Three former Nigeria Railway Corporation’s (NRC) chairmen – Bamanga Tukur, Abubakar Baraje and Ladan Shuni – have denied knowledge of multi-billion naira rail contracts awarded during the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.
The men spoke at a hearing by the Johnson Agbonayinma-led House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee investigating the Federal Ministry of Transport, NRC and Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (SURE-P) on the award of contracts between 2010 and 2014.
They said as board chairmen, they had no power to award contracts.
Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi and the ministry’s permanent secretary were absent at the hearing.
Baraje, who spoke first at the session, told the committee not to waste its time, but to “beam your searchlight on the ministry”, adding: “That’s where you get your facts and figures”.
He said inactivity, non-functionality and being rendered as a toothless bulldog and other political reasons made him to resign six months after his appointment.
He explained that he presided over only one board meeting and one emergency meeting in the six months.
“My board did not play any role in contract awards because the ministry said the Procurement Act has excluded the board from any role in the awards of contracts,” he said.
He added that the board was notified of contracts awarded, foreign loans obtained for railway projects and the money released from SURE-P through the Office of the Vice President.
Tukur and Shuni, in their testimonies, agreed with Baraje, explaining that though the NRC Act empowered the board to award contracts to certain limits above the managing director, they were emasculated.
The managing director, they said, deprived the board members of travel allowances, adding that the selection of consultants and contractors was clothed in secrecy.
Baraje gave the committee a copy of a report by one of the standing (monitoring) committees on Eastern flank, describing it as “very revealing”.
The Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, said following the huge funds borrowed and sunk into the railways without results, the committee should be thorough in its investigation.
He said the House was ready to expose corruption.
“This time around, no such person(s) will have a president to run to for cover or protection from appearing before you to answer questions regarding allegations of corruption against him,” he said.
The Speaker directed the committee to “ascertain if the contractors that won the contracts were qualified core players in the rail subsector and if the bid process conformed with laid down procedures and processes.
Dogara said the committee must unearth the billions of dollars spent on contracts for rehabilitation and maintenance of rail tracks, construction of standard gauges, bridges, procurement of locomotive wagons and coaches from 2010-2014.
He encouraged the committee to issue a warrant of arrest on anyone that declines the invitation of the committee.
Agonayinma noted that the bad state of the country’s rails affected the economy negatively.
“The contribution of transport to our Gross Domestic Products ( GDP) has been on the downward trend due to poor state of rails, thereby resulting to an economic loss of N450 billion annually,” he said.