The long-awaited contract for the dredging of River Benue, valued at N26 billion, has been stalled, LEADERSHIP WEEKEND can now authoritatively reveal.
River Benue dredging is expected to usher in shipping activities and generate employment for millions of unemployed youths from the north and other geopolitical zones. The project, planned to boost maritime and economic activities in the north and also put an end to the perennial flooding in the region, is expected to start from Lokoja, Kogi State, through Makurdi, Benue State, in the first instance and thereafter extend to other northern states.
An investigation conducted by LEADERSHIP WEEKEND showed that the lofty project has been put on hold following a petition allegedly forwarded to the presidency by a firm linked to one of the ex-militants in the Niger Delta, Mr. Government Ekpemupolo (aka Tompolo).
In the said petition before the presidency, the firm, which was recommended to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), was said to have queried the propriety of the BPP's insistence on due diligence.
Though there was a provision for the contract in the 2011 budget, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which monitored the bid process forwarded a petition over bid security to the Federal Ministry of Transport (the supervising ministry) and copied the BPP and the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA).
The development prompted the BPP to summon a stakeholders' meeting to which contractors who bid for the project were also invited.
The BPP thereafter directed NIWA through the Ministry of Transport to carry out due diligence on all the concerned contractors and report back to the ministry for onward transmission to the BPP.
But the report that emanated from NIWA was not satisfactory. The ministry, however, recommended the firm linked to Tompolo to the BPP for issuance of Certificate of No Objection.
The development forced the BPP to carry out due diligence and raised questions on all the bidding firms including the first five preferred firms.
The Ministry of Transport consequently called a stakeholders' meeting where the permanent secretary, who presided, told the contractors that time was running out on the project and that Nigerians, especially northerners, were anxiously waiting for the commencement of the project.
The bidding firms were further informed that they must answer the questions raised by the BPP before the contract could be awarded.
The firms subsequently answered the BPP questions before the closing date on September 12, 2012.
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, however, gathered that from September till date, nothing has happened about the project that is crucial to the north.
The development was said to be unconnected to the petition by the firm linked to Tompolo, which allegedly felt that the BPP was proving difficult in the award of the contract and raised certain questions that needed satisfactory answers.
It was further gathered that some of the questions raised against the recommended firm included tax evasion and conflict of interest.
But some stakeholders are worried that, if care is not taken, the River Benue dredging may share the fate of River Niger dredging, which is yet to be actualised in spite of several assurances by the federal government.
Incidentally, President Goodluck Jonathan recently declared that the project was on course. But the president was silent on the project during his October 1, 2012, broadcast to the country, fuelling speculations that the petition was responsible for the current state of affairs.
When contacted over the matter, a director in the Ministry of Transport, who sought anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, confirmed the development.
He, however, stated that the ministry was waiting for the necessary directive from the president.