By Archibong Jeremiah
In July 2019 the Cross River State Government contracted Swamaco Global Limited to design and construct a soya beans farm city with supporting infrastructure, including an access road network, water supply, and solar lighting system.
It was envisaged to cost N1,541,003,500.50. According to the government, the farm is aimed at producing grains to supplement maize production in the state.
The project was first budgeted for in 2018, for curiously a meagerly N100 million fueling suspicion that it was not a priority for the government. However, in 2019 the same project appeared in the budget with the same N100 million appropriation but the state government awarded the contract for the project to Swamaco Global Limited at the cost of N1,541,003,500.50. People who are familiar with physical project costs have wondered if the government was serious about building or completing the project, given that the budgeted sum could never, in reality, build such a network of roads, water supply, and solar lighting infrastructure.
In 2020 N60,000,000 was budgeted for the soya beans farm, while N36,782,487 is the approved budget for 2022, bringing the total money budgeted for the project to N296,782,487 which is far below the amount for which the contract was awarded. Indeed, the manner of budgeting with regard to the project has been a source of concern to members of the public.
Even the location of the project is a source of mystery. From 2018 to date, the project has featured in the state government’s budgets and was in various official documents planned to be sited in one of the following Yala, Ogoja, Obanliku, and Bekwarra Local Government Areas.
However, CrossRiverWatch has spent six weeks touring communities in the stated local councils without finding any project with similar descriptions.
CrossRiverWatch investigation revealed that the contract award breached the established provisions of the extant laws including the State Due Process Guidelines and Rules for Procurement of Goods, Works, and Services, issued by the Due Process And Price Intelligence Bureau (DPPIB) in November 2007 and revised in 2020.
The DPPIB is a creation of the State Due Process and Price Intelligence Law (Law No. 9). It was enacted in 2011 and reviewed in 2020. It is an adaptation of the Public Procurement Act, of 2007.
It was difficult for CrossRiverWatch to get officials to confirm whether the project enjoyed any waiver given that it was awarded in 2019.
The contract process, particularly the tender, as awarded to Swamaco Global Limited, was only advertised in Cross River State Tender’s Journals which violates section 1.4.4C (advert guidelines for all contracts above N50 Million) of the State procurement guidelines and rules.
The provision of the guidelines states that “adverts for such procurement must be placed in the case of (i) national competitive bidding (NCB) – in at least two national newspapers, Nigerian Chronicles, Cross River State Government electronic procurement portal and State Tenders Journal.”
It was not immediately possible to ascertain whether the contract process benefitted from any exemption under part 3—Fundamental Principles for Procurements of Law No. 9. Part 3 (21b) states that “based only on procurement plans, supported by prior budgetary appropriations, no procurement contract shall be awarded until the procuring entity has ensured that funds are available to meet the maturing obligation and subject to the threshold in the Regulations made by the Bureau, has obtained a ‘Certificate of ‘No Objection’ to ‘Contract Award’ where applicable.”
Farmers Express Worries
Mr. Godshield Kanjal, CEO of Karlz Farm when contacted said he is worried about the state of the project. He said “I’m a local farmer, I have traveled the length and breadth of the northern senatorial district and I have not come across any soya beans farm. If the project was budgeted for, funds released and the project was not executed local farmers have been cheated.”
Mr. Kanjal observed that “one of the challenges facing the local farmers here is assessing inputs. An initiative like this would have been another avenue for the farmers to pick up another commodity in farming. The Ogoja weather is good for soyabeans. I had cultivated it and it did so well. I began wondering why our people are not majorly into soya beans.”
Mr. Tom Alim, a local farmer, called on the people to demand more responsiveness from the government.
“I have not seen any project as such in Cross River North, not to talk of Bekwara where I come from,” he lamented.
He assured that “Cross River State government has no farm in Bekwara at the moment other than a groundnut processing factory. This morning I reached out to government appointees to know if they know of any farm as such in Ogoja, Obudu, Yala, Bekwera, and Obanliku and the response from almost all of them is negative.”
He expressed fear that the project may have counted among the official conduits to siphon public funds using dubious contracts. “There is no gain in saying that most government contracts are fraudulent. The government will award contracts to its cronies, monies will be given to contractors to go out and execute these projects. They will never go on-site. They will go back and give kickbacks and share the money among themselves.”
Mr. Richard Inoyo, a farmer in the Southern part of the state, queried the award process, wondered about the size of the farm city that N1,541,003,500.50 would deliver, and called for a public inquiry.
In his words: “If you look at the traditional way of constructing roads in Nigeria, you will discover that too often they inflate the contract sum from research what we have observed is that the average contract value of constructing one-kilometer value of road in Nigeria is between 300 million to 1.5 billion, so if you ask me if 1.5 billion can construct average soya bean farm city alongside the road and other essential facilities, it is not possible based on the Nigerian factor it is not possible.
“The second factor is where is the government getting the fund if there isn’t appropriation and all of that. I think that is where public inquiry comes in, there is a need for civil society and the media to hold the Government accountable.”
Contractor Issue Threats
On inquiry the Managing Director of Swamaco Global Limited, Mr. Ubong Jackson said that the government had not released funds for the project.
“The project was not funded,” he asserted before demanding: “please write officially and we will answer all your concerns, if you want an interview we will grant it.”
But the tone changed and the contractor became dramatic once we sent a request. His lawyer, David Idris of Raju Idris & Co. replied with an unsigned and not sealed letter that reads: “We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 13th October 2022, wherein you demanded for private information, under the disguise of the freedom of information Act, also that we supply you with certain private and confidential information within our knowledge to aid in your report.
“In response to paragraph 2 of your letter under reference, we will love to inform you that our client is a private limited company, and it’s exclusively a private entity not a government or a public institution, wherein you can write and demand certain information of. We, therefore, enjoy(sic) you to do(sic) a proper study of the Freedom of Information Act before adventuring into voyage of discovery. Need to remind you that the awarding institution is a Public institution of government and information, as the appropriate demand should be rooted to them not our client.
“We equally draw your attention to your continued threat, cyber stocking(sic) of you and your organization on our client and the implication there to in our Criminal Jurisprudence. Take notice that we have the express instruction to formally commence a Criminal Petition against you and your organization to the Inspector General of Police for a holistic investigation of this Criminal act of cyber stocking(sic).
“Should you continue to write, or call our client in any way or form, our client will treat such write-up as a threat to his life and you leave our client with no option than to commence the enforcement of his fundamental right against you. A stitch in time saves nine. Accept our professional regards.”
The lawyer to Swamaco Global Limited’s response is stunning, he is ignorant of Section 31 of the Act – private institutions that are using public funds are answerable under the law to members of the public for such public funds.
According to the FOIA, the company is not exempted from answering questions from CrossRiverWatch.
A search on the CAC website about the company came up blank but NG Check and B2B Hint showed that it was registered 9 years before the contract, directors are Ikpechukwu Emmanuel Chukwuebuka and Atu Stephen Ikpechukwu and they are not known.
The Cross River State Director-General of the Department of Due Process and Price Intelligence, Mr. Francis Ekpo, and the acting Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Mfon Bassey did not respond to our inquiries.
When contacted after weeks of waiting for an FOI reply from the State Ministry of Agriculture, the Director of Planning, Research, and Statistics, Mr. Cliff Ayang Oyira spoke to CrossRiverWatch on the phone, he revealed that he is shocked that his ministry is not aware of such contract award.
Denying knowledge of the contract, he said “Incidentally, as the Director of Planning, I am not aware of any job or contract signed by my Ministry over soya beans.” Adding that “what we have that we have completed is the rice city in Ogoja, the cocoa factory at Ikom, and the vegetable oil factory in Bekwarra. Those are the two project we handled and has been handed over.”
Continuing, he said “As I said earlier, the soya beans factory is supposed to be domiciled in Agric, you are right to ask but it will surprise you to know that we did not sign an MOU with that kind of company (Swamaco Global Limited) in regard to soya beans. Maybe it was domiciled in the Governor’s office.”
Not satisfied, he requested the document this reporter is querying, reiterating his worries. After receiving and reviewing the document, he maintained that “I don’t know anything about the award.”
On whether the contractor was mobilized after putting pen to paper, the Ministry of Finance Information Officer, Mrs. Florence Kekong said “I wasn’t working there then.”
When pressed further, she said she only edits Mofi News (a publication of the Ministry of Finance) and knows nothing about contracts. “I wasn’t there in 2019 and can’t speak. When I came there I started picking my news about the State, I don’t know anything about contracts, we don’t even write news about contracts.”
When asked to find out she said she doesn’t have the time to do that, when asked for the Permanent Secretary’s contact, she said they don’t have one but an Administrator and couldn’t direct this reporter to his office.
She asked that this reporter reach her on a later date, calls went unreturned and messages were read but not replied to.
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.