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Abandoned projects: Shame of a nation

By Helen Ovbiagele , Woman Editor
For the ‘giant of black Africa’ and the ‘most populous black nation in the world’, the words ‘abandoned projects’, fifty years after independence from our colonialists, do not do us any credit, neither do they bring us any respect or honour.

Any project embarked upon by an individual, an organization or a government, is something that was deemed important and necessary, one way or the other,  in the upliftment/improvement of the human life.  A project is meant to fulfill a need in the family, community or society.  It would be irresponsible to embark on a project without first of all, finding out if it is necessary, and also possible financially.

Whether the project is a big one like the expansion of rail roads, constructing roads, building bridges, dredging rivers, or a small one like clearing and cleaning the gutters, adequate preparations should be made.

For government projects, apart from the funds needed for its execution from scratch to finish, there should be an agreed time for its completion.

A friend of mine who resides outside the country told me that it’s only in Nigeria that people collect huge sums of money for government contracts without doing a single thing.  She said that you can’t try that in the western world.

This is because, unlike in this country where plans for a project are hatched and executed verbally, in the western world, there’s accountability every step of the way.   If you’re awarded a contract for a project, you and the people or companies you’ll use to execute that project will pay tax on the money you’re being paid.

You’ll fill everything in for your quarterly or yearly tax returns.   People don’t collect money and vanish into thin air.  FBI or Scotland Yard will go after you.

In Nigeria we’re most likely to pursue those eking out a living selling on the streets, and carry away their wares (bread, roasted yam and plantains and the charcoal pots, fruits, etc.), than go after those contractors who collected money but didn’t execute, or executed shabbily, the contracts they won.

All over the country we have abandoned projects in nooks and corners.  The habit is that everyone who comes on board starts a project.  Those in governance don’t look at the projects that are on ground and make it a point to complete them, instead, they start their own projects amidst much fanfare, award contracts here and there, and that’s the end of the matter.

Meanwhile there’s no supervision of these projects to see that they are being executed according to the agreed plans, and even if a project staggers to completion, there’s no accountability about how the money given out was spent, and if the work done was worthy of the money paid.

I was told that in some cases, contractors collect money to put up structures without there being any land acquired for the purpose.  Or, contracts for a proposed government housing estate are given out to various contractors to build houses.  Some complete theirs while some don’t.  Some build to specification, while others put up shoddy buildings.

They collect the balance to the mobilizing fees and leave.  Government structural and civil engineers, electricians, and building experts are not sent to supervise these buildings at various stages, or to inspect them on completion.

We have abandoned government buildings all over the place, some of which are being occupied by squatters or people of doubtful character.  Why have these projects not been completed?  Is the government owing the contractors?

Why?  What happened to the money voted for the execution of the project?  Or, is there no longer the need to provide houses for the masses?  Which is the way forward?  The longer a project is abandoned, the more difficult and expensive it would be to bring it to completion.

Uncompleted buildings are not the only abandoned projects we have around.

‘MULTI-DOLLAR NITEL EQUIPMENT ROTS AT PORTS’, screamed a headline in THISDAY Business World of February 25, 2010.  ‘Equipment worth millions of dollars, belonging to the Nigerian Telecommunications Ltd. NITEL, is said to be rotting away at the ports, years after it arrived.

According to the article, the equipment comprising cables, transmission switches among others, have been at the ports even before Transcorp took over NITEL, and it has attracted demurrages running into millions of dollars.

The equipment had been brought into the country to re-vamp the company and replace most of its obsolete and analogue equipment to enable it compete in today’s highly dynamic technology sphere.  It was gathered that apart from this equipment rotting at the ports, there are also old generation and out-dated equipment in crates in several warehouses since 2002.

Once upon a time, NITEL was the main telephone provider in the country.  With the emergence of mobile phones, it tried too to grab a share of the market through M-TEL.  That move crashed and today I doubt if there are people with functioning M-TEL.  I suppose that it was with the aim of improving the performance of M-TEL that those equipment were brought in. That was the project.

Eight years later, the equipment is still not installed; thus it’s now an abandoned project, !  And at what a cost! If an organization bought over NITEL, shouldn’t these equipment be part of the deal, so that they could be installed and M-TEL brought to life again?

I liked what the Chairman, Senate Committee on Communications, was alleged to have said on the issue.  ‘He said that mismanagement from within and outside; human factor of greed and selfishness on the part of those who managed NITEL have in no small way contributed to the present situation of the once thriving telecommunications entity.

It was alleged that he added that contractors who were brought in to work for NITEL were very dubious and they connived with a lot of people to mismanage NITEL, to such an extent that it could not even meet its obligations as and when due, nor pay staff salaries.’

These are very weighty words even though no-one has actually been directly indicted, and action taken against the person or persons.  If we took the trouble to import the equipment, why wasn’t it installed?   Some time ago, the same thing was said of equipment for our airports.

I think it’s time for us to sit up and legislate against unfinished government projects or abandoned equipment.  If in our chessboard type of governance a leader is unable to complete an assignment because he was removed from seat, it should be mandatory for his successor to complete that project.

Contractors who collect money and then don’t deliver, shouldn’t be allowed to go scot-free.  This means that government contracts shouldn’t be given to just anyone, but to those with integrity who have a reputation for performing well.

Government projects are executed with public funds, so, all Nigerians have the right to inspect projects in a nonviolent and objective manner, and report their findings to the relevant authority if there’s anything amiss.  Those in charge should investigate these findings and take appropriate action.   Accountability should be the order of the day.


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