Some discrepancies in the 2020 COVID-19 contract awards linked to the Environmental Health Officers Council of Nigeria (EHORECON) for procuring Chlorine-based chemicals with outdoor applications have necessitated a critical look.
The project awarded at the peak of the pandemic to be implemented in Lagos, Edo, Kano, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) cost was N489 million, from which N244 million was earmarked for the procurement of chlorine-based chemicals.
On May 10, The ICIR looked into the National Open Contracting Portal (NOCOPO) of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and discovered that similar projects – the supply of chlorine-based chemicals and outdoor application were awarded for N24 million to Kaplan Consults Limited and also to another contractor, Masfas International Limited at N98 million.
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Also, the same project type was awarded to Design Three Sixty Limited at N97 million, while Dabellfari Nigeria Limited, another contractor, received a similar project award at N25 million.
Chlorine often comes to mind once there is a need for disinfection. It could be used for several other purposes, including cleaning domestic and industrial wastes. It is presumed the chemical was procured to disinfect public spaces during the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Based on findings by The ICIR, over 200 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of governments were disinfected during this period.
On April 4, 2020, the former Minister of Environment Mohammed Mahmood kick-started the exercise from the Federal Capital Territory. And he announced it would be replicated across the states.
“The Federal Fire Service (FFS) has trucks that would be used to decontaminate the FCT, while Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria has the expertise that would mix the chemicals according to United Nations (UN) specifications,” Mahmood, now Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) had stated.
Nevertheless, the awarded contracts lacked details about the volume of chemicals supplied and at what cost per measure (unit price).
Specifically, the N24 million awarded project to Kaplan consults limited had no information under the ‘items’ column, where the project brief should have been captured.
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In the same column, details provided for the other three firms – Masfas, Design three-sixty and Dabellfari Nigeria ltd were captured as “chlorine and disinfection (1 one).”
This is not the first time The ICIR would be exposing irregularities in public procurements within government MDAs, even in the private sector.
Similar reports were written on inflated contracts during the pandemic, breach of the procurement act by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), to mention but a few.
Building Construction firm executes chemical supply project
Kaplan Consult Limited was registered on February 13, 2009, with registration number 800618. Public documents showed the firm has three directors – Adetoba Adedapo Babatunde, Nwabuisi Stanley Dickson and Ofoegbu Obinna Desmond. Each of them also has stakes in one other firm, respectively.
The company secretary is James Ugbeda and Co.
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With over ten years of building experience, it bragged about having delivered 128 projects and has 25 skilled contractors, among other feats. However, it got the contract to supply chlorine-based chemicals.
Based on BPP guidelines, contracts are awarded to firms based on their core areas of competence and business focus as submitted at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Section 23 (c) of the procurement act (Pre-qualification of bidders) requires the contractor to have demonstrated capacity before being awarded contracts.
For instance, a tree-planting project cannot be awarded to an IT firm. Thus, the dissonance on how the Kaplan consults limited, a construction firm, ended up getting a contract for chemicals.
The ICIR called Ofoegbu, one of the directors, repeatedly, but he did not respond or reply to the text message.
IT firm supplies chlorine-based chemicals
Masfas International Limited, based on public records, was founded on April 16, 2010, with a registered address at 29 Oke Agbe Close, Off Ladoke Akintola Boulevard, Garki Abuja. The RC number is 881268 and is owned by five directors. One of the directors has significant ownership.
They are Shamsu Babangida K., Saifullahi Babangida K., Mas’ud Babangida K., Farida Babangida K., Babangida Idris K., and Al-amin Babangida K. From the group, only Idris owns 60 per cent of the shares and was appointed February 2, 2022.
Masfas international Ltd’s corporate office is located at 29 Oke-Agbe Close, off Ladoke Akintola Boulevard, Garki 2, Abuja. This location coincidentally is the Labour Party (LP) FCT address. However, the political party officials and security men in mufti said they were not aware of the firm when asked about it.
Furthermore, the firm is recognised by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). This agency is responsible for implementing Nigeria’s digital economy policy. Masfas International Limited is listed as number 874 in a list of 961 contractors licensed by NITDA to provide IT services.
As earlier mentioned, based on BPP guidelines, contracts are awarded to firms based on their core areas of competence and business focus as submitted at the CAC; how then did Masfas international limited, an IT-related firm get the contract award to supply chemicals?
Design Three – Sixty Limited The name raised a flag. It is a building engineering firm which was registered at the CAC on February 23, 2005. It has registration number 617484. And five directors – Yusuf Abdullahi M., Usman Abdulaziz, Sadiq Hussaini and H.O Abdul F.
