By Abdulwasiu OLOKOOBA
ASMA’U a 13-year-old girl, was living in Gatawa village, Sabon Birni, Sokoto state, northwest Nigeria, where terrorist attacks were frequent.
She was in Junior Secondary School (JSS) 2 when her family decided to leave their belongings behind and move to Sokoto, the state capital, to avoid the danger.
As a young girl who dreamt of becoming a nurse, her major concern was for this change of environment, not to end her educational journey and put her in the same league with 18.5 million out-of-school children in the country.
Her parents informed her that there was a school close to their new home in Sokoto, and they would allow her to attend because the location was safe. This news brought her immense joy.
Asma’a’s new school is Government Girls Day Secondary School (GGDSS) at Federal Lowcost Arkilla, Sokoto. This school was established in 2005 to promote girls’ education in the state, but now the available facilities are not sufficient to accommodate the staff and the large number of students who enrol in the school.
In a bid to expand the capacity of this school, the state government, through the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, awarded a project titled, Expansion of Existing School GGDSS Arkilla Federal Lowcost Housing’ for a sum of N100,198,196.00 to Sunakhab Minerals Ltd in June 2022.
However, a visit to the school by this reporter in June 2023 showed that this project had not been executed.
The school principal, Binta Umar, revealed that the state government had not delivered any projects to the school in recent years, despite repeated complaints she had sent to the appropriate authorities about the school’s infrastructure inadequacy.
The principal added that the only new building on the school premises is an abandoned block of two classrooms built by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), a federal government agency.
“The only new project here is the UBEC project that was abandoned more than three months ago,” the principal revealed.
“One of the challenges we are facing is the shortage of classrooms, which, because of this we used to reject admission. We don’t have enough classes and chairs to admit more students,” an English language teacher in the school, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of intimidation, told SaharaReporters.
The teacher revealed further that the school started rejecting admission in 2021 when it commenced Senior Secondary School(SSS) classes.
He continued: “We can’t admit more than 40 students in a class because we don’t have enough classes and chairs, it’s only 20 chairs per 40 students in a class.
“And this year (2023), we received many in SSS 1. We also have some students on transfer from some local government in Sokoto and neighbouring states like Zamfara especially due to the issue of banditry.
“Many students were here because their parents left their villages due to insecurity,” the English language teacher added.
When asked about the estimated number of students the school had rejected their admissions since 2021, he said, “We have rejected not less than 40 girls from 2021 till now because we don’t have enough classrooms.”
“We are also facing the problem of vandalization of doors and padlocks which we have to buy new padlocks almost every two weeks because our school is not fenced,” he added.
Contract awarded to company with links to state procurement official -Kabiru Haliru
According to information obtained from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Kabiru Haliru, a public official of Sokoto state, is one of the directors and major shareholder of Sunakhab Minerals Ltd. This company was awarded a N100 million contract by the Sokoto Government to expand GGDSS Arkilla.
This is in breach of Section 69(9)(a-b) of the Sokoto State Bureau for Public Procurement and Price Intelligence (Amendment No.2) Law, 2020, which prohibits all state public officers from engaging in any procurement transactions that would confer any undue advantages to them.
Haliru was appointed as the Executive Secretary of the Due Process Office, known as Sokoto State Bureau Public Procurement and Price Intelligence Unit, by the immediate past governor of the state, Aminu Tambuwal, in 2016.
In 2022, he was appointed Permanent Secretary Sokoto State Ministry of Justice by immediate past Governor Aminu Tambuwal.
The CAC document shows that Haliru, the beneficial owner, incorporated the company Sunakhab Minerals Ltd two years after his appointment as the state procurement official.
The provision of the law reads: “Every public officer involved directly or indirectly in matters of public procurement shall:
(a)divest himself of any interest or relationships which are actually or potentially inimical or detrimental to the best interest of government and the underlining principles of this Law; and
(b) not engage or participate in any commercial transaction involving the state government, its ministries, extra-ministerial departments, corporations where his capacity as public officer is likely to confer any unfair advantage pecuniary or otherwise on him or any person directly related to him.”
Section 69(11)(b) also states that a conflict of interest will exist during the procurement process where a person “possesses a direct or indirect interest in or relationship with a bidder, supplier, contractor or service provider that is inherently unethical or that may be implied or constructed to be or make possible personal gain due to the person’s ability to influence dealings.”
N13m Project Awarded To Sunakhab For Construction Of Corpers Lodge
But it is not only the GGDSS Arkilla contract that was awarded to Haliru’s company.
The Sokoto State Ministry of Work and Transport on the June 21, 2022, also awarded N13,108,832.76 to Sunakhab Minerals Ltd for the construction of the ministry’s corpers’ lodge at Unguwar Rogo Area, Sokoto. This project appeared in the state procurement portal after a competitive bidding process.
When this reporter visited the location of this project in June 2023, it was realised that it was not executed. The old building of the lodge was met in a derelict state.
