Three former chairmen of the Board of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) said they played no role in the award of contracts for the rehabilitation and modernisation of the country’s rail lines. They are former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur; a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, Alhaji Abubakar Baraje; and Ambassador Ladan Shuni.
The four stated this during the House of Representatives investigation on railway contracts awarded and executed between 2010 and 2014.
The Federal Government reportedly spent over one trillion naira on the railway contracts with the additional funding from the now-rested Subsidy Re-Investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).
Tukur, Baraje and Shuni, who at different times served as chairmen of the NRC, appeared before an ad hoc committee of the House in Abuja on Thursday, December 10.
The committee is headed by a PDP lawmaker from Edo State, Johnson Agbonayinma. Baraje, in particular, described his tenure as the chairman of the board as that of a “toothless bulldog” rendered powerless by the managing director of the NRC. He did not give the name of the managing director but he informed the committee that he (Baraje) had a “brief” tenure at the NRC between May and November, 2013.
He claimed that nearly all the railway contracts had been awarded before he assumed duties.
Besides, he said a brief he received from the Managing Director informed him that the board had no business with awarding contracts.
He added that the Managing Director also told him that the Procurement Act barred the board from playing any roles in the award of contracts.
At a point, Baraje reminded the chairman of the committee, Agbonayinma, that he once served as a member of one of the committees his board set up and he (Agbonayinma) was in a position to know that no contracts were awarded under his watch.
Baraje spoke further, “My board did not play any role other than the inspection of projects since the management of the NRC said we had no business with award of contracts.
“Almost all the contracts had been awarded and were ongoing when I came in for my brief tenure.
“I had to resign on the 12th of November because I was a toothless bulldog; there were no activities for me and there was also political reason.”
However, Baraje advised the National Assembly to avoid the temptation of stopping the railway projects, which he said had a 25-year span for all the phases to be completed.
“There should be adequate funding to get the projects to their logical conclusion,” he added.
Tukur too told the committee that his board never awarded any contracts.
Tukur told the committee that he became the board chairman in January 2014 and remained in office until the current administration dissolved the board.
The former PDP chairman stated that he presided over four board meetings and one emergency sitting to discuss issues bordering on project-monitoring, not the award of contracts.
He revealed that the management of the NRC merely presented a brief to him on contracts already awarded and at various stages of completion when he assumed office.
The projects included Lagos-Jeba (100 per cent); Jeba-Kano (75 per cent); Port Harcourt-Makurdi (48 per cent); Makurdi-Kafanchan-Kaduna-Jos (52 per cent); Zaria-Kaura Namoda (53 per cent); and Kuru-Maiduguri (29 per cent). “Throughout my tenure, my board did not award any contract, but I only established committees to monitor and ensure the implementation of the projects,” Tukur added.
On his part, Shuni, a former senator, claimed that as board chairman, he “never knew how contracts were awarded or how much they were awarded.”
But, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, asked the committee to do a thorough investigation to find out whether the “billions of naira” budgeted for the railway modernisation projects were judiciously spent.
Dogara said no person, “no matter how highly-placed,” would be spared if the investigation should reveal that they were culpable in any way.
He assured the committee of the backing of the House, saying that whenever necessary, bench warrants would be issued to compel appearances before the committee.
By Pita Ochai