Inside Nigeria’s Budget Of Fraud

 

The Iseyin Fish Farm
The Iseyin Fish Farm

Between 2012 and 2014, a total of N201.79 billion was appropriated for 5,145 capital projects in the South West. Sadly, only few of these projects were found to exist. Even these ones are in bad shape despite whopping sums sunk into them. MOJEED ALABI, who has been tracking these projects for about four months, reports

It was a gory scene to behold! Two vehicles had collided early in the morning on a Saturday in November 2015, at Owo-Eba Bus Stop, Owode area of Osogbo, Osun State. The incident, which had left two brothers -Kehinde and Idowu – both bricklayers from Ede, Ede South Local Government Area of  the state, gasping for breath, was avoidable.

The brothers had set out for work on the fateful day and their destination was Kajola, along Ilesha-Osogbo Road, where a building construction was ongoing. But the accident had ended their journey when another oncoming car driven by a middle-aged woman rammed into their rickety car.

According to a Good Samaritan, whose block-making factory is located close to the scene, Hassan Anifowoshe, the sharp bend on the uncompleted road, had affected the vision of the drivers of the two vehicles, leading to the collision. “I took the two brothers in my car to Ladoke Akintola University Teaching Hospital, Osogbo, for immediate medical attention before their family members were contacted,” Anifowoshe explained.

However, the doctors in the public hospital were on strike, and after stabilising the patients at the hospital’s accident and emergency unit, they were referred to Wesley Hospital, Ilesha, where they received further treatment.

Abandoned commercial vehicle on the road.
Abandoned commercial vehicle on the road.

Such accidents are no longer strange on the 27.3-kilometre Ilesha-Osogbo Road, especially within the last four years when construction started on it. From the Enu Owa Square, in front of the palace of Owa Obokun of Ijesaland, up to Oke-Baale area of Osogbo is ordinarily a journey of less than 20 minutes. But, it now takes more than one hour due to the abandoned construction work on the road. Commuters plying the route are currently groaning over the challenges posed by some unfilled ditches and uncompleted bridges and bends, particularly towards the Osogbo end of the road.

Isiaka Bakare is the Chairman of Oke-Ijetu Branch 1, Osogbo, of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). He believes the road should have been left the way it was instead of the ‘nuisance’ it now constitutes with the abandonment of ongoing work on it.

According to him, many of his members plying the route have had their vehicles plunged into the ditches several times, leading to loss of lives. “It is just not possible for our members not to ply the road because it was not this bad when it was awarded. We had thought it would be dualised when it was awarded but it remains a single-lane it was before and with more dangerous bends,” Bakare lamented. His counterpart at Oke-Ijetu Branch II of the union, Azeez Morufu, agrees, saying that the fact that the 27-kilometre road has been under construction for more than four years without expansion confirms its poor handling. A motor mechanic in Owode, who identified himself simply as Ismail, also said his customers were already losing confidence in him because vehicles plying the route constantly develop faults.

“It has remained the same problems of shock absorbers, shaft, among others, which have to do with the pressure from the road that are being reported often and if you change them today, within weeks they are back with same complaints,” Ismail explained.

Saturday Telegraph’s investigation, however, revealed that as part of the budgetary allocations for capital projects in the South-West in the 2011 national budget, the sum of nearly two billion, six hundred and ninety three million, two hundred and forty five thousand, four hundred and one naira (N2.693, 245, 401 billion) was allocated for the reconstruction of the single-lane road. It was awarded to Horizon Construction Company Limited.

As at the time the budget was being debated in the National Assembly, the owner of the construction company, Gbenga Onigbogi, was a member of the House of Representatives representing Ijesha South Federal Constituency comprising Ilesa East, Ilesa West, Atakunmosa East and Atakunmosa West Local Government Areas of Osun State. He had also tried his luck for the state governorship ticket under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in 2010 but failed.

But, in response to the request for information on the project, the Highways Planning and Development Department of the Federal Ministry of Works, in a tersely worded letter signed by its coordinator, Bala Danshehu, revealed that only N1, 843, 023, 562, 41 has so far been released to the contractor. Danshehu wrote that the project now stands at 78.14 per cent completion, adding that poor funding has affected its progress.

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“Inadequate release of budgeted funds in 2013 and 2014 and non-provision in 2015 budget has delayed the completion,” Danshehu wrote.

Yet, Onigbogi contradicted that, saying instead that the road itself was 80 per cent complete and 100 per cent complete in terms of drainages and culverts. He refuted the claim that the project had been abandoned saying, “we only left the site due to poor funding.

“We have done almost all the tarring while the drainages are almost 100 per cent complete. The engineer supervising the project, Engr. Jimoh, will give you the true opinion from the employer’s point of view. But my appeal is that you don’t paint that project in bad light because if we are to go with what we are hearing through the grapevine, it is likely to receive allocation in the 2016 budget.

