By Jimmy Jackson
Amid the award of multimillion-naira contracts, essential healthcare services remain out of reach for many people in Cross River State communities. Primary health care projects, initially promising, now stand incomplete, leaving residents without crucial care. The Parchment’s investigation by Jimmy Jackson, exposes a disturbing pattern of mismanagement, non-execution, and opacity in the state procurement processes.
As the scorching sun cast a harsh shadow over Egbe-Mbube, a community tucked away in Ogoja Local Government Area (LGA) of Cross River State, a stark tale of desperation and struggle unfolds. David Egbe’s voice resonates with frustration, echoing the anguish of other residents as they grapple with a harsh reality – the only health facility in Egbe-Mbube is ailing, lacking the resources and personnel needed to provide proper care.
The lack of an access road, the perilous motorcycle journey, and the dire condition of the primary health facility paint a vivid picture of a more extensive crisis. For years, the hopes of the people in Egbe-Mbube for a fully equipped and functional healthcare facility have been met with disappointment, exposing a glaring void in government provisions for the community.
“As you can see, there is no access road to the health centre, and even when you are using a motorcycle, you have to be very careful. Otherwise, you will fall down with the motorcycle and the patients before arriving at the primary health care,” Egbe lamented.
The current building that functions as the health facility was donated by the community to the local government. However, it has deteriorated over time, lacks basic amenities, and is not equipped to handle emergency cases.
Upon a recent visit by this reporter, the health facility appeared abandoned. It consisted of only four beds, a handful of benches, and a partitioned room in a long hall donated by the community. Sadly, the facility lacks functional health equipment, and there are serious issues of power and water supply.
However, delving deeper into an initiative that was expected to tackle this issue uncovers a disheartening truth.
In 2021, the Cross-River State government awarded a contract for the building of a Primary Health Care Centre, PHC, in Egbe-Mbube community through the Ministry of Health. Valued at N40 million, the contract, was awarded to Messrs Peter Enhievi Nigeria Enterprise. Additionally, another contract was awarded to Messrs Dadaman Global Invest. Nig Ltd to equip the facility, with a contract amount of N28 million. Unfortunately, these significant investments have yielded little results, with only a few blocks remaining as evidence, as the rest of the project has been abandoned.
The contract process, especially the tendering phase through which it was awarded, blatantly disregarded Part IV, Section 28 subsection 2 (b) of the State Procurement Guidelines and Rules pertaining to advertising guidelines for all contracts.
According to these guidelines, advertisements for such procurements must be featured in a minimum of two national newspapers, one local newspaper, the Cross-River State Government Electronic Procurement Portal, and the state tender journal, particularly in the case of national competitive bidding (NCB).
Despite our thorough efforts, The Parchment was unable to verify any record of the procurement bid advertisement on all the specified channels including Cross-River State Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau (DPPIB) tender board and Cross-River State official websites.
Moreover, according to Section 34 subsection (2) of the guidelines, it is explicitly mandated that “all procuring entities must embrace electronic procurement methods, especially in public works, health, and education, for procurement exceeding the threshold of N10 million.”
However, a search conducted on B2Bhint, an online source for company business data, revealed that Messrs Peter Enhievi Nigeria Enterprise was officially registered on January 13, 2017. The listed contact address is No.10 Commy Street, Ekorinim 1, Calabar, Cross River State, with Peter Enyievi Bassey listed as the company’s proprietor.
However, upon visiting the address, The Parchment found that the street name had been changed from Commy Street to Obong Ene Obong Street. Notably, the location did not host any offices or companies; instead, it consisted solely of residential apartments.
In order to get clarity as to why the contract was abandoned, Mr. Peter Enyievi Bassey was contacted by this reporter to give explanation on the status of the project. Several calls, SMS, WhatsApp messages and email sent to his personal phone number were not responded to including a direct message to his Facebook profile.
