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Promoting Good Governance.

INVESTIGATION: Millions meant for combating HIV/AIDS in Nigeria end up in private pockets

The ICIR investigations show that hundreds of millions of naira released for HIV campaigns, counselling and testing services may have ended in private pockets of contractors and government officials, as companies were specifically registered to siphon funds meant to save the lives of the infected.


Brazenly stolen money

IN October of 2015, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) awarded 38 contracts to 23 firms at the cost of N1.2 billion. Their shared responsibilities were to conduct HIV counselling, testing and demand creation for HIV services in 26 out of Nigeria’s 36 states.

That year, NACA broke its own fiscal record as its capital budget of N1, 930,500,120 was fully released and spent to the last kobo. Three years down the line, The ICIR investigations reveal, the award of contracts for these services were a smokescreen to siphon public funds. No services were meant to be rendered and none were eventually delivered. Yet, monies were released from state coffers and supposedly accounted for.

In the global efforts to rid the world of HIV, the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), causative agent, reports say that new HIV infections are not going down in Nigeria and, thus, still poses a public health threat. Advocates continue to argue that prevention and treatment programmes need to be scaled up.

But rather than scale up prevention in the country, The ICIR investigations show the companies NACA awarded contracts are, to a large extent, questionable. In addition, three of these firms made away with N289 million, without executing any traceable HIV counselling and testing services.

Two of the companies – Duxford Integrated Services Limited (DISL) and Carsons Global Services Limited (CGSL) were, according to records scrutinised, registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) on the same day – May 2, 2014. The third company, Corn Idea Limited (CIL), was registered on November 26 of the same year.

Another striking discovery was that the three companies have common ownership and are located in the same address. Ifeanyi Iyizoba, doubles as a director and majority shareholder in all, while Afunanya Jude Chinweze is the sole secretary of the three companies.

Each of the companies has N1 million share capital. In the breakdown, Iyizoba has N600, 000 shares each in Duxford Integrated Services Limited and Carsons Global Services Limited, while a different person, named Martin Samuel, owns the remaining N400, 000 share capital each.

In the third company, Corn Idea Limited, Ifeanyi Iyizoba is found to be the main shareholder with N900, 000 share capital, while a new name, Ndubuisi Iyizoba, owns just N100, 000 shares in the company.

Also, DISL and CGSL have the same main objective: “to carry on the business of trading of general contracts, sales and distribution of general goods”.

The third company, CIL, has a different objective: “to carry on the business of communication, telecommunication services and software design”.

Thus, none of the three companies that secured contracts from NACA to conduct HIV counselling and testing services in nine states renders any form of health services as their main objectives indicate.

A breakdown of the contracts awarded to the three companies by NACA shows that DISL got N37 million for Kebi, N27 million for Imo, and N29 million for Benue state. CGSL got two contracts at N32 million for Bayelsa and N34 million for Plateau states.

Corn Idea Limited received the highest number of contracts with N27 million for Katsina, N37 million for Federal Capital Territory (FCT), N38 million for Bauchi, and N28 million for Zamfara states.

Procedure violation

The companies’ address at 169 Ademola Adetokunbo Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja was a residential apartment now being converted to a plaza. Photo by The ICIR

By the awards of these dubious contracts, NACA did not only violate requirements of the Public Procurement Act (PPA) of 2007, the agency also disregarded its own laid down procedures and processes.

Earlier in July 2015, NACA advertised expressions of interest from competent firms. The requirements were that interested companies should be ones with high knowledge and experience in HIV services. They were asked to apply for the contracts in order to enhance rapid scale-up of HIV services in the communities as well as Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV/AIDS.

A key factor in NACA’s eligibility criteria was that prospective applicants must have completed at least three successful similar consultancy services.

However, findings by The ICIR show that the three companies never handled any project or service of any kind prior to their getting the HIV counselling and testing contracts from NACA.

Even till date, there is no record to ascertain that the three companies being investigated have done any works since they were registered. The only ‘credible’ information about them was that they were awarded contracts for which they lack professional competence by NACA.

In advertising the contracts, NACA asked applicants to provide: “evidence of tax payment for the past three (3) consecutive years; that is, for years 2012-to-2014, evidence of VAT registration and proof of past remittances, and audited statement of account for same previous three (3) consecutive years of 2012-to- 2014.”

But, evidently, the three companies were found not to have been able to meet the specified requirements because they were only established the previous year 2014. In fact, CIL which got the highest contracts was registered eight months before NACA advertised for the expression of interest.

Furthermore, NACA asked applicants to provide “detailed company profile, technical experience/qualification of key personnel, registered address, name, functional location, telephone numbers, and e-mail address” to boost their eligibility to bid for the job. Surprisingly, the only item that attests to the companies’ existence is the proof of registration with CAC.

