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How Contractors Arrest Niger Delta Development

How Contractors Arrest Niger Delta Development

 -Masterweb Reports
(Submission By Ifeatu Agbu)
 

It is bad enough that out of the N4.749 trillion budget estimate of the Federal Government, 72 per cent is going for recurrent expenditure, leaving only 28 per cent to finance development projects. The thought that there could be another bad news for the economy when it comes to implementing the budget is even more depressing. The budget estimates have set out the parameters for another cycle of economic activities that would hopefully drive the engine of growth and development. Unfortunately, the road to success is paved with corruption in high and low places. And that is just the right milieu for dubious contractors to ply their trade and throw spanners in the wheels of progress.
 
The Nigerian environment seems to be a fertile ground for briefcase contractors who see government contracts as their own share of the national cake. For them, the contractual obligation to deliver the jobs on schedule and according to specifications is hogwash. What these contractors, who are unfortunately many, do is tantamount to arresting the development of the country.
 
This is one challenge all development agencies in the country should tackle frontally. Indeed, in some cases, it calls for emergency measures. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, is already taking steps to check the excesses of contractors who would like to eat their cake without contributing to its baking.
 
The NDDC Managing Director, Dr. Christian Oboh, has fired a warning shot to erring contractors engaged by the commission. He charged them to either perform or be prosecuted. To those that have achieved 70 per cent in project execution, he ordered: “deliver by the end of March 2012 or face the wroth of the law.” “Those who work, we shall pay, I want you to deliver between now and March, I’m ready to pay you if only you will deliver, you must also be prepared to sign undertaking because if you don’t deliver, the law will come after you” he declared.
 
The marching order from the NDDC boss, only amplifies an earlier Presidential directive. President Goodluck Jonathan had warned that his administration would order law enforcement agencies to apprehend contractors identified as having defaulted after receiving funds to execute NDDC projects. The president’s warning came after he received the reports of the NDDC Presidential Monitoring Committee late last year.
 
No doubt, the problem of non-performing contractors is a national malaise. However, its effect on the development of the Niger Delta region is more disturbing because if developmental projects in the region are sabotaged, it would have a direct consequence on the wealth of the nation, oil being the live-wire of the economy. Of course, we have to keep in mind that the Federal Government’s 2012 budget is based on 2.48 million barrel per day (MBPD) and this can only be realistic if the peace brought by the amnesty programme is sustained. To maintain and sustain the peace, the gains of the amnesty must be complemented with visible and concrete development of the region. This is where the NDDC comes in. As the most visible executing arm of the central government, it must be seen by all to be making the difference in the Niger Delta.
 
For government and its agencies to get value for money spent on projects, contractors must be held accountable by both the executive and the legislature. It is not a task for only one arm of government. The lawmakers should be interested in knowing how projects are executed to ensure that they meet the required specifications and that they are completed within the agreed time lines. The era of collecting money and abandoning projects should be over, if we have proper monitoring and oversight by the appropriate authorities.
 



The President of the Senate, Chief David Mark admitted that the National Assembly had not done enough in its oversight function with respect to the NDDC. He said after the Senate confirmation of a 13-member board for NDDC that the Senate Committee on Niger Delta should share the blame for the failure of the last board of the commission, noting that the committee failed in its oversight responsibilities. In many instances, there is a problem when politicians and government functionaries look the other way while contractors undermine the system. As it is the practice world-wide, governments and their agencies are expected to determine whether those they are giving jobs possess the requisite qualifications, manpower, equipment and monetary resources to successfully execute projects.
 
What happened in the past with respect to power and road contracts must serve as enduring lessons for those in government. Never again should we allow a situation where the country, according to the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole spent 16 billion dollars on the National Integrated Power Project, there was hardly anything to show for it. Never again should we be content with sulking and counting our losses after spending billions of naira for repairs and maintenance of the nation’s highways and bridges without tangible results.
 
Nigerians would not want a repeat of the disgusting stories told by the House of Representatives committee which looked into the activities of the Ministry of transport under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. The committee reported that between 1999 and 2009, the ministry, gave contracts for the construction and rehabilitation of 11, 591km roads at a cost of N1.7 trillion – about N87 million per km – with only 24 per cent of the target met, while 64 per cent of the contract value had already been paid.
 
Today, we are reeling in the pains of high fuel prices in spite of the fact that contracts were awarded for the repair and maintenance of the nation’s refineries in 1998. The French oil giant; Total, was awarded a contract valued at $198 million to repair the Kaduna Refining and Petrochemical plant, while another contract of $100 million was awarded to Chrome Oil Services, in conjunction with its Polish partners, to undertake similar work at the Port Harcourt refinery. After spending an amount that was enough to build a brand new refinery with a capacity of at least 100,000 barrels per day, the two refineries are today still producing at less than half of their installed capacities. How scandalous can it get?
 
Like many other Nigerians, who believe that there should be a stop to this rot, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the Governor of Edo State told President Jonathan to jail all those who got the Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) contracts for the refineries. He said that all those who contributed to the present crisis in the oil sector by refusing to repair the refineries after collecting contract funds must be brought to justice.
 
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and other anti-corruption agencies should live up to their duties and bite more than they bark. They should spread their dragnets to rope in not only corrupt politicians but also fraudulent contractors, who have by their actions frustrated the much-needed development in the country. The consequences are far-reaching. It is already taking its toll on all sectors of our national life. In education, for instance, the Nigerian Union of Teachers recently jolted Nigerians when it claimed that 25 per cent of pupils and students in primary, secondary schools and tertiary institutions in Ghana are from Nigeria. As if to confirm this, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), lamented recently that there are 71, 000 Nigerian students in Ghana who are paying not less than 155 billion naira as tuition annually, compared with the annual budget of 121 billion naira for the entire Federal University education in Nigeria.
 
Isn’t it surprising that Nigeria is gradually losing grounds to less endowed African countries? It is certainly a worrisome development that needs to be redressed urgently.The new board of the NDDC led by its chairman, Dr Tarilah Tebepah, should, therefore, remain resolute in its efforts to whip contractors into line. The commission should strengthen its monitoring machinery to ensure that projects executed by its contractors meet international standards. Since this board has a short life-span, it can only leave a worthwhile legacy in the Niger Delta if it completes monumental projects that people will talk about so many years to come.
 
Mr. Ifeatu Agbu ( ifeatuagbu@yahoo.com ) writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.