By Rt. Hon Eseme Eyiboh
The Minister of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources – Engr Suleiman Adamu through the Permanent Secretary had on October 8, 2020 written to convey the approval of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Mohammadu Buhari for my removal from office as the Chairman of the Governing Board of the Cross River Basin Development Authority. I thank the President for the opportunity given to me to serve our great nation in that capacity at that very important agency of government. I remain eternally grateful to the President for considering me worthy of that honour.
I have been inundated with questions as to why I was relieved of my appointment. I will state that the President has the prerogative of who gets appointed and who gets relieved of such appointment. My appointment in the first place is a privilege I will ever cherish and remain thankful to the president.
I will, however, not be doing the nation, and more importantly, the President any good if I do not recall some of the running battles I have had to contend with while in office trying to ensure that the vision of President Mohammadu Buhari of a corruption free society, where probity, accountability and good governance are enthroned, is achieved. I bought into the government’s anti corruption commitment and demonstrated it, knowing that Nigeria can only survive if all Nigerians, especially public officers, key into President Buharis anti corruption mantra as a national creed.
CORRUPTION AT THE CRBDA
At our inauguration as board members, we had taken the solemn oath to protect and preserve the public trust in our duties, through adherence to extant legislations, rules and stout insistence on ethical integrity and corporate governance. We demonstrated our Commitments to ensuring that the zero tolerance of Mr. President to corruption was respected and enforced at the CBDA.
The Board under my chairmanship, however, did not reckon with the organized corruption ring that had the active connivance and protection of the power grid at the supervising Federal Ministry of Water Resources. The trajectory of the board’s running battles to ensure transparency and probity by the management of the CRBDA shows clearly that the agency’s Managing Director could not have been acting independent of a powerful protective cocoon located in the supervising ministry.
AT THE BEGINNING
Six months after the composition and inauguration of the Governing Board of the Cross River Basin Development Authority by the President, the management of the CRBDA engaged in the most scandalous public auction of the Commonwealth of the people occasioning the carting away and conversations of public assets under spurious circumstances and continued to run the Authority as if there was no board, with the Managing Director acting as a sole administrator, as it were before the board was constituted. The Governing Board had to invoke its oversight powers by setting up an ad-hoc committee to look into the activities, programmes and projects of the Basin Authority.
At a Board meeting held in Calabar on September 18, 2019, with the Managing Director in attendance, the board approved the setting up of an Ad-hoc committee on Core Mandate Implementation, Procurement, And Establishment Matters. The committee was mandated to among other things, achieve the following: oversight responses to implementation of policy directives; review and preview the Authority’s core mandate implementation; advice the board on key institutional requirements and service delivery; examine the level of compliance with extant procurement, recruitment, financial and contract administration of the Authority, among other issues.
To realize its objectives, the committee made several requests on management to furnish it with documents and appear to make representations that would help the committee in arriving at a fair assessment of the affairs of the CRBDA.
After months of non response by the management to make available important documents, the committee finally met for two days at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State between Tuesday, 18th and Wednesday, 19th February, 2020. Management was represented by Executive Directors and Heads of important Management units, who made oral and documentary presentations. The presentations by the management team were in the main lacking in details and most of the required documents were not made available, prompting the committee to further soliciting additional documents, which were never made available till date.
On Friday, 21/02/2020 the report of the committee was received by the Board, at a meeting where the CBDA Managing Director was in attendance. Board deliberated on the report, and noted with grave concern the many misconducts bordering on serial contract splitting, unilateral and irregular award of contracts without board authorization, illegal recruitments, promotions and conversions, fraudulent endangering of government finances through spurious, illegal and misdirected so called Private/Public Partnership arrangements; inability to present a reliable financial records, and other malfeasance in the form of lack of transparency and due diligence in the execution of the Basin Authority’s mandate. The board unanimously adopted the report and its recommendations, and further took vital decisions, including the decision to invite the MD to make a formal written representation on the misconducts contained in the report. The Managing Director elected to be given 21 days within which to be heard on the matter. Till date he never did.
Regardless of earlier letter to the Minister to intervene in the deteriorating ethical integrity in the management of the affairs of CRBDA, the processes undertaken by the board were duly communicated to the Hon Minister for Water Resources, but made no attempt to either intervene to get further clarification or even call a meeting to understand what was going on at the CRBDA.
