“As for the other nonexistent Quatan Sule bridge, it was provided for in the 2017 budget for construction at 600 million naira. Its code in that budget is ‘FMOWP91020798’. A bridge for construction in the 2017 budget was named for emergency repairs in July of the same year. Meaning that it was billed for construction and emergency repairs at the same time? In fact, if what the minister says is anything to go by, the contractors have already been paid for the bridge repairs. For a nonexistent bridge!
The National Publicity Secretary of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party, ANRP, Sesugh Akume, has dragged the Minister of Works and Housing , Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, to court over non existent bridges and roads that the minister claimed he paid for in Benue state in 2017 budget.
In the suit filed by the politician at the Federal High Court,Abuja,at the weekend, he wants the court to prevail on Fashola to release all the details as contained in his request to the ministry of works.
In a Suit Number FHC/ABJ/CS/1383/2019, at the Federal High Court, Abuja, against the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, and the minister, Babatunde Fashola SAN, Akume wants the court to determine whether it was right for failing and/or refusing to answer three Freedom of Information (FOI) requests he made to them within the stipulated time.
In the 32-paragraph affidavit deposed to by Mr. Akume is essentially for the the court to compel the Minister and ministry of Works and Housing to answer clearly and comprehensively all his enquiries related to the rehabilitation of roads and bridges in his home state (Benue) and constituency (Sankera) which Mr Fashola had on 29 July 2017 named among 63 roads and 45 bridges nationwide which the federal government had earmarked for emergency repairs and rehabilitation, and also stated that all contractors had been paid for the work.
Akume in his affidavit raised the issue of accountability around these projects, adding that hardly any work is being done, and some of the infrastructure for rehabilitation, for which the minister, Mr Fashola, said contractors have been paid, do NOT exist at all.
He is also asking the court to make a consequential order against the ministry of Works and Mr. Fashola not replying to the FOI requests within the stipulated time.
This suit which he says is part of a series of public interest lawsuits, in his capacity as a private citizen, against the various tiers of government, holding them to account on some key areas pertaining to open government, public finances, local government autonomy, is to ensure transparency and accountability.
Akume said he was curious when on 29 July, 2017, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, Minister of Power, Works , and Housing (as the ministry then was) announced 63 roads and 45 bridges for emergency repairs, and later that all contractors for those had been paid for.
He said for the fact that Mr. Fashola mentioned the Katsina-Ala bridge, and the completely nonexistent Buruku and Quatan Sule bridges which people in the area and himself, have sentimental attachments to, made him to start investigation on the roads and bridges mentioned.
According to Akume, Mr. Fashola lied about some roads and bridges in Benue; “The Katsina-Ala bridge is important to me in part because it is virtually the only federal government facility in Sankera, my constituency in Benue, and the only access bridge through it. It’s precisely because there is no bridge at Buruku that travellers cross by boat in this day and age, leading to the death of scores perennially, due to boat mishaps. Not to mention the other nonexistent Quatan Sule bridge.
“So, on 26 July, 2019, I in my capacity as a private citizen, made an FOI (freedom of information) request addressed to him as minister, requesting comprehensive information on these 3 bridges and the Makurdi bridge he had listed, as well as some roads I am particularly interested in. “I enquired to know the status, the length and other specifications, cost, duration, contractor, number of staff both foreign and local, and other details of each of the projects.
“Surprisingly, for one stretch of road, out of the three I requested for, I got an almost immediate reply, within three days, which is totally unprecedented.
“I was amazed and replied to acknowledge and commend the unusually swift response. For the rest, I am yet to hear from the ministry, more than two months after. Never mind that the law specifies that FOI requests shall be answered within seven days.
I was, however, able to get some information on the bridges alone informally, which was said to be in the process of being passed on to me. The contract to repair the 1-kilometer Katsina-Ala bridge, for instance, according to the information was awarded in February this year at over 3 billion naira, to be completed in 2 years, that is, February 2021, and so forth. For the nonexistent Buruku bridge, the information provided was on a Buruku bridge in Kaduna. As for the Quatan Sule bridge, no information at all.