Suraj Aliyu Balarabe is singled-out as a director with significant control of the firm with 50 per cent ownership. He was appointed on March 4, 2022. The firm is based in Kano but is recognised as inactive, according to the CAC public record.
Another construction and solar company supplies chemical
Last in the category is Dabellfari Nigeria Limited. Registered on May 8, 2013, It states its activity as a general merchant. However, its online footprint shows its focus on road construction and solar energy – inverters and street light installation.
As a general merchant, it is not certain if there are limitations; however, findings showed this would also largely depend on the inclusion of the various unrelated services in the company objectives submitted at the CAC.
With registration number 1113211, the Abuja-based firm is owned by two directors, Farida Suleiman and Dolapo Jamini Bello. It got N25m to supply chlorine-based chemicals.
Bello was contacted via his phone number for reactions to speak to the contract award but did not respond to calls and text the message sent to his line.
EHORECON distances itself from awarded contracts
On May 26, The ICIR visited EHORECON, the agency identified to have awarded the said contracts. But, in a twist, the Head of the Public Relations Unit in the organisation, Kehinde Openibo, told The ICIR he was unaware of the awarded jobs during the COVID-19 period and could not say much.
“We only implemented the projects because they fell under our mandate. It was purely federal ministry of environment that awarded the projects,” he responded.
He subsequently advised the reporter to visit the Federal Ministry of Environment – the parent ministry.
Before the visit, a source from the procurement department of the agency The ICIR reached out to also had no knowledge of the contracts.
On May 27, The ICIR visited the federal ministry of environment to verify the claim, but the Director of Information, Sagir Mohammed, was not available.
An official who spoke off the record from the ministry disclosed it might be possible that such award was done by the ministry due to the circumstances surrounding the global pandemic.
He said the Department of Pollution Control and Environmental Health activities are similar to EHORECON, so there could have been a form of arrangement due to the pandemic to ensure the job was done.
EHORECON, Federal Ministry of Environment trade blame on contracts award
On May 30, The ICIR eventually met with the Director of Information from the ministry Mohammed. He said he was unaware of the projects but referred the reporter back to the implementing agency.
He later put a call through to the EHORECON Registrar Yakubu Mohammed Baba.
“This council was established to regulate the practice of environmental health. We have about 24 components from food hygiene to water sanitation, disease surveillance and the control of communicable diseases including COVID-19 but unfortunately, the council was not given a penny as far as the control of COVID-19 is concerned,” the EHORECON Registrar told The ICIR during the visit on May 30.
The Registrar said during the outbreak, money was appropriated to the environment ministry through the ministry’s budget. He said the sum was N492 million.
In his reaction, he explained the fund was obtained through three sources: the council’s budget N214 million, N112 million that came as support from the Presidential Committee on COVID-19, and the budget for pollution control.
“The ministry of environment did the process. EHORECON just served as the secretariat for the coordination of the activities,” Baba explained.
The BPP portal was under maintenance when this reporter attempted to further dig up on the procurement process. A source from the Bureau added that the officials were away from the office on retreat in a south-south state.
While some of the contractors got as much as N98 million for the project, others secured the same item for a much lesser sum, It is unclear if they are to provide the same service and why the price variance.
EHORECON denied awarding the contract during the COVID-19 period. Thus, pushed the suspected irregularities to the Federal Environment Ministry based in Mabushi, Abuja.
The regulatory body responsible for environmental sanitation claimed it only implemented the project after it was awarded by the ministry but never did any project award in the pandemic year. This is despite having its name identified as the procuring entity based on public documents.
Neither the ministry nor the agency took responsibility. They did not answer why the cost variance and why the procurement process was not followed as companies without requisite capacity as stated by the BPP and the procurement act got the contracts.
The implications of having unqualified contractors execute a project are enormous. These vary from delivery of substandard jobs to project neglect due to lack of experience and technical know-how.
Financial experts and Civil Society Organisations have repeatedly attributed major public sector corrupt practices to a flawed procurement process. Public procurements, they argued remained the conduit pipe to fleecing the public funds.
But to address most of the irregularities in public spending, the President and Chairman of the Council of the Chartered Institute of Forensics and Fraud Examiners of Nigeria, Iliyasu B. Gashinbaki advised the Federal Government to establish the national procurement council. With this, he opined the country could end about N300 billion it annually loses to public procurement fraud.