone through at the market, Ileri-Oluwa’s parents advised her to wait till sundown. But the longer she waited, the more difficult her chances of getting water became and the longer it would take the family to prepare dinner.
“If I wait for the sun to go down, many more people will be at the well, and that would worsen the situation. And if the crowd becomes uncontrollable, the landlord may lock his gate and drive us out,” she said.
Thus, while the sun was yet to finally recede, Ileri-Oluwa and her younger sister, Florence, hit the road for a three-kilometre trek in search of clean water at the nearest well.
It is the same story for Michael Adeoba, who was also on the road, almost at the same time, with his father’s motorcycle to fetch water into some 20-litre jerrycans.
Adeoba, who had battled to get the motorcycle started, apparently due to some mechanical faults, decided to push it to a nearby mechanic workshop for a quick fix before going for the water.
He said: “This is what I go through every other day. Whenever I am on holiday, I always dread this experience. In fact, it is more of punishment than chore.”
The experiences of both Ileri-Oluwa and Adeoba reflect the pains and pangs of the people of Ife-Odan in their efforts to access clean water.
The situation is similar in many communities in the agrarian state, particularly during dry season when many wells and streams are dried up and public water supply is scarce due largely to poor electricity supply.
Addressing this perennial challenge was the concern of 12 parliamentarians, who represented the state in the National Assembly between 2011 and 2015, comprising three senators and nine House of Representatives’ members.
The federal lawmakers, who were elected on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) before the party merged with others to form the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), had pursued common agenda, apparently towards fulfilling their party’s campaign promises.
One of them and now the Chief Whip of the eighth Senate, Prof. Sola Adeyeye, representing Osun Central Senatorial District, told New Telegraph that the senators and the nine members of the green chamber had agreed to facilitate the execution of joint projects in the state, through the National Assembly’s Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIP), otherwise known as “constituency projects.”
Therefore, when the 2012 budget was being prepared in 2011, they agreed to jointly facilitate the construction of a mini-water scheme in each senatorial district.
But Adeyeye’s original plan for his district, he claimed, was the reconstruction of the narrow Ojutu Bridge in Ilobu, headquarters of Irepodun Local Government Area. However, this position was overruled by Governor Rauf Aregbesola, “who said we should do water.”
“But none of us could singlehandedly fix water, so we decided to have three mini-water schemes across the three senatorial districts,” Adeyeye added.
After a careful study, Ife-Odan was chosen as the beneficiary community in Osun West; Ipetu-Ijesha in Osun East, and Ila-Orangun in Osun Central Senatorial District, for the construction of the mini-water schemes.
As captured in the 2012 Appropriation Act and contained in the South West Geo-Political Zone Mapping of Capital Projects by the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO), a total sum of N1,666,666,668 was budgeted for the projects at the rate of N555,555,556 for each.
But according to Ogun-Oshun River Basin Development Authority (OORBDA), the contract supervising agency, it eventually awarded the Ife-Odan scheme at the sum of N538,412,653.06; Ila-Orangun at the rate of N539,128,429.13 while N541,193,861.23 was approved for Ipetu-Ijesha project. Thus the new total sum released for the project stood at N1,618,734,943.47.
There was also additional budgetary allocation of N100 million each for the three mini-water schemes in the 2013 budget proposal but there was no evidence that the money was released.
Projects excite communities
When the beneficiary communities received the news of their selection for the location of the projects, they heaved a sigh of relief that potable water would no longer be a luxury.
According to the Risapetu and Regent of Ipetu-Ijesha, High Chief Ayodele Olayinka, some government representatives had approached the community’s palace on a Sunday in 2012, and demanded a parcel of land for the location of the project.
“We told them to wait till Monday but they insisted they needed to start that same Monday. Though Kabiyesi was still alive then, he was already very old. So, with two other chiefs, we went there, and gave them the site. We were very elated and anxious to see the project commenced,” the chief explained.
He said true to their words, the contractor resumed to the location on the appointed Monday and began with the clearing of the bush.
“We were then visiting the site on a regular basis, at least, to show solidarity and support,” the chief added.
The experience was more exciting in Ife-Odan, where the government’s dam, created many years ago from Sekunrebete stream, which supplies water to the community and its environs, had been facing a series of challenges, including theft of its generator.
According to an officer of the state Water Corporation and the dam’s Superintendent Officer, Mr. Adeyemi Oyekola, who reluctantly spoke to New Telegraph, apart from the power issue, the dam was enough to serve the community.
