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Monday, May 15, 2017

Nigeria: A nation of grass-cutters?

At this era of recession in Nigeria, its alarming how the political elites are turning the agony of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), into grass-cutting enterprise. REMMY NWEKE in this report for NaijaAgroNet x-rays how this is contributing to food insecurity in the IDPs, north-east and malnutrition nationwide.
Man in the centre of grass-cutting deal, David Babachir Lawal
Mere hearing of the word grass-cutter for a layman, one is made to believe it is a rodent with scientific name of Thryonomysswinderianus, although known in some quarters as the marsh cane-rat, ground hog and given its relationship from the family of Hystricomorphaequally known as porcupine family.

But literally speaking, the word grass-cutters have since assumed a different meaning in the Nigerian context, at least in the last six months, due to the ugly incident of discovery of huge sums of money allegedly appropriated for the so-called cutting of grass in the troubled north-eastern Nigeria, following the lingering Boko Haram insurgency.

At first, it was a whistle blowing effort by a Senator, APC Kaduna-South, Mr. Sani Shehu for this word to assume a different dimension, because according to him, every day since the President Muhammdu Buhari APC-led government assumed power at the federal, there have series of fund said to have been donated for the rehabilitation of families who have been sacked from their homes by a group of terrorist, Boko Haram, but it seems the effect remain invisible both in the camps and lives of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

Malnourished baby Zeinab and mother in IDP camp ... Courtesy UNICEF Nigeria
50,000 IDP children malnourished due to food insecurity:
From the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) there are estimated 50,000 children in the IDP camp that  are malnourished, aside the 2.5million suffering from malnutrition across Nigeria, due to food insecurity, according to the Deputy Executive Director, Mr. Omar Abdi, who revealed this recently in Maiduguri after a tour of camps, both within and outside the Borno State capital.

Abdi who was in Nigeria with UNICEF drawn from their offices in New York, Dakar and Abuja on-the-spot needs assessment tour in the affected population, said they have scaled up programmes in working with other partners and supporting government efforts.

“So far the nutrition community has reached 12,000 children that are severely malnourished per month. We need to quadruple that number in order to reach all of the children that are severely malnourished. If they are not treated quickly, they are at risk of dying both from malnutrition and from other diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria and so on,” he said, stressing they are also concerned about the education and access to clean water for thousands of children affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria.

Oslo humanitarian conference for Nigeria:
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had disclosed that since the start of the conflict in 2009, over 20,000 people have been killed, countless women and girls abducted and children drafted as suicide bombers into Boko Haram.  Just as some 2.1 million people fled their homes, at the height of the conflict, resulting in some 1.8 million of them currently internally displaced and 0.2 million in neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

OCHA also pointed out that in the three most affected states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe   almost 7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, over 50 per cent of whom are children, claiming that in newly accessible areas vulnerable host populations are in critical need of humanitarian interventions including food, water, sanitation, protection, education, shelter and health services.

This, NaijaAgroNet reports, no doubt precipitated the Oslo Humanitarian Conference for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region in February 2017, which raised $672 million to help people in need. While the highlights showed pledges of US$458 million for 2017 and $214 million for 2018 and beyond as announced by 14 donors, the conference gave voice to people affected by the conflict and crisis with agreement to address longer-term development needs and seek durable solutions to crises. 

IDPs in government?:
While the likes of Oslo humanitarian conference for Nigeria was ongoing, at home, highly  placed government officials were being accused of pilfering the little sent or contributed for the resuscitation of IDPs in the North-East, in what looks like their own share of the IDP largesse.

For the records, the Senate had accused the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir David Lawal, an indigene of one the affected states of Adamawa who was appointed to lead the Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE).
A cross-section of IDPs in a camp courtesy Hamza AhA

Allegedly that M/S Josmon Technologies Limited was awarded the contract on 8th March, 2016 under the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE), which handles the procurement of relief materials including food and non-food items, medical equipment and project vehicles for IDPS in the North-East, worth N220 million.

