Capt Niyi Adeyemois a master mariner of repute who has served on the board of NIWA now for two terms. He is very sad at the emasculation of the NIWA board at this time when it should be properly active inspecting the quality of work being done by the dredging contractors dredging the river Niger. Instead, the board is comatose due to various administrative downsides. But against the background of statements by the former minister of transport that 60% of the dredging project has been completed, Adeyemo opts for caution as no independent investigation of the claims of the contractors has been done so far. In this exclusive interview he granted DDH the retired seafarer analyses the intricacies of oversight of the multimillion dollar River Niger Dredging Project. From what he has observed so far, he reveals that there were “sordid things” that ought to be curbed in the way NIWA operates. In his private capacity, Capt Adeyemo works as a consultant on marine engineering, nautical issues, maritime projects, marine surveying and related ship management businesses. He bares his mind on the viability of the River Niger dredging project from the point of view of long years of experience being on the board of NIWA during the Obasanjo presidency. As is natural to Capt Adeyemo, he spits fire when prodded to comment on professional matters that are being mishandled and in this piece he shoots from the hip, not bothering whose ox is gored. The interview was conducted before the ministerial cabinet reshuffle by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan. Excerpts:
DDH:What will you say is the process of the river Niger Dredging?
Capt Adeyemo: Well, to be honest and frank, am not in the position to evaluate the process, because we have not had the privilege to over see what is happening. The first thing I told them was that let the board constitute some committees to go to the various locations. But to be fair to the chairman in a situation where most of those appointed from the public service are more interested in travelling abroad for esta code rather than attending board meetings, where all that will get into your hand is a hundred thousand Naira. In esta code, some of them will get eight, nine, ten thousand US dollars, not to talk of the ticket money and all what it takes. So, many of them don’t come to the meeting. The issue of Water Resources, they see themselves as being in competition with NIWA, so the director that has been appointed there was withdrawn by the permanent secretary. You had the director of human resources in the ministry of transport, he is a very hardworking man, but he has been affected by the eight-year rule, so he had to retire. The same thing in (Ministry of) National Planning. National Planning they are more interested in going out, so they have not attended once. Normally the surveyors will take somebody from Shell (SPDC), Mobil, from AGIP of something, to represent the Surveyors Council of Nigeria. But now the man they have taken is the chief executive of the Registration Council. He does not have the time. He’s always busy traveling in and out of the country. The Surveyor-General will send him to go to Indonesia, go to this, go to that. So they are not there. And therefore, for three times we were not able to form a quorum and the third time we had to go to Abuja to be able to hold a meeting. Even the last one, the other politicians that was appointed, needed to go to Dubai to put his son in school and that means he was not able to attend the meeting. And therefore… I wouldn’t say whether we are jinxed but we are handicapped for now. We are not able to ascertain the level of work that is being done.
DDH: That is very dangerous..
Capt Adeyemo: It is very dangerous, and I told the managing director (that) you are not helping yourself. This is exactly what happened to the last board. The managing director then tried to shield the contractor that was handling the Lokoja port. If you have politicians on the board, the last board they are about six or seven politicians on the board and because the only work they knew was being in that board they were present at every board meeting. They participated fully in every discussion. They carry out their oversight functions at the various port, various offices, the various waterways and NIWA was better for it. But today, a situation where even after three trips a quorum could not be formed, how do you want to have a board that is alive to its responsibility. If you wanted to find out what was happening to a contractor you needed to go there and take him by surprise. Obasanjo was the one who singlehandedly awarded the contract to all these contractors. The board was not involved. The board had no input to the contractors, and some of the contractors award that were selected really didn’t know what they were doing. A case in point was the Lokoja port. If the board had an input, that port shouldn’t have been situated in Lokoja, because it’s just no use there. The port should have gone to either Baro after Lokoja or Idah before Lokoja which are natural ports that could have been used to develop as ports for the River Niger dredging. But because the pressure of the Governor to the President about the Lokoja people … Inland Waterways was situated in Lokoja and the people wanted to feel the impact of Inland Waterways there, so they wanted their own port. And they awarded the contract that is ridiculously in high price that cannot be justified by anybody. They awarded it to somebody who knew nothing about ports. They collected the money and he was not doing anything. The board pointed these out to MD and we said ‘we want to meet the contractor to find out what he was doing’. He said no… he didn’t award the contract, he would not see the contractor. What we did not know at that point in time was that he put himself as a shield between the board and the contractor, and he was demanding a lot of money from the contractor and covering him up. He was paying him for work not done. When this new minister (Alh Ibrahim Bio) now went and said he wanted to see the work that was done, he made the mistake by not going to there unannounced. He gave him (advance notice) that he was coming. The man put a lot of sand, he planted flowers. (General laughter). So when the minister got there, he was impressed. It was the journalists who now called him and said to him, ‘Honorable Minister, what you are seeing here is not the true reflection of what is here. These flowers are only two or three days old’. Some of them were fixed or something, big …. So he said are you sure? He said yes, ‘Honourable Minister come…’. And then he started pulling them out without any effort, until he pulled all the flowers out.
