By NBF News

The Federal Government has pre-qualified five construction firms for the completion of the abandoned mausoleum of the first Nigeria's ceremonial president, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. He died May 11, 1996. The mausoleum project was started 15 years ago by the administration of late maximum dictator, General Sani Abacha, immediately after the death of the late Owelle of Onitsha, popularly called Zik of Africa.

But the project, which was about 40 per cent completion, has been abandoned by successive administrations while it had also witnessed constant change of its contractors. But in a public statement, signed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban development, Mr. E.I. Ogbile, five firms were pre-qualified by government to complete the project.

The pre-qualified firms included Akota Works Ltd, Bouygues Nig. Ltd, Catan Inte'l Ltd, Jeco Global Ltd and Konstrucia Nig Ltd. The companies have been asked to submit their bids for the completion of the project on or before Monday November 21, 2011. The Zik mausoleum, which has become a source of embarrassment to the government and the family of the late statesman, was initially awarded to an Owerri-based construction firm, Lemmy Akakem and Company.

The original concept of the mausoleum was conceived and designed by the Abacha administration to serve as a national monument and tourists centre in recognition of the late politician's unparalleled contributions, not only to Nigeria but to Africa and black race in general.

It was designed to house Zik's grave, a library and a conference room. Unfortunately, the project has been subjected to series of political manipulation, delay and outright abandonment while politicians have also subjected the place to unfulfilled campaign promise. Investigations showed that the contractor handling the matter, stopped work even before Abacha's death in 1998. His successor, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar did not even touch it.

In 1999, when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was campaigning, he was said to have visited Zik's grave inside the mausoleum and promised to complete the project as soon as he assumed power. His then Minister of Works, Chief Tony Anenih, was said to have visited the mausoleum and disclosed the intention of Obasanjo administration to shop for a foreign contractor to handle the project.

Few months, the project was re-awarded to the first contractor, which also worked on the mausoleum for about a year, when some white expatriate consultants visited the project site and condemned the standard of work done.

The Federal Government's decision to terminate the project led to a legal action initiated by Akakem and which dragged for about two years before the court disposed off the case in favour of the government. The administration of the late President Umaru Yar'Adua was said to have also showed some interest in the project and re-awarded it to another firm, Berton Bau with nine months deadline to complete the project. The company never did any substantial work on the project, as Zik's first son and incumbent Owelle of Onitsha, Chief Chukwuma Azikiwe stated, it lacked the capacity to handle the mausoleum.

Nothing was done since then until President Goodluck Jonathan took over from his boss in 2009. The President was said to have expressed more than passing interest in the completion of the project, leading to recent invitation of bids from contractors.

The pre-qualification of five firms for the project, therefore, served as a big relief, not only to the immediate members of Zik's family but to his numerous political associates and supporters across the African continent.

The fact that Ogbile's statement listed the Zik mausoleum as the first on the list of proposed works and services to be embarked upon by the government further reinforced the commitment of Jonathan administration in completing the mausoleum.

However, Ogbile's statement that the project and 'final conclusion of this procurement process is subject to availability of funds and the evolving priority programmes/projects in the transformation agenda of the Federal Government' has raised concerns on the seriousness of the government in completing the mausoleum and give the late Owelle his deserved honour and recognition among world leaders.