Recently, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the sum of N1.4 billion for the design of a 12-floor building for the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), a subsidiary of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The minister of state for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, said that the cost of the contract, which was awarded to Messers Arteck Practice Limited, represented about two per cent of the proposed N35 billion cost of the building. The minister also stated that the contractor’s bid was the lowest while the highest was about N3 billion. The DPR head office is currently located in Lagos State.
DPR has the statutory responsibility of ensuring compliance with laws, regulations and guidelines in the oil and gas industry. The discharge of these responsibilities involves monitoring of operations at drilling sites, producing wells, production platforms and flow stations, crude oil export terminals, refineries, storage depots, pump stations, retail outlets, any other locations where petroleum is either stored or sold, and all pipelines carrying crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products. It also performs the functions of supervising all petroleum industry operations being carried out under licences and leases in the country and monitoring the petroleum industry operations to ensure they are in line with national goals and aspirations among others.
This newspaper believes that DPR needs a more befitting office in Abuja. This will enable it to perform its functions more effectively. However, we are of the opinion that the country needs to be highly prudent with resources at its disposal now. Sometimes, erecting a gigantic edifice may not translate to productivity. While it may be argued that it could be counterproductive to sacrifice quality at the expense of frugality, we also call on the government to maximize opportunities at its disposal.
Firstly, the approval of N1.4 billion ($4 million) for the design of the new 12-storey complex in Abuja appears to be too high. The highest paid architect in the world, Norman Foster, whose firm, Foster and Partners, has won dozens of prizes for breath-taking architectural designs over four decades has only received two million British pounds sterling as his highest fee.
While the federal government may have its reasons for approving the sum of N1.4 billion and N35 billion for the design and the building for DPR office in Abuja respectively, it is also pertinent to raise some posers: Can the present administration afford to cough out N36 billion for the project before the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term in office? What is the staff strength of DPR? And is such a gigantic project necessary now? Has DPR been so profitable to deserve such huge spending on office space?
In this period of tightening of budgetary projections, it is instructive to look at the extent to which public expenditures are wasted. It is generally assumed that in developing countries, a large portion of public expenditure is lost to fraud, waste, and corruption. The mere sight of many resource-consuming white elephant projects in towns and cities across Nigeria provokes huge frustration, in view of the sheer amount of public funds effectively lavished therein, as the projects may not in the final analysis add any value to the economy, and are not likely to do so in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, this trend persists anyway despite the acute scarcity of funds experienced at all levels of government in the country.
While many of such projects are completed, albeit unutilised or grossly underutilised, many others initiated several years ago are still under construction, or rather, have been simply abandoned halfway and at the mercy of the succeeding holders of the public offices concerned, who may not feel compelled to complete them.
Meanwhile, stakeholders in the oil and gas sector have called on the federal government to streamline the roles of DPR in order to make the agency more effective and efficient in the discharge of its functions. The department has a lot on its plate. It is not in line with international best practices for an entity to be giving out licences to drill for oil and is also at the same time the environment watchdog. There is a clear need to clarify the role of DPR and to streamline its functions. Maybe the controversy this project is already generating will serve as a starting point to take a more holistic assessment of the role of the agency. It is our opinion that the decision to splash a whopping $4 million on just the design of an office building in these lean times deserves a rethink. Even the N35 billion for the project proper is begging for justification especially as the opulent NNPC complex is literally empty. Instead of a new structure, DPR can create a space for itself in that behemoth of an edifice.
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