The Senate yesterday revealed alleged sordid deals of the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Engr. Babachir Lawal, in the award of contracts by the Presidential Initiative on the North- East (PINE).
The lawmakers accused Lawal of various infractions and corrupt practices, stating that the suspended SGF collected over N450 million kickbacks from firms that got contracts in PINE.
The Senate revealed that PINE, which Lawal superintended, expended N6.3 billion in the execution of three phases of projects in the Boko Haram devastated North-East, without corresponding projects on ground.
Consequently, the Senate called on relevant agencies of government to ensure that all resources that seemed to have been misapplied or stolen by public officials were retrieved and returned to government coffers.
The report of the Shehu Sani-led ad hoc committee on the Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North- East revealed that after receiving payments from PINE, at least five companies separately paid about N450 million to the Ecobank account (182001809) of Rholavision Engineering Limited owned by Lawal as admitted by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and his private account (0003004417) with Diamond Bank, as revealed in bank statements.
The committee said that “according to a CBN confirmation attached to the report, Mr. Lawal was still the signatory to the account of Rholavision until February 15, 2017 which shares the same BVN with his personal account and 13 other accounts in commercial banks.”
The committee said that between March 29, 2016 and April 20, 2016, Josmon Technologies Limited transferred N317 million to Rholavision after receiving two “grass-cutting” contracts worth N530.6 million for the removal of invasive plant species in Yobe State.
“The transfers were made in tranches, mostly N10 million per transaction, and N47 million on the last day. For the “grasscutting” contract, Mr. Lawal’s Rholavision was awarded the consultancy contract on March 8, 2016, while the owner was in the service of the government as federal cabinet secretary, in breach of Nigeria’s code of conduct for public officers and the Public Procurement Act.”
The report further added that “apart from that contract which formed the basis of the call by the Senate that Mr. Lawal be removed and prosecuted by President Muhammadu Buhari last December, the suspended SGF was also into other fraudulent deals with companies using PINE as conduit.
“For instance, on August 8, 2016, JMT Global Technologies Ltd transferred N30 million from its Zenith Bank account 114357188 to Rholavision. Then, JMT had just got eight contracts for “rehabilitations/ renovations in Adamawa” State for the sum of N199.4 million,” the report stated.
The committee said that “Messrs Adamawa Boreholes and Drilling Companies Ltd transferred N18 million to Mr. Lawal’s company, after clinching N54.8 million contract to renovate seven classrooms at Yeskule Girls Secondary School, Michika, Adamawa State.”
Similarly, Barde Broth ers Multi-Services Limited, which was also awarded seven contracts to renovate classrooms in Adamawa State for N145 million, returned N71 million to Mr. Lawal’s company account on October 10, 2016, and another N13 million between July 7, 2016 and September 9, 2016 to his private account.”
The chairman of the ad hoc committee, Sani, alleged that PINE spent only N2 million on internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North-East while N50 million was spent on conference.
The report recommended among others that “Lawal, having contravened the provision of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (As amended); the Public Procurement Act 2007 and breached the Oaths of Office as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, should be prosecuted by the relevant authorities.”
It also recommended further investigation by relevant agencies of government on why contract benefitting companies paid over N500 million into Rholavision Engineering Limited, a company in which Lawal has interest.
The Senate further recommended that the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) should undertake a revaluation of all such contracts to recover any proceeds from overinflated contracts.
It also recommended that the relevant agencies should ensure that contracts partially executed, but fully paid for, must be completed by the concerned contractors, or be asked to refund the equivalent money of outstanding jobs to the government treasury.
The committee further informed the Senate that in view of the confirmation by Central Bank of Nigeria that Lawal is the owner of some of the contracting firms because he owns the Bank Verification Number accounts of the 13 other accounts, the suspended SGF should be prosecuted.
The lawmakers also expressed serious disappointment and shock when they heard that apart from the N270 million for the grass cutting contract, there was another N200 million spent to hire consultants on grass cutting.
The committee revealed that the presidential committee claimed to have spent N570 million to remove invasive grass in Yobe State. Acting on rumours that a ‘cabal’ in the Presidency was moving to save Lawal, the Senate, yesterday,Brothadopted its final report on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, and transmitted it to President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Senate had considered clause-by-clause the report of the Shehu Sani-led ad hoc committee, which investigated the alleged abuse of financial regulations in the handling of projects and contracts awarded by the PINE.
After considering and adopting the report, which curiously indicted the embattled SGF, the Senate had to close plenary for 10 minutes and returned at 2p.m. to approve the Votes and Proceedings of the day, to be able to complete the parliamentary process required in arriving at a logical conclusion in any matter before a decision is conveyed to the President.
All the recommendations made by the ad hoc committee on the North- East humanitarian crisis were expressly adopted without a single voice of dissent or opposition.
The upper chamber said its decision to send its report to Buhari was to honour a request from the Presidential Committee led by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, to carry out similar investigation on Lawal, as well as the suspended Director- General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke. Some senators had alleged that serious political meetings were going on within and outside the Presidency, including the house of Lawal in Maitama, Abuja, on how to rescue and restore him back to office.
The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, in a statement after the adoption of the final report, confirmed prevailing pressure from some powerful elements in the present government to interfere and ensure the reinstatement of the suspended SGF. He said: “The quality of the report, despite political pressure that we know exists, is highly commendable.
The facts and document available to the committee are damning. The problem in the North-East will not get better unless we do something urgently. “What is happening in the North-East calls to question activities of the anti-graft agencies.
I don’t think that Babachir is the beginning of corruption in that agency (PINE). The system made it possible for this kind of looting. It is not just about Babachir. It is a systemic problem that must be tackled. It also calls for stringent oversight.”