He said: “In fact, there is no point bringing up a new water scheme. What this place needs is just a good generator, and repair of some of the machines and the reticulation networks, then, the community will be good for it.
“The major challenge here is power because the voltage is always low and cannot power the pumping machines.”
Thus, the desire to see the water scarcity problem addressed and the prospect of job opportunities at the site for the youth of the community inspired a farmer, Mr. Azeez Moradesa, to donate about four plots of land for the project.
The parcel of land is part of Moradesa’s inheritance and located beside his house at Araromi area of the town, which is less than two kilometres to the crisis-ridden dam.
He said: “So when they started the construction, I was employed as the security guard by the contractor. They were paying me N20,000 every month.”
Similarly, a former student of the Osun State College of Education, Ila-Orangun, AbdulKadir Oladosu, who was in year one when the construction work started at the Ila-Orangun site in 2012, said the students, in particular, were excited, “due to the suffering we were going through to get water.”
Inauguration of uncompleted projects
Five years after the projects were initiated, in February 2017, the Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority (OORBDA), having allegedly certified the contractors for jobs well done, held a symbolic inauguration at the Ila-Orangun plant, and handed them over to the Osun State government, through its water corporation.
Though, the inauguration took place at Ila-Orangun, the documents and keys to the other two projects were also handed over to the state government. Thus, by this handover, New Telegraph learnt, it became the responsibility of the corporation to manage and operate the facilities for the benefit of the people.
Projects dead on arrival
Six years after people’s hope had been raised, New Telegraph’s investigations revealed that the projects have failed to ameliorate the water scarcity the communities face. In Ife-Odan the massive water plant erected by the contractor is yet to produce a drop of water.
When visited by our correspondent, the facility had already been overtaken by weeds and cobwebs, without anyone found in the compound.
The guard, Moradesa, who, apparently was disappointed by the turn of events, was not on hand to conduct our reporter round the facility. But his son, Joseph Moradesa, who did, was not impressed by the development.
When he eventually spoke to our correspondent, the guard expressed regret that six years after the project was initiated, there was yet to be water for the people at the plant.
Moradesa, who spoke in Yoruba language, said: “Even as the guard, since February 2017 when the place was transferred to Osun State Water Corporation, my salary has been reduced to N15,000 and I received the last one in October 2017. What pained me most is that this place is already abandoned and the purpose for which I donated the land may have been defeated.”
Also speaking, a palace chief, the Obajio of Ife-Odan, Chief Amoo Adegbite, expressed regret that the people’s hope had been dashed by the alleged poor handling of the project, saying the whole community was disappointed after so much expectation.
Adegbite said; “Many of us had thought what they wanted to do was to connect the dam and make the water supply easier. But we were surprised when they started digging borehole just few kilometres away from the dam, and we were worried that it might turn out to be a wasted effort due to our experiences with boreholes here.”
Son of a late traditional ruler of the community, Prince Gbade Morenikeji, who had visited the town for the New Year celebration, said one of the reasons the community voted against the return of one of the 12 representatives, Senator Mudashiru Hussein, was largely due to the abandoned water project.
Morenikeji, who works with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, noted that following the death of Senator Isiaka Adeleke, Hussein had been represented by the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), for the rerun election, “but because the water project he had facilitated to the community during his first term was seen as a scam, the people said, no way.”
Meanwhile, the superintendent at the community’s dam has revealed that with the construction of the water scheme, the pipes laid from the dam to the community had been destroyed by the contractor. He said: “Even if there is power supply it will be difficult to supply water because of the damage done to the pipes when they were laying their own pipes.”
In the same vein, at Iloro area of Ipetu-Ijesha, just a few metres away from Grammar School Road, location of the community’s own water plant, an ND I student of the Federal Polytechnic, Offa, Kwara State, Aduragbemi Idris, was guarding jealously a padlocked well.
She denied knowledge of any public water scheme in the neighbourhood, saying her uncle and owner of the house, reluctantly locked the well because of the pressure from the public.
Similarly, the Regent was livid with anger, as he showed our reporter his well within his own compound.
Chief Olayinka explained: “When they were laying the pipes, they fixed them in the wrong side and I told them that the side would not be good for the pipes due to the telegraphic poles. They didn’t take my advice, but after they had laid the pipes for about a month, they heeded my advice and moved to the other side. Later, we didn’t see them again.
