BY JOHN EBRIKU
Barrister Alphonsus Ogar Eba is the Director General of Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau in Cross River State. In this interview with JOHN EBRIKU, he speaks on completed projects, ongoing projects and efforts by the state governor, Ben Ayade to ensure that they are fully executed.
How has the experience been since you assumed office as the Director General of Cross River State Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau?
It has been an interesting journey. Although it has been challenging, it has also been surmountable. That is how I can describe our journey in Cross River State as far as Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau under my leadership is concerned.
What impact has your leadership brought to bear in the procurement process?
I will allow you and Cross Riverians as well as the world at large to be the judge, but let me tell you the kind of situation I met on assumption of office on the 3rd of December 2015. As you are aware, until I took over as Director General, that office used to be headed by a Special Adviser and it used to be a department under the governor’s office. Let me commend the wisdom of his Excellency in appointing me and in commending his wisdom, let me further commend the raison d’être behind the nomenclature of a Director General to head Due Process and then making it a full-fledged Bureau.
I remember clearly that I was to be appointed on the 1st day of December 2015 and the Secretary to the State Government called and said his Excellency has just directed that I should forward yourname to be announced as Special Adviser, Due Process. I then said, His Excellency said he wants me to be called a Director General, Please, wait and hear from His Excellency. I am sure his Excellency has more on his mind to change from the hitherto nomenclature of a Special Adviser to Director General’. That brings me to the raison d’être that I am talking about. The governor said, “ I am appointing you in compliance with Section (6) of the Cross River State Public Procurement Law No. 1 of 2012 which talks about the office being headed by Director General.
“The Section talks about the office of Director General and not Special Adviser “ said the governor . He immediately called the SSG and she came. He said, ‘Please, “ I want him to be the Director General, I don’t want the designation of a Special Adviser. I want myself as a governor to be regulated by Due Process and whatever we do must be cleared by Due Process .” I have chosen to give this background because it may somehow form part of your question. And what has that singular act done? I can tell you boldly today that understanding that raison d’être and the declaration of His Excellency himself that he wants to be bounded by the provisions of the law and to be guided by due process is what has made it possible for me to do most of the things that I have done today as the head of that Bureau.
You know it is not just Due Process Bureau, it also has a component called Price Intelligence. I took over office on the 3rd and I had my first baptism of fire the following week. Before I could even settle down, His Excellency minuted a document to us. And what was it about? We were to host his first maiden Carnival Festival and Tinapa Hotel was in a dilapidated shape. The commissioner for Infrastructure sent a memo for the renovation which His Excellency referred to us for Price Intelligence and Due Process compliance check. There was need to comply with the procurement rules and he needed proper guidance. Luckily, I was able to advice on the best procurement methodology. Before then we had a proposal of N136million so I decided to have an on-the-spot assessment of the deteriorated infrastructure in Tinapa and offered my advice. His Excellency went down and confirmed and agreed totally with what we did. In fact, you will be shocked that instead of spending N136 million through contract award, we advised His Excellency to direct the Ministry to realign the BEME and execute the job through direct labour.
Through that approach we reduced the expenditure to N36 million and saved N100 million for the state. We went through a direct procurement approach without contract. We ensured that every price that was given was properly scrutinized having the market data survey, supervised by myself and my team moving from one spot to the other, determining what the quality of the rug in the market was, knowing what the price of cement was, knowing what Julius Berger paint was going for, knowing the quantity that was going to go for, the amount of scaffolding that was going to be required and also creating little allowances as permitted under the law for profits to be made by the labourers that came. That was what we achieved and that was the beginning of the journey.
The privilege was further blossomed by the fact that His Excellency on assumption of office decided to reduce the number of persons that were part of the Executive Council, which hitherto comprised of Deputy Governor,the entire Commissioners, the entire Permanent Secretaries, the entire Special Advisers and some key government functionaries, like the Chief of Staff, the S.A Budget, S.A Governors office, S.A Security, Secretary to the State Government. The first directive was for everybody except Deputy Governor, Commissioners, Chief of Staff, the Special Adviser Governor’s office and the Special Adviser Security to be part of that Executive Council but a very special recognition was given to one Director General and that Director General is me.