DDH: Was the contractor there?
Capt Adeyemo: yes the contractor was there. Then they realized that the man had disbursed a lot of money without anything to show for it. It was that day the minister suspended the managing director of NIWA, Mr Yakubu, from Bauchi. So when the minister knew what was going on, on the spot, he sent him on suspension, pending when they will conduct an investigation. They sent people from the ministry to go and investigate. In the meantime, they put a deputy director, Mrs Ezenwa, to go and be an acting managing director. Then Yar’ Adua came and appointed the current managing director, Mallam Yaradua. When I got there, the chairman of the board, Chief J O Turner said now that you are here can we meet? I said I want us to meet on the basis of your chairmanship of this board because Nigeria belongs to all us, and when this man (the MD) does not know his bearing we correct him. He said no, it is only the Minister of Transport representative director who now said MD, you need to apologize to Captain Adeyemo. He is a master mariner too. He’s correcting you, and you are saying no. We have just carried out an audit of NIWA and what he’s saying is exactly what is on the ground…. That is why I said I’m not in a position to know. I’m only referring to the question, (the stage of the dredging). But by the grace of God the next time we all are there, I want to find out the stage of the dredging. Even if we are only two, we have a board member and a member of management, let them go and find out and make report even, it’s an interim report. That report can be sent to the Ministry (of Transport). You can even bring somebody from the Ministry to go with the board. So were supposed to meet February but we were not able because we have not formed a quorum, so how long can these be?
DDH: When you were saying even the contractors are asking for more money. Now how did you react to that?
Capt Adeyemo: I’m not in a position to react to it because…
DDH: No I mean the asking for more money?
Capt Adeyemo: No I am not able to react to it because I don’t know what is on the ground. If they are asking for more money, they will come to the board, and it’s when they are asking for more money that the board will now deliberate and find out why they want more money.
DDH: But that is even more reason for the question, because if people are not able to form quorum and the MD has been carrying on, in what capacity? Because he is supposed to be working hand-in-hand with the board?
Capt Adeyemo: The board is his boss because if you see the organogram of NIWA, at the apex is the board, then the managing director and his management, but when you are not bringing in the board to discuss a lot of these things…then how can you…?
DDH: How has he been operating?
Capt Adeyemo: The point is, he will tell the Minister… (But) When they (the contractors) bring their certificates (for completion of work or milestones), it is the board that is supposed to approve. But maybe in the absence of the board, he will take it to the minister. The minister may ask him to pay, which is wrong.
DDH: Because there has been no oversight….
DDH: Who initiates the board meeting?
Adeyemo: The chairman, the chairman is supposed to initiate the board meeting, (but) it is the quorum that is important. Most of the people (board members) who have been selected are public servants. They make more money outside than going to get (dredging report).
DDH: There is a report in the newspapers about some aspects of the dredging that is being changed or something like that?
