UNIZIK Vice Chancellor in multi-billion naira corruption scandal

 

The Vice Chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Boniface Egboka, is being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), for the mismanagement of billions of naira meant for the institution, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Nigeria is reporting.

Mr. Egboka allegedly misappropriated the funds through the award of bogus and inflated contracts to fronts and cronies; selective bidding; and fraudulent contract cost variations.

The University head was recently arrested and questioned by the EFCC and has made statements about his involvement in the alleged fraud. He was thereafter released on administrative bail.

History of Investigation

A group of lecturers of the university, in March this year, petitioned the EFCC, slamming a litany of allegations including fraud, abuse of office, inflation of contract, using fronts to get contracts, and high handedness against Mr. Egboka.

The EFCC confirmed that it was investigating the allegations against the University boss. Wilson Uwujaren, the commission’s spokesman, said that the petition was already being investigated by its Enugu office, adding that the lecturer has already been invited for interrogation and had made statements to investigators.

Independent investigations of the allegations by icirnigeria.org indicate that Egboka might be in deep trouble except he can explain many actions he took which bother on misappropriation of funds.

Violating due process

Our investigations revealed that the vice chancellor spends university funds like his own personal resources without recourse to rules and regulations, awarded contracts without due process and without open tenders, an infraction that earned him a query from the Bureau for Public Procurement, BPP in April.

For example, in October, 2011, on a trip to America with other officials, Mr. Egboka ordered for two 2011 Toyota 4 Runner jeeps worth N27 million for himself and the Pro-chancellor of the university, who was also on the delegation. He made the order without any bidding and without the approval of the tender’s board and in spite of the fact that he already had a Prado jeep as official car while the pro – chancellor used a Toyota Avensis. He also claimed to have committed the institution by making a deposit from his own pocket.

Upon returning to Nigeria, the VC tried to perfect the purchase by causing the registrar of the institution to award a contract for the purchase of the vehicles. Since the contract could not be awarded to a foreign company, Mr.  Egboka directed that it be awarded to a local firm, Grech Resources Limited.

Going through the motions of a contract award, the bursar wrote an award letter to the company claiming that the tenders’ board at its 30th meeting held on Wednesday, October 12, 2011, approved the award for the supply of the two vehicles.

However, the bursar refused to release funds for the purchase because there was no proof of tender, forcing the V.C. to write an undertaking where he explained the irregularity attending the purchase.

Vice Chancellor exhibited nepotism

Investigations also showed that the vice chancellor, without due process and against regulations, selectively awarded contracts or just merely invited whosoever he wanted and handed contracts out to them.

In many of these cases, the contracts were awarded to family members. Apart from that, variations were illegally granted to the companies, raising costs outrageously.

For example, in August 2011, Porras and Oliva, a company allegedly owned by Mr. Egboka’s son–in–law, got a contract for the renovation and furnishing of the university auditorium for N20 million. The contract was awarded through selective tendering and given to Porras and Oliva which quoted N2million in spite of the facts that there were lower bids.

However, halfway into the job’s execution, the company requested for a variation of N80 million in the contract sum which was granted at the sum of N58 million. In a letter written to the company on December 5, 2011, the registrar of the university stated that the tenders’ board at its 35th meeting of December 2 approved the sum as “completion sum” for the project, thereby granting more than hundred percent variation cost.

A series of violations

Porras and Oliva got several other contracts without going through due process. These include an N8.4 million contract for the reticulation of the university foundry; N5.2 million for furnishing of the VC’s office, and a N5.9 million contract for the fencing of the university auditorium.

Another questionable contract was the one awarded to Regibel Limited, another company which is alleged to be a front for the VC. The company was awarded the contract for the construction of a 676 metre road for N92.6 million.  Apart from the suspected inflated contract sum, icirnigeria.org learnt that Mr. Egboka developed a relationship with the company which makes him give directives to it to execute projects running into several millions.

For these projects, there were no tender or agreement between the parties. Acting on the VC’s directive, Regibel executed the projects and sent a bill to the management which is rubberstamped, approved and paid.

On December 14, 2011, the university management got such a bill for the sum of N122 million for the construction of a 7.1 kilometre walkway. No details were provided about the exact location of the walkway.

There was never any tender process, agreement or any other document concerning this walkway contract. But the university approved and paid the company the money it asked for.

In the same manner, on December 16, 2011, Regibel sent another bill of engineering measurements and evaluation for N78 million for the construction of a 412 metre road – the Joy Emordi Road – which it built based on a directive from the VC. There was no bidding or agreement before it got the contract. Again, it was paid the full sum it demanded.

Inflating contact costs

Unilateral variations in contract costs appear to have become the hallmark of project execution in Nnamdi Azikiwe University.  There is virtually no contract that does not suffer an upward review in costs.

The contract for the construction of the Art Faculty complex is a good example of this. Initially awarded to Chyfon Limited for N559 million, the cost was later adjusted to N625 million. More upward variations to the contract sum were to follow however.

On December 22, 2011, N7.6 million was granted to the contractor, being variation resulting from “relocation of library”. The same day, another N9.6 million variation was granted for the use of vitrified tiles instead of terrazzo in the construction work.

Yet again, on February 27, 2012 another N73 million variation was granted the contractor for “evaluation and assessment fluctuations”.