Calls were placed to Peter Enyievi on Friday, September 22, 2023, and Saturday, September 30, 2023. A text message was also sent to him on Friday, September 22, 2023 which reads “Good afternoon Sir, my name is Jimmy Jackson, a reporter with the Parchment news platform in Cross River. I am reaching out to you concerning a story, I’m currently working on about a project in Egbe Mbube that was awarded in 2021 to Messrs Peter Enyievi Nigeria Enterprise. Search on CAC shows Peter Enyievi as Proprietor. Please, I want to know the status of the project and any further details that might help.” Same message was forwarded on WhatsApp, delivered and read but no response came from him.
The reporter had first reached out to him via Facebook on Tuesday, September 19, 2023 with same message sent via SMS and WhatsApp but with a request that he should reach him (the reporter. And a phone number was provided.
The text of the Facebook message reads:
“I am reaching out to you concerning a story, I’m currently working on about a project in Egbe Mbube that was awarded in 2021 to Messrs Peter Enyievi Nigeria Enterprise. Search on CAC shows Peter Enyievi as Proprietor. Please, I want to know the status of the project and any further details that might help. Thank you, you can reach me on 08168025972.” The message was ignored.
The Facebook message was sent before the reporter got Enyievi’s personal phone number on the September and called him.
In the case of Messrs Dadaman Global Invest. Nigeria Ltd, records indicate that the company was incorporated on August 4, 2011 with Obono Eteng Itam, Obono Itam Itam, Oboma Mercy Wohmi and Oboma Lois Jesam listed as the company’s directors.
The listed contact address, plot 55, CBN Cooperatives Estate, Off Kabusa Junction, Apo, Abuja, FCT could not be found when a visit was paid to the location.
When this reporter contacted the company, its Chief Executives Officer (CEO) Mr. Obono Eteng Itam admitted to getting the contract but stated that it was hijacked by politicians in the state and that he does not know the current state of the project.
“It is true that my company got the contract, but that was done through the then speaker of the Cross Rivers State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Eteng Jonah Willams and Mr. Frank Ayade brother, but to talk about the current state of the project, it’s shocking that the project was abandoned.”
He declined making further comments.
Abandoned PHC in Benedehe Ekem
In Benedehe Ekem, Etung LGA, the primary health center is yet to undergo renovation, despite the fact that the contract for this was awarded two years ago. The contract, which also included the renovation of primary health facilities in Adadama, and Katchuan Irruan in Abi and Boki LGAs, was awarded to Messrs Phoenix Prime Enterprise for a total sum of N45m, with a 30-day completion period.
When The Parchment visited Benedehe Ekem PHC, the back of the dilapidated building was covered in overgrown grass, and an abandoned tricycle ambulance was found similarly concealed beneath the overgrown grass, rendering the facility unsuitable for its intended purpose as a primary health care center.
A health worker in Etung, who craved anonymity as she is not authorized to discuss the matter, expressed deep concern about the facility’s dismal condition. She said that the wards lack ceilings, restrooms, sufficient staff, security measures, and other crucial amenities.
Esther Abi, a resident, shared her worries about spending a night at the local health facility due to safety concerns and security issues. Drawing from her personal experience during pregnancy, she vividly described the unsettling conditions she had encountered.
“I was on the verge of delivering, and upon arriving at the facility, I found health workers present, but the overall environment was far from accommodating. The women’s ward, in particular, was surrounded by overgrown grass, creating a potential habitat for dangerous animals such as snakes. Fortunately, I’m grateful that nothing adverse occurred during that period.”
Messrs Phoenix Prime Enterprise was officially incorporated on February 7, 2021 with Mr. Ekanem Ekpenyong Ekpenyong identified as the officer of the company. Curiously, the company was awarded a contract worth N22 million on February 23, 2021, a mere two weeks and two days after its establishment.
This constitutes a breach of Section 21 subsection 8(b) of the State Procurement Law, which states that any supplier, contractor, or consultant failing to exhibit satisfactory performance or due diligence in prior public procurement engagements within the preceding three years prior to the initiation of the current procurement procedure should be disqualified from participating in the said procurement process. Regrettably these requirements were not followed.
