Varsities and TETFund contractors

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In 2010, the Federal University of Technology (FUT) Minna had only one capital project – construction of Cyber Security Science Department – funded by the Federal Ministry of Education. Nine years later, the project has not been completed because of inadequate funding.

However, between 2010 and 2018, over 10 projects, embarked upon and funded by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) in the university, have been completed.

Juxtaposing these situations, it is not surprising that most tertiary institutions execute projects through TETFund. They have come to rely heavily on this fund for the structural, physical and academic development of their institutions.

The 2011 TETFund Act established the intervention agency, with specific responsibility for managing, disbursing and monitoring the proceeds of the two percent education tax on assessable profits of registered companies. It is for public tertiary institutions.

Section 7(i) to (e) of the TETFund Act 2011 provides, among others, for the provision and maintenance of essential physical infrastructure for teaching and learning, instructional materials and equipment, research and publications, academic staff training and development and ‘any other need, which in the opinion of the Board of Trustees is critical and essential for the improvement of quality and maintenance of standards in higher educational institutions.

The Director, Central Research Laboratories of the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), Prof. Musa Toyin Yakubu, said: “If there was no TETfund, our universities will not survive. In this university, we live and breathe TETfund. Our buildings, most researches and staff development are always done under the auspices of TETfund. I think they should just name all universities, Universities of TETfund”.

This observation may not be far-fetched, especially as an investigation conducted on some federal tertiary institutions in the North-Central confirmed that TETFund has been crucial to capital development in universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.

However, even with the impact TETFund is making, it is not all smooth sailing. On the surface, it seems institutions have done well with the intervention funds.  However, some of the funds are not being accessed because of some funny play by contractors who may be conniving with the departments saddled with the responsibility of assigning projects to contractors.

Investigation showed that most of the funds allocated to universities were not being accessed as allocated yearly, because of the inability of contractors to meet the deadlines given to them. As a result, approved funds are not usually accessed until years later.

How contractors delay work

The contract awarding process involves biddings, and institutions usually give preference to the lowest responsible bid. However, The Nation learnt that some of the contractors do not provide accurate information about their capabilities.

Such was the case of the contractor who was first awarded the contract for the construction of the School of Engineering and Engineering Technology Phase II at FUTMinna.

It was gathered that the contractor was given the contract on July 7, 2015 – same day the construction of the School of Agriculture and Agricultural Technology Phase II was given to another contractor. The contracts were supposed to be completed on July 19, 2016.

An investigation by The Nation revealed that while the contractor in charge of the School of Agricultural Technology delivered on time, the contractor handling the School of Engineering dilly-dallied until the contract was revoked.

When questioned over the delay in the project, FUT Minna Vice-Chancellor Prof. Abdullahi Bala said the contractor diverted the funds to another project.  He added that during recession, in early 2016, prices rose and the contractor could not meet up.

He said: “The contractor handling the School of Engineering project, instead of putting efforts in making sure that he goes by the terms of the agreement, he mobilised his resources elsewhere to some other projects, so the project in FUT Minna suffered. When the recession came in late 2015 and 2016, the prices doubled, and he came back asking for variations. He told us that he was being affected by the depreciation of the naira.

“However, if he had done his work within the specified period , the depreciation of naira would not have affected him. Therefore, a project that would have been completed in 2015, we are still struggling with it, and this is 2019. It is just about now that we had to get another contractor to come in for us to complete it.”

In a document obtained by the reporter, the contractor of the contract was stated as Messrs Gridtech Construction. The total sum of the contract is N176,165,959.

A similar issue of incompetence or clear fraud may have been suspected in a contractor’s handling of the construction and furnishing of a lecture theatre for the Institute of Education Phase II, at the permanent site of the University of Abuja (UNIABUJA).

The contract, awarded to CF Cofel International Ltd Suleja, Niger State, was terminated while it was only 10 per cent complete. The contract sum was N410,877,888 and the contract was awarded in September 2015 and expected to be completed in February 2016.

Documents obtained revealed that N230,091,617 was released. However, the reporter could not get any information on whether this amount was given to the contractor. No member of the university management was willing to cite the reason the contract was terminated. It is also not clear if the contract has been re-awarded to another contractor.

This reporter could not reach the contractor to get his side of the story.

When contractors delay execution of projects, institutions experience delays in accessing TETFund grants. The Nation discovered that just as contractors do not provide adequate information about their capacity to do a job, they do not disclose their ability to assess funds to implement the project or provide the necessary equipment.

Therefore, while the monies wait for disbursement, there are delays in the project as most institutions like the FUT Minna and UNILORIN claimed they would not release any fund unless the project followed due process.

