Nigeria; N’Assembly uncovers fraud in Federal projects

The two chambers of the National Assembly declared yesterday they have uncovered corruption in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and an alleged multi-billion scam in River Niger dredging project. While the Senate, lamented that the Federal Government in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) projects were characterised by corruption, inefficiency and waste, the House of Representatives Committee on Marine Transport alleged scandal in the multi-billion dredging of River Niger.

It linked the scam to the installation of substandard navigational aids on the river by one of the contractors handling the projects.

The Senate was reacting to an allegation by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Amina Az-Zubair, that members of the National Assembly lack the integrity and capacity to legislate for the poor, saying she was turning the barrel of a gun on herself. 

In a statement issued by the Chairman of Senate Committee on Information and Media, Ayogu Eze, the Upper House claimed that most of the contracts for which money had been paid were fake and non-existent.

Titled: ‘MDGs: A drain pipe?’ it said every Nigerian knows that the MDG Office is one that had become a “cesspool of corruption and shady deals. The process of selecting contractors for the MDG projects has been hijacked by the senior special assistant and her members of staff, who fabricate company names and pre-qualify them for the job in many instances. Nearly all the companies awarded the MDG jobs in one state are traced to one person and one address, though they appear to be different companies. The result is that the jobs are undone because the companies lack capacity, and were never interested in doing these jobs in the first instance.”

Ayogu said legislators were struggling with MDGs office and its phantom contractors to begin work on the 2008 projects. “The projects for 2009 are yet to be awarded, and 2010 is already here. The time of reckoning is here, and no amount of arm-twisting or tough talk will scare us from asking questions. Our members are becoming impatient about the poor performance of that office.”

A source in the Lower House panel alleged that a contractor procured substandard safety buoys for installation in the river, a development which the source said have the propensity to reduce visibility and impede navigation, and thereby expose the lives of users to danger.

Chairman of the probe panel, Cyril Maduabum, who declared the committee’s readiness to investigate the allegations, said the dredging of the river was crucial to opening up inland waterways across the country, adding that the lawmakers were poised to ensure value for money spent on the project.

It was reported that instead of installing a Standard Buoy 104, a higher grade safety navigational aid designed for fast waters like River Niger, the contractor installed the cheaper IFWB 760 model used in harbours, lakes and stagnant waters.

In a presentation at the panel’s hearing which ended late Wednesday in Abuja, Chief Executive Officer of Anatrade Limited, an indigenous marine business operator, Chukwuemeka Kaduna Obianozie, stunned the committee members when he disclosed the wide disparity in the features of both navigational aids as well as the price variations.

The Director-General, Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP), Mr. Emeka Eze, said though there was no violation of any procurement laws, there was a need to ensure that the contractors procure specified materials for the project.

Reacting to the allegation by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Amina Az-Zubair, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator Ayogu Eze , said that her allegation was bizarre and completely ridiculous, stressing that it had become common knowledge that the MDG office had become a cesspit of corruption and shady deals.

Eze challenged the presidential aide to be prepared to appear before the relevant committees of the Senate to account for how she has so far administered funds for legislators’ constituency projects captured under the budgetary allocations to the Office MDGs.

A whopping N60 billion was approved by the Presidency for the legislators’ constituency projects at N10 billion per each geo-political zone in the 2008 project and another N60 billion in the 2009 budget.
But National Assembly members had complained that the MDG Office has failed to deliver the projects in their constituencies which were nominated for execution under the approved MDG funding. 
Eze said  Az-Zubair should be prepared for “the budget defence starring her in the face as we shall not accept platitudes this time.” According to Eze, “She must show us why her office has failed to deliver on such simple but crucial assignment of executing projects that profit our constituents and the poor masses.”

He said that no legislator had ever asked that money be given to him or her for constituency projects as she (Az-Zubair) implied in her ‘malicious comment,’ adding, “but we must continue to insist that constituency project be a feature of our budgets so that our people who own these resources can feel the impact of our representation.”