The company’s official contact address is situated at 10 Emmanuel Edem Crescent, Federal Housing Estate, Calabar, Cross-River State. However, upon a visit to this address, this reporter found a residential building with no discernible signs of a company’s presence.
N144 million contracts abandoned in Abi LGA
The College of Nursing in Itigdi, Abi LGA, stands as a stark reminder of uncompleted projects. Construction jobs awarded in 2021 with the promise of transformation, now lie abandoned casting doubt on the commitment of the state government to quality education and facilities.
Messrs Renaissance Datarium was awarded the sum of N60m on February 23, 2021 for the “completion of block work and fixing of doors and windows in 3-storey hostel blocks for ground and first floor” at the college. When a visit was paid to the school, the project was abandoned and one can visibly see dilapidated doors and windows yet to be fixed.
Another N18m contract awarded to Messrs Entek B, also in February 2021, for landscaping and perimeter fencing at the college. But no such landscaping or fencing work was visible during this reporter’s visit.
Furthermore, the construction of three additional classrooms intended to meet NBTE specifications, with another N18m contract awarded to Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Ltd, was not observed at the college during the same visit. The only noticeable change was the repainting of the school with white and blue colors; no new construction was evident.
A student who craved anonymity for fear of being victimized disclosed that nothing has changed in the school’s hostel, adding that the dilapidated state of the hostel prompted her to seek accommodation outside the school campus.
“When I got admission to this school and was offered an accommodation in school, the current state of our hostel especially, doors and windows then prompted me to seek accommodation outside campus for comfort”
Moreover, the issues extend beyond the college, with the General Hospital, Itigdi, facing similar challenges. The renovation, initially anticipated to enhance the facility’s female ward, children’s ward, and theatre, have been abandoned despite the N48 million contract awarded to Conceal Nigeria Ltd.
B2Bhint provides records for Messrs Renaissance Datarium and Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company as officially registered entities. Nevertheless, what stands out is that the legal addresses provided by both companies – 89 Urhobo Street, FHA Phase II, Karu, FCT, Abuja for Datarium Rensissance Limited, and 3 Atunwa Street, Ikeja, Lagos State for Gobenchi Supply and Investment Limited, lead to residential buildings with no indications of housing a business office or company operation. The companies also lack any online presence, including the absence of websites, social media pages, or any digital footprints.
Listed as directors and shareholders of Messrs Renaissance Datarium are Adoolmumin Yarima Muhammad and Lukman Salihu, with Gideon Atu Izang, Secretary. For Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company Limited, listed as directors are George O’ben-etchi and O’ben-etchi G. George O’ben- etchi is a former House of Assembly member and former commissioner for Social Housing and Solid Minerals in Cross River State. He was the Commissioner for Solid Minerals in 2021 when the contract was awarded
When this reporter contacted George O’ben-etchi, for explanation on the abandoned project, he promised to get back to the newspaper. However, despite this assurance, no response has been received till date. Text and WhatsApp messages sent to his phone elicited no response.
A text message was sent on Friday, September 30, 2023 and it reads “Good morning Sir, my name is Jimmy Jackson, a reporter with the Parchment news platform in Cross River. I am reaching out to you concerning a story, I’m currently working on about a project in Itigdi, Cross River State that was awarded in 2021 to Gobenchi Supply and Investment Company. Search on CAC shows George O’ben-etchi and O’ben-etchi G. as Directors. Please, I want to know the status of the project and any further details that might help.”
The same message was forwarded on WhatsApp same day but he has not read it.
Awarding a contract to a government official clearly violates, Part III Section 21 subsection 8 (f) the state procurement law, which states that whenever it is established by a procuring entity or the bureau that any or a combination of the situations set out exist, a bidder may have its bid or tender excluded from procurement proceeding if: “the bidder fails to submits a statement regarding its dominating or subsidiary relationship with respect to other parties to the proceedings and person acting on behalf of the procuring entity participating in the same proceeding or whom remains in subordinate relationship with other participants to the proceedings.”