The petitioners allege that the amounts approved for variation were siphoned by officials of the university administration. In fact, it is alleged that all kinds of disingenuous methods are employed by the administration in December of every year in order to mop up unspent funds so that money is not returned back into the treasury. Interestingly, as if to prove the petitioners right, many of the approved variations came in December.

The PPP fraud

Another contract unconventionally awarded by the vice chancellor is the public private partnership, PPP, students’ hostel project. In January 2010, Egboka committed the university to a memorandum of understanding, MOU, with Elmada Consulting Inc., a company purported to be based in Canada, for the building of hostels on the main campus.

The MOU which was signed on behalf of the university by the VC and a Nigerian representative for the company, states that the institution’s equity to the project would be 40 per cent while the company would contribute the remaining 60 percent.

With a total cost of N239, 400,000.00, the institution was expected to contribute N97, 760,000.00.

There are several curious and suspicious developments about this PPP arrangement which has sent tongues wagging. First, the Nigerian representative of Elmada who signed the MOU on behalf of the company is alleged to be another of Egboka’s sons – in – law.

The alleged son – in – law is the sole project manager of the project which is being executed through a joint account managed only by him. The VC never disclosed his relationship or any conflict of interest that might arise, to the university Senate.

What is more, the only document binding the two parties together is the MOU. No binding agreement spelling out details of contractual and legal commitments has been signed.

Besides, the cost has been reviewed upwards to N400 million and there are allegations that the university has solely funded the two – phased project. When our reporter visited the school’s main campus in Awka, it was observed that the project had been nearly completed.

The nail on the coffin

However, the project that has gotten Mr. Egboka into real trouble is the contract for the construction of the bio sciences and physical sciences faculty complex. The university lecturer has already been queried by the BPP over the manner the contract was awarded.

The contract for the construction of the twin identical complex, housing the faculties of biosciences and physical sciences, was awarded by selective bidding to Bechtel Nig. Limited on December 22, 2011 for the sum of N994 million. In a similar fashion, without following due process, on February 27, 2012, the contract for the construction of the central facility linking the two structures was also awarded to the same company for N288 million.

For the project(executed at a total cost of N1.2 billion), the VC abandoned all due process such as open bidding and just called on a contractor of his choice to execute the project. This jettisoning of due process irked some members of the institution’s management who petitioned the BPP, which on April 4, 2012, wrote to the VC demanding that he furnish the bureau with all the original bid documents in respect of the contract.

The letter signed by Emeka Ezeh, the bureau’s director general specifically asked for copies of the advertisement of this procurement; technical and financial tenders of all bidders; bid return sheet; evaluation report of the bid; scope of work; and all other documents relating to the procurement.

Sources in the university and at the BPP confided that no such documents exist and the VC has been unable to provide them to the bureau. Consequent upon this, the school administration has been forced to cancel the previous contract and has now advertised the contract in newspapers, asking for bids from interested companies.

Our reporter observed that the structures which were still in foundation level had since been abandoned by the contractor.

Shady appointments

Mr. Egboka’s sins are not limited to financial mismanagement of the university’s resources as he has also been accused of administrative recklessness, abuse of office and not following due process in appointments; which he allegedly dishes out to family and friends as he wishes.

Two of the VC’s children, Nkechi Egboka and Dr. Egboka Chioma Mmazulu, were employed by the university last year and their names have been on the payroll since then. While Nkechi was employed as an assistant lecturer in the department of geological sciences, Chioma was appointed medical director of the institution’s medical centre.

However, none of them had resumed work when our reporter conducted checks in their departments about two weeks ago.

Also, Uchenna Okeke, wife of the deputy vice chancellor (DVC), administration; and Godwin Orji, alleged to be a friend of the DVC, academics; were employed against laid down rules. Okeke appeared before the governing council’s appointments and promotions committee, A&PC, and was found unqualified for the position of assistant lecturer for which she applied. However, she was still offered an appointment as an assistant lecturer after the council was dissolved.

Orji was interviewed for and appointed to the position of technologist. However, although he never appeared before the A&PC, as is required in the appointment of all academic staff, his employment was unilaterally converted to lecturer by the VC.

Mum is the word

When our reporter visited the main campus of the university and requested to speak to the VC, he was said to be out of station. And when he was reached on the phone to answer questions relating to the petition, Mr. Egboka declined, saying that “the matter is under investigation and I cannot make any comment.” The VC dropped the line and subsequently refused to take calls from our reporter.

No other official of the university was ready to speak on the matter. The office of the registrar referred our reporter to the VC’s office. The couple of lecturers, who spoke to our reporter on the corruption allegations against the VC, did so, on the strictest assurances of confidentiality, as Mr. Egboka is said to be very vindictive.

He is also vindictive

Several academic and non – academic staff of the institution who oppose the University head have been allegedly victimised since the investigations into his management of the school’s resources commenced.

For example, a source told icirnigeria.org of the story of a professor friend of the VC who had written him warning him of the consequences of some high handed actions he took. The professor had questioned why Mr. Egboka employed six consultants for the medical centre when requests for needed staff such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists had been repeatedly denied. The friend also warned that the lack of due process in the employment of the consultant could land the VC in trouble as it had sent tongues wagging on the campus. Rather than listen to his friend, the VC transferred him to the Nnewi campus where he has been rendered virtually redundant.

Sources in the EFCC said that investigations have reached advanced stage on the corruption charges against Mr. Egboka, and that enough evidence might have been obtained to institute a case against him in court soon.

 


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