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Senate, SGF and the real ‘grass cutters’

Senate, SGF and the real ‘grass cutters’
Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal
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There have been wild reactions, public outcry, social media memes and even protest, following the Senate’s subtle indictment of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal, for corruption and misapplication of Presidential Initiative for North East, PINE, funds.

I initially also joined the frenzy, fumed, issued ultimatum and vowed to join a street protest to force the Federal Government to take decisive action against those involved in the diversion of funds meant for the IDPs.

Having spent several years in both public service and civil society, and participated in almost all protests and peaceful demonstrations to champion the cause of a common man, my conscience is always the guiding light of my actions. Being an active member of Citizens Action to Take Back Nigeria, CATBAN, I decided to join other NGOs for a fact-finding mission in the North East.

Documents at our disposal indicate that the contract was clearly stated as: “Award of Contract For The Removal of Inversive (invasive) plants along River Channels and 115 Hectares of Simplified Village Irrigation Operation In Yobe State”.

The documents show that the contract was not awarded to Rholavision, the company linked to the SGF. It was awarded to Josmon Technologies Limited with address at 9, Moputo Street, 3RD Floor, Fames-Jal Plaza, Wuse Zone 3, Abuja. The letter of award of the contract with the title stated above, which was signed by Aminu Ahmed, (Head of Procurement PINE) states: “I wish to refer to your quotation on the above subject and convey approval for the award of contract for the Removal of Inversive (sic) Plant Species along River channels and 115 Hectares of Simplified village Irrigation Operation in Yobe State to your company at the total cost of Two Hundred and Seventy-Two Million, Five Hundred and Twenty Four Thousand, Three Hundred and Fifty-Six Naira, Two Kobo (N272,524,356.02) only, inclusive of five per cent VAT with a completion Period of Three weeks’.

We reliably gathered that a major director in the company above has a twin brother who works as a personal assistant to one of the Senators. We could not ascertain if the Senator has any direct interest in the firm or contract. Again, we found out from the document from PINE that Rholavision was not the main contractor that got the job. Rholavision was engaged only as a consultant even though the Senate Committee created the impression that the company of the SGF executed the contract.

The letter from PINE was titled: “Award of Contract For The Engagement of Messrs Rholavision Engineering Limited As A Consultant” and reads: “ I wish to convey to you the approval for award of contract to you as a Consultant on Removal of Invasive Plant Specie along River Channels and 115 Hectares of Simplified Village Irrigation Operation in Yobe State at the cost of Seven Million, Nine Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixteen Naira, Ninety-Six kobo (7,009,516.96) only, inclusive of all taxes, for the period of six (6) Weeks…’

The letter was also signed by Aminu Ahmed, (Head of Procurement, PINE).

From the foregoing we were able to verify even from the documents that the contract in question has nothing to do with grass cutting at any IDP camp, but of course it was to clear invasive plants in River Channels which will aid the rehabilitation of IDPs by enabling easy flow of water through the channels to help fishing activities, enable proper irrigation for farming activities, and eliminate flooding for the communities during rainy season, when they return home from the camps after being displaced by Boko Haram insurgency.

During the course of our investigations with PINE, we were made to understand that Rholavision Engineering Nigeria Limited were co-opted into the project as consultants based on their past successful work in the North East. The provided verifiable evidence showing that the company had been engaged in the clearing of the thypa grass from the Hadejia/Jamaare River Basin in 2013, a contract they executed for the African Development Bank, ADB.

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Our findings revealed that corruption which usually trails federal contracts channeled to states is at the heart of this crisis. We found out that some officials of one of the states in the region does not want PINE contracts awarded to independent companies, but rather that the funds from PINE should be allocated to their state through them directly. We understand this is why one of the state government officials specifically told the Senate Committee that PINE had not done anything in their state despite our on the spot assessment which shows clear evidence of clearing/evacuation of invasive plant species and irrigation operation on 115 Hectares of land. We have video evidence and pictures to show the state of the invasive plants in the river channels and the newly cleared channels. There is also evidence of the list of those who participated in the project and benefitted from the work.

Facts available to us show that Engr. Babachir Lawal actually resigned from Rholavision Engineering and all other companies he had shareholdings in, through his letter of resignation addressed to his lawyers, D. D Azura & Co, Suite C7/8 Bensima House, Plot 2942 Cadestral Zone A6, off Aguiyi Ironsi Street, Maitama, Abuja on 28th August 2015. Facts reveal he was a Director to eight other companies (Rholavision Engineering inclusive) and resigned from all the companies simultaneously (Rholavision Engineering inclusive).

Our goal was to find out if indeed any work has been done at all. Remember that the work in question is the intervention by PINE within the Hadeja-Nguru wetlands, spanning an area of 3,500sqkm, made up of 12 Local Governments from three states (Yobe, Jigawa, and Bauchi).

The intervention work involves manual channel removal of aquatic weeds (typha and other), simplified irrigation scheme, provision of motorised and manual boats, and construction of water control gates.

CATBAN alongside the local NGOs went to the Likori bridge in Marma Channel on the Hadejia River. We found the first project sign post which consists of the contractors’ and consultants’ details. In order to see for ourselves the level of improvement as a result of the invention work, we took a boat down into the water canals that were previously overgrown with thypa grass. We paddled towards Burwa Fadama under Kabak community which subsequently led down Nguru Lake. It was at that point we gathered that at that part of Marma channel some communities were wiped out. Examples of such communities are Kakayau village, Matara Gari Gana, Duwa Kaku. Also down the Marma Channel within Yobe State, communities like, Sabon Gari, Araro, Maja Kakori, etc were also wiped out.

The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, was said to have visited Yobe and Jigawa States in 1988 in trail of birds from the Palace in England and spoke about the thypa grass.

CATBAN can assert with authority that the contract was indeed carried out. The claims that it was meant to clear grass in IDP camp or that nothing has been done are nothing but unfortunate lies. That the company which executed the project gave kickback to the SGF to the tune of N195million is also false, because in the first instance, the contract was executed and the scope of their job entailed not only the clearing of the invasive plans but also sinking of 115 boreholes, laying of pipes across 155 hectares for irrigation, provision of aquatic pumps and supply of boats. If they then give N195 million as kickback from a contract of N240m, what then did they execute the project with? It simply would mean the project was given them as a free source to make money, which contradicts the fact that the projects were genuinely executed. Josmon Technologies also provided evidence to show they borrowed N170million from Rholavision to enable them complete the contract within the specified duration, with an agreement to repay with interest of N25million (documents to all submissions are attached). The testimonies of people we met and the evidence before our CSO group prove conclusively that it was a worthwhile contract that was executed to the benefit of the people.

We will like to advice government not to allow the people suffer more hardship due to elite politics, as there is the need for regular monitoring of the thypa grass on water to avoid further blockage after the recent opening up of the channels facilitated by PINE.

– Dauda Hanga is Director of Mobilisation at CATBAN.

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