As the Continuity Bill that seeks to criminalise the abandonment of projects by governments passes its second reading at the National Assembly, there is a growing concern on how the law will be enforced.
Presently, there is a Bill in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly seeking to compel governments at all levels to adopt planned development and ensure that all abandoned projects are completed, with zero abandoned projects henceforth.
Senator Jibrin Barau (APC, Kano North) sponsored the ‘Compulsory Development Planning and Project Continuity Bill, 2021’. He lamented the 11,886 abandoned federal and state projects identified in 2011 by the Presidential Projects Assessment Committee, saying that the nation will be consigned to utter retrogression unless this ugly trend is checked.
While many Nigerians share the concerns expressed by the sponsor and his colleagues whose support helped to push it beyond the second reading, they are afraid about the practicality of the Bill, because any law that cannot be enforced is not a law and should not be made in the first place.
The Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, had at a time signed the Ekiti State Transition Bill into law, to prevent state governments from abandoning projects initiated by past administrations.
The law is aimed at checking the wanton abandonment of projects “simply because they were not initiated by the incumbent and to avoid successive governments from abandoning government projects”, the governor noted.
Mr. Fayemi, also a former governor of the state, said though he disagreed with some of the projects initiated by the Fayose administration, he would not abandon them because that would mean abandoning the resources of the state.
“It was my government that completed some of the roads started by Oni. It was my government that completed Ipoti-Odo Owa-Ila Orangun Road, Otun-Osun-Iloro Road, Isan–Ilemeso Road. We also completed the House of Assembly Complex. It has always been our intention to see governance in a continuum frame”, the Governor said.
In addition, during the reign of Ibrahim Magu as the former acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the commission hinted of its intention to approach the National Assembly with a bill seeking a new legislation against corrupt behaviour by political office holders.
The move, according to the former acting chairman of the commission, will serve as a deterrent to successive governments which abandon projects into which state funds have been invested.
Citing media reports that the Niger Delta Ministry that has over 90 per cent of its projects in the region abandoned, Magu expressed regret that Nigeria is littered with abandoned projects. He noted at the time that the commission was ready to wrestle the challenges of poorly conceived and politically motivated projects, lack of continuity in the execution of projects by successive governments, and non-adherence to procurement and contractual agreements by parties.
It is unfortunate that many projects into which humongous sums of the country’s scarce resources had been invested are abandoned at various stages of execution, with most of them rotting away and over grown with weeds. These are projects that, if completed, would have added value to lives of the citizens, especially the host communities.
Reasons adduced for project abandonment include legal impediments, fund diversions, delay in disbursement of funds, high prices of building materials, high interest rate, poor locations, as well as unclear exit strategy for some developers from the off-takers’ angle.
Some of the root causes of project abandonment in Nigeria are lack of well-articulated visions and objectives, lack of adequate planning for the project at inception, inadequate budgetary allocation before projects are embarked upon, ineffective legal system, poor contract documentation, corruption, and collusion.
Others include lack of municipal services, non-release of government white papers on investigations carried out on abandon of projects, lack of continuity, and absence of institutional’ long term strategic plans to address government’s ambiguity in contract documentations.
There is no doubt that the abandonment of projects brings adverse effect on the beauty of the nation’s environment, real properties and its values, as well as the economy, since some of the development projects provide the basic services that should meet the needs of the people.
The pervasive institutional mediocrity and poor coordination between government officials create loopholes which contractors capitalise on to frustrate projects, thus leading to abandonment. Contractors are allowed to draft contract agreements which, not unexpectedly, are in their favour, against the interest of government.
To this end, the questions analysts are asking are how can a law that criminalises the abandonment of projects by previous governments be enforced? Will it be after their tenure? What happens if the government finds the project incompatible with their campaign promises and plans?
Can a president, governor, or ruling party be sued for refusal to continue with any project initiated by their predecessors considered as “white elephant” or out of tune with their own development vision? Can a court force a president or governor or ruling party to fund such projects? If they refuse, can they be jailed or sanctioned?
It is believed in some quarters that if the National Assembly acts precipitously on the bill, it may come up with an additional legislation to provide for fines and sanctions against contractors, thereby ensuring a decrease in the number of abandoned projects in Nigeria.
Apart from the role played by corrupt government officials, it is also believed that the over N5 trillion worth of abandoned projects scattered all over the country are primarily as a result of contractors’ neglect.
Analysts are also of the view that the amendment to the Public Procurement Act by the National Assembly will help to a great extent in addressing issues of abandoned projects. An effective procurement process is very important because the procedure for awarding contracts hinge on the basic principles of procurement as well as tendering and selection of capable hands to execute the projects.
Without denying the fact that well-trained project managers should be used in project supervision, it is also important to note that the consequence of government agencies selecting contractors believed to be capable without transparent procedures in place can be counter-productive.
It is worthy to note that some relevant aspects of the legal system must be reviewed if the nation must address the loopholes of ex-parte orders used in frustrating litigation of offenders in breach of contract agreements, corruption, and compromise.
In the same vein, government at all levels should try as much as possible to speedily release administrative white papers on investigations carried out on abandoned projects with a view to sanctioning erring government officials and contractors