The Senate yesterday called for immediate resignation and prosecution of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, over allegations that he exploited his vantage position to award contracts on North-east rehabilitation project to his company, Rholavision.
The call for Lawal’s resignation was the fallout of the presentation of the report of the Senate ad-hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-east presented by its Chairman, Senator Shehu Sani.
Sani had reported that the Presidential Initiative on North-east (PINE), saddled with the responsibility of rebuilding and rehabilitating the region devastated by the activities of Boko Haram, took advantage of the dire situation in the region by inflating contracts.
He alleged that top government officials took advantage of the development to award contracts to companies belonging to their cronies, family members and close associates.
According to him, Lawal, until September this year was a Director of Rholavision Engineering Limited and till date remains a signatory to the account.
Senator Sani described Lawal’s failure to resign his position in the company before assuming office as the SGF as a breach of the law and should be made to resign and prosecuted.
Sani further said Rholavision got a consulting contract for the removal of “invasive plant species” (weeds) in Yobe State, adding that all contracts awarded by PINE had been either 95 per cent or 100 per cent paid for, even when some of the contracts had not been fully executed.
For instance, he said Dantex Nigeria Limited is yet to supply 125 units of the total 1,225 units of the temporary tarpaulin carbines valued at N302,000 per unit.
According to Sani, the company had been paid N108 million despite the outstanding 125 valued at N37.7 million.
Sani further reported that most of the contracts awarded by PINE had no impact on the lives of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) whom he said had been languishing in hunger, starvation, disease, squalor and other deplorable conditions.
The senator said that even though the IDPs in the North-east lived in deplorable conditions, PINE opted to award irrelevant contracts such as the removal of plant species, for which he said N223 million was paid, pointing out that there was a serious humanitarian crisis in the North-east as evident in the plight of IDPs at the camps and host communities.
He also said in all the camps visited, the Federal Ministry of Health was conspicuously absent, but a few critical government agencies such as National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMAs) were noticed without synergy from other agencies.
He added that the Nigerian Air Force medical team was found rendering medical services to the lDPs with the little equipment at their disposal, submitting that “despite the claim by some federal government agencies that a huge amount of money was spent on the IDPs in the North-east, what was on the ground as seen by the committee neither justified nor reflected the claims”.
After the submission of his report, the Senate resolved among others that the Federal Ministry of Health must be compelled to immediately deploy personnel to all the lDP camps to support the efforts of the international humanitarian crisis managers and the Nigerian Air Force medical team, and also provide the necessary medical assistance to avert a possible outbreak of communicable diseases like cholera, measles, and diarrhea, etc.
It also resolved that the federal and state governments should intensify efforts towards rebuilding destroyed infrastructure, rehabilitation and empowerment of the lDPs to enable them go back to their respective homes while the newly constituted Presidential Committee on the North-east Initiative (PCNI) should ensure there is synergy and proper coordination among all the humanitarian crisis agencies to enable the IDPs gain maximally from the entire exercise.
The Senate also ordered PINE to forward a detailed report of all the contracts approved by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), in accordance with Section 43(iv) of the Public Procurement Act.
It also said the BPP should undertake a re-evaluation of all contracts awarded by PINE under the emergency arrangement to recover any proceeds from overinflated contracts.
It resolved that “contracts partially executed but fully paid for must be completed by the concerned contractors, or they be asked to refund the equivalent money of outstanding jobs to the government treasury; and any public officer culpable of contravening any aspect of the Public Procurement Act and federal government financial rules and regulations pertaining to the award of the contracts should be duly prosecuted by the relevant authorities”.
Reacting to the resolutions reached by the Senate,
Lawal dismissed the allegation, saying the upper legislative chamber “was talking rubbish”.
He said: “The Senate is talking balderdash; it has developed the habit of the ‘bring him down syndrome’.
“Nigerians have decided that we should destroy our best, we should all destroy the promising and best among us by bringing people down without a cause. This is just how I see it.
“I have the report of the Senate Committee in which it was said that I didn’t resign from Rholavision Nigeria Limited. Let me tell you, Rholavision was formed by me in December 1990, and it has been a company that has been run very successfully.
“When I was appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation, I resigned from that company on August, 18 2015. I can see that in their report, they were talking about 2016. I don’t know where they got their facts from.
“By the way, it is very instructive that when the committee was sitting, no effort was ever made to invite me to come and make a submission. It is therefore surprising that they devoted a whole session today (yesterday) to malign me, claiming what was not true without even giving me the chance to state my side of the story before them,” he said.