Akume who contested the House of Representatives to represent Sankera Federal constituency in 2019 general election on the platform of ANRP, says he was surprised that the details of the contract was shrouded in secrecy.
“Here is the issue, in the 2017 federal budget, the ministry set aside 190 million naira to pay a consultant to ‘package’ a PPP (public-private partnership) arrangement for the Katsina-Ala bridge, the Makurdi bridge and 4 roads across the country; in spite of the fact that the ministry has an autonomous PPP unit of well-trained experts to handle any PPP endeavour. In that very same budget, a little over 300 million was allotted for comprehensive repairs of the same bridge. The question is, if the government was spending 300 million on the bridge, why there was going to be a PPP arrangement for the same bridge at the same time? Or was the PPP arrangement meant to take off after the repairs? It is interesting to note that, it is this same Katsina-Ala bridge which cost 300 million naira in 2017 for comprehensive repairs, that was awarded at over 3 billion naira for the very same repairs, in 2019! How did the cost of a bridge be fixed magically leapfrog from 300 million 3 billion naira within 2 years?
However, on 18 September, 2019, about three weeks after , Fashola, he said announced that the federal executive council had on that day approved over 3 billion naira, to repair the Katsina-Ala bridge (a contract already awarded 7 months prior in February, was approved in September), being an upward review from an unnamed figure.
He, however,said the amount covered the 3.2-kilometer access road to the bridge from Ugbema. All right, so fixing the 1-kilometer bridge is 3 billion naira, but the 3.2-kilometer is virtually free? Or fixing the bridge is still 300 million and fixing the road is 3 billion naira? Because the figures are the same. It is complex, and makes no meaning.
“On 4 October 2011, the then minister of works, Mike Onolememen, stated that the federal government was to concession roads and bridges it built and maintained across the Federation, and specifically named the Buruku bridge in Benue among those. Three years later, however, the ministry named the bridge in the 2014 budget for construction. They specified it as the Buruku bridge across River “Katsina-Ala in Benue. From the foregoing, the dissonance here is obvious. How does one plan to construct in 2014 a bridge already existing in 2011? And could a bridge for construction in 2014 be due for emergency repairs by 2017? Whilst awaiting their response to the first FOI request of 26 July, 2019, I then made a second one providing the expatiation and clarification above along with other specific details like the code number in the 2014 budget for this project ‘WORKS010008609’ along with its full narration as contained therein, for the avoidance of doubt, in order to specify that it was this particular bridge we were requesting information about, not another elsewhere.
“As for the other nonexistent Quatan Sule bridge, it was provided for in the 2017 budget for construction at 600million naira. Its code in that budget is ‘FMOWP91020798’. A bridge for construction in the 2017 budget was named for emergency repairs in July of the same year. Meaning that it was billed for construction and emergency repairs at the same time? In fact, if what the minister says is anything to go by, the contractors have already been paid for the bridge repairs. For a nonexistent bridge!
“We may not be able to tell for sure whether the questions we have been asking made them say the 3 billion naira was not meant exclusively for the Katsina-Ala bridge, but also the Ugbema – Katsina-Ala federal road up to the bridge also; instead of that outrageous amount for the 1-kilometer bridge alone. Or that they withheld responses to that FOI request in order to use it, make a public announcement to clarify the matter before replying to the information request; even though the facts seem to suggest so. “What is certain however, is asking questions works, and makes the system responsive and serve us better, however tedious the journey may be. We all should ask more questions.” He said.
Akume who says “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Maintains that; “If we all go to sleep, so will these people keep taking us for granted, allotting monies in the annual budget year after year with nothing to show for it, and lying about nonexistent facilities that exist only in their imaginations and on paper. A time should come when enough is enough.”
Attempts to get the Minister of Works and Housing , to respond to issues raised and why information was not given on the roads and bridges in contention according to FOI act was unsuccessful as at the time of filling this report.