Prosecuting failed projects’ contractors

The Federal Government through the Presidency has hinted that it would soon start prosecuting contractors who failed to meet the terms of their contractual agreements with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) on projects’ execution. This is a welcome development. Indeed, this already-established principle should be applied to ALL failed contracts across the country. To collect mobilisation fees for a job and fail to execute the contract is a criminal offence. Sadly, this scenario has become a norm in Nigeria.

The incumbent Managing Director of NDDC, Nsima Ekere, disclosed government’s decision to newsmen recently while reviewing activities of the interventionist organisation. The NDDC was specially created by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo in reaction to public outcry against official neglect of the hard-pressed Niger Delta. It had a mandate: develop the infrastructure of the region through official provisions in the budget. Billions of naira was then appropriated for this purpose. Roads that led to nowhere were inserted in the budget. School buildings which needed urgent attention were used as an avenue to create contract jobs. Contractors collected huge mobilisation fees, shared some of it with their cronies in the Commission and disappeared into thin air. It came to be that the NDDC was turned into a conduit pipe for rewarding the ‘boys’ with phony contracts. Multi-million naira jobs were awarded to persons who had no real intention of improving the welfare of the region.

Kickbacks became the order of the day. As a result, it has been reported that no ‘fewer than 600 projects valued at N200 billion’ have been cancelled.

In saner climes such contractors would either be compelled to complete the project or go to jail or both. What happened to conscience? What happened to the ethics governing contractual agreements? Why did the elite in the region supported by their powerful allies in Abuja give such a raw deal to the suffering people of the region? Uncompleted projects are spread around the region as they are in different parts of the country. This is a sad legacy for the people of the region and the rest of the country.

Time was when giving out contracts was a way of settling the boys and dispensing illegal patronage to ladies, friends and families. In most cases, the contracts were over-valued. Once they were awarded to cronies, such contracts would then be sold to a third party. In some cases the sold contract would be re-sold to yet another party who would then start implementing same. Along the line, they would run out of funds and ask for a review of the contract. In the process some awarding bodies compromise themselves. They collect bribes from the contractors. When the contractor fails to perform they find it difficult to enforce the law.

Recovering the millions of naira which contractors collected should not be a mere threat. It must be backed with action. In the light of the above we suggest that the Federal Government should embark on a forensic analysis of all contracts awarded in the last 20 years. The state of the contracts in terms of level of execution should also be noted. The names of the companies or beneficiaries should be included in the compilation.

It should also include how much was paid out as mobilisation and the level of work done. The NDDC should be the starting point. The federal airports, the federal highways and water projects in the country should also be audited. Anywhere there had been an infraction the contractors should be invited to complete the job or face prosecution.

The governments across the country owe the people an explanation on why so much money has been paid out without a commensurate evidence of work. The economic climate is harsh. The economic recession is biting hard, both on private citizens and industries. What worries Nigerians is that such practices may still be going on in the current administration which has sworn to fight corruption to a standstill. As we know when new officials take office instead of focusing on and completing projects which a previous administration had started, they create new ones so that can create new beneficiaries and reap the filthy gains of inflated contracts. As a result there are thousands of uncompleted or abandoned projects both at the federal and state levels.

To put a stop to the impunity that is contract-abuse in Nigeria, all failed contractors, along with their civil servant colluders must be vigorously pursued and brought to book. The management at NDDC has a duty to ensure that contracts are properly awarded. Those which were awarded and were not executed should be completed before embarking on new ones.

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NDDCNsima Ekere
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