Commercial Law

EFCC witness clears ex-SGF Babachir Lawal of involvement in N544m grass cutting scam

By Olalekan Awojodu

 Abuja 

A Prosecution Witness, Hamza Adamu Buwai on Wednesday told an FCT High Court that Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Mr Babachir David Lawal was not involved in the award of an alleged N544m grass-cutting contract  awarded by the Presidential Initiative for North East (PINE).

Buwai said the ex-SGF was not a member of the Presidential Initiative and was also not a member of its Ministerial Tenders Board responsible for award of contracts for the troubled North East Region.

The witness, who claimed to be Deputy Director in charge of Finance and Account of the Presidential Initiative however admitted that a consultancy job was awarded to a company Rholavision Engineering in which junior brother to Babachir Lawal has 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 finance 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 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 bordering on fraud to the tune of N544.1million, 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 percent 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 recognize 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.

“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 percent each.

The witness further informed the court that Josmon Technologies Limited was awarded the invasive plant species clearance from river channels following the receipt of certificate of no objections from the Bureau of Public Procurement.

Justice Agbaza has since adjourned the case till March 31 for continuation of trial.

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