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Rights groups condemn govt’s decision to renovate National Assembly with N42.4b

By Adamu Abuh, Abuja
19 December 2021   |   4:10 am
The last is yet to be heard of controversy surrounding move to expend N42.4b on renovation of the National Assembly complex in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The last is yet to be heard of controversy surrounding move to expend N42.4b on renovation of the National Assembly complex in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Three leading pro-democracy groups: the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Human Rights Writers’ Association (HURIWA) maintained the proposed expenditure was “a misplaced priority.”

Besides, the rights groups raised eyebrows over alleged inflation of the contract from N37b to N42.4b within six months.

HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, called for outright cancellation of the renovation contract.

He said: “Spending N42b on renovation of a complex, which original cost wasn’t more than half of the budgeted humongous sum, is a colossal waste and frittering of scarce resources. It’s unwise, wasteful, unreasonable, irresponsible and callous.

“The National Assembly Complex is not more than 30 years old, since it was first constructed, and upon construction by Julius Berger, there was information the builders had built in a maintenance strategy, so that the complex could be maintained by the builders, whenever necessary.

“I suggest strongly that the company that built it should have right of first refusal to renovation. The bidding process is also opaque and lacks transparency. It is heavily compromised and should be cancelled. Sadly, it looks like the Bureau of Public Procurement is also compromised.”

CDD’s Director, Idayat Hassan frowned at the authorities for the award of such contract that is of little or no benefits to the citizenry.

She said: “ Nigeria is heavily borrowing. There is insecurity. There are a lot of challenges that the country is presently grappling with. Bringing forth a very large budget to renovate in what could be adjudged non-transparent is a no no for the country.

“I advise the National Assembly members to present themselves really, as above board and take the interest of the masses at heart. This huge amount could be used either in the security sector, or to provide basic amenities for Nigerians.

“N42b is quite huge and it didn’t take into consideration the uproar that accompanied the earlier allocated N37b for the same contract, before it was slashed. It’s more or less that in this budget cycle, the National Assembly has returned with its initial budget.

CISLAC’s Executive Director, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, spoke on the alleged breach in the Public Procurement Act (PPA). He said: “This is not in the best interest of Nigerians to embark on such a huge spending, wastage of tax payers’ monies. To compound the issues, the contract amount is even at inflated rates.

“If the National Assembly can legislate a law like the PPA, why should it tolerate the breach of such law? If the lawmakers can tolerate this level of impunity, how can they take the anti-graft campaign to the doorstep of the executive arm?

“The Federal Executive Council (FEC) is part of the problem. Why should they award contract in breach of the Public Procurement Act? One would have expected FEC to know the implications of giving such approval. We must be mindful of spendings that are of no economic value to Nigerians and would drain the lean purse of the nation.”

Recall that when the National Assembly renovation project was proposed last year, it was pegged at N27b. Even then, there was a huge outcry over the cost, with civil society advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) petitioning three United Nations (UN) special rapporteurs, inviting them to step in and stop such humungous expenditure on the project.

The latest position of the rights’ groups is coming against the backdrop of allegation that the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) might have been put under pressure to select Messrs. Visible Construction Limited, over and above companies, such as ITB Nigeria Limited, which originally built the first phase of the National Assembly complex, and had quoted N26.9b for its renovation.

There are fears that the firm, which enjoys the endorsement of a principal officer of the National Assembly, may not deliver value for money to be spent on the project.

This is aside the fact that going ahead to execute the contract at N24.4b will be tantamount to “a rip off”.

An official of the Bureau of Public Procurements (BPP), who spoke on condition of anonymity, claimed that Visible Construction and Rockbridge Construction Limited were the best businesses that met the eligibility standards consistent with Section 16(6) of the Public Procurement Act 2007.

It was learnt that Visible Construction Limited, being one of five firms that bidfor the job, had proposed N45b. However, after its assessment, the BPP cut down the amount by approximately N2.6b to N42.4b.

The other bidders were said to be Julius Berger, at the cost of N101.1b; ITB Nigeria Ltd., which was said to have proposed N26.9b; Gilmor Engineering Ltd, with its bill of N61.2b, and Rockbridge Construction Ltd, which asked for N55.8b to carry out the exercise.

While some of the bidding companies were said to have asked for special intervals for the assignment, ranging from 12 to 42 months, Visible Construction Ltd was said to have assured that it would complete the job in 41 months.

Reacting, Visible Construction Company, insisted that it operated under a conglomerate, Laralek Group of Companies, Strabic Construction Company under a single management involved in constructing projects across the country for over two decades.

Laralek Group of Companies’ Corporate Affairs Manager/Company Secretary, Hope Okouwagbor, faulted the notion that it enjoyed the backing of a National Assembly principal to land the plum job.