It has been revealed that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babachir Lawal, allegedly awarded spurious contract of N220 million for the removal of wild grass and the provision of 115 hectares of simplified village irrigation in Yobe State and how the company allegedly subsequently transferred the money into another firm, Rholavision Engineering Limited, said to be owned by the SGF.
The said amount was allegedly paid between March and September to the company’s account in EcoBank along the Ahmadu Bello Way, Kaduna, with account numbers 0182001809 and 1180010559651.
Rholavision Engineering Limited has its head office on No. 36, Gobarau Road, Kaduna, with registration number at 26, Ahmed Dantanko Road, Kaduna.
M/S Josmon Technologies Limited was awarded the contract on 8th March, 2016 under the Presidential Initiative for the North East, PINE, which handles the procurement of relief materials (food and non- food items), medical equipment and project vehicles for IDPS in the North-East.
But it is curious how the award of contract for the removal of wild grass along the river channel, which does not fall into the IDPs immediate needs, came into the job schedule of PINE.
In an interview, the SGF defended himself against allegations of wrong-doing regarding PINE.
Lawal had said, in response to a question on N1.3billion meant for IDPs and the Senate investigation: “Who is investigating? The Senate? These are also part of the issues of separation of powers that people abuse. I do know that I don’t have immunity to accuse you without proof but the members of the National Assembly can say anything on the floor and are immune to prosecution but people are abusing it and in this case people are maliciously abusing and wickedly abused their privileges in the National Assembly.
“PINE, Presidential Initiative on the North East, was set up by President Jonathan – thank God for him. It used to be run under the finance ministry, under the minister of state. When I took over, we were wondering who was running the North East programme until one day, the National Assembly members from the North East paid me a courtesy call thinking that it was being run by my office. I told them it wasn’t my office so I telephoned the Vice President and asked ‘Oga, who is running PINE’, he said ‘I think it is your office’.
“When it got to budget period, I asked the minister of budget the same question about PINE, no he said it is your office or the NSA’s office.
“What I discovered was that there was a consultant, Senior Special Assistant to the former NSA who was in charge of PINE.
“The man who was claiming to be leading the PINE was an adviser to the former NSA and such a person’s tenure lapses with the other principal officer.
“So I said you can no longer run PINE. At that time in 2015, there was N2.5 billion for the programme. The money was just there doing nothing but paying consultants. I understand that at one time they were using it to buy pre-fabricated schools. The principle of PINE is this and there is a Permanent Secretary who runs PINE. There are 23 of such agencies in this office. We now said for people to return to their homes, we must guarantee that they are able to engage in productive work before they were pushed out, which means rebuild the schools that were burnt, rebuild the police stations and barracks so people can returns part of confidence-building. That’s just it.”
But, according to the investigation carried out by the Senate, the upper chamber is insisting that some things went amiss.
According to the job status, as alleged, it was 100 percent completed, amount approved for the contract was N272,524,356.02; with N248,939,231.00 paid so far, leaving a balance sum of N23,585,125.02 for contingencies.
The allegations of wrong-doing in the document, revealed the following: that on March 29, 2016, Josmon Technologies Limited paid N10,000,000.00 five times which amounted to N50 million to Rholavision Technologies Limited, with different Reference numbers of 9998222200559927, 998222200559962; 9982222005599633; 99822225600201; 9982222600261, respectively.
The same company on March 30, 2016, paid N10 million five times into Rholavision Technologies Limited amounting to N50 million, with reference numbers 998222005825763; 9952222005625822; 9982222995625824; 998222200565826; and 9982222562881.
On March 31, 2016, Josmon Technologies Limited also made transactions twice to the Rholavision Technologies Limited at N10 million, amounting to N20 million, with reference numbers, 9982222005677584 and 998222205677592.
The same company on April 1, 2016, paid N10 million to Rholavision Technologies Limited five times, amounting to N50 million, with Reference numbers 9982222005731505; 9952222005731547;
9952222005731593; 9982222005731594;and 9982222005732011 respectively. On April 4, 2016, Josmon Technologies Limited also made transactions thrice to the Rholavision Technologies Limited at N10 million twice and N5 million, amounting to N25 million, with reference numbers 9982222005321833; 998222200821837 and 9982222005821847 respectively. On August 22, N20 million was paid under the name, JMT Global Technologies to Rholavision Technologies Limited, with reference number 99822220011865741 and on September 8, 2016, Josmon Technologies Limited paid N10 million to the same company, with reference number 999222201339451, while on September 9, 2016, payments were made twice, with the first at N10 while the second one same day was N35 million. Outside the N220 million paid by Josmon, there was another debit transaction of N53 million.
