CALABAR 2014: AFTER 4 YEARS, THE WASTED BILLIONS ON FESTIVAL THAT NEVER HELD

The night of 9th December 2012 was no doubt exciting for Cross River State athletes, coaches, officials and government functionaries. That was the night the National Sports Festival flag was handed over to the then state commissioner for Sports, Patrick Ugbe at a ceremony inside the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos.

Cross carpeting athletes, coaches who thrived in changing allegiances for cash and indeed Cross Riverians had a picture of what was to come in their minds in 2014, when all eyes would be focused on the Canaan City.

Like a nightmare, the hopes of these athletes melted into thin air, as years passed by with the festival suffering several postponements.

While athletes that had looked forward to the festival in Calabar voiced their dissatisfaction with the inability of Calabar that was handed the hosting right, the Cross River State Government was left perplexed.

The reason is not far-fetched. A visit to Calabar, an ancient town known for being the first capital of Nigeria revealed the pains of the people of the state.
Littered all over Calabar are sporting facilities that can be described as white elephant projects.

Abandoned projects worry CRSG

Collapsed Multi-Purpose Indoor Sports Hall

The UJ Esuene Stadium, Calabar is known to have played host to several local and international sporting events, including the Super Eagles and All Nigeria Athletics Championships to mention but a few.
However, aside from the main bowl of the stadium, the practice pitch is no longer in existence. The prominent structure that stares at you as you enter the stadium is that of the collapsed Multi-Purpose Indoor Sports Hall.

Before the project was abandoned, an executive summary of 20th October, 2014 by the then commissioner, Ministry of Special Projects, Bassey I. Oqua stated that the proposed Multi-Purpose Indoor Sports Hall was awarded to Messrs Henley Brecon and Mayfield on 15th August, 2013 on a turnkey basis at a cost of N2.22 billion with a completion period of 12 months. Actual works commenced on the site on 7th November 2013 and a completion date was put at end of August 2014. A recovery programme of work to deliver the project on 7th October 2014 was presented on 10th July 2014.

As the time the executive summary was written (20th October, 2014), the project delivery date had elapsed with only 30% completion level. The contractor according to the report had not shown evidence of capacity to deliver the project, despite the ‘notice of contract determination’ issued on 2nd June 2014. Total payment received by the contractor to date is N1.06 billion, which equivalent to 50%.

The report further stated that Henley Brecon & Mayfield Limited (HBML) at inception presented a project team made up of Tito Minty, Ozolua Giwa Amu (Henley Brecon & Mayfield Limited), Francis Udubor (Du Franc & Partners), Tunji Abisoye (Olatunji Abisoye Associates), Sunday Ibironke (Consultants Collaborative Partnership), Loriano Marion and Sam Ajose (Ral Construction Limited). The group was adjudged professionally competent to deliver the project on the terms contained in the RFP.

However, the report revealed that only Mr. Tito Minty was occasionally seen on the site after commencement of the project. The collapsed complex was to have a footprint of 8, 095sq. meters. The Hall was to provide for a capacity of 1, 621 persons. The building was to be executed in concrete and braced steel structural frame. Steel sandwich roof panels were specified for use on the roof. These were to be lined with sound absorbent material to eliminate the drumming effect of rain and acoustics. The walls were designed as a combination of profiled composite wall panels and hollow block work.
A call to a number allocated to him to get his own side of the story hit the brickwall as someone else picked and simply said wrong number.

The building was to house the following: Four Sports Courts, Gymnasia, two Squash Courts, a Medical Center, Offices, Sauna (male & female), Sports Shop, Cafeteria/Kitchen, Sports Café, Staff Rooms, VIP Lounge, Conference Rooms, Media Booths, Commentary booths, etc.

As at June 2014, the Multi-Purpose Indoor Sports Hall was grossly behind schedule for a festival that was due in November of the same year and an additional payment of N392.1 million In fact, there was a report of a major collapse of portion of the building on 23rd August 2014. At this point, it had become obvious that Messrs. Henley Brecon & Mayfield Limited lacked the capacity to execute the Multi-Purpose Indoor Sports Hall at the U J Esuene Stadium, Calabar. It was therefore recommended that the contract be terminated for unsatisfactory performance.

