By Ebebe Florence
The panel set up by the Governing Council of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, to probe what led to the partial collapse of the institution’s seven-story library under construction, has submitted its report.
The 40-page report has recommended termination of the contract with the contractor – Dutum Company Limited (DCL).
It also recommended that seven key actors in the transactions who were, or still are, officials of the institution should face a disciplinary panel.
The five-member panel, which was headed by Peter Fogam, a professor of Law, also had as secretary, Mathias Udonwa, a senior assistant registrar in the office of the university’s registrar.
Other members include Boniface Oye-Adeniran of the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology; Ige Bolodeoku, a professor of Law, and the President of the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria, Dipo Ajayi.
The panel was later joined by the Vice-President of the Quantity Surveyors Registration Council of Nigeria (QSRCN), Austin Onaro, who represented the council.
According to the report, those to face disciplinary panel include the former registrar, Taiwo Ipaye; former deputy vice-chancellor in charge of management services, Duro Oni; former directors of works, Adeleke Adeniran and Niyi Ayeye; former head of procurement unit and the former bursar of the university, James Akanmu and Lateef Odekunle, respectively.
The panel also recommended that action should be taken against the former vice-chancellor, Rahamon Bello, but in accordance with the university Act or that the university should “liaise with the relevant authority in view of Professor Bello’s responsibility under section 20 of the Procurement Act 2007 and in view of his failure to appear before the panel despite two invitations to that effect.”
Mr Bello, as the chairman of the procurement planning committee (PPC) and the tenders’ board, was according to the board, empowered to oversee the whole process of contract award and ensure that the best result was achieved.
The report states in part; “The Panel is of the view that processing the recommendation of DCL as the bidder, when there was a negative report on the same DCL, was a failure of the leadership which, in the Panel’s view, resulted from lack of diligence in the discharge of the enormous responsibility imposed on Professor Bello, as the accounting officer of a procuring entity by the Act.”
However, the incumbent vice-chancellor, Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, was exonerated in the whole saga.
It said between November 12, 2017, and February 2018, when the incident happened, the panel acknowledged that Mr Ogundipe played “his roles as the chief executive officer of the university through adequate monitoring and supervision.”
On February 14, a part of the new library under construction collapsed, due to what the panel described as the incompetence of the contractor.
The panel said it established the fact that the contract was designed to fail. It said the procedures for the procurement was faulty and that the contractor ought not to have been engaged in the first instance.
The report noted that even as the lowest bidder, the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) and the Financial Evaluation Committee (FEC), which were responsible for the evaluation of the bidders at both the pre-qualification stage and the financial bid stage, erred by not pointing out the lapses identified in the procurement processes.
On this, the panel blamed Mr Akanmu, among others, including Messrs Ipaye and Oni, who it noted had the opportunity to identify the lapses and pointed them out before the contractor was hired.
In particular, the panel blamed Mr Akanmu for his failure to conduct post-qualification verification, saying if the verification had been conducted, he, as the head of the procurement unit and coordinator of the project, would have “discovered that DCL was not qualified for the job, and that its low bid was simply a ploy to secure the contract it lacked the requisite capacity to implement.”
Also in relation to permits and approvals, it said: “The contract was not executed in line with the executed signed contract. However, the panel believes that the omission to seek permit and approval from the relevant state agency was not in wilful disregard of the law, but in the mistaken belief that the University, being a federal institution, did not have to seek approvals or permits from its building projects.”
The panel also condemned the change in the building’s foundation from pile to cellular raft, adding that the amount of work done so far does not justify the total sum of N444.6 million already released to the contractor.
Panel commends consultants
Meanwhile, the panel in its report commended all the external consultants, who were hired to supervise the projects.
It said all the supervisors noted the contractor’s lack of understanding of the project, lack of capacity in terms of equipment, personnel, and lack of proper methodology in the execution of the project.
“With the choice of DCL, it was imminent that the implementation of the contract would suffer its current fate. It would have been ambitious for any of the foregoing officials to expect a different result.
“On the whole, the panel is of the view that the construction fell far short of best practices in the construction industry. Indeed, the project consultants felt they could manage DCL by providing the best assistance within their powers, all in a bid to see the project to a good end.
“However, the sort of assistance that would produce a good result, it appeared to the Panel, would have required the project consultants to take over the project from the contractor,” the report added.
Panel disagrees with House of Reps
The report by the governing council’s committee has clearly clashed with a similar report on the same matter submitted to the House of Representatives by its committee on public procurement.
The committee, which was chaired by Oluwole Oke, said its findings showed that due process was followed in the award of the contract.
The report, which was approved on the floor of the house during the last sitting of the eight assembly, noted in part: “Based on the Committee’s investigation, on the spot inspection of the site, engagement of all stakeholders, review of Expert Reports and Submissions and hearings/meetings with the Consultants and other stakeholders, the Committee noted that after the incidence, an integrity test was conducted on the building.
“The tests reveals that the building is safe and construction work can continue after remedial steps are taken, like removal of the debris, backfilling and very close supervision by competent experts.
“In view of the above and to avoid further damage to the ongoing University New Library Project, the contractor should go back to site with immediate effect and backfill the foundation and remove the debris of the collapsed framework under strict supervision of competent experts; the Federal Ministry of Education, TETF and UNILAG should jointly review the project and make additional funds for it so that the project will not be abandoned.”
Bello, others react
In his response to his letter of query earlier issued him by the chairman of the governing council, Wale Babalakin, through the university’s registrar, Oladejo Azeez, Mr Bello denied that he did not honour the panel’s invitation intentionally.
According to the former vice-chancellor, the award of the contract was approved by the Federal Executive Council, on the advice of the Bureau of Public Procurement.
He said this was “based on our compliance with the BPP’s directive on the due process recommendations in line with the Public Procurement Act 2007 as given in its letter and the stated drawbacks in the first procurement process.”
Mr Bello added that contracts awarded under his tenure were not without the knowledge of the two governing councils he worked with. He also said the two chairmen of the councils- late Gamaliel Onosode and Jerry Gana “are men of high integrity”. He said he was proud working with them.
However, Mr. Bello said, based on the terms of reference of the panel and its membership composition, which he noted was brought to his knowledge via a telephone conversation with the panel chairman, he was sure of the inability of the team to carry out the assignment without bias.
He said; “This exercise appears predetermined and premeditated and has put the cart before the horse. One would have expected an appropriately constituted panel of experts to first look at the causes and circumstances of the collapse of the formwork for the segment of the building. It is if this was adduced to deficiency in the procurement process that a full-blown panel on the contract procurement would have been needed.”
The former vice-chancellor requested that he should not be invited by any panel any longer, “except such visitation panel that may be constituted by the country’s President, who doubles as the university’s Visitor”.
On her part, the former registrar, Ms Ipaye, who is currently on sabbatical, said she was awaiting the next step by the Council. She said she is innocent and not afraid of facing any panel.
Meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the Dutum Company Limited, Olatunde Runsewe, said the competence of the company to handle the project is not in doubt.
Mr Runsewe, an engineer, listed other similar projects the company is either handling or has handled for individuals or organisations including the Pan Atlantic University.
Mr Runsewe, said; “We are competent to do the job. We have completed the University of Ibadan International House awarded same day with the University of Lagos library.
“We have also completed a seven-story senate building of Covenant University in 2015; we completed college building at Landmark University which is larger than UNILAG library. And currently, we are constructing six-story Art Hotel, opposite City of David Church in Victoria Island, which is on roof level now. Go there and see for yourself.”
He did not address the specific allegations leveled against the firm.