When the federal government in 2011 decided to establish nine new universities, it was with the intention of enhancing access to quality tertiary education and a deliberate effort at equitable educational development of different regions in Nigeria.
To achieve these aims, the Goodluck Jonathan Administration approved N1.5 billion for each university to be sourced from the Education Trust Fund (ETF) under the first phase of the initiative.
Once the paper works were completed, new universities sprang up in Lafia, Kashere, Lokoja, Otuoke, Oye-Ekiti, Dutsin-ma, Dutse, Ndufe-Alike and in Wukari, Taraba State.
For the new university in Wukari, the Taraba State Government donated the Wukari Campus of the Taraba State Polytechnic to the federal government.
Once fully operational, the university faced a major problem of infrastructural deficit and luckily, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) came to the rescue.
In 2012, barely a year after establishment, four major projects were approved for the institution under the TETFUND initiative.
They are: two faculty buildings, ICT Centre, Library and Central Administrative building.
Seven years after, only one of these projects could be said to be fully completed and put to full use.
The ‘failing’ library project
Key among the four projects is the university library building awarded at N220, 000, 000 to Santro Limited in 2012.
After receiving initial payment, the contractor mobilised to the site early 2013 but the work was soon cut short. In April of that year, a community crisis erupted in Wukari forcing all the workers out of site.
They were away for a month but later returned. They were again forced out of site by another crisis. Between the commencement period and December 2014, workers had to leave the construction site at least five times.
The contractor in one of its correspondences to the Ministry of Education said it lost eight months and some willing hands to the crisis.
However, despite the relative peace that existed since early 2015, the project was not entirely completed as of July when PREMIUM TIMES visited.
While the main building was completed and painted, and internal electrification and waterworks fixed, the building was yet to be connected to the major power and water source. Hence, the source of power was a generator located at the southern end of the building while a tanker serves the building water daily.
The office spaces were occupied by university staff but the building was yet to serve its main purpose as students were not allowed to read there.
What existed as the university library was a middle-sized hall in an attachment building of the school’s admin block. A few of students, as much as available space could take, were seen reading at different times this reporter visited the library.
The university library had six closely knitted tables, each offering eight students reading spaces. Apart from this, another eight chairs were placed along a single stretch table just by the space where books are kept to afford eight students reading spaces.
In all, the library could take a maximum of 56 students at once and not more. The university on its website said it had over 7, 000 students on its admission.
The student union president, Ella Amos, would not comment on the situation except he was cleared to do so by the school security. But students who spoke with this reporter expressed their plight at getting a conducive place to read.
For many of them, the willingness to read may not be the problem. Many have taken to reading in classes and some were seen reading under the street light along the main road in the university at night. Dozens of these students were seen reading under the street light during the August/September exam period.
Abubakar, a fresh Microbiology graduate, said he preferred reading in the library when he was an undergraduate but he was forced to find other locations to read due to dearth of space in the library.
“I had to turn back many times because of the crowd in the library,” he said. “For instance, some people may have exam say tomorrow, once they enter the library in the morning they won’t want to lose their seat so they use books to keep the seat. For others that came late, they will have to find another venue to read. Assuming the space is enough, this wouldn’t be happening.
“The library is the most preferable place to read but it’s too small and even the books there are not encouraging. They are few.”
Most of the students are aware of the existence of a new TETFUND library but would not know what could account for its non-usage.
Findings by this newspaper revealed that a major reason for the delay in completion of the project is an outstanding payment owed the contractor.
Out of the N220, 000, 000 contract sum, Santro Limited has received N192, 555, 308 according to documents seen by this newspaper. This with the 5 per cent VAT will leave a balance of N17, 816, 926. But the contractor wants more than that.
In an August 2017 letter to the Ministry of Education and the school management, the contractor said that due to multiple crises, he had been ‘caught up in inflation and exchange rates devaluation’ which had increased its overhead cost.
To augment this, Santro Limited requested a variation claim of N86, 003, 537. This, added to the N9, 843, 896 retention claim, will bring the total sum owed the contractor to N95, 846, 434.
A member of the university community privy to the deals said the contractor had vowed not to complete the ‘little work’ remaining until he is paid. The company did not respond formally. One staff said the firm had not received any further payments.
However, a university official said the institution has procured reading materials and furniture for the new library. “They are planning to start using the library fully next semester,” the source who doesn’t want to be named said.
Other projects stalled by fund
In June 2019, Sageto Limited, the contractor handling the two faculty building projects wrote the Ministry of Education and copied the university management to inform that they would not be able to complete the job until their outstanding payment is settled.
“Sir (the minister), in line with our position at the meeting in your office; we shall not be able to complete the outstanding job in the project if the consultant’s recommended extended preliminaries payment in the total of N110, 504, 338 as agreed is not released to us to enable us settle debts owed subcontractors and suppliers,” the letter reads.
The project, awarded alongside three others in 2012, also suffered setbacks due to community crises that pervaded Wukari.
According to documents in possession of this newspaper, the contract was awarded at N998, 000, 000 out of which N760, 786, 885 and another N73, 594, 715 have been paid so far.
PREMIUM TIMES observed few workers on the site working during a visit early July but works on the projects were nowhere near top gear.
The concrete structure of the buildings have been completed but the building blocks were yet to be cemented. It was also observed that some of the glass windows already installed have started breaking.
The university’s central administrative block faced the same delay, although construction had gone far there.
The project was also awarded in 2012 for N510, 000, 000 but the contractor, Portofino Limited, had to leave the site for a long period of time partly due to non-payment of valuations raised.
In 2018, the contractor held a meeting with the school management and the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education. At the meeting, Portofino requested for a review of the contract sum to meet inflation reality.
However, a sum of N64, 832, 254 is still being claimed by the contractor.
Most of the works including painting, wiring, have been done over 90 per cent. This reporter found some workers on site putting some final touches to the building. None of the external works have been done.
One of the workers on site said both parties have finally agreed that the building should be completed soon so that the university can put it to use. This, he said, informed the fire brigade approach to the project.
The only completed project among the four is the ICT building handled by G-Tech Resources Limited. However, the contractor is still claiming an outstanding payment of N96, 120, 530 of which N85, 902, 538 represents extended prelims for the work and N10, 217, 992 release of retention.
University officials keep mum
Even though this reporter was taken on a tour of the projects by university officials, none of them agreed to speak on the issues around the projects. The officials said the university Vice Chancellor, Abubakar Kundiri, a professor, and Director of Works, Awodeji Taiwo, were on a trip during the visit.
When PREMIUM TIMES finally contacted Mr Taiwo, he requested questions about the project be sent via email which he provided.
However, the email is yet to be replied as at the time of filing this report even after follow up.
Also, none of the contractors could be tracked down for interview by this reporter. Workers found on site declined to offer useful leads.
About 500 metres from the administrative building, work is ongoing on four new projects recently ceded to the school under the TETFUND initiative.
The four are Faculty of Agriculture, Academic Staff Office Complex for Faculty of Humanities, classrooms building for Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences and professorial office complex.
According to the 2015-2018 budget performance report submitted to the Senate, the four buildings have received 85 per cent cash backing and all above 70 per cent completion except for the professorial building.
A tour of the four structures proved this assertion right. Apart from the external works which are yet to be started, works are nearing completion, and still ongoing on the buildings.
Officials who took reporters on a guided tour of the four said the buildings would be completed before the end of 2019 and put to use early 2020.