When The ICIR traced the address of the three companies located at 169, Ademola Adetokunbo Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja, as filed in their registration with CAC, extensive reconstruction was ongoing in the building. The building’s foreman who identified himself as Lewis said the structure was a residential apartment converted into a plaza.

After having a phone conversation with someone whom he believed knew about the previous residents, Lewis later told our reporter that the person said neither the companies nor the individuals mentioned ever rented any work space in the building.

An amazing twist in the course of investigation is that Ifeanyi Iyizoba, the beneficial owner of the companies, could not be identified till the time of this report. All attempts to trace him on social media amid other media drew blank. In fact, a NACA official told The ICIR that no staff of the agency admitted about knowing whom Iyizoba is.

The ICIR also contacted several staff of other organisations that provide HIV services but none of them knew Iyizoba. Even few journalists reporting the heath beat said they too did not know Iyizoba.

Similarly, on the social media, accounts associated with Ifeanyi Iyizoba appear inactive making his online presence hazy. In particular, a Facebook account with his name was last updated in 2014. The profile picture by the name remains the only uploaded photo on the account till date. Also, other three names associated with the companies do not have reliable online presence.

Every effort made by The ICIR to ascertain the reality of the companies’ existence as well as the credibility of the persons behind them led to a dead end. Available facts show that the individuals behind the companies remain faceless.

As popularly known in the procurement circle, the stance of these companies fit into the picture of “briefcase companies”, a term used to describe those offices operating from their portfolios. They also assume that these kinds of companies are commonly registered and sponsored by public civil servants to award contracts to themselves under feigned names.

 Shielding the fraud

John Idoko, former Director General of NACA between 2009 and 2016. Photo credit: The Guardian website

After two months of investigations,  The ICIR found no evidence that the companies that were awarded contracts by the NACA conducted any form of HIV counselling and testing services in the supposed states.

The ICIR earlier reached out to NACA by sending Freedom of Information (FOI) request to seek clarification on the status of the contracts with the companies. But the agency delayed to respond to the request to provide the exact names of the communities or health facilities where the companies administered the HIV counselling and testing services.

Not only that NACA hesitated, but also that The ICIR was not the first organisation that NACA denied information on the details of the HIV counselling and testing contracts.

The Auditor General for the Federation, Anthony Ayine, in the 2016 audit report submitted to the National Assembly (NASS) in June 2018 noted that: “during the examination of sampled payment vouchers, it was observed that contracts for HIV counselling and testing outreach and campaign at the community level across the states and the FCT were awarded to various contractors during the year 2015.” He added that “all efforts made to obtain the contract files for audit scrutiny were not successful.

Ayine noted that the implications of his being denied access to the contract files is that, “NACA broke the law.”

He stressed: “This was a violation of Section 85(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (1999) and Financial Regulation 110 which expressly provide that my Office will have unfettered access to all required documents, accounts and other records.”

The AGF then urged the NASS to compel the Director General (DG) of NACA to make available all the relevant contractors’ files for audit scrutiny. But the NASS, according to findings, has not yet acted on Ayine’s request.

John Idoko was the DG of NACA in 2015. Before becoming NACA’s DG from April 2009 to August 2016, Idoko was a professor of medicine at the University of Jos in Plateau State and President, Nigerian AIDS Research Network. He was replaced by the current DG, Sani Aliyu.

NACA, established in 2001, initially named National Action Committee on AIDS, was set up to coordinate multi-sectoral response to HIV/AIDS, including collaborating with international organisations. It became an agency of the Federal Government in 2007, under the presidency and directly supervised by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

Trailing the HIV projects in the states

Office building of Benue State Agency for the Control of AIDS in Makurdi. Photo by The ICIR

Not giving up on the intent to unravel the truth of the situations, The ICIR trailed the purported HIV counselling and testing services coordinated by the three companies – DISL, CGSL and CIL to three states and the FCT. Amazingly, no such services were rendered in the specified states.

A Community Mobilisation Specialist in the Federal Capital Territory Agency for the Control of AIDS, Angela Emenalo, told The ICIR that she never heard of Corn Idea Limited.

“No organisation by that name has ever done any such HIV work in the nation’s capital,” she affirmed.

Emenalo continued: “If any HIV project was done by the company you mentioned in any part of FCT, I will know because the mobilisation officers in the six area councils report to me.”

Emenalo explained that every HIV projects will have reports on the number of people tested and contacts of those that tested positive, and concluded emphatically, “I insist, I don’t know anything about this contract you are talking about. I never heard of it. Go and ask NACA for the report.”

Similarly, Ileimokumo Ogregade, Director General, Bayelsa State Agency for the Control of AIDS , could not find records of a 2015 NACA’s N32 million contract of HIV counselling and testing activity purportedly conducted by any company called CGSL in the state.

