Yakubu Ahmed BK
“The projects executed did not match the money expended as well as the project’s specification. We are not impressed with what we saw.’’ These were the exact words of Honorable Zakari Mohammed, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education when he paid a courtesy visit to the Deputy Governor of Kebbi state Alhaji Ismail Yombe shortly after he led other committee members on an oversight tour of over 500 schools across the state.
While describing the projects executed under Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB) as substandard and unacceptable, the Committee Chairman disclosed that from 2015 when Atiku Bagudu assumed office, Kebbi state got not less than Ten Billion Naira for education projects and concluded with an air of finality that ‘’no visible impact was felt in the sector.’’
The Kebbi state government under Senator Atiku Bagudu has relentlessly and without let prided itself as an unprecedented achiever on account of the so-called ‘’rehabilitation and building of new schools’’ under the Universal Basic Education Board in parts of Kebbi state where some primary and junior secondary schools were, in reality only re-plastered, fenced, re-painted and re-zinced, but which were fraudulently passed as either newly established or fully rehabilitated.
In our analysis of the Atiku Bagudu scorecard a fortnight ago shortly before the indictment by the House of Representatives Committee, we concluded rather brusquely that the entire schools rehabilitation project was a matter of profit margin which has a Naira and Kobo definition and not informed by any burning or patriotic mindset to catapult education out of the dungeon of malaise and rot it has been condemned to.
When we wrote that report, we were oblivious of the oversight visit by the House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education, yet its report, which has proved us right, did not come to many discerning persons as surprising.
Firstly, the way the Atiku Bagudu administration operates in cult-like secrecy is highly undemocratic and provides basis for justifiable suspicion.
Secondly, the way projects are arrived at, out of the purview of the state executive council as demanded by our laws is equally suggestive of intent to defraud. Thirdly, the rush and the poor quality in which projects are conducted especially in the case of schools rehabilitation as well as the open disregard to specifications only proves that there is more to it than meets the eye.
Thirdly, the rush and the poor quality in which projects are conducted especially in the case of schools rehabilitation as well as the open disregard to specifications only proves that there is more to it than meets the eye.
Fourthly, the way rehabilitated primary schools were presented as newly established reinforced the belief among House of Representatives Committee members that the entire project was, right from the beginning, programmed to serve other purposes that are not noble.
Fifthly, the refusal of government to come clean on the identity, profile and qualification of the main contracting companies who handled the projects gave meat to the suspicion that proxies were used to siphon money fraudulently and more importantly, how on earth could any sane person, no matter his propensity to conjure figures, claim to have spent ten billion Naira in the kind of shambles of a job done under the Universal Basic Education Board in Kebbi state? Ten Billion Naira is such a huge amount of money that can positively alter the template of education infrastructure in such a very massive manner if well and judiciously spent.
A very reliable source close to the House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education disclosed that the idea to conduct an oversight tour in Kebbi was informed by widespread allegations within the education circle in the country of a ‘’multi-billion Naira massive fraud’’ superintended under the UBEB projects in Kebbi State.
The source, which asked not to be identified lamented that the fiscal policy of the Kebbi state government has many loopholes in it that make it easier for fraudulent activities to be carried out. He cited the example of the construction of the poorly constructed roads at Bayan Kara and Bayan Oando in the state capital where an incompetent indigenous construction Company was allowed to undertake the job without any bidding or assessment and without the supervision of the relevant government agencies soon after Atiku Bagudu took office in 2015.
Several other weighty contracts were also awarded without recourse to laid-down rules and payments were made in the same manner, the source further claimed.
On the overhyped rehabilitation of schools under SUBEB, another impeccable source revealed that the 10 billion Naira alleged to have been mismanaged by Governor Bagudu by the House of Representatives Committee on Basic education was siphoned out of the state through proxy companies who were awarded the contracts without due process.
The source accused the state Governor of hobnobbing and collaborating with two of his close friends – one of them a former governor of Jigawa state who has been under investigation on corruption charges by the EFCC and the other a son of a former military ruler whose role in celebrated cases of large scale thefts are legion.
These two persons in collaboration with the Governor were alleged to have used proxy companies and were fraudulently and unfairly awarded the SUBUB contracts which were padded and over-invoiced.
The Chairman of the House Committee was overheard shortly before the courtesy visit, accusing Governor Bagudu of ‘’siding with his corrupt friends to fleece Kebbi state.’
He was said to have confided in some Kebbi state SUBEB officials, that from what they have seen in the course of their tour, what was spent out of the 10 Billion Naira was scandalously less than three billion. Even before this, many Kebbi state indigenes have, in the comfort of their rooms and at Majalisa gathering points, expressed reservation on the lack of transparency in the handling and management of the SUBEB contracts in view of the secrecy and in the way information about the identity of the bidding companies, contract sums, and volume of work were hidden.
Kebbi state, has based on the famed conservative nature of the environment, been very attractive to fraudulent leaders who have always capitalized on the inherent docility around to perpetrate mind-boggling malfeasance and financial heists unheard of anywhere. The complete absence of internal
The complete absence of internal dissensions and the rigor of the civil society groups who saddle themselves with constant scrutiny of the level of transparency as well as the complete breakdown of constitutional oversight lines such as the State Legislature, critical press and individual anti-corruption groups and eggheads have all combined to embolden corrupt leaders to do as they wish with public funds.
Nobody in Kebbi is oblivious of the stench of large scale corruption since the days Adamu Aliero, but other than very feeble and innocuous opposition expressed mainly on the streets, such corrupt leaders ended up emptying the treasury and retiring into unbelievable and ill-gotten opulence while poverty, despondency, misery and squalor continued to bear their pangs on the poor people of the state.
It is this level of corruption that has rendered Kebbi state backward. Birnin Kebbi, the state capital is a glorified local government headquarters. The backwardness in the rest of the state, those areas that are far off and where level of despondency can just be imagined, is a story for another day.
It is therefore scandalous and highly repugnant for a state governor to be so accused by no less an institution than the House of Representatives over a sum in the region of Ten Billion Naira meant for the revival of education in the state.
It is equally outrageous that the Kebbi state government has refused to utter a word in denial of the allegation weeks after the salvo. As usual, the state government is banking on the fact that the matter, like others before it, will, with time die a natural death.
The silence, can also be interpreted to mean ‘’guilty as charged.’’ Either way, it is disgusting that we have reached this stage where a state government which proclaimed itself as a change agent and at a time President Muhammadu Buhari is working tirelessly to stamp out corruption in the country, is enmeshed in serious corruption charges.
The people of Kebbi must not allow this allegation to fizzle out. Civil society groups, opposition political parties, trade unions and activists should rise up to the challenge and demand that the state government must provide a convincing explanation as to what becomes of the N10 Billion Naira alleged to have been embezzled by the House of Representatives.
Let this case be followed to its logical conclusion so that the message will be sent loud and clear that Kebbi will no longer provide a soft landing for corrupt leaders. In pursuance of this, the people of the state must be prepared to petition anti-corruption agencies like the ICPC and the EFCC as well as report the case to the presidency so that an investigation can be launched to verify the allegations.