BY ARCHIBONG JEREMIAH
The management of the Cross River State College of Nursing and Midwifery Sciences, Itigidi, in Abi Local Government Area, LGA, Cross River State, met the proverbial “judgment day” on Thursday, June 1, 2023.
The Registrar, Aji Eko, who was on his way to catch up with an appointment at the nearby General Hospital expressed surprised when approached by CrossRiverWatch.
The reporter had come to ask the Registrar questions about some contracts. This included the contracts to renovate the building used for his office awarded to Quintito Integrated Services Nig. Ltd for N20 million; completion of block work/fixing of doors and windows in a 3-story hostel block awarded to JND Consultant Ltd for N60 million; landscaping of the college premises including the construction of the perimeter fencing awarded to Renaissance Datarium for N18 million; and another N18,000,000 paid to Entek B for the construction of additional three classrooms to meet NBTE’s specification.
The Registrar could not hold his anger upon learning from the reporter that the Ministry of Health had played a fast one on the College. True, the projects are ongoing but they are being funded from the college’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) because the government claimed it was financially constrained and asked them to use IGR for the projects. But, the Registrar and his team had not been told that contracts had been awarded and contractors paid. Meaning that work ought to have started.
Eko rang the Provost of the College, Ruth Eta-Ebong on the phone to share with her what he had just learnt. After expressing her frustration with the funding challenges bedeviling her office, the Provost instructed the Registrar, in the company of her deputy, to accompany CrossRiverWatch to all the project sites to see the level of work done.
But, rather than do this, the Registrar set up an emergency panel that interrogated the reporter for over an hour about the source and authenticity of his information. At the meeting were the Registrar, Deputy Provost, Administration, Bursar, and Auditor, while the Provost coordinated them over the phone.
After surviving the interrogation, the officials declined to guide the reporter to the project sites and helplessly confirmed that this was for fear of losing their jobs.
The four contracts listed above and 32 others worth over N1 billion inspired this six-week investigation which uncovered a far-reaching breach of the Cross River State Procurement Law, 2020.
From scrutinizing documents from the Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau (DPPIB), CrossRiverWatch established 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) program. The 79 contracts were awarded from October 2020 to December 2021.
Of the 79 contracts, 36 were awarded by the immediate past government of Ben Ayade in violation of several provisions of the State Procurement Law, 2020 and the Project Development Objective (PDO) of the SFTAS program, which is to strengthen fiscal transparency, accountability, and sustainability in participating Nigerian states. All 79 contracts were awarded at the exact amount the contractors proposed.
What Is SFTAS
To support the government in its objective to encourage a common set of fiscal behaviour aimed at fiscal transparency, accountability, and sustainability among states in Nigeria, the World Bank developed a four-year (2018 – 2022) Program for Results (PforR) facility worth $750 million called States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) Performance for Results (PforR).
The program 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 program was spread to cover $700 million in annual performance grants and $50 million in technical assistance support to states.
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. Part 3 – fundamental principles of procurement, section 1(b), 6(a) sub 1, and 6(b) are the provisions violated.
No Prior Budgetary Appropriation
Part 3, section 1 (b) of the state procurement law stipulates that 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 contracts were not found in the 2020 and 2021 budgets of the state as required. Two of these are from the Ministry of Health while the others are from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The contracts by the Ministry of Health are renovation of the building used for the Registry/Registrar’s Office, College of Nursing Itigidi, valued at N20 million, awarded to Quintito Integrated Service Nig. Ltd and the renovation of General Hospital, Itigidi (female ward, children’s ward, and theater) awarded to Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd for N48 million.
The IRS contracts are procurement of Integrated Data Extraction and Analysis (IDEAL) software, given to Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd for N21 million, and printing of 7,000 units of vehicle registration booklets and 3,000 units of motorcycle registration booklets for N9.5 million awarded to Odessys Services.
CrossRiverWatch investigation further revealed that three 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 lack the professional capacity for the services paid for are Konkri Kong Nigeria, Conceal Nigeria Ltd, and Ishor Global Concept (Nig) Ltd.
Konkri Kong Nigeria, which is registered as generator merchants and traders was employed and paid N15 million to purchase 200 non-contact stand-by infra-red thermometers for the Governor’s Office.
Conceal Nigeria, which is 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 by this reporter is 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 are 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. 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
For the 28 contracts awarded to the 24 companies not registered with CAC as demanded by law, some legitimate and qualified companies were kicked aside during the bidding process to favor the illegal ones.
There are nine awards where all the companies that bidded were unregistered. These are 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 are five cases where the only legal company that bidded was kicked aside. The companies kicked aside are Dadaman Global Invest. Nig Ltd in the contract to print 7000 units of vehicle registration booklets and 3000 units of motorcycle registration booklets for IRS – N9,500,000; Breatinor Ventures, collection/evacuation, and transportation to dumpsites for the feasibility waste to wealth program in Ikom Urban – N20,300,000; Fergobest Nig. Ltd, procurement of nutritional pillar commodities MUAC tape, micronutrient power, vit A capsules – N10,000,000; Dual Basol Nig. Ltd, construction of state cold store, Barracks Road, Calabar – N95,000,000; and Preyek Ventures, procurement of 818 Nos. green bins transportation inclusive Lot IV Ogoja Urban – N40,500,000.
