From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Wednesday told a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) that former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Mr Babachir David Lawal was not involved in the award of a controversial N544 million grass-cutting contract by the Presidential Initiative for North East (PINE).
A witness of the Commission, Hamza Adamu Buwai, told the court that the ex-SGF was not a member of the Presidential Initiative and was also not a member of its Ministerial Tenders Board responsible for the award of contracts for the troubled North-East region.
Buwai, who claimed to be Deputy Director in charge of Finance and Account at the Presidential Initiative, however, admitted that a consultancy job was awarded to a company, Rholavision Engineering, in which the junior brother to Babachir Lawal has an interest.
Under cross-examination by Chief Akin Olujimi, SAN, counsel to the ex-SGF, the EFCC witness told Justice Charles Agbassa that a Ministerial Tenders Board awarded the consultancy job to Rholavision Engineering Limited after all conditions relating to fiance and technical have been found satisfactory.
The witness admitted that the actual contract for the clearing of invasive plant species along river channels in North-East was awarded to Josmon Technologies Limited while the consultancy for the supervision of the contract execution went to Rholavision, the firm of Babachir Lawal younger brother.
Buwai, who was the Head, Finance and Account of the Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE), testified before Justice Charles Agbaza sitting at Jabi, Abuja, in the alleged contract fraud charge brought against Babachir Lawal and five others by the EFCC
The ex-SGF is standing trial alongside his younger brother, Hamidu David Lawal, who is said to be a director of Rholavision Engineering Limited; an employee of the company, Suleiman Abubakar; Managing Director of Josmon Technologies Limited Apeh John Monday; Rholavision Engineering Limited and Josmon Technologies Limited.
They were re-arraigned before the court on November 30, 2020, following the demise of the judge handling their case, Justice Jude Okeke, on August 4, 2020, on a 10-count charge bordering on fraud to the tune of N544.1 million, to which they all pleaded not guilty.
Testifying as the second prosecution witness (PW2), Buwai admitted effecting all payments in respect of the contract after due approval of authorities adding that the 5 per cent withholding tax was deducted as required by law and paid into the Federal Inland Revenue Services account for the federal government.
‘My Lord, I am familiar with the Presidential Initiative for North East and I can recognise its members. The 1st defendant in this matter is not a member of the Initiative. He is also not a member of the Ministerial Tenders Board. All I can say is that a consultancy was awarded to a company of his younger brother,’ she stated.
‘As I am talking here, there have been no complaints against the execution of the contract. payments were made based on the reports of the monitoring and evaluation committee of experts,’ the witness said.
The witness further told the court that consultancy only was awarded to Rholavision in the first phase of the contract on January 14, 2016, adding that the company was paid 2.5 per cent of the total contract sum.
Buwai informed the court that following approval from the Permanent Secretary, Special Services, in the office of the SGF, Rholavision was paid twice at 50 per cent each.
The witness further informed the court that Josmon Technologies Limited was awarded the contract for the clearance of the invasive plant species from river channels following the receipt of a certificate of no objections from the Bureau of Public Procurement.
After the cross-examination, Justice Agbaza adjourned the case until March 31 for the continuation of trial.