Ogregade, who was by 2015 not the DG, instructed his monitoring and evaluation officer to run through their archives. Again, there was no reference to any HIV activity by CGSL in Bayelsa State. There were also no staff of the agency who had ever heard of the company.

In Bauchi State, the director of HIV and AIDS programme, Danladi Mohammed, said he had no knowledge of N38 million contract awarded to CIL by NACA in the state. Mohammed referred The ICIR back to NACA as he noted: “I think the best thing is maybe you ask the agency to specify exactly when they conducted this activity and where.”

Then, after calling his predecessor to enquire about the project, Mohammed was told that NACA once came to Bauchi to implement HIV-related activities, but the state did not have the record of any activity by the company being investigated.

The DG said: “we cannot say Corn Idea Limited was here. And we’ll not be fair to them if we say they were not here.  Honestly, we all need clarification from NACA.”

He took The ICIR through the way they operate. He explained that health facilities take record and upload data on HIV counselling and testing to the National Health Management Information System (NHMIS).

So, for them to know the number of people tested in a particular month in the state, Mohammed said, “I will simply check the NHMIS platform.”

He emphasised that any organisation that conducts HIV testing in a community must share the data with the nearest health facility there. The health facility will then record the names and contacts, as well as basic biological information of those that tested positive into its HIV testing services register.

Director General, Benue State Agency for the Control of AIDS, Gideon Dura, refused to confirm or refute whether a 2015 NACA N29 million HIV counselling and testing project awarded to DISL ever held in the state or not.

“If you ask me about HIV prevalence in Benue State, I will begin to elaborate on it. But when you come specifically for a particular organisation whether came and did something here, you don’t have a letter from those people up there, I will not attend to you,” Dura said sternly.

Insisting that he needed to see a letter from either NACA or Federal Ministry of Health before he could confirm whether the company did HIV counselling and testing in the state, Dura said: “in Benue State, I’m the eye of DG of NACA. And as you know, we don’t answer journalists like that. It is deadly to answer journalists without due approval from the top.”

A few days later, The ICIR contacted a subordinate staff who helped to rummage through files in the office. He later confirmed that the state never had dealings with DISL on any HIV activity.

 Conflicting data

To get a reaction from the agency, The ICIR shared its findings with Toyin Aderibigbe, Head of Corporate Communication for NACA.

But rather than respond directly to the findings in the states, NACA sent its reply to the FOI request it had earlier ignored. The ICIR, had on November 13 sent the FOI request to NACA. On November 20, a copy of the FOI acknowledgement receipt was presented to Aderibigbe to facilitate prompt response.

In a letter signed by Adeolu Aiyewumi, Head of Legal Unit, NACA, and dated December 17 but received by The ICIR on December 21, the agency apologised for not providing the requested information within the seven days specified by the FOIA “as these activities were conducted in 2015 and a manual of our archived files had be done to retrieve the information required to provide you with a robust response.”

Aiyewumi acknowledged that The ICIR specifically requested for the names of communities or health facilities where the companies conducted HIV counselling and testing but he provided only the Local Government Areas (LGAs) where the activities were purportedly conducted.

He also confirmed that NACA engaged the companies to conduct HIV counselling, testing and demand creation for HIV services in nine states in 2015.

According to Aiyewumi, the companies submitted reports with the following results: 

S/N Company State Community No. TESTED No. REACTIVE
1 DUXFORD NIGERIA LIMITED KEBBI DANDI 5,784 41
BENUE GWER WEST 7,128 132
IMO MBAITOLU 6,396 57
2 CORN IDEA NIG. LIMITED ZAMFARA ISAFE & BUGUDU 5,058 24
KATSINA HAYIN MAJINDADI 6,345 39
FCT MPAPE 6,326 75
BAUCHI GUDUM 5,398 27
3 CARSONS GLOBAL NIG. LIMITED BAYELSA YANAGOA 5,638 127
PLATEAU MANGU 5,893 67

However, NACA’s data stands in sharp contrast to the realities found in the visited states. It also fails to address The ICIR’s original request which was for the names of communities or health facilities that the HIV counselling and testing services took place.

In the data provided by Aiyewumi, only names of LGAs were presented as communities thereby making the document vague, given that respective LGAs has about 10 wards with hundreds of settlements.

And, were the HIV counselling and testing services actually done as NACA claimed, records of those that tested positive would have been given to the nearest health facilities to commence treatment. And if the counselling and testing were done in health facilities, those health facilities would have the records of those that tested positive in their registers.

To resolve the disparities, NACA’s spokesperson, Toyin Aderibigbe, promised to facilitate a meeting between The ICIR and NACA on December 24 to address the fresh concerns to jointly examine the reports purportedly submitted by the three companies. Come this day, NACA’s spokesperson reneged on her pledge to arrange the meeting.

