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EFCC Presents First Witness Against Babachir Lawal over grass Cutting Scandal

Tony Orilade
Tony Orilade
Tony Orilade, a Nigerian journalist, is Head, Media and Publicity of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja, Nigeria. This is an official statement from him. The headline might have been slightly modified.

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Wednesday, May 23, 2019, presented its first witness, Hamza Adamu Buwai, as the Commission opened its case in the ongoing trial against the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babachir Lawal, and three others, before Justice Jude Okeke of a Federal Capital Territory, FCT, High Court, Maitama Abuja.

Lawal along with his younger brother, Hamidu David Lawal; Suleiman Abubakar; Apeh John Monday and two companies: Rholavision Engineering Ltd., and Josmon Technologies Ltd, were re-arraigned on an amended 10-count charge bordering on fraud, diversion of funds and criminal conspiracy to the tune of over N500 Million (Five Hundred Million Naira) only.

At the resumed hearing, the witness, a civil servant with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Buwai, who was the Head of Finance, Presidential Initiative For North East, PINE, attached to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, OSGF, told the court that he was responsible for all payments made by PINE to contractors, consultants and staff payments.

According to him, Rholavision Engineering Ltd was the consultant for the removal of invasive plant species irrigation programme and construction of water gates along the River Kamadugu Yobe River, which is about 250km but awarded the contract to Josmon Technologies for the alleged clearance of the invasive plant species and the irrigation programme.

The witness further narrated to the court how he knew the companies adding that after the approval of the procurement process to the companies, that the Consultant, Rholavision took the contractors, Josmon Technologies Ltd; to the site of the project, were they commenced work.

Buwai stated that when the project was almost completed, Rholavision issued Coalition Certificate to the government demanding for payment for the 95% of the job done, which was submitted to him, as the Accountant for payment.

He explained that the documents in the official file for payment, includes Certificate of Corporation, Tax Clearance of the Companies, Registration of the companies with Bureau for Public Procurement, BPP, PENCOM Certificate, Industrial Training Fund Registration and letter for the award of contract.

According to him, after verifying the documents, he requested that payment be made to company after the approval by the Permanent Secretary, Special Services, in the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, which is under the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

The witness further told the court that the contract was valued at about N272, 500,000 (Two Hundred and Seventy Two Million, Five Hundred Thousand Naira), only adding that it was based on the 95 per cent conclusion agreement that the companies were paid the sum of N258, 000,000 (Two Hundred and Fifty Eight Million Naira) but based on the paucity of funds at the that time, they were paid N225, 000,000 (Two Hundred and Twenty Five Million Naira) only.

Explaining further, Buwai told the court the different processes that the payment vouchers go through before payment are made adding that the payment went to the bank account of Josmon Technolgies Ltd., stressing that payment of the consultants was based on the performance of the contactors.

He said after the evaluation of the performance of the contractors, the consultant, Rholavision Engineering Ltd, was paid 50 percent of their fees, which was around N3.5 million (Three Million, Five Hundred Thousand Naira), only for consultancy fee which he claimed was at 2.5 percent of the total money and that the payment voucher was raised for the payment, which also went through the due process of the government.

However, the Prosecution counsel, Offem Uket, prayed the court to tender the payment vouchers raised in the name of Rholavisio Engineering Ltd and Josmon Technologies Ltd with the attached documents.

But counsel to the fifth defendant, Joseph Uzor, opposed the admissibility of the document, alleging that some of the documents were not the original copies, adding that they are public documents and required to fulfil section 104 of the Evidence Act.

The prosecution counsel, however, told the court that the documents are original adding that the documents being referred to; are attached to the payment vouchers, which is also the original, explaining that the said section 104, does not apply to this, as it is a single document in its whole form.

Justice Okeke after listening to the arguments said he is minded to give a considered ruling as similar objections may arise and adjourned the case for a considered ruling to June 17 and 18, 2019, for ruling and continuation of trial.

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