The roof of the room had fallen, and the environment appeared untidy.
According to a man who was met inside the lodge who identified himself as Mustapha Yusuf, the building’s watchman, the ministry did not conduct any renovation to the existing structure or build a new lodge during the seven months he was hired by the ministry to monitor the lodge.
“I was directed to relocate here by the ministry, l have been here since almost 7 months back, and I stayed with three people here before they left recently. All I know is that there was a time that an engineer told me that he came here and did some measurements,” Mustapha told this reporter.
When asked if he was aware that the ministry awarded a contract for the construction of the lodge, he declined to give a definite answer and directed the reporter to the ministry instead.
He said, “You know l work with the Ministry of Works, l work as watchman of the ministry, whatever happens, they will hold me responsible, even if they did any kind of fraud, you would know if you go there.”
A N51million survey office renovation project
Information found on the state e-procurement portal revealed that Sunakhab Minerals Ltd was also the company that was awarded N51,896,394.26 for a project titled, ‘Renovation of Survey Office including fencing of the whole complex’ in June 2022.
Investigation revealed that the N51 million project was yet to be executed twelve months after it was awarded. A staff of the survey office who spoke to this reporter anonymously confirmed that no rehabilitation was done to the complex despite repeated requests by the ministry to the government to do so.
“You can see nothing has been done here, did you see something new here,” he said rhetorically.
The state e-Procurement PORTAL also revealed that the ministry awarded the construction of drainages at TSAFE and AGAIE Roads, worth N105,165,027.50 and N105,182,047.50 respectively, on June 21, 2022 after competitive bidding processes to Sunakhab Minerals Ltd. ICIR’s Investigation revealed that these projects were not executed.
N48million awarded to Sunakhab for purchase Of 50 HP Laptop Computers and 100
Another project awarded by the Sokoto State government to Sunakhab Minerals Ltd is the purchase of 50 HP laptops and 100 tablets for school headteachers by the state Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education. Like the previous three projects, findings revealed that this was also not executed.
Visits to Waziri Model Primary School, Tudun Wada, Sokoto South, Yahaya Gysau Model Primary School, Old Airport, Range/Shuni and Akija Model Primary School, Yar’akiji, Sokoto North in June 2023 revealed that the state government had distributed neither laptop nor tablet to any of the school headteachers.
A teacher at Waziri Model Primary School claimed he once heard from the headteacher of Yakubu Muazu Science Model Primary School in Mabera, Sokoto, that he received a tablet from the government, and he, therefore, directed this report to visit the school to determine if the tablet was among the 100 tablets awarded to Sunakhab Minerals Ltd by the state government.
When the reporter visited Yakubu Muazu Science Model Primary School, he learned that a tablet had been provided to the headteacher. The tablet was a TecnoP703 model. The headteacher stated that the tablet was supplied to him by some group of people who came together with officials of the state Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education in early 2022 to conduct pupils’ data and register their attendance online.
But the headteacher said he could not confirm if the tablet was among the ones I was tracking.
To ascertain the real status of this project, this reporter met with the Chairman of Sokoto State Headteachers’ Association, Abubakar Moyi at his school, 500 Housing Primary School, Sokoto, Old Airport Area, Sokoto, who confirmed that the tablet this reporter saw at Yakubu Muazu was not procured by the state government.
He explained that the ‘BESD’ inscribed at the back of the tablet meant ‘Better Education Service Delivery’, revealing that it was one of the tablets shared by the Federal Government to the state with the support of the World Bank for the Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA) Operation Project in the country.
Abubakar went on to say that he was not sure if the Sokoto government had recently purchased any computers or tablets for headteachers because if they had, he would have heard about it and would have benefited as a result of his position.
The chairman equally urged this reporter to visit Magaji Rafi Model Primary School,
Turaki Model Primary School and Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa Model Primary School to see if any of the school headteachers there got a tablet from the state government.
“There is no way the government would distribute these tablets that I or any of these three schools I mentioned will not know,” the state headteachers’ association chairman told this reporter.
However, the headteachers of these primary schools told this reporter that they did not receive any laptops or tablets procured by the state government when the reporter visited them in June.
To get more details about the procurement process for the projects awarded to Sunakhab Minerals Ltd by the Sokoto State government, this reporter did Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and open source searches for all the three companies that appeared as bidders on the award of contract documents for the projects. These companies are: Nushema Precious Minerals LTD, Shenuus Solid Minerals LTD and Marbash Farms Limited.
Further investigations showed that all three companies share one email address, [email protected], and one physical address in Tambuwal, Sokoto State: No 5, Kebbe Road, Tambuwal, Sokoto State.
A visit to the address in August revealed that none of these companies has their office there. A nearby shop owner informed this reporter that in the more than five years he has been there, he has never heard of any of these firms.
An anti-corruption advocate,Nurudeen Salako, described what happened during the procurement processes of these contracts as ‘bid rigging’.