It will be recalled that Babachir Lawal in response to the Senate on calls for resignation and subsequent prosecution over the alleged contract scam, had said that “By the way, it is very instructive that when the committee was sitting, no effort was ever made to invite me to come and make a submission”.
It was gathered that contrary to this claim, he was actually invited and he responded to the Senator Shehu Sani led Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North East in a letter written on his behalf from the office of the SGF by the Permanent Secretary, SSO, Aminu Nabegu. In the letter dated December 6, addressed to the Senate Ad- hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North East, with reference number PINE/POL/04811 and titled, “Re: Invitation to a Public Hearing”, read, “I am directed to refer your letter dated 28th
November, 2016 on the above subject matter and to forward the attached herewith information on the procurement processes in line with the Public Procurement Act 2007 as requested.
“Please accept the assurances of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation’s highest esteemed regards. Aminu Nabegu, Permanent Secretary (SSO) for Secretary to the Government of the Federation.” Findings suggested that the SGF’s claim that he resigned from Rholavision Technologies Limited on the 18th August 2015 may not be correct in all materials particular. He is alleged to have only resigned from the company on 16th September 2016, barely three months ago when he ‘relinquished his shares from the firm via a letter to the Registrar General of the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC. The letter, which was signed by Babachir Lawal and addressed to the Registrar- General of CAC, and titled, “Letter of relinquishment of Shares”, read, “Having resigned my appointment as a Director of Rholavision Engineering Limited, I hereby relinquish my shares totaling N1,500,000.00 Ordinary Shares back to the Company. Please have the assurances of my highest regards.”
In another document, Rholavision Technologies Limited, met on 5th October, 2016, reappointed two directors for the company: Hamidu D. Lawal and Patience Midala Ephraim via resolutions reached at the meeting.
It will be recalled that the Senate had last Wednesday approved the immediate sack of the SGF because of his alleged implication in the mismanagement and diversion of funds meant for the IDPs in the North East.
According to the Senate, it became imperative for Lawal to resign because of inflation of contracts awarded to his company, Rholavision Engineering Limited incorporated in 1990 with RC No. 159855 at the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, Abuja, to provide consultancy services for the removal of wild grass species in Yobe State on 8th March, 2016.
The resolution of the Senate was sequel to contributions by Senator Dino Melaye, APC, Kogi West while contributing to the Interim Report of the Ad- hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North East that was presented by the Chairman, Senator Shehu Sani, APC, Kaduna Central. Senator Melaye who lampooned Lawal and described his action as gross abuse of office, stressed that the integrity of the Senate was at stake if serious action was not taken against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Melaye said, “I am aware that Babachir Lawal became Secretary to the Government of the Federation before this stipulated date. He became Secretary to the government last year and when this committee started looking at the books Babachir Lawal ran to corporate affairs commission and quickly withdrew his directorship of the company after the execution of the contract.
“We are not in a Banana Republic. Nigerians cannot be taken for granted and the 8th Senate is obsessed by this misbehaviour of the SGF, the integrity of Dr. Bukola Saraki is on test, the integrity of the leadership of this Senate is on test and the integrity of every member of this Senate including the Nigerian in Diaspora, Senator Ben Bruce, is on test.
“Finally, I want to believe that no Senator here will trivialise this issue based on religion, sentiment and party politics. It is time for us to call a spade a spade and the time for Bukola Saraki to act. We are watching.”
Following the presentation by Melaye, Senator Baba Kaka Garbai, APC, Borno Central, moved a motion that Babachir Lawal should resign and be prosecuted; the motion was seconded by Senator Ahmad Rufai Sani, APC, Zamfara West, and thereafter Senate President Bukola Saraki put the motion to a voice vote to which the ayes had it.
But in a swift reaction, the SGF took a swipe at the senators, saying that they were talking rubbish and were always in the habit of bringing down people.
