By Kayode Matthew
On February 25 2010, the then Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Senator Bello Jibrin Gada issued a letter suspending from office, the Board of Governors and the General Manager of the National Theatre, Alhaji Kabir Yusuf over allegation of serious in-fighting going on among the Management team which has led to poor service delivery and dwindling revenue generation at the National Theatre. An Administrative Panel of Enquiry was therefore set up to probe the management crises.
Memoranda submitted before the Administrative panel have however revealed that this allegation is a falsehood intended to deceive the government as the main reason is said to do with request for payment for an on-going contract for fence construction and erection of five gates around the National Theatre and sand filling of the several pools around the edifice.
The contract was said to have been awarded to Messrs Technoexportstroy Nig. Ltd which is chaired by a member of Peoplesâ€™ Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees to the tune of N300 million in October 2009. The sum of N45 million was paid immediately as mobilisation fee but the contractor did not mobilise to site until after three months after series of letters by the General Manager to both the contractor and the then minister on the need for timely commencement of the project. But soon after the contractor mobilised to site he put up a request for the payment of N200,000,000.00.
The General Manager was said to have been away in India for medical check up at that time and his deputy, Alhaji Yusuf Ahmed Atai, who is now Acting General Manager, recommended payment and the minister approved it.
However, the payment could not be effected as it was not backed with a Consultant Evaluation Certificate as required by law. When eventually the consultant, AMD Design Consult was contacted to issue an Evaluation Certificate for the N200 million he refused on the ground that the level of work was too insignificant for the amount being demanded.
After evaluation, the consultant recommended the payment of N39 million to the contractor. This was said to have angered both the contractor and the minister who mounted pressure on the General Manager who had returned to make the consultant issue a Certificate for the N200 million.
The Manager who was said to have expressed fear that with the slow pace of work the contractor was unlikely to complete the project before the March 2010 deadline for completion of capital projects was reluctant to bring pressure on the consultant for the obvious consequences should the project be abandoned after full payment.
The minister was said to have summoned a meeting of the contractor, consultant and himself excluding the General Manager/CEO and the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation who is the Accounting Officer and Chairman of the Ministerial Tenders.
The consultant was said to have been threatened with revocation of his contract if he could not issue the Evaluation Certificate for the N200 million. While the General Manager was said to be afraid of being held responsible if the contractor abandons the project after payment, the minister wanted payment before the actualisation of the then rumours of likely dissolution of the former cabinet by the Acting President. The only option left for the payment to be effected was to remove the General Manager.
The fear of abandonment of the project by the General Manager stems from the fact that the same contractor abandoned a similar project which was for the refurbishing of the roof of the National Theatre for which the General Manager was compelled by the then minister to pay N220 million against the recommendation of a Presidential Monitoring Team on capital projects and also against the resolution of a meeting on the capital project held between the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, the contractor and the General Manager.
In that meeting the contractor was said to have threatened to deal with the General Manager for insisting on Due process. In fact the then minister was said to have been very angry when the General Manager wrote a letter to him, reminding him that the roofing has not been completed despite the payment and the need to ensure that the contractor is made to complete it before the raining seasons sets in if further damage is to be averted.
Meanwhile it has been discovered that the contractor had been paid the sum of N95 million without the Certificate from the Project Consultant as only 20 per cent progress has been recorded on the project while the balance of N95 million has been withdrawn from the Central Bank in order to beat the March 31 deadline and deposited in the Internal Generated Revenue Account in First Bank. The project consultant was also said to have been sacked on a claim that he lacks the knowledge of Lagos State environment law while the actual reason was because he refused to issue an Evaluation Certificate for N200 million.
While the letter sacking the consultant was backdated to 16th March 2010, the consultant was said to have held several site meetings with the contractors and the National Theatre even after the date put in the backdated letter on which the consultant is threatening necessary actions as the last Certificate of Evaluation he issued to the National Theatre which is minus N16,845,835.06 was on 25th March 2010. It was alleged that it was this minus evaluation that infuriated the Acting General Manager to sack the consultant.
It is argued that the power for such sack resides with the Board of Governors of the parastatal and not the Acting General Manager and since the Board did not meet over it before the sack, the action amounts to illegality and may be voided if challenged as the consultant is threatening to seek redress in the court of law. He is doubting that a letter dated 16th March 2010 and sent to him in Kaduna by Courier that day ought to reach him earlier than the 7th April 2010 when the mail was received.
Debunking the claim of management crises which formed the basis of the suspension, the General Manager in his submission before the Administrative Panel said, â€œthere has not been any in-fighting among the management as alleged. The minutes of our Management meetings are a testimony to the fact that a cordial relationship exists among the members of the Management and there is no rancour. The Management holds its meetings weekly and often with inclusion fo â€œExtended Managementâ€™ which consists of officers on Grade level 15 who are not Heads of Departmentsâ€.
On the allegation of dwindling revenue as a fallout of the alleged in-fighting, the General Manager said, â€œsince my appointment and resumption of office on 4th August 2009, the revenue I generated was paid into the coffers of the Federal Government while for the past three years before my appointment, the National Theatre had never remitted revenue to the Federal Government coffers.
I declared a revenue of N35 million from August to December 2009. In the year 2010 (January to February) I generated a revenue of N52 million. From the foregoing there is no dwindling revenue generation rather, the revenue generation of the parastatal appreciated by 100 per cent being the first time that money was paid to the Federal Government Account by the National Theatre in the last three years.
â€œThe allegation of poor service delivery is not true. To the contrary service delivery has improved tremendously since my assumption of office. I have rehabilitated two cinema halls while the Revolving State of the Main Bowl has also been rehabilitated. Likewise 40 toilets of the Main Bowl have also been rehabilitated.Â backlog of seven months staff claims and entitlements before my assumption of office have been paid.
In the area of staff promotion, promotion exercise was conducted last year and deserving staff were rightly promoted and the list forwarded to the Governing Board for approval which the Board did and which the Management implemented. The Board even commended my innovation on service deliveryâ€.Â In his conclusion, he prayed the panel to recommend his reinstatement as it is clear from his submission that it is not correct that there was in-fighting, dwindling revenue generation and poor service delivery at the National Theatre.