“So, people are back to the streams as it was the practice in the olden days. We are just lucky that our people are not affected by water-borne diseases. Of course, it is now an abandoned project, and that is sad. This is because some of the ‘honourables’ (National Assembly members representing the state) who started the project are no longer in government. The new ones are now embarking on new projects individually, which are also already being abandoned.”
But when New Telegraph visited the plant at Ipetu-Ijesha, a security guard on duty, Mr. Adeleke Faleti, explained that the facility had been operational since 2016 till sometimes in November 2017, when it developed mechanical fault.
Faleti, who is an employee of Evermore Securities, a private security company, explained that apart from the challenges posed by erratic power supply and non-availability of diesel, the facility had served the few available ‘town tap points’ until it developed problems.
He said: “The engineer in charge is not on ground, and I am aware he has written to the state to complain about the mechanical faults developed by some machines.”
Also, a civil servant who lives in Ila-Orangun but craved anonymity, said apart from the four tap points sited at the water plant, there was no other public tap point within the vicinity that he was aware of.
The plant, which is located at the College High School area, in the community, serves only the people living within the neighbourhood.
“I cannot even attempt to fetch from the well in my house because it is too deep, and can take five minutes to get a single bowl of water. So, I have to drive to the water plant to fetch into jerrycans, at least every two days,” the source explained.
Osun State Water Corporation kicks, rejects projects
Embittered by the poor work done allegedly by the contractor, the state Water Corporation rejected the projects at Ila-Orangun and Ife-Odan. It said the water yields at the two sites were grossly inadequate due to the shoddy jobs done.
The corporation’s Deputy General Manager, Operations and Production, Mr. Ademola Odejide, an engineer, said the three projects were handed over to the corporation in February 2017, but after a careful study, those located at Ila-Orangun and Ife-Odan were returned to the agency for correction of all identified defects.
Odejide said: “Immediately we received the projects we wrote down our observations and recommendations, but our memo did not get to the governor on time because he was not around.
“But as soon as we received the go-ahead, only the Ipetu-Ijesha got our approval, so we sent back all the documents handed over to us for Ila-Orangun and Ife-Odan with the instruction that they should go and correct all the defects. We recommended a better industrial borehole for Ila-Orangun and raw water supply at Ife-Odan because the boreholes sunk could hardly yield 20 per cent.”
According to Odejide, the Ila-Orangun scheme is later provided with the required industrial borehole but the Ife-Odan project was now being linked to the dam, which hasn’t been completed.
But another officer of the corporation, who craved anonymity, explained that the problem with the project is that both the OORBDA and the contractors failed to do their due diligence. According to him, researches have shown that borehole water in a basement complex terrain like Osun State cannot yield the required volume of water to serve a whole community.
“You know, in engineering, when something is not in your field, you can hardly know it; OORBDA is only known for dam, not for water supply. In fact, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources carried out a survey on water projects, which indicates that there are so many boreholes being drilled across the state especially in our own area, which are not yielding desired results because of the differences between the basement complex terrain and sedimentary basin.
“In Lagos, and parts of Ogun, borehole can easily yield required volume of water because it is a sedimentary basin. But these contractors don’t like to hear this. In fact, the contractors had in the past threatened to eliminate some of us, saying we are running them down. When the National Assembly invited some of our officers for explanation on the matter, because we explained all this, the contractor, which we later learnt is a federal lawmaker, threatened to ‘waste’ us.
“The current Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly owns the company that handled the Ila-Orangun and Ife-Odan projects. It is a secret arrangement between him and the contract awarding agency because it is against the law. Even, most of his colleagues who facilitated the projects didn’t know this until more than three years after, when the projects began to constitute problems,” the source said.
Search for contractors begins
Apart from the Ipetu-Ijesha project where the carcass of a billboard indicating the contractor’s name and other details could be found standing filthily on the wall of the plant’s fence, there is nothing to link the Ila-Orangun and Ife-Odan projects to their handlers. This informed New Telegraph to approach the OORBDA, as the contract supervising agency, for the details of the projects.
Ogun-Oshun River Basin Development Authority (OORBDA) responds
At a brief meeting held in January with our correspondent at the office of its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Olufemi Odumosu, in Abeokuta, Ogun State, the Ogun-Oshun River Basin Development Authority suggested to formalise its response to New Telegraph’s enquiries, saying further communication could be established afterwards.
