PANTAMI, NCC IN N10BILLION PROCUREMENT SCAM; CONTRACT AWARDED VIA SELECTIVE TENDER

It appears the monster of corruption has overshadowed operations at the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, once regarded as a zero-corruption agency and one of the most efficient in the notoriously corrupt Nigerian public sector.

This time, contracts worth over N10 billion had been awarded through shady selective tenders against the rules of the Public Procurement Act which stipulates that contracts should be procedurally advertised, bids received and evaluated and winners selective through competitive bidding process.

Investigations by our reporter revealed that contracts all amounting to billions of naira were not advertised but were awarded through the back
door using selective tender thus by-passing the NCC Management Tenders Board which is recognised in the eyes of the law.

Our investigations showed that this was not the norm in the past but it became the practice since Dr. Ali Isa Pantami became the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. Pantami, it was learnt, has turned the NCC into his personal estate and could hire any staff at his own behest. The minister was said to have hired, singlehanded, dozens of staff including changing the leadership of the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), a unit under the NCC which is responsible for the award of big contracts for the establishment of digital hubs in tertiary institutions across the country and other capacity-building mega projects.

Our inquiries at the commission and the ministry showed that staff operate in fear and inclement workplace culture orchestrated by Pantami’s brash attitude and arbitrariness.

In the case of the award of contracts without due process, it was learnt that using the alibi of Covid-19, the NCC was bullied by the minister to apply and obtain waiver from the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, to apply selective tender for special contracts. Selective Tender is used for specialised jobs/contracts requiring high skills, like jobs on satellite technology, which may not be available locally, but rather than stick to this principle, NCC has abused it, applying it to all contracts thus robbing qualified Nigerians of the opportunity to bid or have their bids given fair hearing.

A staff in the ministry who is in the know confided in our reporter that more than 95 percent of recently awarded contracts go to the minister and the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Professor Umar Danbatta through their cronies. The staff also hinted that some BPP staff may be sharing from the proceeds or direct beneficiaries of the illegally awarded contracts.

NCC, according to the staff, has jettisoned the bids submitted to it in 2018 following its adverts in newspapers in November of that year. Rather than treat the bids in line with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, the NCC has resorted to secretive and selective tenders, the staff added.

Findings by our reporter showed that other agencies in the mist of Covid-19 pandemic still advertise and process bids for contracts in accordance with the provisions of the Procurement Act.

For instance, on June 3, this year, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC,  Mr Fidet Okhiria, said the corporation had begun processing of Expression of Interest (EOI) by 1,100 bidders for 2021 capital projects. Okhiria, who was represented by Director Operations of NRC, Mr Niyi Alli, said the processing was conducted publicly for transparency in line with the Procurement Act. He said the NRC adhered to COVID-19 protocols by allowing 150 bidders at a
time during the processing of their documents.

Staff of the Ministry of Communications are wondering why the NCC, once reputed for openness, would engage in under-hand contracts award hiding under the cover of Corvid-19 pandemic when other agencies of government have applied transparency under the same Covid-19 parameters.

Ministry insiders told our reporter that the NCC has lost its independence under the spell of Pantami, adding that the NCC is nothing but an appendage of the minister’s office. “NCC has an anti-corruption office but with the over-bearing influence of Panatmi, corruption is now the new culture at the commission. What used to be the Management Tenders Board of the NCC recognised by law has been effectively replaced
by the ‘minister’s tender board,’ a source said.

Early this year, news broke of how some senior management staff of the commission were enmeshed in a N122 million fraudulent trips claims.

A ministry staff recalled that in March 2020, Pantami in the crudest show of breach of protocol and public office decorum was caught on camera hushing and later struggling for the microphone with Danbatta, regarded widely as a gentleman, at a public function in which President Muhammadu Buhari was present.

According to the staff, that show of impunity demonstrates how Panatmi has pocketed and abused operations in the NCC, a regulatory body, the source said, that “has grown the telecoms industry from nothing to an over $70 billion industry.”

The spokesman for the NCC, Ikechukwu Adinde, could not be reached on his 08102672795 mobile line as his number failed to connect at the time of
filing this report.

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