In the case of another 14, there was more than one registered company that bidded, but none got the contract.
Surprisingly, in one instance, the contract to purchase IDEAL software was awarded at the sum of N21,000,000 to Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd, which did not bid but miraculously got the contract.
The companies that bidded to purchase IDEAL software and were kicked aside are Pierre Consulting, Direct Link Procurement, and Supply Ltd, and Glory Land Mega Works Ltd.
Awarded Contracts Less Than 8 Months After Incorporation
This investigation also uncovered a case of four companies that got contracts not more than 8 months after they got incorporated. They were awarded in vioaltion 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 by providing a tax clearance certificate.
Tax clearance for three years is sacrosant as it is mandatory according to the check-list of documents required for Due Process review and certification.
Shaema Global Services was awarded the contract to collect/evacuate and transport waste for feasibility and analysis under the waste-to-wealth program in Boki Urban, Lot VI for N21,350,000. The contract was given to the company 8 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 N21,550,000. It got the contract two and a half months days after incorporation.
For the procurement of nine direct solar refrigerators and one ice park freezer for N30,000,000, Erhnof Limited was contracted 18 days after it registered with CAC.
Bedas Enterprise was paid N20,000,000 for the procurement of delivery kits for safe motherhood (Lot I) 35 days after it got registered.
Awarded To Politicians
This six-week investigation also uncovered seven contracts awarded to four companies affiliated with politicians or Politically Exposed Persons, PEPs. Two are commissioners, one was an aide and relative to Governor Ben Ayade, and the other a 2019 House of Assembly candidate cum popular radio presenter turned legislative aide.
Glory Land Mega Works got three contracts, Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd got two, Quintito Integrated Service Nig. Ltd and Wegosip Promotions got one each.
Glory Land Mega Works was contracted to purchase gunshot-infra-red thermometers for N45,000,000; procurement of 70 life jackets for N10,000,000; and another 70 life Jackets for 10,000,000. Its has Okon Nyong Owuna, Mabel Okon Owuna, Obassi-Akare Okon Nyong, Onor-Obasi Okon Owuna, and Ekup-Nse Okon Nyong listed as Directors.
Okon Nyong Owuna was Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources during the period of the contract award in Cross River State. He later resigned to contest for the Southern Senatorial District ticket.
Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd, which was contracted to renovate General Hospital, Itigidi (female ward, children ward, and theater) for N48,000,000 and procurement of Integrated Data Extraction and Analysis (idea\l) software for N21,000,000 has two Directors, George O’ben-Etchi and O’ben-Etchi G. Both directors are believed to be Hon. George O’ben-Etchi, former House of Assembly member and immediate past Commissioner for Social Housing, but during the contract award period, he was 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 N20,000,000. The company is registered and has and has four Directors. They are Enamhe Ushie, Blessing Anthony Ulayi, Prince Victor Necus-Agba, and Anthony Andor Ulayi. The company is linked to Anthony Andor Ulayi who is related to Gov. Ayade through his half-brother, Placidus Ogar. Apart from the bloodline, Mr. Ulayi was Ayade’s Special Assistant on Local Government Service Commission.
Wegosip Promotions is an unregistered company but was contracted to procure and distribute 1000 bales of LLNS for N10,000,000. The company is owned by Mr. Awade Friday, owner of the popular vernacular English radio program on Hit 95.9FM Calabar – Otwetwe.
Mr. Awade AKA Last Prophet contested and lost in the February 2019 general elections, where he ran under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) for the Obanliku State Constituency in the House of Assembly category. He is currently a media aide to the member representing Obudu/Bekwarra/Obalinku in the House of Representatives, Hon. Peter Akpanke.
It was further established that nine contractors did not go to their sites despite being mobilized, while one 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, a company linked to Governor Ayade’s relative, got N20,000,000 to renovate a building used as Registry/Registrar’s Office but never visited the site.
Likewise, JND Consultant Ltd was paid N60,000,000 for the completion of block work/fixing of doors and windows in a 3-story hostel block, but it never went through with it.
Renaissance Datarium got N18,000,000 to landscape the college premises, including the construction of the perimeter fence, but it never did.
Also, Entek B was paid N18,000,000 for the construction of additional 3 classrooms to meet NBTE’s specifications like others, but it never went to the site.
Sharing the fence with the College in Itigidi is the General Hospital, where Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd, a company linked to Hon. George O’ben Etchi, former House of Assembly member and immediate past Commissioner for Social Housing, got N48,000,000 to renovate the hospital’s female ward, children ward, and theater but never did. He was Commissioner for Solid Minerals when the contract was awarded.
