Section 10 of the Edo State Public Procurement Law 2020 mandates the Edo State Public Procurement Agency, EDPPA, as a regulatory body, to publish details of major contract awards in the state’s procurement journal and website. And in accordance with our mandate as a responsible media outfit seeking to investigate some modicum of compliance, transparency and accountability with contracts awarded in Edo State, we went to the website of the EDPPA.
But beyond issues of compliance, transparency and accountability, there were other serious issues of insecurity, apparently brought about by incessant power outages in Benin City that needed to be addressed, and urgently. If you live in Benin City, you would find that the city shuts down from 7:00pm or thereabouts – traders, businesses, retail outlets and the night economy shut down over the palpable darkness that envelopes the town, providing cover for criminal elements.
At first glance at certain documents at the website of the EDPPA, you would find, among others listed that appear to have passed through a bidding process as stipulated by the EDPPA Law revised 2020. The companies are – Atiode Solar Systems Limited, Anjez Limited, Joyak Janaiva Nigeria Limited, Josama Engineering Co Ltd, and Yonsus Global Ventures. The document said that the contracts/contractors had been ‘certified’ by the EDPPA to carry out retrofitting works on the following streets – Sapele Road Street Lights, retrofitting and refurbishing of Street lights on Akpakpava Road, retrofitting and completion works on Airport Road, installation of street lights on Adesogbe Road and retrofitting and installation of street lights on the Benin-Uselu Road. When you add up the sums attached to these contracts, you find out that the sums involved is nearly N200million.
To be certified on the Open Competitive Bidding and under Special and Restricted Methods of Procurement, companies must meet 70-90% of the requirements as stipulated by the EDPPA Law 2020. Part of the process include a response to an advert published on at least 2 newspapers, or on the website of the Procuring Entity, in this case, the newly established Edo Ministry of Energy and Electricity. Other requirement include a NEEDS assessment, a procurement plan, evidence of funds availability, minutes of bid opening, a bid evaluation report, and subsequently, a letter of request of certificate of compliance. After all of these processes, the issuing authority, the governor of the state, is expected to the company meeting these requirements.
We have since found out though, that all of this is only so on paper. For instance, Atiode Solar Systems Limited, listed on the website of the EDPPA as meeting 70-90% of the requirements for the award of a contract to fit the Airport Road in Benin City with Streets lights was not awarded the contract. In the place of Atiode Solar Systems Limited, the Edo government ‘nominated’ another company, Brossette Nigeria Limited, which did not pass through any of the procurement processes highlighted above by the EDPPA Law 2020. The remaining four companies, apparently too did not get awarded contracts after meeting regulations of the EDPPA Law.
Two matters arise therefore. One, none of the companies that met the requirements of the EDPPA Law 2020, and expected to be certified or awarded a contract appears uninterested in finding out why. Their apparent docility therefore raises serious red flags, and Edo people are already voicing suspicions that these may have been fronts put there by the authorities to manipulate the process to make the process appear transparent and accountable. The questions that arise therefore are: if these companies that met the requirements were not awarded the contracts, who then did? Did the contractors that were eventually ‘nominated’ by the Edo state government pass through the bidding process as required by law? What is the timeline, and contract sums attached to these contracts? Are there beneficial owners of any one of these companies and that, therefore is the reason the Edo government is unwilling to tell Edo people those it ‘nominated’ to carry out these projects? What are the ‘technical considerations’ that are said make it possible for the issuing authority to abandon stipulations of the EDPPA Law 2020?
We have been informed that there are certain extenuating circumstances. If I am friend to the governor and I want a contract, I can simply make that request to him, can’t I? Of course, and again, these friendly circumstances and overtures often undermine the credibility of the process and poison the instruments of governance. During the Adams Oshiomhole administration, one such contract, for the construction of a road off the Airport Road, was allegedly awarded on the basis of camaraderie. The contractor allegedly married a new wife with the funds meant for the construction of the road, and in the books of the current administration of Mr Godwin Obaseki, the road has already been tarred, or constructed. As a result, some residents have been selling their cars instead of visiting the mechanic daily.
Prevailing rhetoric among procurement experts is that issues of corruption and sharp practices often crop up at all stages of the procurement process. The Edo state example is proving to be true, and a litmus test that the revised EDPPA Law 2020 is either moribund or dead on arrival. Prior to signing on or up to the Open Government Partnership, OGP, Edo state was one of the states in Nigeria to throw its governance processes open to the public. It collaborated with civil society organisations to bring governance closer to the grassroots, the media and relevant stakeholders. The governor became very popular during his first tenure over the spat he had with proprietors of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company, BEDC, on behalf of Edo people.
But today, it is indeed bewildering that this is the same Edo state, where information on awards of contracts (and for the provision of the electricity the governor once fought to provide) is opaque and is in a shroud.
Etemiku is Editor-in-Chief of WADONOR… cultural voice of the Niger Delta