FUT Minna VC said: “The delay in projects is not because of non-payment because the monies are already there waiting as TETFund releases money to the institution who will in turn release to the contractors according to the work done. So you see, some contractors, they will delay and delay because of inadequate capacity.”

TETFund projects

2015-2019        

Between 2015 and 2019, at UNIABUJA, of 11 projects awarded under TETFund, only one, the construction and furnishing of library/resource centre building for the Institute of Education Phase I, at the permanent site, has been completed.

Other projects such as the supply and installation of two generators, construction of power equipment house and entrance gate for the Institute of Education Phase I, construction and furnishing of an administrative building for Phase I and II, construction of entrepreneurship centre some of which were awarded in 2015 are still ongoing and are at different stages (40-80 percent) of completion.

At the FUT Minna, within the period under review, 25 projects were awarded of which 16 have been completed while nine are still at various stages of completion. The Federal University, Lafia, has had 26 projects with 17 completed and at in various stages of completion.

At the Federal University, Lokoja, majority of the 28 projects initiated had been completed when our reporter visited in August.

One of the students said the multipurpose complex was inaugurated earlier in the year while the other projects were being used. Going round the institution, to the block of laboratories and classrooms complex, it was observed that the laboratories were equipped and had some students were carrying out practical sessions.

At the University of Jos (UNIJOS), out of 10 TETFund projects (2015-2018), seven have been completed and handed over to the institution. The projects remaining include the construction of the Faculty of Management Sciences, Faculty of Engineering, and the rehabilitation of the burnt Library – all at the Naraguta campus, Jos.

At UNILORIN, none of the building projects under 2013 to 2016 merged TETFund annual interventions have been fully completed.

The construction of the extension of the main library has already been roofed and awaiting finishing touches and fixing of the windows, doors, and others; construction of the administrative block for Environmental Sciences, Department of Quantity Survey, Estate Management, Surveying, and Geo-informatics are still underway.

Workers were seen on site in the proposed departments of Estate Management, Surveying, and Geo-informatics.  However, they were jittery upon sighting this reporter and disallowed her from taking pictures.  They also refused to answer questions on the  project and threatened to beat her up.

Shoddy Work or Poor Maintenance?

In some of the institutions visited, it was discovered that the walls of recently completed projects were already cracking and the paint peeling off while some of the infrastructures,  especially the chairs brought with TETFund grants for the lecture rooms had already broken down.

At the Federal University, Lafia, the collapsible chairs in the Department of Computer Sciences, tagged TETFund 2013, had broken down in some of the lecture rooms.

At UNIJOS, some of the projects like the proposed Faculty of Management Sciences, and the proposed centre for film and communication arts, as well as the faculty of engineering, despite having been completed still needed painting or furniture.

At the Federal University, Lokoja, a visitor is greeted with rows of blocks of classrooms and laboratories that already have their paints peeling and walls cracking. Although the new structures constructed from 2018 are still standing, other structures with inscriptions of 2011-2013 already show signs of wear and tear.

At UNILORIN, it was also observed that  TETfund projects, which are not up to 10 years, had cracks appearing on most of the buildings. Part of the block in the Faculty of Life Sciences showed serious signs of decay while the Center for Laboratory Research had cracks and peelings.

However, this reporter was unable to ascertain if the decay was a result of poor maintenance or shoddy work by the contractors.

Some of the workers said that not all the projects were given to experts.  One, who preferred not to be named, said increased supervision of project implementation was necessary.

“One question the school needs to ask itself is if these buildings constructed stand the test of time and do the contractors do what they are meant to do?

“On my part, I think they need more supervision both from TETFund and the institution. If this is done, I am sure the contractors would do the right thing and not cut corners unnecessarily.”

Pointing to one of the TETFund buildings already peeling, he said, “Look at that building, the plaster is already peeling off.  This project was done under 2009 intervention which means the project was completed sometime in 2010 or 2011. The right contractors should be given the job, those who know the job, give it to someone who knows his onions and they will do the job better.

“If you go round the university, you will see buildings with cracks all over, these are buildings that are not more than 10 years. I built my own house earlier than that and there haven’t been any cracks.”

A CAC search revealed that some of the contracts were not given to experts. An example is Elnita Nigeria Limited whose objectives, according to a CAC search, “include to carry on the business of hotel, restaurant, tavern, beerhouse, and lodging, housekeepers, licensed wine, beer, and spirit merchant and to run amusement and gambling, casino and to do all things incidental thereof and holiday camps and to organise, promote and carry on all amusement businesses.”

However, Elnita Nigeria Limited won the contract for the electrical installation of the School of Agriculture and Agricultural Technology Phase 2 at the FUT Minna. Though the project has been completed and students are using the facilities, time will tell if the work will stand the test of time.