State Cold Store not completed after award of contract to two different contractors
Amidst the myriad of halted health initiatives, the state Cold Store project stands as another striking example of an unrealised dream. Designed to bolster medical storage capacities and facilitate the distribution of vaccines to primary health centers throughout the state for critical immunization initiatives, the state cold storage facility finds itself in a state of limbo.
The contract for the project, which was awarded by the Cross-River Ministry of Health to Messrs Ertika Nig. Enterprise in February 2021 to the tune of N95 million remains incomplete even after nearly two years, despite the 30 day completion timeline.
While a portion of the facility is currently in partial use, the prolonged delay in completion highlights an unsettling pattern of unmet promises and essential health infrastructure projects left abandoned.
Amid all this, insights gathered from the Cross-River State Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau (CRDPPIB) have unveiled a startling revelation.
The same contract was also awarded to a different contractor, Messrs Makaki Enterprise, for the very same sum within the same fiscal year, as part of the State Fiscal Transparency, Accountability, and Sustainability Program (SFTAS).
Significantly, Messrs Ertika Nig. Enterprise cannot be traced as a registered entity on the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), portal, while Messrs Makaki Enterprise records show date of incorporation as June 26.
For Messrs Makaki Enterprise, records indicate that Ettah Utibe Elijah, Ettah, Matthew Elijah and Ettah, Karofem Elijah are the company’s director. This reporter reached out to Ettah Matthew Elijah, a Principal officer, to explain why the project has not been completed two years after the award of the contract. His respond was that this reporter should be more specific, and further requested for the pictures of the site from this reporter, as at the time of filing this report, he did not respond to subsequent messages sent to him.
The listed contact address for Messrs Makaki Enterprise, is No 15, Marian Road, Calabar, Cross River State but when the reporter visited the address, there was no trace of the company as the locations only has commercial shops.
A recent visit by this reporter to the Cold Store located at Barracks Road, Calabar, revealed the profound consequences of the project’s incomplete status. The facility, which plays a critical role in preserving vaccines for the immunization of women and children across the state, currently presents a distressing sight. The cold chain equipment used to store these vital vaccines operates within a space lacking proper ceiling, an unfinished floor, and uncompleted office areas.
The project conceived to serve all the 18 council areas of the state has been in limbo due to its non-completion, which has affected vaccination of women and children in rural communities.
One of the officials overseeing the state cold store who did not want his name mentioned because he was not authorized to speak, explained the critical functions of the cold store in the state, stressing that it is one of the very important facility in the health sector as its purpose is vaccines preservation for onward distribution especially during the cholera and measles outbreak but the facilities is still not optimally functional.
“As you can see, the other part, nothing is going on, while the maintenance units have no roofing” he said.
A health worker in Egbe-Mbube, who also craved anonymity, decried the impact of vaccination preservation in their primary health facility as there usually depend more on the Council headquarters for their vaccines preservation which in most cases are delayed.
“Getting vaccines is one aspect but also preservation is another herculean task which also has resulted to few deaths in the community,” the health worker observed.
This depiction underscores the urgency for the prompt completion of the project, given that the poor state of the facility not only jeopardizes the viability of the stored vaccines but also hampers the efficient delivery of essential healthcare services.
Continuing with the pattern of project abandonment, another contract valued at N22 million, was awarded to Messrs Ernhnor Limited for the repair of Cold Chain Equipment across the PHCs in the 18 LGAs of the state. Regrettably, this contract has also fallen victim to non-execution, echoing the same troubling fate as the previous projects.
Health workers at Akim Oqua PHC in Calabar Municipal LGA said they have made several unsuccessful attempts to get the State headquarters to address the faults with the facility’s cold chain equipment.
“Our appeals have been met with silence and inaction leaving us frustrated. To make it worse for us, we are not permitted to engage a local artisan to fix the equipment,” a health worker at the facility told the reporter.
There are no existing records in the CAC to validate Messrs Ertika Nig. Enterprise as a registered company. Equally, these companies exhibit a complete lack of online presence—no trace can be found on digital platforms.