Today, I am the only Director General that sits in the Executive Council of Cross River State. In coming to tell you the impact that has been made, there is no single memo of government that has come through that Council Meeting that due process check was not applied. And in all situations, His Excellency had religiously and sanctimoniously respected my sense of judgment. I can tell you that two years in the saddle, about 200 of such memos which came to the council have all been subjected to due process. And in all of that, whenever His Excellency presides or the Deputy Governor, their decisions also followed the line of due process. And I can tell you today that that has made whatever that has come up in the Executive Council worth the salt that it ought to be. That is how far as it relates to Executive decisions. And you know there is what we call “Certificate of No Objection” that is being issued by the Bureau of Due Process. For every one naira the state spends, including buying of even bottled water, if it must be procured, due process must be duly followed.
Let’s look at some of the ongoing developmental projects in Cross River State, particularly the super highway project, which a lot of people have described as an ‘elephant’ project. What are the cost of these projects, the level at which they are and the possibility of completing them within time?
Like His Excellency will always say, where people see impossibilities is where I see possibilities. His Excellency came prepared. For the first time in known history, I cannot remember any government, not even a governor nor a president in the entire West Africa that, on assumption of office, conceived a gigantic project that was to gulp over N1trillion when in reality the revenue projection of that state cannot be met, even in ten years.. But that is where the ingenuity and the thinking cap of a visionary leader comes in. His Excellency, Sen.
Prof. Ben. Ayade while as Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, thought it wise and said, “There is every need for us to decouple the over-dependence of the state on federal allocation and to change the narrative of addressing Cross River State as a Civil Service state. That is what we have in Cross River State. If we can harness it very well, if we can think very well and if can we create the appropriate information out there, people will jump on one another to come and create the necessary investment that can take us out of the woods . And one of such first thought was the Deep Seaport. His Excellency came with that vision because today, the dredging of Calabar Port is embroiled in a lot of confusion and political gimmicks. Today, you will hear that contract has been awarded for the dredging of Calabar Port, five to 10 years it will never come into limelight. Mother vessels cannot berth in the Calabar Port. Every attempt to develop the port has been frustrated. The governor with full knowledge of the colonial history of the state that in the 15th century , the first six cylinder vehicles that came into Nigeria came through the Bakassi area?’ and the white men settled in Calabar which earned us the name, ‘first capital of Nigeria?’ That river that we talk about is still there in its natural form till today. It took a young man who only recently turned 49 years, Senator Professor Ben Ayade, to conceive an idea that shocked everybody. And I tell you frankly today that conceiving this project and the task of completing it was not to come as a ‘tea party’. He saw it clearly but again, he knew that the enormous challenges were going to be surmounted. Today, the Apapa Port and Tincan Port in Lagos have remained a gridlock because there is no proper route to clear your containers out. The many accidents on that road today of containers falling on each other, falling on vehicles, falling on human beings and killing people, the bad roads occasioned by excessive usage of the road and all that, made His Excellency’s vision of a deep seaport and dual carriage super highway a master classical piece. By that, the Deep Sea port must have an evacuation corridor and what is this corridor about? That we should have a super highway; not just a dual carriage way, not just a single lane! And so, in thinking of a port, Prof. Ayade came up with one which the feasibility studies show that we can make N30 billion every month. That is the feasibility study which no one has challenged.
The state did not just engage ordinary consultants. We procured consultants that are world class for the designs and that company is China Harbor. The China Harbour came with drones and had six of their drones destroyed as they were trying to do the designs of this road. We engaged them through an open competitive bidding approach. No single company in Cross River State had the capacity to participate in that. Most of all the companies that came up then like NBHH from Dubai, Julius Berger , Strabag, RCC, CCECC etc are all world class companies and China Harbour won.
