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*Getting Contractors To Perform in Niger Delta
By Ifeatu Agbu
A famous Irish playwright and essayist, George Bernard Shaw in one of his literary works said that “statistics show that of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive.” The Nobel laureate’s witty saying appears to be ringing true of the situation in our country today. The poor or non-performances of many contractors have continued to fuel the feeling that they are inimical to our collective survival. Some analysts have said that contractors are turning Nigeria into a graveyard of abandoned projects. President Goodluck Jonathan has served notice that his administration would not fold its alms and watch contractors flaunt their ill-gotten wealth at the expense of development projects that would lift the nation from the pangs of poverty. He had at different occasions warned that his administration would order law enforcement agencies to apprehend contractors identified as having defaulted after receiving funds to execute projects.
So far, the warnings from the Presidency seem not to have sunk in. Many development projects are still limping if not stalled while contractors are smiling to the banks. Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, in the country are at their wits end to fathom how to deal with the daunting challenge.
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godswill Orubebe, has shouted, cajoled and threatened to no avail. He has not relented as he continues to warn erring contractors handling projects in the Niger Delta to buckle up or face sanctions. He said that contractors handling projects for the ministry that fail to work at the pace desired by the government would be punished without hesitation. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria's Niger Delta Region showing Port Harcourt
Orubebe has every reason to worry because his ministry is supposed to be supervising mega projects in Nigeria’s oil-bearing region. Thus far, this mandate has been frustrated by a number of factors including poor performance of contractors. It is, therefore, understandable that chief executives of government agencies are throwing in every armour they could lay their hands on to checkmate contractors who fail to meet their obligations.
The Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Dr. Christian Oboh did not hesitate to enlist the support of the Presidential Monitoring Committee in the battle to whip recalcitrant contractors into line. He requested the committee to recommend stiffer punishment for erring contractors to serve as a deterrent.
The NDDC boss called for the support at a meeting between the committee and the NDDC management team at the commission’s headquarters in Port Harcourt. He said the battered image of the NDDC was not because the commission could not perform, but because of the attitude of some contractors who refuse to execute Jobs after collecting mobilisation fees.
The Chairman of the Presidential Monitoring Committee, Dr. Isaac Jamide said they have a duty to help the NDDC to succeed. “We are here to intimate the management team of the NDDC on the activities of the committee, report on some critical monitoring observations and proffer advice on strategies for ensuring good quality of work, service delivery.”
Dr. Oboh assured the Monitoring Committee that the NDDC management under the new board has put in place modalities to ensure that projects were not only transparently delivered but faster as well. “We are trying to put online, all our projects so that at every point you will be able to access and know what we are doing,” he said.
As part of the efforts to ginger contractors into action, the commission has held several meetings with them to fine-tune strategies. In one of the meetings, the NDDC chief executive stated that his objective was to ensure the completion of 53 projects vital to the development of the Niger Delta before the end of August this year.
According to Dr. Oboh, the projects comprise 26 roads, four water schemes, ten electrification, nine shore protections, one erosion control, two canalization and one bridge project.“I can assure you that if you deliver, we will continue to do business with you. You will be part of our contractors that we will give priority to in terms of further award,” Dr Oboh assured.
He stated that all the challenges envisaged in the completion of the projects have been captured and charged the contractors to mobilize back to site immediately. “Our target is to deliver these projects before the end of August, if we do this it is a mile stone,” the MD said. He, however, frowned at the attitude of some of the consultants whom he said were not effectively supervising activities at the construction sites. In pushing the contractors and consultants to play their roles, the interventionist agency also tries to meet it own side of the bargain. In this wise, the commission is collaborating with financial institutions to ensure that funding problems are adequately addressed. The chief executive said the commission recognized the critical role of the banking sector in nation building, and would be willing to collaborate with banks ready to mobilize funds for meaningful projects in the Niger Delta region.
He told officials of the United Bank For Africa Plc, led by the Group Managing Director, Mr. Philips Oduoza that he was worried by the attitude of some of the banks towards releasing money to contractors for projects execution adding “we will like to meet with such banks because we have a marching order to clean up all projects that are ongoing”.
He said the commission would review relationship with Financial Institutions that make the process of accessing funds for project execution by the commission’s contractors cumbersome. The planned review, Dr. Oboh explained is necessitated by complaints from the contractors following difficulties encountered in the quest for funds to execute the commission’s projects. “We are going to review relationship with banks that insist on getting approvals from their Headquarters in Lagos before releasing funds deposited by the NDDC to our contractors. We will not accept that again. All banks that we are transacting business with should give their branches authority to release funds to our contractors who have satisfied our laid down conditions”. Mr. Oduoza promised that UBA would always share in the aspirations of the NDDC in bringing about the desired change in the region. “We will like to work with you as far as the contractors are concerned, we will come up with a modem that will assist in the quick and rapid delivery of services. He agreed that there was a disconnect between the bank, contractors and NDDC, but promised that the gap would be bridged immediately.
This lack of understanding between the banks and contractors translates to poor execution of projects and the communities at the receiving end are not pleased with the situation. For instance, the people of the oil-rich Ilaje communities in Ondo State have accused some NDDC contractors handling projects in their locality of shoddy work. The people, who came under the aegis of the Ugbo Kingdom Council of Chiefs Committee on NDDC Projects, alleged that many of the NDDC projects were either poorly executed or abandoned.
In a press statement signed by the chairman of the committee, High Chief Roberts Nana and the Secretary, High Chief John Fagbiye, they expressed disappointment over the execution of the Ugbo-Oghoye road, which was awarded for construction in 2010. They said: “Since the construction work started on December 16, 2010, the company handling it has not done anything commensurate with the amount of money paid to it by the commission.”
Also in Akwa Ibom State, the deputy governor, Obong Nisma Ekere charged the NDDC to improve on projects execution, insisting that the commission must enlist the services of reputable contractors if quality jobs are to be delivered. He urged the commission to use world class contractors so as to build world class and sustainable infrastructure in the region.
The NDDC Executive Director, Projects, Engineer Edikan Eshett, addressed the concerns of the deputy governor and other stakeholders when he outlined the quality control measures which the commission is adopting to ensure good service delivery. He said that the commission has put all machinery in motion to ensure the effective implementation of projects. He warned contractors against indulging in sharp practices that would impede the successful and qualitative execution of projects.
“Where contractors choose to circumvent laid-down procedures and execute their projects below expectations, they shall be demolished at their own expense” he warned. The Executive Director frowned at incidents of unwarranted variations. He warned that where requests for variation are not justified such projects shall be terminated, re-assessed, re-advertised and re-awarded to serious contractors. He implored consultants and resident supervisor to ensure that they engaged only qualified staff who would always be around to monitor progress of work by contractors.
All said, what comes out clearly is that supervision is key. The NDDC seems to be working along this line by constantly keeping its contractors on their toes. To ensure that contractors worked without hindrance from the communities, the NDDC Director, Projects Monitoring and Supervision, Arch Alex Okenwa stated that contractors must work with the Directorate of Community and Rural Development particularly in areas of site handover and takeover to avoid friction with benefiting communities.
Mr. Ifeatu Agbu ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
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