He said, “Yes (it’s bid rigging), because the rightful bidding contractors would have pushed forward for the contracts, but Haliru with his position, influence and connection as a public servant, would have grabbed the contract which he shouldn’t have bid for it in the first instance.”
Section 70(9)(b) of The Sokoto State Bureau for Public Procurement and Price Intelligence(Amendment No.2) Law, 2020 defines instances that can amount to ‘bid rigging’ to include “an agreement between persons whereby their conduct has had the effect of directly or indirectly restricting free and open competition distorting the competitiveness of the procurement processes and lending to an escalation or increase in cost or loss of value to the state treasury.”
Salako added that this reporter’s findings had further confirmed how corruption at the state level contributed to the lack of accountability, transparency and development in Nigeria.
He continued: “The anti-graft agencies, especially the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) must swing into action and further investigate the allegations against Kabiru Haliru and other conspirators to ensure that they face the wrath of the law.”
Sani Abdulqadir, a legal practitioner said a careful perusal of The Sokoto State Bureau for Public Procurement and Price Intelligence(Amendment No.2) Law, 2020 showed that Haliru, who is supposed to be the custodian and enforcer of the law has breached some vital provisions.
He said, by virtue of Section 70(5) of The Sokoto State Bureau for Public Procurement and Price Intelligence(Amendment No.2) Law, 2020, Kabiru’s altitudes put himself at risk of being liable for an offence to “a commutative punishment of a term of imprisonment of:
“(a) a term of imprisonment of not more than 2 years or N200,000.00 fine.
“(b) termination of appointment from government services.”
When this reporter contacted the three ministries involved in these contracts awarded to Sunakhab Minerals Ltd to get their reactions to our findings and asked why these projects were not executed, the officials directed him to contact the State Due Process Office, Public Procurement and Price Intelligence Unit, claiming it is the agency that is statutorily empowered to regulate matters of procurement in the state.
When this reporter contacted the Director of Architecture and Buildings in the Ministry of Work And Transport, Fatima A. Tunau, for her reaction to his findings via WhatsApp, she confirmed that her ministry truly participated in the pilot of the state e-procurement exercise during the former administration of Aminu Tambuwal.
She, however, claimed that it was the ministry’s Quantity Survey Officer and the State Bureau Public Procurement and Price Intelligence Unit that could provide more details on the procurement processes of the awarded contracts.
“Like I said, it was a pilot exercise the ministry participated in it. The Due Process Office concluded the procurement process. The Ministry QS (Quantity Survey) and desk officer to the Due Process E-Procurement office will give more details,” she told this reporter.
This reporter obtained the number of the ministry’s Quantity Survey Officer, identified as Hali Bodinga and called his mobile number. Speaking to this reporter via a telephone conversation, Bodinga, who claimed to be part of the procurement process, confirmed that the ministry truly awarded the N13,108,832.76 to Sunakhab Minerals Ltd for the construction of the ministry’s Corpers lodge at Unguwar Rogo Area, Sokoto.
He, however, denied knowing Sunakhab Minerals Ltd’s director and believed the project had yet to be prosecuted because the government did not release money for it.
“I don’t think the government has released money for the project because if they had released money, the company would have come to the ministry,” Bolinga stated.
He later directed this reporter to speak to the official of the state Due Process Office to get more details on the project and promised to send the official’s phone number.
A few minutes later, this reporter received a text message from Bodinga which read: “Name: Barr Kabiru Due Process. Phone1: 08036251117 Phone2: 08036251117.”
A review of the information acquired from the Corporate Affairs Commission(CAC) on Sunakhab Minerals Ltd revealed that the phone number provided by Hali to this reporter was the same as the one listed by the CAC as the Contact of Sunakhab Minerals Ltd‘s director, Kabiru Haliru.
Kabiru Haliru’s Response
Haliru, now a Permanent Secretary in the Sokoto State Justice Ministry, told this reporter over the phone that the reason for the non-execution of the multi-billion-naira projects was that they were not “formalised” by the state government.
He said, “The contracts were not formalised by the state government. It was initially intended just for the purpose of piloting the e-procurement. But it was not formalised. None of the contracts was formalised.
But when told that our investigation revealed that those companies involved in the procurement processes of these projects as found on the state e-procurement portal were linked to him, Haliru denied owning them.
“No. It is not true (they were not owned by me). You need to check very well,” he told this reporter despite informing him that there were documents obtained from CAC that linked him with this company.
This reporter told him that he would share these documents with him for his verification and he agreed. This reporter then proceeded to share the obtained from CAC details of Nushema Precious Minerals LTD, Shenuus Solid Minerals LTD and Sunakhab Minerals Ltd as direct messages to him on WhatsApp.
Haliru failed to reply after a signal showed he received and read the message. He did not pick up repeated calls made to his cell phone by this reporter for further comment.
* This investigation republished from Sahara Reporters is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.