Why Super Highway when you can still rehabilitate the present road?
It is far cheaper for government to do a road through a thick forest because all you need to do there is that you are just clearing farmlands, you are clearing trees, those ones that are not economic trees, you don’t need to pay. There are some lands that people have not occupied and you are passing through some areas that nobody can lay claim to. So, you are not really paying anything. Another difficulty is that to expand the existing road, several issues are involved, one is the extant law that prohibits tolling a federal government road.
The Federal Traffic Highway Act says that you cannot toll a federal government road because the present road is a federal road. Secondly, a lot of people have built hotels, houses, filling stations, there are a lot of telecommunications equipment that have all passed very close to the road, how do you do that? In 10 years, you cannot even pay compensation that you don’t have money to pay for.
Julius Berger came when we were to procure contractors to do the clearing we call it debushing of the super high project; Julius Berger gave us a bill of N9billion. Strabag gave us N6billion; NBHH gave us N4.5 billion. My dear brothers, as I speak with you today, it is for you to calculate and praise the ingenuity, the prudence, intellectual knowledge of his Excellency who came up to say no. He said since the designs are ready, all you need is to get that local Cross Riverian, tell him to go and rent bulldozers at least D8, D7, tell him to get swampbugis that can enter the swampy areas, get the operators, put them on the road, it is 75 metres wide, do it 1km, each one kilometer that was initially estimated between N15 to 20 million, Senator, Professor Ben Ayade cut it down to N4 million per kilometer. 10 kilometers was going for N40 million. We got over 37 indigenous companies and in keeping with the line of the local content in Nigeria and the local content policy of Cross River State, the governor mandated and said except for sophisticated areas that require swampbugis, no area should be given to any foreign company and the whole contractors must be Cross Rivarians. We went through open competitive building, 156 companies bided for debushing.
We considered 36. As I speak to you today if not for the stop work order when the issue of the EIA was going on, the opening of Bakassi to Gakim would have been completed 100 per cent. In spite all of these challenges, we are at about 70-80 per cent completion in terms of debushing. It means the route has been opened. That was why when his Excellency went to defend the issue of EIA, he said, “My road is not passing through any national park, it is not passing through any forest”.
Some staff of Federal Ministry of Environment felt very angry with those fighting a project of this nature and wondered if they have seen the beauty of the super highway in South Africa in the Sabisabi Park where you have road coming through some thick forest areas. According to one of the staff of the Ministry of Environment in the state, a clear picture of Sabisabi Park in South Africa shows how lions will just be on the road and people coming will just wait and allow lions and other wild animals to give way. He said that is the kind of thing people have been spending money to go and see in South Africa in the Sabisabi Park and it would have been wonderful if same was replicated in Cross River State.
It is alleged that the governor has signed over 49 MoUs without implementing them. What is your take on this?
It is funny. This is one of the projects of the MoU and is being implemented. You see when people talk about MoU, a memorandum of understanding is the terms and conditions in which I want to come and operate with you. It is not as if we are just going to buy bottle water from the shelf, you take steps. When the governor was traversing the world to sell Cross River State, to tell people that cotton can grow in our village, to tell people that rice can grow in our villages, to tell people that this can happen and he needed technical partners to come , people accused him of globe-trotting. But to get it started, you must enter into a Memorandum of Understanding. Let me tell you about some of the few MOUs that they are talking that nothing has happened, that nothing has being commissioned . A practical example is the cotton farm in my village of Woda – Yala . This same people have now offered the same Cross River Garment Factory that we used N2.7 billion to build, they have offered us over N3.5 billion to acquire it. It means we have almost N1billion profit if the state decides to sell. But His Excellency has declared that the joy he has in providing employment to the over 4,000 staff of the Garment factory is more important than the money that comes as profit. Pleaselet Cross Rivarians decide that.