Thus, in a tersely-worded letter, dated January 18, 2018, and addressed to New Telegraph, it explained that after competitive bidding processes, two companies were awarded the contracts in 2012. They are Sabbyn Nigeria Limited, an oil and gas company, and Nur and Company Nigeria Limited, an engineering company.
The letter, which was signed by Odumosu, also stated the locations awarded to each of the two firms and the amount approved for each of the projects, adding that the duration for the execution of the projects was 12 months.
It said the Ipetu-Ijesha project was handled by Sabbyn Nigeria Limited while the ones located at Ife-Odan and Ila-Orangun were awarded to Nur and Company Nigeria Limited.
The letter reads in part: “The contract award process was in line with the provisions of the Procurement Act 2007.”
However, the agency failed to supply other vital information including the details of the bidding processes, registration numbers of the selected companies, how money was paid to the contractors, reasons for the alleged abandonment of the projects, allegation of poor productivity, among others.
The agency had initially claimed its officers could no longer lay their hands on the projects’ documents because “it was a long time it worked on the files,” but following unrelenting requests from our correspondent, on January 31, 2018, the agency’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Saliu Adeniyi, sent the registration numbers and the addresses of the two companies via text messages.
CAC links Deputy Speaker to Nur & Company Nigeria Limited
Unlike the Sabbyn Nigeria Limited, which details were easily accessed on the internet, the details of Nur and Company Nigeria Limited, which executed both the Ife-Odan and Ila-Orangun projects, seemed to have been shrouded in secrecy, as the name could not be traced anywhere. It has no website, contact details, or even a social media account.
Its address at Plot 8, Impressive Close, off Dosumu Street, Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos, as reportedly quoted on its application document for the bidding exercise, belongs to a different owner entirely. The issue of this address alone caused more controversies than could be imagined, leading to the death of an octogenarian over the fraudulent acts of some alleged individuals.
But the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) helped in no small measure to unravel the mystery surrounding the owners of the companies, including the Nur and Company Nigeria Limited, which is owned by Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Lasun Yusuff.
The deputy speaker, according to our findings, used his personal company to secure the two projects, even as investigations also revealed that the high ranking parliamentarian failed to execute these projects as specified by the awarding agency.
Deputy Speaker keeps mum
The series of New Telegraph’s enquiries sent to the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Lasun Yusuff, through his media aides, including his Special Adviser (Media), Mrs. Lara Owoeye-Wyse, were unanswered.
However, upon receiving New Telegraph’s letter, which was submitted to Owoeye-Wyse on January 9, the deputy speaker’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Wole Oladimeji, called our reporter on Thursday, January 11, on behalf of his boss to deny any knowledge of the projects. But when asked whether he had raised the matter with his boss before giving defence, Oladimeji said no, and promised to revert. He has since not got back to New Telegraph till date.
Meanwhile, in the second part of this report, many interesting twists about the whole issue will be revealed.
Sabbyn Nigeria Limited found
Locating Sabbyn Nigeria Limited, which handled the Ipetu-Ijesha mini-water scheme, wasn’t a difficult task. A simple search on the internet revealed the company’s website, its owner, and contact details. Its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Abayomi Collins, an engineer, had represented Ifo/Ewekoro Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2007. He was Chairman, House Committees on Petroleum Resources, National Planning and Economy, and Water Resources.
Collins took time to explain his own side of the story, insisting that his company executed the project to specifications and that all rules were followed to the letter.
He said: “This project was handed over, inaugurated and was operational. We have certificates to prove this. When you complete such a project you are first given a mechanical completion certificate. Every system, generator, water and other things were certified okay. And it was handed over to Osun State Water Corporation because it is the end beneficiary.
“We completed the project in 2015 and men of the Osun State Water Corporation came to the site to understudy the situation. But officially, it was taken over in June 2016, which was even pretty long. People in the town can confirm that as far back as 2015, they were receiving water far away, where we terminated the pipeline at the Osun State University campus in the town, which is the remotest part of the reticulation network.”
Collins added that after the expiration of the six-month-defect-liability period, his company was discharged of any liability to the project.
“As a matter of fact, we were discharged completely in 2016, and since then we have been requesting for the payment of our own five per cent retention fee which was N26.7 million. Up till now, they have only paid marginally N8 million,” he said.
