Some contractors awarded various contracts by the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) Nigeria Office are groaning under the weight of debt after the office failed to pay for their services more than three years after delivering on the projects.
Official documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES show that the various contracts – majorly for the supply of office furniture and computer equipment — were awarded between September and December 2016.
But over three years after, the contractors say the debt owed them by the federal government agency has rendered many of them bankrupt.
With only 10 per cent of the contracts sums paid in most cases, the contractors grapple with a burden of debts around their necks.
The contracting firms are Telmac Engineering Services Ltd, SunnytexVentures, Vintage Mercantiles, White Coral Limited, Belladonix Limited, Quomodos Systems, Lead Resources Limited, Multijobs Nigeria Limited, Moukwe Global General Services Ltd, and Omiyeluwa Ventures.
The chief executive officer of NEPAD, Gloria Akobundu, has also disregarded reports of four different committees she set up to probe the contracts, all of which urged that the contractors be paid.
How it started
The NEPAD office awarded the contracts in late 2016.
The office called for bids for the various projects and, thereafter, selected winning companies for the contracts.
It was while the process was on that Ms Akobundu was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari to head the NEPAD Office.
When she assumed office in September 2016, insiders said she attempted to reverse the process allegedly to get her own preferred companies to handle the projects.
But Ms Akobundu was told by staff in the procurement department that the process had gone too far for reversal.
The contractors were eventually issued with letters of offer and went ahead to perform the tasks.
But unknown to the contractors, Ms Akobundu allegedly approved the use of large chunk of the funds meant for their projects for other purposes.
A petition dated September 30, 2019, by staff of the agency addressed to the chairperson of the governing council of the institution, Abba Ali, accused Ms Akobundu of embezzling the money meant for the approved projects.
The staff said Ms Akobundu inherited N87 million “as capital allocation for programmes and projects but refused to pay contractors that handled the projects because the money was embezzled.”
A staff who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation alleged that the new chief executive used the money to refurbish her office, meeting room and other things around her person.
With the completion of the projects, the eleven contractors got certificates of completion certifying them for payments.
However, days and weeks of waiting produced nothing concrete for them as the agency foot-dragged in meeting its obligations.
Reluctantly, a payment of 10 per cent was made to most of the contractors in October 2017.
Curiously, the payments were made largely through third-party transactions, rather than direct from the NEPAD office’s account.
Weeks and months extended into years yet the disgruntled contractors only had their expectations grow into hopelessness and despair.
At every pressure from the owed contractors, Ms Akobundu would constitute a panel to look into the issue but the reports would not be implemented.
Some of the reports seen by PREMIUM TIMES recommended payment of the debts.
In a few instances, one of the reports asked some contractors to complete parts remaining or be paid commensurate with their delivery.
Cries for help
In desperate bid to seek redress and have their debts settled, the contractors wrote to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) over the matter.
In a petition dated October 24, 2019, the contractors begged the SGF, who directly supervises the NEPAD Office, to intervene in the lingering matter.
“NEPAD Nigeria that awarded the contracts confirmed the availability of funds to pay contractors before we embarked on executing the contract with NEPAD Nigeria, and the capital allocation available as at then was N87,000,000.
“We are not interested in what she has or may not have done but we are only interested in the payment of what belongs to us,” they wrote.
CEO not forthcoming
Three weeks after PREMIUM TIMES first contacted Ms Akobundu to provide an explanation, she is yet to come around with any.
After calls and a text message sent to her by this reporter on January 17, a certain Abolade Ogundimu contacted the reporter on her behalf.
After two meetings, repeated telephone exchanges and requested emailed enquiries, Mr Ogundimu is yet to provide any explanation on the matter.
Attempts to get the chairperson of the NEPAD-AU governing council failed as he did not respond to calls and a text message sent to his known telephone line on Saturday.