ATBU, TETFUND, in multi-million contracts scandal (2)

By: Kemi Busari

EVEN though projects funded by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) in Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) are mostly completed and handed over, the eligibility of the contractors has raised many questions, The ICIR reports.

After two visits, in June and September, this reporter found most of the projects awarded between 2014 and 2016 completed.

Between 2011 and 2018, the institution received N1, 484, 780, 100 for physical infrastructure, according to documents obtained from TETFUND through a freedom of Information Act, FOIA, request.

According to budget performance document submitted to the Senate in March, the institution benefitted from 31 projects between 2015 and 2018. This consists of new projects, renovations and supplies.

However, a further check by this newspaper shows that some of the contractors who handled the projects were not qualified.

Oil marketers for construction works

The central laboratory, currently on defect liability period, was built at the Gubi Campus of the institution, the proposed permanent site of the Faculty of Science.

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NNPC Mega Filling Station

The project, costing N285 million, was awarded to Messrs Bamaco Investment Limited.

Out of the 16 construction works the university benefitted from between 2015 and 2018, Bamaco was contracted to execute three, including the laboratory.

The other two projects are the construction of Faculty of Management Technology Phase 2 at Gubi campus and construction of a 350 seats capacity auditorium in Yelwa Campus. Both were found to be ongoing and completed respectively.

The auditorium

However, a check by this newspaper indicates that the company may not be qualified to carry out some of these projects, especially that of building a laboratory.

Records of Bamaco with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) show that the company was incorporated in 1993 with the main objective totally different from the task it took on at the university.

It has at its main object “To carry on business as independent marketers of oil and petroleum products, to store, sell petrol, gas, kerosene, lubricants, and to erect structures, run and maintain filling stations for that purpose, to carry on business of petroleum merchants.”

This development is a contravention of Section 16, subsection 6 (i) of Nigeria’s procurement law which states that all bidders shall possess necessary “professional and technical qualifications to carry out particular procurements.”

At least three other projects in the budget performance document raised questions on the competence of the companies that executed them.

The first two are; “Construction of Lecture Hall with external works at Tafawa Balewa” and “Construction of Lecture Hall at Tafawa Balewa. Both were found completed at the Tafawa Balewa Centre of the institution.

The construction of lecture hall with external works at Tafawa Balewa was awarded to Messers Nuhu Abe and Sons at N223, 850, 150.

The project was said to have been 85 per cent completed as at March 2019, with an outstanding payment of N80, 707, 042.

Inside the lecture hall built by Nuhu Abe and Sons

The second labelling, “Construction of Lecture Hall at Tafawa Balewa” was awarded to Messrs Amber Blaze and Sons Ltd at N80, 178, 680 and it was quoted as, and found to be, 100 per cent complete.

A further investigation of the two firms shows that they may not be qualified for such construction.

Registered in 1992, Nuhu Abe And Sons Limited has as its main object “to carry on business of producers, refiners, storers and distributors of petroleum and petroleum products in all its branches.”

This has nothing to do with construction and falls short of the all-important provision of Section 16, subsection 6 (i) of the Public Procurement Act (quoted above).

Nkem Ilo, the Chief Executive Officer of the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), noted that the advertisement by awarding entity may sometimes mislead.

“I think it’s important you look at the call for advertisement. The act says that you should have relevant experience in the area of contracting. One of the ways they put that out is in the advertisement. For example, that may say you should have two years’ experience and all of that. It doesn’t preclude anybody, even me that doesn’t have a company can bid through that process. But in the evaluation of the bids, that is when the criteria will be looked into.”

A lawyer, Lekan Alabi, disagrees, noting that the procurement law precludes companies without technical competencies in construction works.

“This means they are not a construction company. It is clear. They don’t even have the omnibus ground. On the strength of their objects, they are not qualified for the projects,” he said.

“With these objectives, those companies have no business in construction. The object of their company has not reflected that they can construct. The question now is; how did they get the contract? Which means something is fishy somewhere, the due process has been violated because you’re giving a technical work to a company without the technical know-how. That is the reason we are having building collapse.”

Mr Alabi argued that if the companies had attempted to amend their objects, such amendment should necessarily reflect in the search done by this newspaper.

“If they have to amend their objects or they have to add to it, it’s another procedure entirely and it has to be in their file (when the search was conducted).”