“What that means is that by May/June 2016, that project is going to be 100 per cent complete. Don’t just speak with anyone who will only release documents and statistics to you telling you that N1.8 billion had been released but only N50 million expended and the rest embezzled,” Onigbogi cautioned.

When the reporter visited the site, the engineer from the ministry, Adebayo Jimoh, was not on ground and was also reluctant to comment, claiming he was not competent to speak to journalists. When pressed further, he disclosed that the contractor had left the site since November 2014, and that the last certificate was only raised in August 2013.

He emphasised:  “We have done about 23 kilometres out of 27.6. But all other works like drainages and culverts is almost 90 per cent complete. Only one culvert location are left to be filled. I even appealed to them to fill it up since they had done the culvert so that the place could be beautified and vehicles can pass but they said they didn’t have money again. Today, people need to pass through a diversion.”

Some of the residents of the communities affected by the road construction had queried the decision of the federal government to award the contract to a company owned by an elected official from the state. Meanwhile, an official of the Works Ministry, who craved anonymity for fear of victimisation, told Saturday Telegraph that the contract was highly inflated because the ministry’s benchmark for construction of single-lane roads in most South-west states, including Osun was only N45 million per kilometre.

If this benchmark were to be correct, then the real contract sum for the road would have been around N1.3 billion. That implies that the contract sum had been more than doubled. Such scenario would only confirm the insinuations among the residents that the contract, which was not a constituency project initiated by the representative, was part of the government support for the governorship ambition of Onigbogi in the aborted 2011 election in the state.

The Senator representing Osun East Senatorial District, comprising Ife-Ijesha zone, Babajide Omoworare, confirmed that there are lots of abandoned federal government projects in the zone. He, however, declined to comment on the Ilesha-Osogbo Road, claiming he was awaiting the report of a committee he had set up to look into the status of all the projects. Omoworare promised to make the findings of his committee available to Saturday Telegraph as soon as it is ready.

Further investigations show that there are other instances of contracts awarded to politicians as political patronage. Such contracts are never really executed to the detriment of communities that these politicians serve. Between 2012 and 2014 alone, a total of N201.79 billion was budgeted for more than 3,000 capital projects in the South-West region. It was N79.82 billion in 2012; N76.41 billion in 2013, and N45.54 billion in 2014.

In 2014, in particular, a total of 1,169 capital projects were expected to be executed in the region, with Lagos State receiving the largest share of N22.68 billion representing 49.80 per cent for a total of 442 capital projects. This is followed by Oyo State, which got N7.27 billion for a total of 281 projects and Ogun State’s N6.28 billion for 154 projects. Osun follows with a total of N4.05 billion for 104 projects, followed by Ondo which got N3.48 billion for 92 projects and Ekiti, N1.78 billion for 96 projects.

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Most of these projects are listed in the budgets as ongoing with few designated as new, while many others were classified as ‘undefined.’ But Saturday Telegraph’s investigations revealed dirty deals, especially as government continued to award contracts to companies owned by elected officials at inflated costs. For example, Gbenga Babalola, from Iseyin in Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State represented Oyo North Senatorial District in the National Assembly between 2007 and 2011. During the period, the National Assembly approved the establishment of Aquaculture Incubation Centre in Iseyin, for the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

Without evidence for competitive bidding processes, the contract was awarded through the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR), Victoria Island, Lagos, to Messer Gazimpex West Africa Limited, a general contracting company, owned by Babalola.   Following many months of repeated request for information on the contract, NIOMR in its response said it had released a total sum of N54, 738,215 million to the contractor, without quoting the total contract sum.

The letter, signed on behalf of the Executive Director of the Institute, Dr. Gbola Akande, by the Assistant Chief Administration Officer, D.O Iluobe, noted that the contract had since been completed with payment ongoing. However, in spite of inquiries about the location of the project, no NIOMR official could tell our reporter exactly where the project is located. Not even the Clark of the 7th Senate Committee on Agriculture, Dr. Fortune Ihua-Maduenyi, who had confirmed the existence of the project, could tell its location.

But in an interview with Babalola, he disclosed that the total cost of the project is N135 million and that it was completed within 13 weeks of commencement, even though he claimed that the ministry had failed to pay him up to 70 per cent of the total sum. “How can the community claim to know about the project? Is it their project? They can only be aware of it when it is inaugurated for use. I have done my part but government cannot take over the project it has not paid for,” the senator said.

When contacted, the House of Representatives member from Iseyin representing Itesiwaju Federal Constituency of Oyo State, Abiodun Olasupo, said he knew nothing about the project. Even the traditional ruler of the town, Aseyin of Iseyin, Oba Abdul Ganiy Adekunle Salawu, said he was unaware of the project.