On July 20, 2020, a formal query was issued to the MD in accordance with the provisions of Section 7(4) of the second schedule of the River Basins Development Authorities Act CAP R.9 LFN. The MD was required to answer to the following breaches: 1.Unauthorized recruitment of 75 persons in 2019 without recourse to the board in breach of section 6[a] of the River Basin Development Authority Act, CAP R.9 Laws of the Federation 2004. 2.Irregular conversion/absorption of 35 contract/casual staff in 2019 without the authority of the board. These appointments in the first instance are against the Rule 020402 of the Public Service Rule of contract appointments. 3.The approval and execution by management of procurement contracts, both for services and works in excesses of the N250,000,000 threshold of the Authority, which were neither referred to the board for approval nor the supervising ministry. The management merely resorted to contract splitting contrary to the provisions of the Procurement Act. The Parastatal Tenders board of the Authority that the management were using to award contracts is neither a contract awarding entity nor a procurement authority, but is only required to forward its recommendations to the board for approval. 4.Unlawful extension of “Advance Payment Guarantees” running into millions of naira contrary to financial regulations. 5.Committing the Authority to foreign and local MOUs/contractual agreements in the guise of Public Private Partnership without approval of the board, the supervising ministry, or even the Infrastructure Concessionary Regulatory Commission, ICRC, in line with the ICRC Act. 6.Failure to arrange for the board to oversight any of the projects/programme sites of the Authority since the inauguration of the board in February 2018 till date, despite series of requests and board resolutions. 7.Refusal to provide management financial Report of the Authority, and its investment arm, CRIBAS, since 2018 till date. 8.Failure to make required documents and information available to the board on establishment, financial, procurement, audited account, auditors report, internally generated revenue etc. 9.Disregarding the authority of the board and reporting directly to the supervising ministry on substantive issues such as the engagement of external auditors, audited reports and annual reports, which are required to be forwarded to the supervisory ministry after the approval of the board.
The MD was given 72 hours in accordance with the requirements of the provisions of Public Service Rules. As usual, the MD refused and totally ignored the query.
On July 28, 2020 the board intimated the Honourable Minister of Water Resources of the query and formally invited the Honourable Minister to empanel a Ministerial Committee to look into the areas highlighted in the Governing Board’s Adhoc Committee findings. The Honourable Minister once more simply ignored the board and the various malpractices, open corruption, contract splitting and regrettable sidetracking of all known procurement requirements.
Based on the sequences of events and in substantial compliance to rule 160201(a) of the Public Service Rules, the Board on August 13, 2020 vides Ref. No/CRB/AD/C.32/s/Vol.xv/176, formally suspended the Managing Director of the Cross River Basin Development Authority, from office. In addition to the suspension announced by the board, the following measures were also taken to ensure that things are done within the ambits of the law: 1.The Board formally brought the board’s decision to the notice of the minister, who neither called for a meeting to know what was going on, nor set up the requested administrative panel to ascertain the veracity of the boards findings. 2.The Board also conveyed these processes and procedures aforementioned to the Secretary to Government of the Federation in its letter of July 23,2020 with reference CRB/AD/C.32/S/VOL.XV/178
THE MINISTER FINALLY REACTED
On August 2020, Premium Times, an online publication, published a news item on the suspension of the CRBDA Managing Director, Engr. Bassey Nkposong. That was all it took for the minister to react to the protracted issues of maladministration going on at the CRBDA. He, in an unusual speed issued a press statement denouncing the suspension, saying that the board did not follow due process in its action.
The board again wrote to the minister drawing his attention to all the reciepted communications from the board to him and requesting him to at least set up a panel to investigate the findings of the board and again,he acted in silence
REMOVAL AS CHAIRMAN
My removal should not end the quest for accountability at the CRBDA; rather, it should speed up the process of instilling good governance and commitment to probity and fidelity to due process. I hasten to add that none of the stated actions and activities narrated so far was carried out solely by me as chairman, but all were the collective decisions and actions of the board including the member – Engr Oyadare who has been mandated to act as the Chairman.
I want to restate that Hon Eseme Eyiboh may be the target, but he is not the issue at stake at the Cross River Basin Development Authority. The main issue is corruption, which I believe is actively being covered up from high places. If the supervising ministry dares, let the minister institute an independent panel to confirm or rebut the findings of the board.
God bless Nigeria!