Efforts to confirm from the CAC how often the commission updates its data in cases of amendment were unsuccessful. The Director of Public Affairs of the commission, Moses Adaguusu, who was away from the office for a journey, insisted he would not speak with a journalist on phone even after due introduction.

Other suspicious contractors

Messrs Amber Blaze & Sons Ltd, which carried out the second lecture hall construction, was not found on record of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) after a search. Efforts to track the firm down online were unsuccessful as it has no website or social media account of any sort. In fact, there is no single mention of such firm in the news.

Lecture hall built by Amber Blaze

To be eligible to handle contracts for the Nigerian government, prospective bidders are usually requested to provide evidence of registration on the database of Federal Contractors, Consultants and Service Providers by submitting Interim Registration Report or valid certificate issued by the BPP. To be eligible for this, companies must be registered with CAC.

In December 11, 2014, then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, wrote to ministries, departments and agencies informing them of a presidential directive “that any federal contractor, consultants or service provider that is not registered with the National Database of Federal Contractor, Consultants and service provider domiciled at the Bureau of Public Procurement will no longer be allowed to do business with the Government.”

“This is to facilitate the maintenance of a National Database of the particulars, classification and categorization of Federal Contractors, consultants and service providers as required by the provision section 5(h) and 6(1) (f) of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.”

By allowing unqualified firms to get government jobs, officials involved appears to have violated sections of the Public Procurement Act 2007, especially for colluding with the unqualified firms to defraud government.

“Collusion shall be presumed from a set of acts from which it can be assumed that there was an understanding, implicit, formal or informal, overt or covert under which each person involved reasonably expected that the other would adopt a particular course of action which would interfere with the faithful and proper application of the provisions of this Act,” Section 9 of the Act reads.

If found guilty, the officials are liable to “a cumulative punishment of : (a) a term of imprisonment of not less than five calendar years without any option of fine ; and (b) summary dismissal from government services.”

The affected companies, on conviction, will also be liable to “a cumulative penalty of: (a) debarment from all public procurements for a period not less than five calendar years; and (b) a fine equivalent to 25 per cent of the value of the procurement in issue.”

Also raising suspicion is the contractor that handled the Construction of Students’ Centre at Yelwa Campus. The centre houses many business serving the students on campus.

It was built by Messrs Quiltex Integrated Investment Limited at N98, 150, 954 and has been in use for some years.

The company, according to the CAC, was incorporated in 2008 with the main object ‘to carry on the business of general contracts, general supplies of goods, distribution, manufacturers representatives, general merchants, commission agents, shipping agents, trading, distributors, general marketing.’

The Student Centre

Mr Alabi said that the company may not have breached any law but blamed the CAC for allowing such objectives.

“That one will escape because they said general contract. The CAC is supposed to have asked them to specify what kinds of contracts,” he said.

Our procurement process guided by law – school official

“All our process is an open exercise, we do invite Civil Society Organisations and so on. We don’t have any skeleton in their cupboard,” the Director of Works, ATBU said when confronted with findings by this newspaper.

He defended the school’s procurement culture for each of the breaches.

On the non-registration of Messrs Amber Blaze & Sons Ltd with the CAC, Mr Sabo said the company may have deregistered by the end of the year it carried out the construction.

“Maybe they are being deleted. You should check the time they did the contract. Today your company may be qualified for a job but by the end of December 31, that’s when their registration expires, maybe by the time (of check they haven’t renewed). We don’t do that kind of thing (collude) in ATBU.”

Mr Sabo

He also defended the oil companies that executed constructions works.

“If you check the memorandum of association, you will see some registered as oil company but trading in supplies, construction and so on. The way lawyers register companies, they tried to do a wide range of area that you can use the company.”

Mr Sabo went further to explain how the procurement process works at ATBU.

“What we do usually, when a company submits its profile, there are what we call the mandatory requirements. Like registration with CAC, tax clearance, registration with BPP, NSITF and some others. Once these people register you, especially BPP, they know you can carry out the job. We always do that.

“If you are found wanting in any of the mandatory ones, its automatic disqualification. Then we’ll now go ahead and score you on the others, we call them specifics. If you’re able to score 70 per cent by the time the exercise is concluded, then you’re qualified and that’s how we do it always. ATBU has been going to ICPC, EFCC etc. on that kind of thing, so we don’t joke with it.”

* This investigation was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting


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