Obaseki ‘Interests’ truncating Edo Procurement Laws

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku
street light

Very recently during a town hall meeting, we listened in awe as an Edo government official did his best to explain the concept of ‘interest’ with the procurement processes of Edo State. In very many instances, the governor of a state is said to have ‘interests’ which must be factored into the procurement processes in spite of the seeming stiffness of the same laws against institutions with oversight roles. That said, this ‘interest’ ascribed to a governor has certainly come to render irrelevant whatever the Procurement laws have come to represent.

I give you an example. In 2021, we got wind of the fact that the Edo State government had awarded a contract for the provision of Street Lights on the Airport Road in Benin City. That street, in spite of the great role it plays in the Edo economy, was perpetually in the dark. Consequently, we began to look for who it was that had been awarded the contract, and wanted to find out why it was taking that long for him to hit the street and therefore run. It was at that point of inquiry that we ran into those ‘interests’. First, the chap who was reported on the Edo State Public Procurement Agency, EDPPA, website as having won the contract bid disowned that information. According to him, we were the ones who had revealed to him that he won the bid among those who had submitted bids for the Airport Road Contract. Most of the contractors listed on the website of the EDPPA told us as well that they suspect that being listed on the website of the EDPPA was a revenue generation drive of the Obaseki administration rather than for the openness of the bidding processes.

Extremely baffled at this development that the chap who won the open competitive bid was not to execute the contract, we got in touch with officials of the EDPPA, who made it clear to us that even though this particular contractor had met all the requirements set by the EDPPA for the bidding process, the governor had indicated that he has a preferred candidate.  That preferred candidate turned out to be a certain Brossette Nigeria Limited, based in Lagos, and whose expertise is in the area of print and soft packaging. We asked them if they bid for the Edo contract to erect street lights and they said they did not. We were to find out as well that that company also had an office right inside of the newly created ministry of Electricity and Energy at the Palm House or Edo Civil Service Secretariat.

In 2018, the Edo State government had signed on to the Open Government Partnership, OGP, an international treaty which also encourages subnational governments to be open and transparent with the instruments of governance. The OGP is driven on the themes of fiscal transparency, zero tolerance to corruption, and access to information. It has a ‘co-chair’ from among non-state actors who participate in issues related to transparency, openness and accountability in the conduct of governance. Much later though, and that was after his victory for a second-tenure, the Edo governor began to pussyfoot on issues related to the openness and transparency and accountability that he had subscribed. We were to find out that there was no way the governor was going to be open and transparent in the conduct of the treaty he had subscribed and at the same time have ‘interests’ in processes that were supposed to be open and transparent.

In awarding the contract to this Obaseki ‘interest’, the Procurement Entity, in this case the Edo State Ministry of Energy and Electricity did not specify what kind of street lights were to be fitted. The street lights that his predecessor put in place, and which were alleged to be able to last for the next 30 years were dismantled only for the ones that the preferred ‘bidder’ to erect to be evaluated by experts as being of very below standard.

What seemed to have been the plan was that there was not going to be any bidding process for the construction of the street lights in the first place. I give you another example. A seeming irrelevant requirement in the Edo Procurement Law 2012 states that an announcement for contractors to bid must be published in the dailies. In the EDPPA website, an announcement was made in the Vanguard newspaper of 28th October, 2019. We checked but there was no such advert of the bidding announcement. Even though we got a letter from the EDPPA boss at that time that the purported advert was a mistake, he said that the mistake was ‘inadvertent’.

During the town hall meeting, there was talk about reforming the procurement laws of Edo State.  We found this very, very curious because part of what the Edo State says it wants to do as ‘reforms’ would include sending procurement officers to all the local government areas of Edo state. Another one of the ‘reforms’ would include working with the United Nations, the World Bank and the Nigerian Universities Commission, NUC, to start Procurement degree programmes in some Nigerian universities.

These are good plans. We know too that these plans, especially that of making procurement degree programmes in Nigerian universities, are just part of the Edo government culture of saying one thing and doing just the opposite. For how do you have procurement laws that are regularly flouted by the ‘interest’ of the man who should uphold those laws?

We recommend to the Edo state governor to drop his very many interests,  in favour of transparency and accountability in governance. He can start by removing those absolutely stringent conditionalities that make it very difficult for civil society organisations to observe the bidding processes of procurement in Edo State.

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