NACA’s reply to FOI request did not answer why states’ agencies did not know about the companies and the HIV activities claimed to have been conducted in their locale. It also did not provide the names of the communities or the health facilities that the counselling and testing took place. This slip has also made confirming the figures a difficult task.

In the face of the contradictions, the suspicious figures purportedly submitted by the three companies could have formed part of the 7,238,594 persons that were claimed to be counselled and tested across Nigeria in 2015.

It was out of this number that NACA also presented in its annual report that 264,476 tested HIV positive. Consequently, Nigeria may not yet have dependable figures on numbers of persons counselled and tested for HIV.

Health experts say HIV data dilemma limits the fight against the virus and that is why the world’s largest ever population-based HIV/AIDS survey is currently being conducted to determine the distribution of the disease in Nigeria.  Also, the result of the donor-funded Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey, which began in June, is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2019.

NACA’s position

On December 26, NACA’s long awaited response to The ICIR’s findings was e-mailed to the reporter. The agency reiterated its stand that the companies conducted HIV counselling and testing services in the states. Here is the NACA’s full statement:

“In your follow-on email to our Head of Corporate Communication dated 5th December 2018, you shared the findings of your investigation. We commend your organisation for conducting an independent investigation and sharing the findings with us. We have reviewed your findings and wish to provide the responses below. It is our hope that these responses will further enrich your report and support the good work you are doing to promote accountability and transparency in the use of public funds in Nigeria.

S/N Finding NACA’s Response
1 The companies were registered a few months before the contracts were awarded and the three companies are owned by one person, suggesting that there is a collusion with NACA in awarding the contracts. In line with the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) Act 2007, NACA advertised a general procurement notice on July 3rd, 2015, requesting interested companies to respond to the numerous Lots, including that for HIV Counselling and Testing (please see Annex 1).  Numerous companies responded and submitted the required documents listed in the advert, including the three companies in question. NACA at this stage has no evidence of collusion by the procurement evaluation committee that reviewed the submissions. Nevertheless, as you are aware, these activities took place before the appointment of the current Director General, Dr. Sani Aliyu. The new DG has already directed that a forensic audit of the entire contract award be undertaken, and a full report submitted to him in the coming weeks. In the event that allegation of collusion with any staff of NACA is substantiated, the staff member(s) involved will not be spared and the full weight of the law will be applied. NACA will not condone any act of misdemeanour or corruption by any of its staff.

 

We are pleased to inform you that NACA management is fully committed to transparency and accountability of public funds. Our contract award process is robust and strictly follows due process. The DG has instituted a multi-layered evaluation process to ensure any error of omission or commission by the first evaluation team are picked up and rectified by the second level evaluators who are usually discreetly selected and are independent of the first set of  evaluators. This process is unique to NACA and has ensured that any errors or collusions as a result of conflict of interest are promptly identified and dealt with. We have also included the submission of CAC Forms C02 and C07 which will enable us identify companies with same directors. Furthermore, in line with new directive by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), every company is required to print the names and countries of origin of its directors on their letterhead (please see a sample of our recent advert for contracts in Annex 2).

2 The companies have no capacity to do HIV counselling and testing or health related services based on their main objectives The companies submitted proposals in line with our terms of reference and their proposal was considered sound enough to deliver the results desired within the contractual framework. The reports submitted by the companies showed good results in line with the objectives and targets of the contracts. These activities were also monitored by NACA staff to ensure technical soundness of the interventions.
3 The contracts were not executed but the money was released 100 per cent by NACA These activities were duly executed and were monitored by NACA staff. Please see reports of the activities attached as Annexes 3,4 & 5.
4 There are no records of HIV testing and counselling conducted by these companies in the states they purportedly did so Please see reports of the activities attached as Annexes 3,4 & 5.

 

“We wish to once again commend your organisation for taking up this noble cause which aligns with NACA’s core values and the current administration’s zero tolerance for corruption. While this contract took place prior to the coming of the current DG, we are committed to ensuring that all contracts in NACA follow due process, are transparent and free from any undue interference by external or internal conflicted parties, in line with the DG’s principles of justice, fairness and a level-playing field for all. We are always available to support you in any way feasible in this regard. Should you require additional information on this matter, please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned. Please accept the warm assurances of the Director General.”

NACA’s e-mailed statement was signed by Adeolu Aiyewumi, Head of Legal Unit. The ICIR received hard copies of the reports submitted to NACA by the companies on 28 December.

The reports did not mention communities or health facilities where the HIV counselling and testing services took place. The reports did not also contain the names of the health facilities where those that tested HIV positive were referred to.

Based on the reports, there was no information that could lead to confirm that the companies conducted the HIV services they claimed they did.

 

This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation 

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