Another MoU which will change our fortune is our partnership with Thai Africa Rice company that we have the Rice City in Calabar. The rice mill that is going on in Ogoja /Yala, much as that contract has been awarded to an individual company here in Nigeria, the target ab initio was that Buella Group which is the best in rice mill fabrication based in Germany, were to come and provide the technical aid as part of that MOU but the moment the governor took advantage of the fact that the CBN has come to partner with us to do Anchor borrowers scheme and he also discovered that almost every area from Yala, through Ugaga, through Bansara, through Obudu Bekwarra, Obanlikwu down to the neighboring states of Benue and Taraba were all rice growers, the governor immediately reviewed the said MoU and said it must be a 100 per cent state project and today, that rice mill has been awarded as a 100 per cent state project. The same thing applies to the cocoa processing plant. It was also conceived on the same arrangement but the governor was putting the interest of the state far ahead of partnership.
Another clear benefits of MoU is the partnership that we have on CALAPHARM. This is a Pharmaceutical company that will be the first company in the entire South-South that will be producing drugs and this project is almost 90 per cent completed; it is also one of the product of the MoU that was signed with the Pakistani government. The MoU we have signed with DANA air as we speak, I am sure we might be celebrating our Christmas with the first Cross River Cali Air on the airspace . It goes on and on and on. When people come to do partnership or sign MoU, you don’t just jump on them and say “conclude it today”. It has long gestation period.
If you are asked to describe the governor in one word, what will you say?
There was a time I told his Excellency that ‘we got zero allocation in the month of April, you paid us salary in April and you even paid us salary on the 1st of May. Where are you getting money from?’ Today, the appointment list in Cross River State has gone into Guinness book of record; we have moved from 4,000 to 5,000 appointees. It is wonderful and we are all living witnesses to this. Cross River State ranked the lowest in FAAC. You will be thinking that it is Osun State, it is not Osun because by the time you do direct deduction from all our statutory allocation we go to the last in the bottom but look at the kind of project we are talking about.
We hear from people that your Governor only talks and does nothing, what is your take on this?
My governor ‘s other name is “Talk n Do Governor “ Promise keeper, A Man of Political Ethics etc. l want you to be the judge as I highlight the following projects, some completed and others on – going under the Ayade administration in the face of zero allocation which we have been experiencing.
We are number one state in the world in payment of salary, we pay before due date and most times, we pay in advance. We have completed the Cross River State Garment Factory, the Calabar International Convention Center (CICC), the Calabar Monorail and a 31MW electricity of the state capital. Also we have completed Road project in Obubra, Ayade Boulevard in Calabar. We have the ongoing construction work on the dualisation of Mfon-Okpoma-Okuku-Imaje-Abochiche-Obudu-Obanliku Ranch road as well as the Book East-West road. We have set up the Homeland Security, established the Green Sheriff, the Cotton farm in Woda-Yala. And as part of the industrialization policy of His Excellency, Prof. Ben Ayade-led government, we have ongoing projects such as the Cross River State Industrial Park, the Deep Sea Port and Super Highway, 100 per cent electrification of all villages in the state, construction of 5000 housing unit for the displaced people of Bakassi, the first Smart City in the country, poultry and feed mill project, plastic injection factory, fabrication electricity pole, the cocoa processing plant, Ogoja Rice mill, the wind/solar and mixed grid in Obudu Cattle Ranch, construction of Calasvegas, renovation and construction of primary schools under the SUBEB counterpart funding across all political wards of the state among others.
What is the governor doing to get justice for the late Joy Odama?
The governor’s position on the matter is clear, justice and justice alone. With the approval of the governor, the state government has engaged the services of Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), who has perfected his briefs. His Excellency, has vowed to pursue the case of the late Joy Odama up to the Supreme Court until all those involved in the dastardly act are brought to book. He has in addition to that supported the family of the deceased and the Yala community with the sum of N10million, as assistance for the burial and the training of the deceased siblings, who I think will be buried next week.