Capt Adeyemo: Well I also read it. I can only ask when we go for a board meeting that I read in the newspaper that the acting president stopped the dredging, is it true? But again the reverse is, when they also said that he had diverted nineteen billion Naira from the dredging money, and he said no, that was not true, the full explanation is in the newspaper, that the money is presently with the ministry of transport. They now are asking the National assembly to vire it from there to Niger Delta ministry, that they wanted to do shore protection and all that. Then they also wanted to do some dredging from Warri to the bifurcation then to Port-Harcourt to Degema. Then there is going to be a spur from Degema to Buguma, Yenagoa and a lot of communities so that they will be able to protect their shoreline. A lot of them seem to be losing their shoreline and they want to be able to do that. That is now their excuse.
DDH: What is your comment on their usage or non-usage of professionals for the Niger dredging, how is it going to affect the final outcome?
Adeyemo: Well, I believe that they have involved professionals, but they have not involved Nigeria professionals. They have involved professionals but, for every contract there is a consultant. In most of them, I think it is only one that is a Nigerian, the others are mainly expatriates. Haskoning is the biggest of them, but Haskoning is also a drainpipe.
DDH: What is the lack of the board meeting and constituting a very good and effective board costing the River Niger dredging project?
Capt Adeyemo: Well who is going to mention the quality of work, and at the end of the day it would be pouring down the drains. Another administration will come, they will want to re-award the contract. No, believe me, I am a member of the board and I feel so sad because we are not able to see for ourselves the quality of job they have done, and this is our powers by right.
DDH: Because by right the board ought to be able to scrutinize the contract, given to these people, know about the depth, width, spoil removed and other minute details of the project…?
Adeyemo: Yes, you had people like (Capt) Runsewe). I told them you have people you can appoint as NIWA, to go and verify what they are telling you. Advertise for them, let them apply, choose whom you want, don’t involve the board members. Let your management take the decision or take somebody that you know is vast, versatile, knowledgeable and experienced in this job.
DDH: That is people who can countercheck. What category of auditors are you taking about?
Adeyemo: If you said they have dredged to a depth of 2.3 meters or 2.4 meters, that should be ascertainable. It has to be very right. And they have to think in terms of training of the walls, that you are not going to have a lot of siltation. Once you have a siltation, what you have done will soon come up again and therefore the barges that are supposed to use the river will not be able to use it. How do they do these, if you are only relying on these people and even most of them are not even professional dredgers in doing the work? He (the MD) should be able to have a training program to say, how do we go further with this dredging; call all the contractors, call all the state holders who are going to be benefit from it, let NIWA pay.
DDH: Even the last time we had a dredging summit at Abuja in 2009 we invited NIWA and all the contractors to come there and even inform the people what they have done for mass awareness, because overseas that is what will do, they will appear in conferences and everybody will have opportunity to hear details from them. But none of them showed up, including NIWA, perhaps because they have things they are hiding. Some like Haskoning gave reasons that they don’t have time and don’t want to pay attendance fees to attend local programmes. That was the response of their local representative.
Adeyemo: They wouldn’t show up, the belly is more importance than the national interest, that’s unfortunate. There were certain things that were happening there and I cannot tell you, because I don’t want it to appear in print but some of it is very sordid, very sordid. And sometimes you won’t be able to contain oneself. There’s one other northerner there, a political board member, a business man, he is very honest. So maybe after I have spoken to the chairman, I want to find out exactly what is happening. They should review the contract.
DDH: Is it advisable for government to review the contract?
Adeyemo: Yes, what have they done now? They are just saying ‘oh it’s going on, it’s going on’, who has been there? Or are you taking the pictures or the presentation of the contractor himself? In fact, that may not even be River Niger. Believe me, all we see is a dredger, and that picture maybe it’s taken from any other place or a foreign port. The board should go there. The board should be active on the field.
DDH: Because you are monitoring a very big project…
Adeyemo: I think they have cancelled the contract for Lokoja port, but they have asked the man to pay back what he had collected, because by right he should refund.
DDH: But in your opinion there may be a need to cancel these dredging contracts and to re-award them properly?
Adeyemo: Yes, to re-award properly. It’s not the Federal Executive Council that awarded that contract; it’s the president that awarded it. (That is Obasanjo.) The board was not involved.