Asked why an oil and gas company would be awarded a water project, Collins explained that his company provided services to oil and gas, and that water service was also one of them. “So, it is part of the services we render. The company is registered with CAC. I am ready to open books for you on this.”
Collins also responded to the delay in the execution of the project. “This is typical of government projects. Projects progress as funding is made available in yearly budgets. We have several government projects with Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Ogun-Oshun River Basin Development Authority, which have not been funded in the last four years. We will only be able to continue when they are funded.”
•This is the first part of an investigative budget tracking report with the support of Macarthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR)
Banks’ contract staff: Slaving for peanuts
To cut cost in the face of dwindling economy and stiff competition, financial institutions hire contract staff who earn peanuts. But this has jacked up fraud in the banking industry, reports TONY CHUKWUNYEM
Until January 31, Chinyere Amadi was a contract worker with one of Nigeria’s tier one banks.
Nowadays, she sits at home, taking care of her 11-month-old baby and thinking of what job to apply for or what business to do to support her husband who, according to her, is finding it increasingly difficult relying on his meagre monthly salary to take care of his young family.
“Given my husband’s situation, I sometimes feel that, perhaps, I should not have resigned from the bank. But I had reached a point where I could no longer continue working as ‘a contract staff ’ in that organisation.
“Despite the fact that my husband is finding it difficult to support us with his poor salary, he fully backed my decision to quit,” she said.
Chinyere attributed her departure from the bank to the fact that not only was her monthly salary of N64,000 hardly sufficient to relieve the burden on her husband, her job as a contract worker was so tasking that it had begun to negatively impact her ability to look after her baby.
Indeed, she said that she spent three weeks in the hospital last December as her baby was admitted for an ailment which had become quite serious because her work schedule made it impossible for her to detect the problem before it got complicated.
Slavery She said: “The job required that I leave home as early as 5.30a.m., to return sometimes as late as after 10p.m. We were also expected to be at work on Saturdays so there was very little time for us, especially nursing mothers, to spend with our families.”
The young mother, who graduated with a Second Class Upper degree in Economics from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, in 2010, disclosed that although she knew about the challenges of being a bank contract worker in this country, she had reluctantly taken up the appointment in 2014 when no other offer was forthcoming.
She said: “I did not initially want the job as it was common knowledge that despite having almost the same qualifications, contract staff earn far less than their colleagues who are employed on a permanent basis. But I had little choice because at that time, the most common opening for young graduates in the banking industry was being employed as a contract worker.
“However, it did not take me long to discover that the job was a form of slavery. We (contract staff) hardly have any breathing space; you cannot take or receive calls on your mobile phones while you are at work and getting permission to attend to urgent personal matters is a big problem.”
Amadi added that those who had permanent employment usually look down on the contract staff. “Apart from the tough work schedule, the insults and abuse that we frequently suffer in the hands of bosses who just wanted to show that they don’t have the same employment status with us can be so annoying that many people chose the option of quitting instead of being provoked into doing something rash.
“You can imagine that while the permanent staff who clearly don’t work as hard as contract workers earn about N150,000, we were paid N64,000.
Besides, while permanent staff are entitled to annual leave and leave allowance, its usually very difficult for contract staff to be granted leave and even then, they receive no allowance whatsoever,” she added.
Amadi emphasised that although she was yet to find another job and was having a tough time raising funds to start a business, she really did not regret resigning from the bank. 32,359 bank contract staff
However, it would seem that the likes of Amadi who have the courage to resign are quite few as data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in February shows that as at December 31, 2017, no fewer than 32,359 staff in the banking industry were employed on contract basis, accounting for 35.8 per cent of total bank staff, which stood at 90,453.
The NBS in its Selected Banking Sector Data for the fourth quarter of 2017 reveals that the number of contract staff in banks had consistently grown to 32,359 in the last quarter of last year.
Specifically, the report shows that banks had gradually increased their number of contract staff from 20,237 in the first quarter to 21,837 in the second quarter and 27,032 in the third quarter before increasing it by 19.71 per cent in the fourth quarter.
The report further shows that the number of executive staff of banks dropped from 197 in the third quarter to 188 by the end of last year, while the number of senior executives had dropped by 3,852 from 20,420 to 16,568 as at December 2017. Also, in the last three months of 2017, the number of executive and senior staff of banks declined by 4.57 per cent and 18.86 per cent respectively.
