544MIL NAIRA FRAUD: EFCC WITNESS CLEARS FORMER SGF, BABACHIR LAWAL

A witness of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Aminu Muhammed, yesterday, cleared former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Engr. Babachir Lawal, of any wrongdoing in the award of N544 million contract that led to his trial before an Abuja High Court.

At the resumed trial, the witness, a Principal Procurement Officer in the SGF office, told the court that neither Lawal nor any of the defendants in the trial participated in the bidding process or award of the contract in dispute.

Muhammed, who is a member of the Presidential Initiative on North-East (PINE), testified that the body was solely responsible for the award of the contract without Lawal who was then in office as SGF.

While being cross examined by Chief Akin Olujimi (SAN), counsel for the ex-SGF, the witness stated that none of the defendants put on trial by EFCC played any role in the procurement process conducted by PINE.

Lawal is standing trial alongside six others in an alleged N544.1 million contract fraud.

The former SGF, his brother, Hamidu Lawal, who is a director of Rholavision Engineering Limited; an employee of the company, Sulaiman Abubakar and the Managing Director of Josmon Technologies Limited, Apeh John Monday, are being prosecuted by EFCC before Justice Jude Okeke, sitting at Maitama, Abuja.

They are facing a 10-count charge bordering on conspiracy and fraud.

All the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charge preferred against them.

The EFCC witness added that none of the seven defendants was a member of any PINE committees or Ministerial Tenders Board (MTB) and did not play any roles whatsoever in the award of contracts to both Josmon and Rholavision.

The witness told the court that the letters of award of contracts he signed were signed after the tenders’ board had given approval for the award of the contracts to both Josmon and Rholavision.

He added that PINE did nothing wrong in awarding contracts to both Josmon and Rholavision.

Testifying further, the witness told Justice Okeke that he was a member of the evaluation committee of PINE.

According to him, after evaluating the bids submitted by companies bidding for projects by PINE, including Rholavision Engineering Limited and Josmon Technologies Limited, his committee sent reports to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the Ministerial Tenders Board in the OSGF.

He stated that the technical reports sent by his committee was for approval by the MTB, adding that where any irregularities occurred, the reports would be sent back to PINE for correction.

“They are to check the report and approve or send it back to PINE. When the report is approved, the company gets the contracts,” he stated.

The contracts, the witness said, were awarded by PINE.

Members of the MTB, according to the witness, were Permanent Secretaries or their representatives, Directors of Legal, Finance, Procurement, Internal Audit and Press in the OSGF.

Muhammed stated that he was the person who signed the letters of award of contracts to both Rholavision and Josmon.

He added that it was not the MTB in the OSGF that allowed him or the PINE secretary to issue letters of award of contract.

Muhammed, who is the prosecution witness number four (PW4), further stated that about 108 companies, including the fifth and sixth defendants, bid for different projects from PINE.

However in a drama that followed, counsel representing EFCC in the trial, Ofem Uket, stated that he was being frustrated by witnesses coming to testify from the office of the SGF.

He opened up on his alleged frustration after leading Aminu Muhammed who testified as the fourth prosecution witness (PW4) in the case.

According to him, 80 per cent of the witnesses called by the anti-corruption commission so far were from the OSGF, adding that he knew what he was facing from them.

“The witnesses I bring to court, about 80 per cent of them are all coming from OSGF,” Uket stated.

He told the court that the case was adjourned at the last sitting in January, but had to be rescheduled at the instance of the fourth witness.

Justice Okeke, however, said that the court had nothing to say to the complaints raised by the prosecutor against his own witnesses.

Meanwhile, Justice Okeke has adjourned the case till April 8 for continuation of trial.

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