A Senator is in trouble over a curious $34.5million contract awarded to a firm allegedly owned by him. The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) awarded the contract during the administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.
The contract was part of the dredging of the Calabar Access Channel by the Calabar Channel Management Limited (CCM), with Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited.
But all efforts by the new NPA management to find the details of dredging for the period during which CCM claimed to have dredged the Calabar Access Channel (November 2014 to January 2015) have proved abortive.
NPA is seeking the approval of its Board of Directors to terminate the contract.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is, however, probing the payment of $12,500,000 to the senator’s company.
The former Director-General of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), Mr. Emeka Nzeh, in a May 18, 2015 memo to Jonathan, said the former President was not “properly informed” by a former Minister of Transport, Sen. Idris Umar, about the contract.
But a plot was hatched to divert the attention of Nigerians from the ongoing investigation with a declaration by the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff on July 17 that about 282 ships were missing from the nation’s ports between 2010 and 2016.
According to a document obtained by our correspondent, the said contract was in respect of a Joint Venture to “manage the dredging of Calabar Channel”.
Although the idea of the contract was mooted in 2004, the NPA began the implementation in June 2010 through a public tender, which led to the pre-qualification of six companies.
But in November 2012, the BPP made a representation to Jonathan and secured approval for selective tendering.
It was learnt that the Chief of Staff to the then President, in a memo to Jonathan, requested that “the capital dredging of the Calabar Channel be re-procured”.
Despite the fact that a procurement process was ongoing, the Minister of Transport on September 13, 2012 sought Jonathan’s approval to “appoint a consortium led by the Niger Global in conjunction with NPA using the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), known as Calabar Channel Management Limited (CCM) to manage the Calabar Channel without following due process.”
Jonathan approved the Minister’s request on 6th November 2012 and the approval was conveyed to the NPA by the ex-Minister on November 26, 2012.
The management of NPA, led by Hajiya Hadiza Bala Usman (the Managing Director) has discovered that the contract was fraught with irregularities.
It was learnt that apart from the Board of NPA, the EFCC is already looking into the deal, including the roles played by the senator.
A document obtained by The Nation gave an insights into how the contract was awarded in curious circumstances.
The document said: “In line with the approval of Mr. President, the following actions were taken: The Honourable Minister of Transport by a letter with reference No. T.0160/S.107/IX/2632 dated 20th November 2013, directed the Authority to convene the inaugural meeting of the Board of the CCM within two (2) weeks to discuss the modalities for the operation of the company.
“The Authority received a further directive from the Federal Ministry of Transport to prepare for the flagging-off ceremony of the CCM. The Honourable Minister of Transport on behalf of Mr. President held the flag-off ceremony on 17th October 2014.
“After the flag-off ceremony, a second preparatory meeting was held on the 29th October 2014. The meeting discussed issues relating to staff recruitment, amendments to sharing ratio, 2014 Work Plan as approved in the NPA 2014 budget, 2015 budget of CCM, pending the ratification of particulars of directors.
“CCM subsequently submitted an invoice for fourth quarter 2014 in the sum of US$19,972,673.62 (Nineteen, Million, Nine Hundred and Seventy-two Thousand, Six Hundred and Seventy-three Dollars, Sixty-two Cents) and US$14,593,324.59 (Fourteen Million, Five Hundred and Ninety-three Thousand, Three Hundred and Twenty-four Dollars, Fifty-nine Cents) for first quarter 2015 amounting to US$34,565,998.21 (Thirty-four Million, Five Hundred and Sixty-five Thousand, Nine Hundred and Ninety-eight Dollars, Twenty-one Cents.
“The Authority (NPA) made a payment of US$12,500,000.00 (Twelve Million, Five Hundred Thousand Dollars) only.
“Further processing of payment was suspended by the Authority due to the investigation being carried out by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) following a petition received by it against CCM.
“The EFCC subsequently directed the Authority to engage the services of a reputable audit firm to undertake a forensic bathymetric survey to verify the dredging claimed to have been done. A firm was engaged and is retained accordingly.”
An inquiry conducted by the Hadiza Bala Usman’s administration in NPA revealed the following:
“The Authority has consistently maintained that maritime activities in the Calabar Channel is low and cannot sustain a JV arrangement that would establish a channel management company as obtained in the Lagos and Bonny channels.
“This was also the position of the Consultant that the Authority appointed in 2004. The position has not changed. We are however of the opinion that a model that is financially prudent should be explored;
“The procurement process that brought about CCM was reviewed and described as flawed by the Bureau of Public Procurement. The recommendation for the appointment of Niger Global Engineering Limited as the JV partner for the Calabar Channel was done by the Federal Ministry of Transport unilaterally without the technical input of the Authority, including all recommendations to Mr. President.
“CCM was incorporated after the procurement process for the Calabar channel managers had begun. As stated by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) in their memo referenced BPP/PRES/2015/013 of 18‘“ May 2015 to Mr. President, “it appears as if Messrs CCM was surreptitiously incorporated for the purpose of obtaining this contract without competition”.
“All efforts to find details of dredging activities for the period during which CCM claimed to have dredged the Calabar Access Channel (November 2014 to January 2015) proved abortive. The Harbour Master and Port Hydrographer during the period stated they were i unaware of any dredging undertaken by CCM during the period. Further, there was no communication between the company and the Port Management on their purported dredging activities during the period.
“The information available regarding the movement of dredging equipment relating to CCM is as follows:
That the Dredger ‘MV Atlantico Due arrived Calabar on 16″” October 2014 and berthed at Intels Terminal for the flag-off ceremony and left immediately after the ceremony on 18‘“. October 2014.
That on 12th November 2014, a survey boat ‘MV Hurricane arrived Calabar and anchored mid-stream for a while then left without recourse to the Port Management.
That ‘MV Waterway’ arrived Calabar on 19th November 2014 and subsequently disappeared without any recourse to Calabar Port Control/Management and without applying or obtaining the requisite sailing clearance and till date, there is no communication on the where about of the dredger.
That on 29th August 2015, the dredger ‘MV Atlantico Due arrived Calabar Fairway Buoy but was not allowed to enter the port for security reasons pending completion of necessary documentation. However, no documentation has been done in that regard till date.
That on 1st September 2015, ‘MV Hurricane’ arrived Calabar without any documentation. The port signal station directed the vessel captain to ensure necessary documentation with the port was done but the vessel left without responding.
“Thus, after careful examination of the Authority’s overall dredging data/vessel movement in conjunction with inputs from the Authority’s relevant personnel, it is questionable if any dredging actually took place.
“The Director General of the Bureau of Public Procurement in his memo on 18th May 2015 to the Mr. President stated: “Your Excellency, I am of the humble view that you were not properly informed by the Hon. Minister of Transport’s letter ref T.016/S.107/IXI dated 10th June 2014.
An EFCC source said: “We have received complaints over the JV contract and a senator has a case to answer.
“We are already scrutinising all documents relating to the JV and payments made to the senator’s firm.
“Our main target is to recover public funds collected for job not done. The Senator and all those involved in the contract will be questioned by our team.”