The SGF said, “The Senate is talking balderdash; it has developed the habit of ‘bring him down syndrome’. Nigerians have decided that we should destroy our best; we should all destroy the promising and best among us by bringing people down without a cause. This is just how I saw it.
“I have the report of the Senate Committee in which it was said that I didn’t resign from Rholavision Nigeria Limited. Let me tell you, Rholavision was formed by me in December 1990, and it has been a company that was run very successfully.
“Now, when I was appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation, I resigned from that company on 18th August 2015. I can see that in their report, they are talking about 2016. I don’t know where they got their facts.
“By the way, it is very instructive that when the committee was sitting, no effort was ever made to invite me to come and make a submission. It is therefore, surprising that they devoted a whole session at maligning me, claiming what is not true without even giving me the chance to come and put my own case before them.”
During the presentation of its report at the plenary the previous day, Senator Sani had pointed out that his committee discovered that all the contracts awarded under the Presidential Initiative on North East
(PINE) were awarded under the principle of ‘Emergency situation’ as stipulated in Section 43 (i) & (ii) with total disregard to the Public Procurement Act of 2007.
Sani raised the alarm that the PINE had been used to siphon public funds as the entire procurement process breached all known rules of transparency and accountability, which were the hallmark of the present administration. He noted, “That most of the contracts awarded by PINE have no direct bearing/impact on the lives of the displaced persons apparently languishing in hunger/starvation, disease, squalor and other deplorable conditions in all the DPS.
“The contracts under reference include: PINE contributions to two (2) conferences on Rebuilding the North East; and “the purported payment of N223 million for the removal of ‘invasive plant species from Komadugu, Yobe Water Channels.
“That the Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE) took undue advantage of the provision of emergency situation contract award in the Public’ Procurement Act, 2007 to over inflate contracts. Not only that, those contracts were awarded to companies belonging to top government officials’ cronies, family members and close associates. For example, Rholavision Engineering Limited incorporated in 1990 with RC No. 159855 at the Corporate Affairs Commission, Abuja, to carry out information and communication technology services, anchored by Engr. Babachir Lawal, the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was awarded consultancy contract for the removal of the invasive plant species in Yobe State on 8th March, 2016. “Although, Engr. Babachir resigned the directorship of the said company in September, 2016, it is on record that he is still the signatory to accounts of the company; that 95% to 100% payments of all contracts awarded by PINE have been paid even as some contracts are yet to be fully executed, e.g, payment of N108 million for the supply 1100 units of temporary tarpaulin carbines at N302,000 per unit made to Dantex Nigeria Limited despite the fact that 125 units valued at N37.7m were yet to be supplied; that despite the claim by some Federal
Government agencies to the effect that huge sum of money is being spent on lDPs in the North East, what is on the ground as seen by the Committee does not justify/reflect the claims. For example: Over 70% of displaced children both in camps and with host communities were out of schools due to lack of classroom infrastructure, inadequate teaching materials and even teachers. They were also seen loitering in the camps mal-nourished, sickly, and poorly dressed”. Barely 24 hours after Babachir Lawal said that Senate was talking nonsense and balderdash, the matter was on Thursday raised on the floor of the upper chambers following a Point of Order raised by Senator Dino Melaye, APC, Kogi West, under matters of personal privileges, based on the Senate Standing Orders.
Melaye said his concern emanated from headlines of some of the national dailies and online platforms which reported Lawal’s reaction, describing senators as “talking rubbish”, noting that it was highly unbecoming and unacceptable. Based on the development, Senate President Saraki drew President Muhammadu Buhari’s attention to the fact that the world was watching him on how his government would handle the Senate’s resolution calling for the sack of Babachir with immediate effect.
Saraki who noted that ongoing war against corruption in the country by the President must not have limit if the country must be put on the path of sanity, wondered why an appointee of the President would be rude to the Senate at a time President Buhari was seeking the hand of the legislature in fellowship in the interest of national development. Saraki said, “The President (Buhari) came here yesterday humbly telling us that he seeks our partnership, then how can his Secretary (to the Government of the Federation) say we are talking rubbish.
“The Committee will finish its work and will communicate the resolution of yesterday to the President. Normally, our resolution should go to the SGF, but since the SGF is involved, this resolution will have to go to the president with the supporting documents for his own necessary action.”