The contract suspected to be bogus was for the removal of wild grass along river channel and the provision of 115 hectares of simplified village irrigation in Yobe State, which led to subsequent bank transfers to another firm, identified as Rholavision Engineering Limited, belonging to Mr. Lawal. According to findings by the Senate committee on PINE between March and September 2016, some lodgments were made to Rholavision account at EcoBank, along Ahmadu Bello Way, Kaduna, with account numbers 0182001809 and 1180010559651 respectively.

NaijaAgroNet gathered that Rholavision Engineering Limited has its head office on No. 36, Gobarau Road, Kaduna, with registered address at 26, Ahmed Dantanko Road, Kaduna. Although industry watchers have been wondering the immediate connection of IDPs with grass removal at river channel, otherwise refer to as grass-cutting. Mr. Lawal had denied any involvement or wrongdoing as far as PINE contract is concerned and was even cleared by the initial inquiry by the Presidency on this matter.

Prior to Mr. Lawal taking over, PINE, NaijaAgroNet reports was being run by a Senior Special Assistant to the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki. But Lawal explained to Channels TV that there is a Permanent Secretary who runs PINE and at SGF office, there are 23 of such agencies; before his office decided to prepare IDPs by way of guaranteeing that they are able to engage in productive work before they were pushed out, which entails rebuild the schools that were burnt, rebuild the police stations and barracks so people can returns part of confidence-building.

Yet, as said by Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North East committee, chaired by Senator Sani Shehu, some things went awry with the job specification, including that the job was 100 per cent completed, amount approved for the contract was N272,524,356.02; with N248,939,231.00 paid so far, leaving a balance sum of N23,585,125.02 for contingencies.

Senator Sani Shehu
These allegations, NaijaAgroNet gathered, showed that on March 29 and 30, 2016, Josmon Technologies Limited paid N10,000,000.00 each day at five instalments, which amounted to N50 million daily to Rholavision  Technologies Limited. Also, on March 31, 2016, Josmon Technologies Limited also made transactions twice to Rholavision Technologies Limited at N10 million, amounting to N20 million. The same company on April 1, 2016, paid N10 million to Rholavision Technologies Limited five times, amounting to N50 million respectively. Just like on April 4, 2016, Josmon Technologies Limited made some transactions thrice to the Rholavision Technologies Limited at N10 million twice and N5 million, amounting to N25 million, in that order.

13 bank accounts with 1 BVN:
Equally, on August 22, NaijaAgroNet gathered that N20 million was paid under the name, JMT Global Technologies to Rholavision Technologies Limited, with reference number 99822220011865741 and on September 8, 2016, Josmon Technologies Limited paid N10 million to the same company, with reference number 999222201339451, while on September 9, 2016, payments were made twice, with the first at N10 while the second one same day was N35 million. Outside the N220 million paid by Josmon, there was another debit transaction of N53 million, whereas all the 13 bank accounts shared the same Bank Verification Number (BVN) linked to Mr. Lawal.

Following the indictment of Mr. Lawal and several unhonoured invitations for public hearing, the Senate urged President Muhammadu Buhari to remove him from office, which was rebuffed by the Executive, rather it wrote the Senate absolving Lawal of any wrong doing through the office of Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari.

NaijaAgroNet equally gathered that the Senate confirmed Rholavision was incorporated as an Information Technology (IT)companyby Mr. Lawal in 1990 and has handled a N233 million bush-clearing contract in the north-east in 2016. While money was paid for the contract, the work was not done, insisting that as at the time of awarding the contract in March 2016, Mr. Lawal was still a director in the company and that he only resigned in September of that year and was still signatory as at February 15, 2017 to the company’s account, according to Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) evidence, which contravened Nigeria’s code of conduct for public officials as contained in the 1999 Constitution.

PMB treating corruption with insecticide and deodorant:
Reacting to the absolution of Mr. Lawal indictment by FG, claiming lack of fair hearing among others, the Kaduna Central Senator, Shehu Sani, dismissed as “false” President Muhammadu Buhari’s claims on a Senate report suggested a defense smack of double standards.He maintained that seven members, not three as claimed by the president, signed the report and Lawal was invited to appear before, adding that SGF’s office secretary received and acknowledged the invite in addition to advert placed in three newspapers for Mr. Lawal among other parties involved to appear before the Senate committee.

