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Details of the report by the Senate ad-hoc committee on mounting humanitarian crisis in the North East, has revealed how the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babachir Lawal, used the Presidential Initiative for the North East, PINE, to collect bribes and kickbacks for illegally awarded contracts.
The senate committee, chaired by Kaduna State lawmaker, Shehu Sani, had indicted Lawal for abuse of office and disregard of the nation’s procurement laws, asking President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend and prosecute the SGF.
PINE was created by the federal government to help in the efforts at rebuilding infrastructure and rehabilitating millions of victims of Boko Haram insurgency that has devastated Nigeria’s North East.
According to the report by the Senate ad-hoc committee, the suspended SGF converted PINE into a money making enterprise, using the agency to award contracts to cronies whose firms did not pass the requirements set by law.
The Senate report contained evidences of bank transactions from commercial banks and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, as well as evidences from the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, and documents from the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP.
According to the report, the major company in contention, Rholavision Engineering Limited, is owned by Lawal and shares the same Bank Verification Number, BVN, with his personal account and 13 other accounts in commercial banks.
Lawal was still the signatory to the account of Rholavision until February 15, 2017.The report shows that at least five companies at various times, paid about N450 million to the Eco Bank account (182001809) of Rholavision, and his private account (0003004417) with Diamond Bank.
These payments were made after the companies have been awarded contracts by PINE.Between March 29, 2016 and April 20, 2016, Josmon Technologies Limited transferred N317 million to Rholavision after receiving two contracts worth N530.6 million for the removal of invasive plant species in Yobe State, the senate report revealed.
The transfers were made in tranches, mostly N10 million per transaction, and N47 million on the last day.
Meanwhile, Rholavision itself had on March 8, 2016, been awarded the consultancy contract for the “grass cutting” contract, in breach of Nigeria’s code of conduct for public officers and the Public Procurement Act.
Also, the suspended SGF was involved in other fraudulent award of contracts using PINE as a guise.
The Senate ad-hoc committee’s report showed that a company JMT Global Technologies Ltd, on August 8, 2016, transferred N30 million to Rholavision, after the former had been awarded a N199.4 million contracts for “rehabilitations/renovations in Adamawa” State.
Another contractor, Adamawa Boreholes and Drilling Companies Ltd, which was awarded N54.8 million contract to renovate seven classrooms at Yeskule Girls Secondary School, Michika Adamawa State, transferred N18 million to Lawal’s company after the contract sum was paid.
Yet another contractor, Barde Brothers Multi-Services Limited which was also awarded seven contracts to renovate classrooms in Adamawa State at the total cost of N145 million, returned N71 million to Lawal’s company account on October 10, 2016, and paid in another N13 million between July 7, 2016 and September 9, 2016 to his private account.
Between November 2015 and July 2016, PINE received over eight billion naira out of which N6.8 billion was expended on projects and N231.5 million on recurrent expenditures.
The Senate committee report showed that PINE “awarded 39 contracts to various companies to carry out the removal of invasive plant species plants, rehabilitation/renovation works, food supplies, consultancy services and provision of shelter (supply of tarpaulin cabins) etc.”
But all the contracts were awarded with flagrant disregard to the Public Procurement Act.
None of the bidders for all the contracts had the full requirements stipulated in section 16 of the Public Procurement Act including CAC registration, tax payment, PENCOM certificate, VAT, ITF and BPP registration.
Some of the companies disqualified by the BPP, include Josmon, Rholavision, Adamawa Borehole, Dantex and Yuby Ventures, but all of them eventually got contracts.
The report also revealed the procurement process at PINE was done without evidence of advertisement for all rehabilitation contracts carried out; no evidence of submission of bidders register; and evidence of bid return sheets.
The report added that PINE had no evidence of having the approval of the Federal Executive Council for contracts above N50 million as envisaged by the procurement law.
During the public hearing of the Senate committee last year, secretary of PINE, Umar Gulani, could not account for how billions released to his agency were utilized.
Over 400,000 children face acute malnutrition in the North East, according to UNICEF, while government officials help themselves to funds meant to remedy the situation.