Help in time of need

In October 2016, the three-storey building housing the UNIJOS Library, the faculty of social sciences and management sciences was gutted by fire.

In a bid to provide relief to the institution, TETFund intervened and the award for the rehabilitation of the central library was given to Amber Blaze Limited in March 2018. The library building at the time when the reporter visited the institution in July was about 85 percent complete.

While the previous library complex housed some faculties, the new library complex is being entirely used for library activities.

A source told this reporter that in addition, some equipment was bought for the library but not currently in use.

“It is looking nice now. Everything brought in the library is brand new. There are also ICT machines in here and servers. We were told that this whole building will be used for the library now. We do not know what will be put downstairs but upstairs, which is currently locked, have all the furniture and other infrastructures”, a student told the reporter.

The rehabilitation of the burnt library is to gulp the sum of N701,203,727 but, according to one of the Staff, only N485,011,887 has been received while the balance is being awaited to complete the rehabilitation.

Secrecy over disclosure of process

The procurement process for the TETFund projects are usually handled by the Department of Physical Planning or the TETfund Desk officers in the institutions, however, the officials in charge of these departments do not easily give information about projects.

At the Federal University Lokoja in Kogi State as the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Angela Freeman Miri was not around and did not respond to calls and messages to her phone.  The meeting with the Registrar, Mr. Usman Suleman Obansa did not yield any result as he said, “it is only the VC that can give you such information or give theTETfund desk officer the go-ahead to give you information. You know it is the office of the Vice-Chancellor that handles the TETfund issue.”

When approached, the TETFund Desk Office said he could not share information without the VC’s permission.

Officers at the Federal University, Lafia diplomatically avoided setting up a meeting despite assurances following the submission of an FOI request.

The Vice-Chancellor was said to have traveled on an impromptu trip.  All promises that all information will be mailed to this reporter were not fulfilled.

At UNILORIN, efforts to get information on the procedural process in the award of the projects led nowhere as the office of the Vice-Chancellor, when contacted, directed the Reporter to two Professors, Adeola Abdullah Adedeji of the Department of Civil Engineer and the representative of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology in the institution’s TETFund Committee and Musa Toyin Yakubu, the Director of the Central Research Laboratories.

However, the two Professors could not provide the details and directed the Reporter to the Department of Physical Planning. There, the Director of Physical Planning, Dr. Adams Bashir Olajide said he would not attend to the Reporter unless with express permission from the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Sulyman Age Abdulkareem. All efforts to get the Vice-Chancellor to speak on the projects proved abortive as his Secretary said he was out of the office.

It was the same scenario at UNIJOS.  The institution’s Public Relation Officer, Abdullahi Abdullahi who readily gave out information about TETFund projects, could however not give details of how the projects were awarded.  This Reporter could not meet with the VC, Prof. Seddi Sabastian Maimako because he was out of town when the Reporter visited.

However, at FUTMinna, the VC, Prof. Bala explained that award of contracts must follow due process, especially as VCs are the ones to answer queries regarding the projects.

“I have told the Department of Physical Planning and Bursary to keep me informed of everything that has to do with TETfund. There is nothing unusual there. I am in charge of the institution and should know what is happening to our projects.”

However, many workers were of the opinion that the procurement process was skewed in favor of those who are known by the Departments of Physical planning in the institutions.

The VC of FUT Minna said that some of the officials’ in charge of this task do not carry out their duties judiciously while he stressed the need for adequate technical evaluation before a project is awarded to a contractor.

“There is also, the problem of capacity of the contractors, some of them could not do the kind of work but again, I blame it on the institution because of the procurement law demands that you must do a technical evaluation, in doing the technical evaluation, you pay due diligence to what you are doing, sometimes, you should be able to identify such problems.”

“Our university sometimes sends our staff to confirm some of the projects claimed to have been done by the contractor; they will need to have the physical evaluation to confirm the claim. These are some of the little things and the problem that comes in to delay the projects but the problem itself is not from TETFund, it has to do with the procurement process, some of the capacity within the university, some of the capacity with respect to the contractors but TETFund has been very supportive in many of these cases. Sometimes, even when the university has not done its bit, TETFund tries to see how they can help in making sure that we make progress on these projects.

Consultancy Services

This Reporter’s discovered that the Federal University Lokoja awarded huge amounts for consultancy services.  In the 2014 normal intervention project, N52 million out of N53 million allocated to Mevic Consultancy limited for consultancy services; while in the 2013 special intervention projects, Mevic consultancy was paid N77.2 million out of N90.8 million allocated for consultancy service. Coming across this document, one wonders why such huge sums were paid for consultancy.