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Investor Sues Head of Service, Others Over Contract Fraud
By Yekeen Nurudeen
An investor in the hospitality industry, Wajul Catering Services Limited, has dragged the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, HCSF, Winifred Oyo-Ita, and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to court over an alleged plot by the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, OHCSF, to defraud it.
The company filed the suit on April 25, after allegedly exhausting all official channels to get justice, including writing a petition to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation.
The subject of the case is the Federal Civil Service Club located at Mabushi, which the company said was leased to it on December 29, 2015 through an offer letter, after meeting all conditions set for the lease.
The lease award letter, which was obtained by icirnigeria.org stated that the firm was given the lease for the running and infrastructural development of the club under a Public Private Partnership, PPP/Lease Arrangement subject to renewal at a lease amount of N75 million for the first five years and subsequent increase of 10% on the lease amount at each 5 years renewal, totaling 20 years.
Documents obtained by this website indicated that the offer letter to the company did not contain any deadline for payment of the lease amount since there were tenants still occupying the property whose rent had not yet expired.
The two parties also agreed that the tenants would have to vacate before a final PPP agreement in respect of the lease could be signed.
Thus, after heated negotiations with the tenants and officials of the OHCSF, the existing lawful tenants of the club agreed to be paid off in lieu of their tenancy.
Wajul said it was requested to refund the tenants the sum of N9 million being the balance of their rent as part payment for the lease rent. In compliance, the company paid the tenants off through a bank draft for the sum of N7.5 million and cash in the sum of N1.5 million.
After the payment, the two tenants vacated the property on May 14, 2015 as agreed.
But the leasee could not take possession of the property as there were still about 20 squatters who also said they had rights to occupy the club premises. When the leasee complained to the OHCSF, it was asked to take all “necessary measures” to take possession.
Subsequently, the company procured the services of security men to take possession from the squatters. It sent in quantity surveyor to determine the extent of renovation and other works required at the club. The firm then mobilised contractors to site with the sum of N30,794, 557 out of N102, 648,525 required as cost of the renovation and infrastructural development of the club.
Following this, the company wrote the OHCSF informing it of the imminent transfer of the balance payment of N37.5 million into the Treasury Single Account and credit transfer of N28.5 million into the Club’s UBA account, preparatory into executing the PPP agreement.
According to the hospitality firm, at the start of the lease, it had been asked that when the time was due, it should pay the lease rent partly into the Treasury Single Account, TSA, the federal governments consolidated revenue account for all Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs (50%) and partly to the club’s account.
Surprisingly, the OHCSF through one H.O Alayaki, a director in the office, wrote the company to “hold on” saying a committee set up by the Head of Service was going to audit the financial records of the defunct management committee of the Federal Civil Service Club. He said the audit would be for two weeks and advised that the contractor, who had started renovation work, should stop work in order to allow the committee room to carry out its assignment.
Nearly a month later, a letter from the OHCSF signed by Alayaki stated that the lease of the Club was now “an award of contract.” The company claims the letter did not clearly explain why the lease had become a contract award and that all efforts to get clarifications from the relevant officials, including the Head of Service, were rebuffed.
On November 10, 2016, the intent of the dilly-dallying became clear. A letter from the OHCSF informed the company that it did not accept the lease offer within one week and therefore it had been revoked – a claim the company said was false.
While the HOS insisted that Wajul did not accept the offer within one week and as a result could not lay claim to the club, the company said it formally accepted the offer through a letter dated December 30, 2015 adding that the Secretary of the PPP Committee, Charles Anuwe, acknowledged receipt of the letter.
In addition, Wajul said efforts made to seek audience with the Head of Service through letters on the lease arrangement were abortive as there was neither invitation nor reply to its letters from the OHCSF.
Since then the OHCSF has allegedly taken steps to eject the company from the club without any intention to refund the money it has spent on the property.
In a Motion on Notice filed by Wajul, the company is praying the court to restrain the respondents and their agents from dispossessing it of the property until the final determination of the case.
In an affidavit deposed to by Babatunde Fakoya, a director of the company, he claimed that the respondent had personal interests in the property.
“The applicant has it on good authority that some companies have been submitting expression of interest to the first respondent and have received assurances in respect of the property.”
The firm alleged that the concerned government officials were using their positions to perpetuate illegal acts for personal benefits.
Fakoya, in a chat with our reporter, lamented that the firm’s investments into the moribund Civil Service Club have been hanging in the balance since it has been barred from taking over. He expressed reservations about the sincerity of the Federal Government’s drive to woo local and foreign investors to reflate the nation’s economy when its officials are out frustrating investors.
“I was in New York sometime in 2014 or thereabout when Abike Dabiri was meeting with Nigerians in the Diaspora and asking them to come back home and invest. I actually didn’t believe her until an uncle of mine convinced me that one can invest in Nigeria.
“And when they called for bids for this club, I of course had my misgivings about it but the same uncle said, Tunde, give it a trial. Now, I have tried it and where are we now? I’m not sure the Federal Government is serious in its desire to woo investors into this country” he said.
When contacted to react to the allegations against the Head of Service and other officials, Haruna Rasheed, Director in charge of Communications at the office of the Head of Service of the Federation declined comments on the lease arrangement arguing that the matter had become a legal matter.
“I don’t want to comment on this issue because it is a legal matter. Let us wait till after the matter has been decided in court and then we can talk about it,” he said.