However, B2Bhint does present records for Messrs Erhnof Limited. The company was officially incorporated on February 5, 2021 and was awarded a contract a few weeks later amounting to N22 million on February 23, 2021. Again, this action constitutes a breach of Section 21 subsection 8(b) of the State Procurement Law which states that any supplier, contractor, or consultant failing to exhibit satisfactory performance or due diligence in prior public procurement engagements within the preceding three years prior to the initiation of the current procurement procedure should be disqualified from participating in the said procurement process. Regrettably these requirements were not followed.
Community leaders lament poor health facilities, call for urgent intervention from government
A community leader in Benedehe Ekem, Etung LGA, Oscar Ofuke expressed serious concern over the neglect of the PHC in the community. In an interview with The Parchment, Ofuke remarked, “Benedehe Ekem stands out as the largest ward within the local government in terms of both land area and population.
“Surprisingly, despite its size, the ward lacks a proper healthcare facility to adequately address the needs of the community, particularly those of women and children.”
He further elaborated that the poor state of the facility results in tragic loss of lives during emergency cases. The only recourse is often to transport patients to Ikom, a neighboring local government.
“Our PHC lacks adequate medical equipment, medications, water, security and even a shortage of staff. We have no medical doctor and health workers who work in the PHC are often inconsistent because there is no lodge and they come from far places.”
Reacting to his community’s predicament, Mr Patrick Odey from Egbe-Mbube, Ogoja LGA expressed his dismay at the turn of events since the award of the contract to construct a PHC in the community.
“I was hopeful at first until when the contractor handling the projects left the site after constructing a few blocks in 2021, without any explanation from government or the contractor despite repeated appeals.”
He urged the government to prevail on the contractor to quickly return to site so as to alleviate the suffering of residents of the community.
Cross River government keeps mum over the abandoned contracts
On July 19, 2023, The Parchment filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request with the state health ministry, seeking comprehensive and detailed information regarding the expenses incurred on projects that were awarded in the year 2021.
In its request, the newspaper sought evidence of the financial outlay, specifying the precise amount spent, as well as the identities of the contractor(s) entrusted with these projects. Additionally, The Parchment requested copies of the contractual agreements associated with each of the projects that were awarded during the aforementioned year.
Although the health ministry acknowledged the receipt of the request, no official response was provided as of the time of filing this report
When The Parchment contacted Dr. Pauline Obute, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, for comments on the matter, she said that she was currently out of town. However, text messages sent to her line got the following reply “I’m on an official engagement outside Calabar. Please, as earlier discussed, find time to meet in the office so I can understand and guide on the official source of the information you need. Thank you.”
When this reporter visited her in office, she said that she was not the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry as of 2021 and 2022.
“There are procedures in government especially relating to documents which cannot be released without due process being followed.”
When the former Director-General, Cross River State Primary Health Care Development Agency (CRSPHCDA), Mrs. Abasioffiong Offiong, was contacted she promised to get back to the newspaper. However, despite this assurance, no response has been received thus far. Text messages sent to her phone received a reply indicating her current unavailability: “Ok, I am out of town now.”
Efforts to engage the immediate past health commissioner, Dr. Janet Ekpenyong, followed a similar pattern. She neither answered the call nor responded to the message sent to her.
“Government should act fast to help affected communities” – experts
Reacting to findings in this report, Mr Audu Liberty Oseni, Coordinator, Media Advocacy, West Africa, MAWA Foundation, admonished the state government to promptly intervene and rectify the prevailing irregularities in previous procurement activities of the state particularly in the health ministry. He stressed that the intervention is essential for ensuring the proper and effective delivery of primary healthcare services within the state.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Audu Oseni underscored the critical stance that Cross-River State must adopt in preventing the misappropriation of public funds for individual benefit, especially as citizens continue to endure the absence of essential amenities to which they are rightfully entitled.
He further stressed, “Instances of corruption are regrettably widespread, but this pattern must not persist. The current state government must assume responsibility for the meticulous oversight of all public funds expended, particularly within the crucial realm of healthcare.”
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR)