For Eteidung James Samuel Akpan, the village head of Ndueotong Oku in Uyo Local Government Area, the announcement by the state governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, that the Akwa Ibom State Government will soon revisit the abandoned multi-million naira Ibom Science Park Project located in the community was the best Democracy Day gift he has had since the return of democracy to the country in 1999.
The governor had, during a media briefing with journalists in Uyo the state capital to mark the 2018 Democracy Day in the state, disclosed his intension to revisit the project with a view to bringing it back on stream to serve the original purpose it was earlier envisioned.
Ndueotong Oku is one of the three host communities of the Park located along the Uyo Village Road in Uyo Capital City.
To the royal father, the project which was started during the second term of the administration of Obong Victor Attah was to open up the area for development, but years after the ground breaking ceremony which was performed by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo on August 11, 2006, the area is still grappling with the reality of a dashed hope. The hope of the community being the landlord of the new vision to convert the state from a civil service economy to an industrial hub that would have automatically changed the status of the area to a mini city overnight. Despondency and despair replaced hope as the expected influx of commercial activities to the area because of the Park disappeared with the stoppage of work at the site.
Right now, the site of the project which sits on a large expanse of land though fenced round by the government is now serving as farm land to women of the community who moved in to cultivate water leaves and other vegetables in the fallow land as nature abhors vacuum.
Apart from farming, the site is just like any normal abandoned construction site with uncompleted buildings and few cargo containers strewn casually in the open. Some used equipment lay in a cluster around one of the makeshift shades while part of the site is ravaged by erosion and a new palm tree sprouts by the side of one of the buildings.
However, pathways have been created recently to provide access to the buildings and containers,indicating renewed interest of the state government in the project.
According to the report of the ad-hoc committee set up by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly on Thursday May 28, 2009, the project actually started in year 2000 under the then Bureau of Science and Technology.
The state government according to the report had in year 2000, through the Bureau, engaged the services of two consultants; Integrated Cognitive Technologies and Connect Technologies as technical partner and manager of the project with the sum of 197 million naira and 30 million naira, respectively.
They were however paid off in 2005 on the recommendation of the then special adviser, Bureau of Science and Technology, Dr Linus Asuquo, on the grounds that they have completed their work.
The report further stated that the Akwa Ibom State government entered into what it termed a “turnkey agreement” in 2006 with SBT Juul of 122 Pybus Road, 3rd Floor, Sandton, South Africa as the development manager for the Ibom Science Park and Technology with a completion period of 18 months.
The company is registered with the Corporate Affairs commission with registration number RC 618773 as SBT JULL Africa Ltd, 43 Aka Road, Uyo as its address and 10-03-2005 is captured as its registration date. However, the address, a four storey office complex has only the ground floor currently occupied by a Beauty Parlour, the rest of the floors are unoccupied as at the time of filling this report. Nobody on the ground floor seems to have heard anything about such a tenant when this reporter made enquires.
By 2007 when work actually stopped at the site of the project, the Bureau of Science and Technology had evolved to a full-fledged ministry with DrAsuquo now a Professor of Metallurgical Engineering in the University of Uyo, transmuting to a commissioner. The ministry therefore served as the client ministry and by extension the supervisor for the project which contract sum according to the letter of agreement was put at N5.8 billion naira.
Nature of the Project
The project which was to serve as an innovation laboratory for research and technological development of the state and the country was modeled after the Innovation Hub in Pretoria, South Africa. It was to also serve as the clearing house for the State University of Technology but the concept of the university was changed by the Godswill Akpabio administration to a conventional university.
The project had two companies managing it; the Ibom Science Park Company Limited and Ibom Science Park Free Trade Zone with the technological component of the project taking 50 per cent while civil work took 50 per cent.
Asuquo also told Weekend Pioneer that there was an additional component to the project which made provision for the Department of Customs and Excise as well as the Nigeria Immigration Service to complement the free trade zone.
The park, he disclosed, was not only an ICT affair but a complete village with its own power and water sources, stressing that if the next administration had completed the project it would have been one of the biggest revenue earners to the country, apart from oil. It was also targeted to employ about 1000 Nigerians just like the Innovation Hub in Pretoria, South Africa which, according to him, the science park was modeled after.
A False Start
On paper, the contract with SBT Juul was said to be a ‘turnkey’ project which invariably, according to google.com an online search engine, means “a firm agrees to fully design, construct and equip a manufacturing, business or service facility and turn the project over to the purchaser when it is ready for operation”.This was not the case with the contract SBT Juul entered into with the Akwa Ibom State Government for the Science Park project.Rather, the government had mobilized the company to move to site even before the proper documentation was done. In a supposed turnkey project which the contractor contributed virtually nothing financially, advance payment guarantee, APG and a performance bond is always a condition for the process of the contract award to be dully completed. The APG to the developer is to cover the mobilisation while the performance bond covers 100 per cent of the contract prize. Performance Bond is a written guarantee from a third party (Bank or Insurance Company) submitted to the client by the contractor on winning the bid. It serves as a guarantee against the failure of the contractor to execute according to the specification laid out by the contractor. It guarantees the client compensation for any monetary loss.
According to the House of Assembly Committee Report, these conditions were not fulfilled by SBT JUUL as the then secretary of the finance and general purpose committee, FGPC, Barr Eno Iduot, had testified before the committee that she had never seen such documents. The commissioner also admitted not sighting such documents before entering into a formal agreement.
The committee also noted that the contract was awarded on the 27th September, 2005 but the agreement was signed on 30th January 2006, however mobilization of N820million was paid on 9th November 2005 before entering into a formal agreement.
The committee therefore concluded that the contract for the Science Park did not follow due process.
Questionable Bidding Process
The due process of a contract of this magnitude must pass through the FGPC, who after deliberations would forward same to the state executive council for approval. And if approved would be sent back to the FGPC for the process of tendering. The process is usually advertised for competent firms to tender.
However, some contracts or projects that are very technical like the Science Park, are sometimes not subject to open tendering. The client is at liberty to call for at least three or more competent companies based on their track records of past performances on similar projects to bid for the project. If this is done, advertisement may be dispensed with.
In the case of the Ibom Science Park, the contract was approved by the state executive through the FGPC. The process of the award of the contract did not go through any tendering. Rather, on December 1, 2003, a panel interviewed three architectural/engineering firms in Sandton, South Africa with the aim of finding a suitable master planner /developer for the Ibom Science and Technology Park. The venue of the interview according to documents available to the Assembly committee was the Conference Room, 3rd Floor 122 Pybus Road Sandton, South Africa. The three companies; Technoparc High Tech, L M Technopole and SBT Juul were the companies invited for the interview. At the end, the panel recommended that SBTJuul should be chosen for the contract for six billion naira or equivalent of $46, 186,968.00 then.
What this means is that the panel sat in the office of one of the bidding firms and later awarded the job to the owner of the office for creating what it terms ‘best impression ‘ and not because it was found to be more competent than the other two firms. This was not due process neither was it morally right as the word best impression is relative and could have meant so many things at that time.
Money Paid Out By Government And Level Of Work Done
From the result of the Assembly investigation, it is clear that the total cost incurred in the course of executing the project to its present status were as follows: Integrated Cognitive Technology—N196m,Connect Technology Limited— N30m, Ibom Science Park Account (other Expenditure) N192, 783,326.00, making a Total of N418, 783,326, while Total Money Expended was N5,618 , 783,326.
The committee also engaged the services of an estate valuer and an engineering consulting firm to assess the actual work done on the site and other components of the job. It was discovered by the two consultants that N5.2 billion and concluded that the level of work done was not commensurate with the money paid. It therefore concluded that funding was not the problem of the project but implemtnation.
Did SBT Juul Have The Capacity To Deliver?
The company, as earlier stated is an architectural firm based in South Africa. Its claim to have built the Innovation Hub in South Africa was discovered by the House of Assembly Committee to be false. According to the report, the company has not developed nor has it ever been part of the development of such a project in any part of the world. Here, Frank Okon differs, he defended the competence of the company insisting that it was involved in the building of the innovation hub in the University of Pretoria, South Africa and also the building of the Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort, formerly Le’Meridien Ibom Hotels and Golf Resort in Uyo.
Okon, a former special assistant to Governor Attah on technical matters said the company was not involved with the ICT components of the Park hence it should not be blamed for the failure of the project even as he insisted that the ICT components were duly imported, cleared at customs and delivered at the site. The Assembly committee report acknowledged this but queried why the equipment was ready when the house to accommodate them was not.
He rather blamed the succeeding government whom healleges refused to release money for the completion of the project.
A call to Innovation Hub in South Africa did not confirm Okon’s position neither did they respond to enquiries on the issue through email.
The committee also discovered that some of the communication components of the Park were purchased and shipped to the site without any place for installation.
Prof Linus Asuquo on his part refused to comment on the competence of SBT Juul to handle the job but insisted that the project was still viable fifteen years after it started.
Enquiries on the Facebook page of SBT Juul did not yield any response connected to their competence. They refused to answer any of the questions sent to them. Their office in Uyo according to enquires from the Corporate Affairs Commission; 43 Aka Road yielded no result as the place is currently a beauty parlour.
However, a search on their Facebook timeline threw up a news publication from Vanguard Newspaper of April 20,2011 that sought an amicable resolution of the problem between SBTJuul and the Akwa Ibom State Government. The said publication captioned ‘Ibom Science Park contractor seeks amicable resolution,’gives an insight into why the project was abandoned by the contractor and the part the succeeding government in the state played.
That report so far serves as the official response of the contractor, SBT Juul of Africa to the entire Ibom Science Park brouhaha.
Prof Asuquo and Mr Frank Okon believe the project is still viable and should be revived. Asuquo specifically stated that there is no way the current state government can have industrialization of the state as its core objective and not resort to a Science Park as its research and incubation hub to warehouse technology. Okon, who spoke from London, disclosed that he was presently consulting for Oxford to build a Science Park, insisting that even developed nations were still warehousing innovations which will later be expanded into commercial ventures that bring in revenue to their countries far in excess of natural resources.
Governor Udom Emmanuel To The Rescue
On assumption of office on May 29, 2015 as the governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel promised not to play politics with the development of the state. He promised to continue with projects his predecessors could not complete as long as those projects had economic importance to the state. One of such projects is the abandoned Science Park. True to his promise, the project is in advanced stage of resuscitation as the Gov Emmanuel’s administration has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with an Australian-based company with Chinese affiliations, SERGE Capital Investments Company Limited for the completion and management of Ibom Science and Technology Park in Akwa Ibom.
Speaking on the occasion, the State Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel hinted that the Ibom Science and Technology Park is receiving priority attention from his Government as science and technology is the underpin of development across the world.
The Governor who was represented by the secretary to the state government, SSG, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem said that in reviving the Ibom Science and Technology Park, the State will adopt a bottom up approach to ensure that those incubated at the park would move up to set up cottage industries in the local communities.
He said the initiative is geared towards enhancing the human empowerment agenda of the state government and promised the investors of government’s cooperation and support in the completion of the project.
Speaking earlier, the Commissioner for Science and Technology, Prof. Nse Essien who described the event as epochal stressed that the signing of the MOU was a culmination of series of discussions with investors on the completion of the Ibom Science and Technology Park.
He said the state governor; Mr. Udom Emmanuel was determined to ensure that Akwa Ibom State becomes a front line state in science and technology assuring that the science and technology park when completed will open a window of vast opportunities for young scientists and innovators.
The President of SERGE Capital Investment Limited, Mr. Greg Todd in his remarks said they will combine resources from Australia, China and the local communities to develop industry, agriculture, infrastructure and trade under a model that will be world class.
He assured that his outfit is ready to reinvent the operational philosophy of the science park in conformity with world leading technologies in order to ensure sustainable development of economic, environmental and social sectors of the State.
Mr Greg Todd and the company secretary, Mrs Sally Conoid signed the MOU on behalf of the company while the Commissioner for Science and Technology, Prof. Nse Essien, the Executive Chairman of Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation (AKICORP), Dr. Elijah Akpan, the Chairman of Foreign Direct Investment in the State, Mr Gabriel Ukpe and the Permanent Secretary in the office of the Secretary to the State Government, Mrs Eno Offiong signed on behalf of the State Government.
The event featured a presentation of some inventions by Mr Nse Esu, an Akwa Ibom budding scientist and innovator. Some of the inventions presented include; Electric Source Indicator, Automatic Source Control System, Automatic Change over Switch, Solar Charge Controller, Automatic Water Pump Control Switch and Generator Shutdown System.
And like the village head, the Ndueotong Oku village council chairman, Mr Enefiok Samuel, believes the resuscitation of the park will bring relief and the needed succor to the people of the community stressing that having waited for more than twelve years since the ground breaking ceremony of the Park his people and the entire state will give the state government all the support it need to get the project running.
He however pleaded with the state government to construct all the link roads within the area because of the expected influx of traffic to the area.