“Corruption in the Judiciary and others is treated with insecticide while corruption in the government is treated with deodorant,” asserted Sani, expressed concern that President Buhari’s letter was full of misinformation and falsehood.

Senate report based on evidences of bank transactions as well as Central Bank of Nigeria, Corporate Affairs Commission and Bureau of Public Procurement documents showed that Mr. Lawal superintended the conversion of the agency to a criminal, and bizarre money making enterprise, by awarding contracts to cronies whose firms did not pass the requirements set by law, just as beneficiaries paid parts of the proceeds of the contracts to Mr. Lawal’s company and his private account in tranches.

After receiving payments from PINE, at least five companies separately paid about N450 million to the Eco Bank account (182001809) of Rholavision Engineering Limited owned by Mr. Lawal according to CAC and self-admission, and his private account (0003004417) with Diamond Bank, bank statements showed.

NaijaAgroNet further gathered that on August 8, 2016, JMT Global Technologies Ltd transferred N30 million from its Zenith Bank account 114357188 to Rholavision, having been awarded  eight contracts for “rehabilitations/renovations in Adamawa” State for the sum of N199.4 million. While Messrs Adamawa Boreholes and Drilling Companies Ltd, transferred N18 million to Mr. Lawal’s company, after clinching N54.8 million contract to renovate seven classrooms at Yeskule Girls Secondary School, Michika Adamawa State.Likewise, Barde Brothers Multi-Services Limited which was also awarded seven contracts to renovate classrooms in Adamawa State for N145 million returned N71 million to Mr. Lawal’s company account on October 10, 2016, and another N13 million between July 7, 2016 and September 9, 2016 to his private account.

Robbery in high places:
Months later, President Muhammadu Buhari after returning from his initial medical vacation for 2017 suspended Mr. Lawal and Director of National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Mr. Ayo Oke with a three-man panel headed by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo leading the panel. This Senator Sani said was commendable and pointing out that there is no time yet to jubilate because a mighty mortal is caught in the trap of his fate, “we are neither saints nor angels, but we have a duty to raise a card and blow the whistle.”

A commentator who does not want his name in print, told NaijaAgroNet that the case of Mr. Lawal and grass-cutters, shows clearly how political officer holders either elected or appointed disregard the law of the land and interest of suffering masses of Nigeria, wondering if that was the best way to fight corruption. In the contrary, an average Nigerian, he said, gets between 5-10 years in jail for stealing bread to feed their families and for stealing 1000 naira to purchase food. The annoying part, our source lamented is that, “while they were stealing the money for those in terrible situations, they were asking people to donate.”

Another concerned Nigerian, Mr. Kunle Ajayi, said that if this Lawal can perpetuate this wicked act with PINE, “You can imagine the level of heist in other aspects of governance under his office.The guy is a mob boss not SGF.” And for Fida Gzama, until Nigerians realise that alphabet APC or PDP do not govern Nigeria but highly corrupt and wicked Nigerians no matter the party, nothing will change. This group of public office looters will still see us as noise makers, mumu and highly gullible set of human beings on earth.

Even if these contracts were “awarded under the principle of emergency procurement stipulated in section 43 (i) and (ii) but absolute disregard for sub-section (iii) of the same section 43 of the Public Procurement Act,” it lacks understanding for human, especially those from the same North-East to constitute further problems, not minding the level of suffering by the people moreso the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) or was it the case of “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

No matter what may, we are human and the plight of IDPs and attendance life challenges especially the food insecurity should be upper most in our minds, as Nigeria hope that Osibanjo’s panel will lead to full investigations by requisite agencies of government on this matter like the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC).

Above all, the case of Lawal et all, should be a moral lesson for all serving and potential political office holders as summed up in the Eastern Nigerian adage that everyday could be for the thief but one day is for the owner.

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