An athlete, who pleaded anonymity, told Daily Sunsports during the visit that it was by the grace of God that no athlete was injured when the structure collapsed.
“It’s unfortunate that the National Sports Festival did not hold as planned but again, I see it as a blessing in disguise. Imagine that the festival held and athletes and officials were in there, it would have been a huge disaster.”

The only project, which could be described as 90% complete is the Outdoor Basketball Courts close to the Swimming Pool. The company that was charged with the construction and provision of synthetic courts and fiber uprights, 3 Jays Nigeria Limited had supplied his requirements, but according to the Managing Director of the firm, Col. Sam Ahmedu (Rtd), an additional construction of a VIP seating area, changing room with toilet facilities were to be done. Construction had begun, but with funds not coming from the state government as was agreed, he had to stop work on site.

“Everything that was required of my company were delivered ahead of time, but when it was obvious that the state government was not keeping to her promises of meeting with her part of the agreement. For the playing arena, were 100% and for the VIP Stand, I can tell you confidently that we had reached 70%. The Cross River State Government has left me in debt and the banks are calling me on the loan repayment. I would appreciate if they do something about monies owed me.”

Unfinished facilities in satellite venues

The Cross River University of Technology (CRUTECH) and the Calabar Club were to serve as satellite venues and were billed to host sports, such as Volleyball, Handball, Hockey with a mini Stadium as part of the bargain while the Calabar Club was billed to host tennis.

A visit to both venues revealed that less than half of the proposed facilities were on ground till date.
Save for the changing rooms for the Volleyball courts, which were about 60% complete, materials for the rest of the works were found littered all over the site, with containers that were used in importing some of the materials scattered around the venue. The site for the mini stadium is overgrown with weeds as at the time of our visit. The non-construction of the facilities denied the institute a bid for the NUGA Games, which was planned to follow after the National Sports Festival.

The Calabar Club already had the centre court and other courts constructed and ready for use, but the only snag was the seating pavilion, which was to follow.

Otu Tennis, the company that was to carry out the construction revealed that following the directive of the Cross River State Government, which showed satisfaction for the work already done went ahead to obtain a loan to prosecute the construction of the pavilion, with a promise that money would be made available to him.

Mr. Otu, father of one of Nigeria’s outstanding tennis players- Gabriel Otu told Daily Sun that he had to abandon the work mid way when it became clear to him that the then state government under Liyel Imoke was not forthcoming with funds.

“As I speak to you, the bank is on my neck to repay the loan and I can’t pay. I have made several pleas to government on the issue, but they have turned deaf ears to my pleas. In fact, I don’t know where to run to again.”

Chairman, Cross River State Sports Commission, Orok Duke, who just returned from a medical trip, where he underwent surgery on his leg told us that he felt bad about the present state of sporting facilities in the state.

“Some of the contractors have gone to court on this issue. Nobody got less than 70% payment on the job. Calabar was the capital of Nigeria in 1914 and we had hoped to mark the state’s 100 years celebration in 2014 with the National Sports Festival. We are rushing to complete work on the facilities back then, and the governor had paid 70 percent of the money to all contractors. Most of these so-called contractors were even paid in Dollars.

“When President Buhari came in, the dollars turned to 400 and 350 Naira. They now added more payment to what they have bought. Meanwhile, they have bought all these before the dollar skyrocketed. And unfortunately for them, there is no room for delay, so we need to force them to go back to site. They are now trying to play smart and I told them, look you signed contract before I came to office.

“Let’s take the contractor that handled the swimming pool. The man took a whole lot of time doing one line of swimming pool, which cost about 120 million. I told them to make sure it is an Olympic size just to put an additional lane to make it 9 lanes. What some of these contractors were doing is totally unfair. In fact, some of them have ganged up against the state government and are threatening court action. We cannot be blackmailed because they signed documents before they commenced work. They have left us here with unfinished facilities that we can’t even use, making our effort in hosting the NSF meaningless.”

Wasted billions and debts

From documents available to Daily Sunsports, it was gathered that a total of N4.1 billion was proposed, of which the sum of N2.8 billion was paid out to contractors. Of the N2.8 billion, the sum of N1.5 billion was paid to the contractor that handled the Multi-Purpose Indoor Sports Hall, while N996.9 million is still left unpaid.

It is for this reason that some of the contractors were alleged to have threatened to go to court to ensure that their monies are paid.

However, the Cross River State Government was not ready to shift ground, given the number of uncompleted sporting facilities that littered the state.

By Joe Apu

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