N60b: FERMA under fire for sharp practices in Covid-19 intervention fund management

By Lubem Gena, Abuja

The House of Representatives Committee interrogating the utilization of the N60billion allocation made to the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) has identified several loopholes in the way and manner the finances were deployed.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by Representative Bamidele Salam when the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the agency, Engr. (Dr.) Chukwuemeka Agbasi appeared before the committee with a large delegation.

Suspicions started when the Agency which was rescheduled to re-appear today could not produce enough copies of the requested documents. Instead of producing about 60 copies for distribution to Members of the Committee, it tendered only 11 copies. Belatedly, their submission was done in the morning today Monday December 4, 2023 as against last Friday December 1, 2023 as directed by the Committee in the invitation letter extended to the Agency.

It took the intervention of the Committee Chairman to ensure that the presentation was not stalled.

Things got to a crescendo when questions started pouring in after the presentation of the Managing Director of the Agency.

On the breakdown, the Committee was informed that a total of 192 projects were carried out across the country. Some Members of the Committee however took turns to debunk the position, saying that the projects do not exist in their constituencies.

Jeremiah Umaru, the Deputy Chairman of the Committee, for instance, said the road mentioned in his constituency, Wamba-Akwanga road has been in a state of disrepair for several years. He said he was surprised to hear the Managing Director mention it as part of roads given facelift during the Covid-19 period.

Representative Umaru stated: “Mr. Managing Director, I just came from Wamba today and the road between Akwanga and Wamba or Wamba and Akwanga is terribly bad. Mr. Chairman, since I know that road, that road has been in very bad condition.”

“So, I want to know whether this money went to another Akwanga-Wamba road or is there any other one that I am representing”, Hon. Jeremiah emphasized.

In a related development, the road from Tafawa Balewa area to a location around Plateau State was also put under the spotlight as a lawmaker and Member of the Committee requested for the pictorial evidence of the road during that period hence. According to the lawmaker, the explanation of the Managing Director is not convincing.

Expressing his dismay, the lawmaker said: “Going down to item 24 which directly affects my Local Government Area – Tafawa Balewa LGA, you said a company, Dali Investment was awarded a contract of N227million for maintenance of the road between Tafawa Balewa and Plateau State border. I need a pictorial evidence of that and the progress report during that period,” Leko Jafaru Gambo fired at the FERMA boss.

Another lawmaker from Osun, Hon. Adewale Adebayo expressed serious concerns when he informed the committee that, a particular project which was contracted had its fund moved into direct labour without satisfactory explanation. He went further to say that there was no survey was done of the raid to ascertain the need to maintain that particular section as mentioned by FERMA.
“Mr. Chairman, I want to disagree in totality with what was quoted here as per the slot given to Osun State. To be precise, the road from Osogbo to Okuku was so much in bad state that our amiable governor reconstructed the road from Osogbo down to Kwara road. That is my concern.’

He challenged the FERMA team to “explain why over one hundred and eighty million was allotted to repair and maintain Osogbo – Okoku road without, yet the Agency did not carry out survey on the particular road.”

“Secondly, let’s go to page 12, number 193 – General Maintenance of selected roads in Nigeria by Direct Labour. I want the Director General of FERMA to explain the identity of the people collecting money for Direct Labour as quoted here,” Hon. Adewale queried.

Hon. Usman Balami from Borno State said: “Mr Speaker and Mr Chairman, I quickly want to draw the attention of FERMA to number 38 – major maintenance and repairs of Biu-Shafa-Garkida-Adamawa road in Borno State. This contract was said to be awarded in 2020 and the status of this contact is ‘completed’ with the sum of N254, 137,498.40.

“Mr. Chairman Sir, I am from Shafa in particular from Hau Local Government. And I want to confirm to this house that there was no move of construct that road. I demand clarification on how this road has been repaired in the period between 2020, 2021 and 2022.”

“Mr. Chairman, I just returned from home. If that is any death trap in that area, it is that road,” he added.

Another area which was not believed by the committee was the assertion by FERMA that it has expended N59.9b with a balance of about N8.9million with several projects still outstanding amounting to N190million just as a project administrative cost of N778, 571, 26 million embedded in the contracts was frowned at.

“Project number 147.This project cover my senatorial district. That is in Ogun state. I am aware of the work that is going on there today. The road is been repaired by Dangote. And they have been on the road for the past 4 years. There is no any presence of FERMA on that particular road. I am surprised to see that FERMA claimed that they are doing Covid project there”, Hon. Akinlade Abiodun protested.

Ruling on the spirit and mood of the committee, the Chairman, announced that another deep look will be taken into the books and requested for more specific documents, vouchers, pictorial evidences of all the projects.

The Committee Chair further informed the hearing team that, the Auditor-General’s audit report indicted FERMA of constructing a non-existing Gasmi-Ashigo-Gogaram road in Yobe State to the tune of N2billion and the office indicated a strong suspicion that the sum was diverted and not spent on the road.

In a unanimous conclusion, bearing in mind several infractions, seeming falsehoods and distortion of fact, the Committee set up a sub-committee, headed by Hon. Jeremiah Umaru to physically verify the projects as presented by FERMA.

The agency is to re-appear on a new date.

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