In the News:
River Niger Dredging unsupervised by NIWA Board
The current efforts by the federal government to dredge the River Niger from Warri to Baro is beginning to enter the controversial stages of such high-profile projects in Nigeria. Already the former minister of transport stated before the dissolution of the cabinet by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan that the dredging project is 60% complete. But speaking at a meeting with the South-South Parliamentary Caucus of the House of Representatives, according to a Punch story published on March 25 2010, the managing director of NIWA, was quoted as saying that around 50% of the dredging works had been completed and that barges and ships weighing 3,000 metric tonnes could now travel smoothly on the water.
In the same week of this publication, a member of the board of NIWA, Capt Niyi Adeyemo, confided in the magazine that since the beginning of the year and indeed in the current life of the hugely expensive dredging campaign, the board of NIWA has not met even once. He decried some of the poor administrative procedures being used by the current top echelon of NIWA management, to the extent that the managing director was not conversant with the number of substantive general managers actively in the employ of the organization of which he was head. The MD who was new on the job surely needed the guidance and experience of the board members, who though politicians, have enormous hands-on experience about tracking and supervising public sector contracts and their execution. But in the case of NIWA, the board as Capt Adeyemo put it “is handicapped” leaving the scenario of a sole administrator in charge of the N36 billion dredging project.
The question that begs for answer is when did NIWA monitor all the activities of the dredging contractors and consultants and with whom? Were any professional independent surveyors involved in ascertaining the jobs claimed to have been done by the contractors? Or is the federal government being made to rely only on the assertions and claims of the contractors, who in all fairness, cannot sit a judge in their own case? When they say the project has been 50% or 60% completed, what is the meaning in terms of practical jobs done on the ground? Have we got any quantities of spoil removed and dumped anywhere? In the first instance, what were the contract specifications of the dredging contracts? This is essential to release to the public domain because all assessments will be based on the contract specifications. There are many other relevant questions we can come up as we watch this new unfolding of another half-done dredging of the River Niger. If the board of NIWA has not paid a single visit to any of the dredging sites and the managing director goes to town to say that the project is 50% complete, how can he support his claims in terms of independent verification and authority.
The current River Niger dredging project is needlessly shrouded in secrecy and collusion where the dredging contractors knowing the rapacious greed of public officials and the seeming high tolerance for corruption have quickly caught on to the vogue and are highly economical with transparency and full disclosure of the details of a project being financed from the public till. There are calls already for a review of the entire dredging project and if there was no independent verification of the claims of the contractors before their claims were swallowed by government officials, we call on the federal government to specially revisit the report cards of the contractors in this case because the sums involved are simply too big to be allowed to pour down the drain.
As a dredging magazine therefore, we have focused extensively on various aspects of the problem including two exclusive interviews with reputable men whose calls of duty have involved working with NIWA in recent times. These men are Capt Adeyemo and Prof Peter C Nwilo of the University of Lagos. Their revelations should begin to give readers an insight into the organizational mismatch that can easily be exploited by unscrupulous dredging contractors to milk the Nigerian treasury.
Our other columns have also been served with panache, including our regular focus on the trail of sand. In this edition, we covered Lagos and Abuja and brought out very interesting revelations. Welcome.