Ishor Global Concept (Nig) Ltd, a company registered as a cleaning/waste disposal service provider was paid N40,000,000 to build and equip a new facility for them. The Primary Health Care Centre Egbe Mbube, Ogoja LGA operated from a community town hall, and this was what the contract was supposed to address. It abandoned the project halfway.
Peter Enhievi Nigeria Enterprise was also contracted to equip the Primary Health Care Centre, Egbe Mbube, for N28,000,000, but no sign of the contractor or the equipment has been seen to date.
De-sanitizers Nig. Ltd. was contracted to renovate Primary Health Care Centres in Adadama, Abi LGA; Benedehe Ekem, Etung LGA; and Katchuan Irruan, Boki LGA for N45,000,000.
The contractor only renovated the PHC in Adadama, Abi, and abandoned that of Katchuan Irruan in Boki and Bendehe Ekem in Etung LGAs.
Livics Nigeria Enterprises, an unregistered company was paid N43,478,800 for the procurement of Callywood equipment. Callywood Studio which operates from Tinapa has been abandoned for years. A visit shows that it is still not functional, under lock and key and not bearing looks of N43,478,800.
When asked why the N48,000,000 contract to renovate the theater, female, and children ward was not executed, George O’Ben Etchi, owner of Gobenchi Supply, and Investment Company Ltd was startled.
He told CrossRiverWatch over the phone that the contract was not given to him directly, and that he only helped a young friend.
“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 can go ahead and make use of the company. When the payments were done we made sure the money was released to him.
“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% but I don’t, I use that to help young people who have jobs, Just to enable them. Give me some time to make my findings and I will get back to you.”
After two hours, an agitated O’Ben was sitting face-to-face with this reporter in Chef Zanga’s kitchen. Great Ogban and a lady accompanied him.
“So that’s the person that came to me (referring to Ogban) and said he had a friend whose madam (boss) wanted to give him a job, I said ok.”
Perplexed, Ogban revealed that the friend he assisted is Duke Igebu, who was Personal Assistant to the immediate past Commissioner of Health in Cross River State, Betta Edu, immediate past APC Women National Leader, now Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
Edu enlisted his service right from her days as DG Primary Health Care Development Agency.
Thinking his problems were over, O’Ben was surprised when told that his company got another contract it did not bid for – a contract to purchase IDEAL software (N21,000,000) for IRS
Palpably angry, O’Ben said “This is outright fraud, I may sue the IRS. I did not bid and you did not pay the money to my company.”
Quintito Integrated Service Nig. Ltd was contracted to renovate a building for use as Registry/Registrar’s Office, College of Nursing Itigidi for N20,000,000. The company, though registered, is linked to Anthony Andor Ulayi, a relative and aide of the then Governor, Sen. Ayade.
When contacted, Anthony Andor Ulayi, a director in Quintito Integrated Service Nig. Ltd, claimed not to know anything about the contract.
He confessed that “It was a friend who approached me to use my company, I am not aware of this particular contract. Let me call him.”
Pressed further, he refused to give the name of the friend and the MDA he or she works with.
Awade Friday, owner of Wegosip Promotions, which was found not to be registered with CAC insisted that it is registered but could not provide the registration number.
The owner of the popular vernacular English radio program on Hit 95.9FM Calabar, Otwetwe, said he delivered as contracted and presented his defense, though he deleted them after sharing them 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.
In a WhatsApp chat with this reporter, he stated that “It’s just disheartening to hear this. I want to first thank you for taking out time to uncover all this massive information.
“This is an issue that is bringing Nigeria to its knees on a daily basis.”
On the need to battle illegality, he posited “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.”
On his part, the Cross River State Lead of Policy Alert, Lawrence Peter urged respective authorities to spring into action.
Pinpointing a gap between policy implementation and accountability, he said “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.
“It is time the government looks 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 after their information officers could not provide answers to this reporter’s questions.
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 sent to the heads of IRS, DPPIB, Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Environment, and Land. None of them responded within the seven-day stipulated time frame and at the time of filing this report.
When called to react to our findings, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Pauline Obute told this reporter on the phone that she would facilitate a meeting with the contractors to answer questions relating to the awards they got.
“We will call for a meeting with the contractors, we will not speak on their behalf. I became Permanent Secretary in December last year. You will need to get ethical approval to get all the information.”
The Director of Planning, Research, and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, Cliff Ayang Oyira, spoke to CrossRiverWatch on the phone and came clean. He said the six contracts awarded from his Ministry never emanated from there ashe would have be aware of them.
He said, “I will be sincere 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.”
The Procurement Officer for the Ministry of Environment, Samuel Ikpi was called, he promised to respond later but did not. His number never connected afterward.
The Ministry of Land, Internal Revenue Service, Due Process, and Price Intelligence Bureau are yet to respond to inquiries by CrossRiverWatch.
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for investigative reporting, ICIR