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Babachir Lawal

Babachir Lawal

The Presidential Initiative for the North East, PINE, became a centre of misery entrepreneurship under the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, with companies raking in, through fraudulent procurement process, billions of Naira and paying kickbacks to the embattled cabinet secretary, according to bank documents and the report of the Senate Committee on the Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North East.

PREMIUM TIMES has had a rare access to the report which sums up the evidence the Senate submitted to the Yemi Osinbajo-led presidential investigative committee probing allegations of contract fraud and breach of due process against Mr. Lawal.

The report is due for presentation before the Senate this week.

PINE was established to help coordinate and lead efforts at rebuilding infrastructure and rehabilitate millions of victims of Boko Haram insurgency that has devastated Nigeria’s North East. About 100,000 people have died since the insurgency began in 2009 according to official figures.

As shown in the Senate report – with evidences of bank transactions as well as Central Bank of Nigeria, Corporate Affairs Commission and Bureau of Public Procurement documents – Mr. Lawal superintended the conversion of the agency to a criminal, and bizarre money making enterprise, awarding contracts to cronies whose firms did not pass the requirements set by the law. Some of the beneficiaries paid parts of the proceeds of the contracts to Mr. Lawal’s company and his private account in tranches.

After receiving payments from PINE, at least five companies separately paid about N450 million to the Eco Bank account (182001809) of Rholavision Engineering Limited owned by Mr. Lawal according to CAC and self-admission, and his private account (0003004417) with Diamond Bank, bank statements showed.

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 same BVN with his personal account and 13 other accounts in commercial banks.

Between March 29, 2016 and April 20, 2016, Josmon Technologies Limited transferred a sum N317 million to Rholavision, belonging to Mr. Lawal, 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 “grass-cutting” 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 the federal cabinet secretary in breach of Nigeria’s code of conduct for public officers and the Public Procurement Act.

But 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 into other fraudulent deals with companies using PINE as conduit pipe.

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.

Also 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 Brothers 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.

Procurement Without Regard For Law

Apart from the companies from which Mr. Lawal got kickbacks, there are other dozens of companies that received PINE contracts in manners that stink about disregard for law and due process.

Between November 2015 and July 2016, the agency received a total sum over eight billion naira (N8,352,865,587), out of which N6.8 billion was expended on projects and N231.5 million on recurrent expenditures.

PINE, according to the report of the Senate committee, “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 the committee found that all the contracts were “awarded under the principle of emergency procurement stipulated in section 43 (i) and (ii) but absolute disregard to sub-section (iii) of the same section 43 of the Public Procurement Act.”

According to a BPP’s review attached to the report, none of the bidders for all the contracts had the full requirements stipulated in section 16 of the Public Procurement Act and, thus, none was eligible to be awarded contract. Such requirements include CAC registration, tax payment, PENCOM certificate, VAT, ITF and BPP registration.

Yet, some of the companies disqualified by the BPP, like Josmon, Rholavision, Adamawa Borehole, Dantex and Yuby Ventures among others, 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 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.

Mr. Lawal, now on suspension, is currently being probed by the presidential investigative committee. But officials of PINE, especially the boss, Umar Gulani, may also face wrath of the law.

During the public hearing of the Senate committee last year, Mr. Gulani could not account for how billions released to his agency were utilized.

As officials and their accomplices in the private sector stole funds meant for victims of war, over 400 thousand children face acute malnutrition in the North East, according to UNICEF, which says 134 children could die daily in the circumstance of no action.

“Some 65,000 people are in famine-like conditions, the worst level of food insecurity, and facing starving to death for lack of food. It is a very unique situation in the world,” UNICEF said.