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BREAKING: INVESTIGATION: Nigerian lawmaker delivered rehabilitated building as new under constituency projects

A member of the House of Representatives, Jonathan Gaza, and the Lower Benue River Basin Development Agency (LBRBDA) colluded in a N30 million constituency project scandal, an investigation by UDEME has revealed.

Mr Gaza, a three-term member of the House, nominated a project for the construction of a facility for the rehabilitation and integration of drug abuse victims in Keffi, Nasarawa State in 2020. But instead of constructing a building as provided in the budget, the lawmaker, in connivance with the implementing agency, renovated an existing one. It is not clear if the contractor deliberately participated in the deception or just did the work assigned to it.


UDEME, a social accountability project of the Center for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), while investigating the management of Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIP) of federal lawmakers, discovered the project nominated by Mr Gaza in 2020, under which appropriation was made for the construction of a centre for the rehabilitation and integration drug abuse victims in Keffi.

For a nation combating drug abuse especially among the youth, the nomination of such a project ordinarily commands commendation. However, the implementation of the project lacks transparency.

A desk review by this reporter showed that N10 million was allocated to the project in the 2020 federal budget after which a contract for the execution of the project was awarded to Ava-More Nigeria Limited, a Benue-based company, at a cost of N26.5 million. In 2021 and 2022, the project also appeared in the budget with N10 million again allocated in each of the years.

To confirm if the budgeted sums were released for the project, UDEME contacted the Office of the Account-General of the Federation (AGF) to ask how much was released for the project.

The office confirmed that all the funds budgeted for the project in 2020, 2021, and 2022 (a total of N46.5 million) had been released.

Search for the location of the project……

An assignment to locate the site of the project sent this reporter pounding the streets of Keffi, because of the poor description of the site in the project documents. The reporter looked for the construction site of a new rehabilitation centre but without any luck. Hours of working the phone also provided little results in locating the site of the project.

Pictures from LBRBDA claiming is a new construction and that of UDEME findings (1)

When UDEME contacted Mr Gaza for information on the location of the project site, he did not pick up several calls placed to his line or respond to text messages.

The whole of March 2023 was spent interviewing residents and relevant officials for the location of the project with no result. Most of those asked said they had no idea of any ongoing construction for a rehabilitation centre.

That was until Makama Dauda, a staff member of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in Keffi, hinted at an ongoing renovation of a public facility along Government College Road in Keffi. However, he could not tell who was doing the work.

The facility Mr Dauda referred to is the Centre for Drug Abuse Victims in Keffi, owned and managed by the Centre for Drug Abuse Victims in Keffi.

However, since the project Mr Gaza nominated was labelled in the budget as “construction of a building,” not rehabilitation, this reporter initially did not establish a connection between the two.

Back-view before painting{Photo-James Aparshe}

When the reporter contacted an aide to Mr Gaza, Theophilus Egoh, he denied that his boss nominated any such project. However, the aide later called back and offered to facilitate a trip to the location.

Last year, Musa Abubakar, another aide of the lawmaker, took UDEME to the site of the project. Interestingly, the project turned out to be the same centre disclosed earlier by the NDLEA officer.

The building Mr Abubakar showed the reporter is an old dilapidated structure inside a bush being rehabilitated with a new roof, windows and doors.

Backview after renovations

This discovery raises the question: how did a construction project turn to “rehabilitation? At what point did the scope of the work on the project change?

Mr Abubakar tried to provide answers to the questions.

“The renovations started a year ago and it was stopped shortly before the general elections. But as soon as the elections are over, work will resume,” Mr Abubakar said last April

This claim by the lawmaker’s aide was false because the government has been allocating funds to the project since 2020, according to the Office Account-General of the Federation.

Furthermore, UDEME noticed there was no signpost to indicate an ongoing project at the location. Was this a ploy by the handlers of the projects to dodge accountability?

In October 2023 when this reporter again visited the site, only the roof, doors and windows had been added to the old structure.

Tracing the origin of the project

Investigation revealed that the building belonged to the Nasarawa State Ministry of Works and Housing.

The President of the board of the Centre for Rehabilitation of Drug Abuse Victims in Keffi, Abubakar Madaki, explained the origin of the centre.

He said after the non-governmental organisation decided that it needed space for proper rehabilitation of drug addicts, it approached the Nasarawa State government during the administration of former Governor Tanko Almakura (2011 – 2019) for help. He noted that the Emir of Keffi, Shehu Chindo, played a major role in the organisation’s efforts. Mr Madaki explained that the former governor allocated an abandoned building of the Ministry of Works and Housing for the organisation’s use.

He said that due to the lack of funds, the organisation approached Mr Gaza for help with the renovation of the building.

“I have been the president of the centre for about 20 years now without a place to use aside from the small office we are occupying. I and the Emir of Keffi solicited government assistance and the former governor, Al-Makura, handed us this place. Afterwards, we approached Honourable Jonathan Gaza to bring his constituency project for us at the centre.

“So, the lawmaker came and saw this place, then he started renovating. It is not a new building,” he said.

Front-view after renovation{Photo-James Aparshe}

However, the lawmaker listed the project as “construction” instead of rehabilitation. And so, for three consecutive years, the government allocated funds to build a new building.

Was the label on the budget a clerical error? Was the work mislabeled as “construction” instead of “renovation”?

Implementation agency responds

In the course of its investigations, UDEME, through an FOI request to LBRDA, asked for the status of the project, the exact location, the total amount released and the details of the contractor handling the project.

In response to the FOI request, LBRDA sent a 10-page document outlining the details of the project and the total funds released so far.

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However, in its letter of 23 October 2023, LBRDA maintained the false title, describing the project as “the building of development centre for drug abuse victims rehabilitation and integration in Keffi LGA, Nasarawa State”.

LBRDA claimed that the contractor did substructure work, including evacuation and earthwork, concrete work, reinforcement, formworks and blockworks.

On the main structure, the agency said the contractor did block works, reinforcement of columns, concrete work, formworks for columns, lintel and beam.

It said additional works included root covering, wood works, ceiling works, metal works, plumbing installation, walls, doors, and windows.

When UDEME visited the site again in March 2024, we discovered that the building had been fully rehabilitated. However, the only construction done was the demarcation of some parts of the building as toilets.

Frontview-after renovation{Photo-James Aparshe}

Eazi Benjamin, an engineer, during a phone interview with this reporter, said the title of the project was misleading. He noted that “building is the process of making a new structure while rehabilitation is the art of breaking a part of an already existing building to add some part.”

This project further highlights the inefficiency and corruption in the implementation of the zonal intervention projects (ZIPs). The ZIPs are proposed inserted by lawmakers into the annual federal budget. They choose the government agency they want to execute the project and often nominate the contractor to whom the project would be awarded. Many times, the projects are poorly done or not done at all despite the release of funds.

The anti-graft agency, ICPC, which has investigated the ZIPs, has also lamented the corruption inherent in it and has gotten some lawmakers to return the funds released for the projects or gotten them to implement the projects years after the funds were released.