Cost cutting Analysts point out that banks began to increasingly employ contract staff and reducing hir-ing of executive and senior staff as part of aggressive cost cutting measures introduced in the wake of the crisis which hit the industry in the last decade.
The crises, which led the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to take over several lenders that were close to going under, resulted in massive job cuts in the industry with the departing staff being replaced with younger contract staff, who were ready to receive salaries that were less than half of what permanent employees were getting.
How it works New Telegraph findings show that banks adopted the strategy of outsourcing the hiring of contract staff to firms which usually have some form of close relationship with the lenders. For instance, the firms could be owned directly or indirectly by a relative/associate of a top shareholders or executive director of the bank.
Although the hired contract staff are seconded to the banks, these firms undertake all the processes required in the hiring of the contract staff, including advertising vacancies, conducting tests/interviews and issuing employment letters.
Also, in the event that the bank complains about the worker’s conduct, the person will not be sacked, but will be simply sent back to his or her employer. Industry sources said that while lenders pay outsourcing firms huge amounts for hiring contract staff, these companies pay the workers small salaries despite the challenging tasks they perform in the banks.
Rising fraud Interestingly, regulators have attributed the rising rate of fraud and forgery cases in the banking industry to the increasing number of contract staff employed by banks.
For instance, in the last few years, the Managing Director and Chief Executive of the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Alhaji Umaru Ibrahim, has been repeatedly warning banks against the use of outsourced staff, pointing out that in 2015, over 75 per cent of fraud cases in the banking sector was traced to outsourced bank staff.
Last year, he revealed that bank examination reports indicated that the high incidence of fraud and forgeries in the banking system was linked to outsourced or contract staff.
The NDIC boss also stated that in as much as regulators appreciated the necessity for banks to cut costs, it was incumbent on all stakeholders to fashion out capacity building and other strategies to motivate all employees to contribute positively rather than engaging in criminal acts that impact adversely on the entire banking system.
Ibrahim told finance and business journalists in Ilorin in October 2015 that 64 per cent of fraudulent activities in the banking industry in 2014 were traced to temporary staff of banks.
Similarly, two years ago, the CBN Director, Banking and Payments System Department, Mr. Dipo Fatokun, disclosed that the apex bank had advised lenders to desist from giving sensitive banking roles to contract staff as they might not have a stake in the financial institution.
He said: “A temporary staff may not have a stake in the bank so to say. So, it is encouraged that if they have staff that are not permanent, they should not give them responsibilities or roles that will expose them to critical functions of a bank.
“If you are giving somebody an authority to approve transactions of high magnitude and he does not have a stake in your bank, then you are already exposing yourself. So, this has been going on and I believe many banks understand the need to rely on their key staff for major duties. That is one of the reasons the fraud attempts have been rising, but the value lost declining.”
However, findings by New Telegraph indicate that despite these warnings, banks not only continue to hire contract staff, but have started assigning these employees to sensitive roles that were previously reserved for full time or permanent staff.
An industry source attributed the development to the increasing need for banks to cut costs in the face of a tough economy and rising competition. The source said: “Before now, contract staff were not assigned to Automated Teller Machine (ATM) watch duties.
You will also hardly find them being told to perform customer service duties. But all that has changed. Also, in the past, most banks usually set a maximum value of between N200,000 and N500,000 as the limit for risky transactions that a contract staff can undertake, but these days, this limit has been raised to N1 million.”
According to fraud statistics contained in the latest Nigerian Electronic Fraud Report, which was prepared by the Banking and Systems Payment Department of CBN, the banking industry recorded 31,736 fraud cases involving N16.5 billion between January 2014 and December 2016.
The study shows that the frauds were perpetrated through various payment channels such as Across the Counter, ATMs, cheques and electronic-commerce platforms. Others are Internet banking, mobile banking, Point-of-Sale and web transactions.
The report states that in the last three years, there had been more attempts in the number of fraud cases, adding that the development could be linked to the tough economy. Commenting on the issue of banks’ hiring of contract staff, a management consultant, Mr. Dafe Edeki, blamed the situation on the country’s sluggish economy, which, according to him, continues to drive cost minimisation by companies. He said: “The banks are not exploiting the contract staff; it’s strictly business.
Any organisation that wants to stay competitive would take advantage of the demand and supply gap in the labour market by offering small salaries because there are millions of people who are ready to do that job for half the pay. Anyone who is not comfortable with the terms of employment should not sign the employment letter.”
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