During a visit to the project site, which was found out to be located along Iseyin-Oyo Road, close to Shina Farms, some building structures were identified in a thickly bushy location. The guard at the site, Olalekan Waheed, who led our reporter on the tour, said he was employed about four years ago when the construction work started and that he is no longer being paid his salary and could not raise the needed money to clear the bush “except this small parcel that I use to farm.”

Iseyin Fish Farm
Iseyin Fish Farm

Interestingly, the villagers were ecstatic about the reporter’s visit and had appealed that they should be considered for menial jobs at the site.  They, however, expressed frustration over the long years of waiting for the project to take off without success.

“We were the labourers employed to work on the site when it was being constructed and we had been hopeful we would be retained whenever the project eventually kicks off. But we have waited in vain in the last four years or more,” said one of the villagers, who expressed his disappointment in Yoruba Language.

The building structures were already degenerating while the proposed pond has been covered by thick bush. Oba Salawu expressed his disappointment at the development, saying that was the same way the Ikeregu Dam in the community has been abandoned since 1979.

The royal father listed many other similar projects initiated in the area but which were never completed to include Veterinary Control Post and the Iseyin-Ibadan Rural Electrification Project, which he noted had even been inaugurated but not functional. He advised government to always link capital projects to financial institutions and that no cash should be sent directly to contractors but through the banks, which he said would have the responsibility of monitoring the projects on behalf of government.

From Oyo to Ondo, Ekiti, Ogun, Osun and even Lagos, the situation is the same as there remain lots of abandoned projects that have continued to attract allocations from the national budget.

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For instance, on the campus of the Lagos State Polytechnic, Ikorodu, is also cited an uncompleted proposed civic centre, which the Economic Services Department of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development quotes as completed.

The project, which is tagged Construction and Equipping of a Civic Centre for Ikorodu Central Constituency, Lagos State, was awarded to GOF Holdings Limited.

In its letter signed by the Director of the Economic Services Department of the ministry, J.O Olowoofoyeku, the project, which was awarded at the contract sum of N40, 941, 799, 50 with the scope of constructing the main building and borehole, has so far received the sum of N31, 730,427,098 with the balance of N7, 730, 311, 73. The delay in the payment of the project, according to the ministry, is due to budgetary constraints.

Ikorodu Civic centre
Ikorodu Civic centre

However, a visit to the site by the reporter revealed mainly an uncompleted building in a bushy location that is presently taken over by some young men who are working on some construction works close to the project site. According to one of the boys, who identified himself simply as Samuel, he came to visit his elder brother who had been occupying one of the rooms for over two years now. He said it had been the responsibility of his brother to pay for the clearing of the bush around the building but he stopped when he could no longer raise the money.

Meanwhile, in the reporter’s efforts to discover the true status of the project, the former member of House of Representatives, who represented the constituency when the budget was approved and contract awarded, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, confirmed that she had attracted the project to the constituency as a parliamentarian. She, however, denied any knowledge of its award and construction.

During a telephone interview with our reporter, Dabiri-Erewa, noted that she was dissatisfied with the work done, saying she had approached the ministry to lodge her complaint. She said she was passionate about community development but that the project being initiated did not conform to the design of her dream. She added that upon completion, the project was supposed to be handed over to her to be presented to the constituents.

Dabiri-Erewa reacted angrily, when asked of her relationship with the company. She insisted that she never had anything to do with the project apart from facilitating it, and that asking about her relationship with the contractor was an insult. “I am aware many National Assembly members facilitate projects and also execute same but in my own case I didn’t,” she stated.

She also reacted to inquiries about an aquaculture entrepreneurship centre budgeted for the constituency between 2011 and 2015, saying she also facilitated it but that it was not awarded and that no kobo was released for it. Meanwhile, spirited efforts made to secure the actual releases to these and many other similar projects in the region by the reporter through the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Budget Office in the Ministry of Finance were unsuccessful.

According to the AGF’s office, only the Budget Office could give such information, claiming it only deals with cash-backings and that the Budget Office was in charge of actual releases for projects. Since September 1, 2015, when Saturday Telegraph wrote the Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, in a letter entitled “Request for Information,” there has been neither acknowledgment nor reply. The letter sought for the actual releases on these capital projects in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 budgets.

Visits to the office by the reporter and interactions with its spokesman, Olajuwon Afolabi, yielded no result.  Not even the threat of instituting a court action against the office could squeeze out a response. The Executive Director of the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), a non-governmental organisation committed to ensuring accountability on the part of government, Seember Nyanger, expressed disgust about this conduct of the nation’s public officers. He said public documents ought to be kept as private properties.

Nyanger, while calling on stakeholders to intensify efforts to bring to book, any officer found wanting in that regard, suggested more enlightenment campaigns on the importance of the Freedom of Information Act.

This is the first of a two – part report. The investigation was made possible with support from Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

 

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