How Nigeria's Ex- Minister misapplied N6.4 billion

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Nnamdi Felix / Abuja

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital on Thursday heard how former Minister of Works, Dr Hassan Muhammed Lawal and some companies allegedly
mis-appropriated the sum of N6.4 billion equity contribution by the Federal Government, Nasarawa and Kogi state governments for the construction of the Guto Bagana Bridge. The court, presided over by Justice Adamu Bello, also heard how a company, registered a day before the contract was awarded and owned by the second accused, Dr. Adeogba Godwin Ademola was made concessionaires of the project which was originally given to Swede Control Intertek Limited (equally owned by the second accused) by the Federal Executive Council.

More shocking was that payment was made for a satellite imaging contract to Sirag GIS Transport Limited to the tune of N438 million, even though the same project had earlier been awarded to Nairda Limited for N2.6 million and fully paid.

The project designed to link Nasarawa and Kogi states was conceptualized for execution on Public Private Partnership basis on a Built Operate and Transfer, BOT agreement between the Federal Government and the two states governments on one hand and the Swede Control Intertek Limited, the preferred concessionaire, on the other hand.

A Prosecution witness, Mr. Chike Nwibe, who was a member of the team that investigated the allegations of conspiracy, criminal breach of trust,
fraud, abuse of office, misappropriation and criminal conversion of public fund levelled against the former Minister of Works and his
co-accused persons disclosed this while testifying at the trial. Leading the witness in evidence was Wahab Shittu.

Mr. Nwibe, a deputy Superintendent of Police deployed to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, told the court that investigation showed that the public partners, the federal government and the government of Nasarawa and Kogi states, paid their equity contribution of N6.4 billion for the project while the private partner, Swede Control Intertek Limited, made zero contribution.

According to the witness, some documents made available to the investigation team show that the N6.4 billion and other contributions in connection to the contract was to be paid into a joint account to be managed by both parties. However, that did not happen as monies were most times released directly to another company, which later transformed into being the concessionaire. The name of the company is Digital Tolls Company Limited which belong to Dr Adeogba Godwin Ademola, the 3rd accused person standing trial alongside the former minister.

Explaining further, the witness stated that Dr, Adeogba’s company was initially brought in as a special purpose vehicle by Swede Control Intertek Limited, which he also owned adding that the original company which was given the contract abinitio later disappeared from the radar completely.

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“Swede Control Intertek Limited and DTCL, owned by the same person were registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, on May 16, 2007, a day before the contract was awarded”, he told the court.

He further stated that Digital Tolls Company Limited, DTCL, violated all the agreement in respect of the Guto Bagana Bridge contract, a situation which made the Bureau for Public Procurement, BPP, to write to the then Minister of works, Dr. Lawal to penalize the contractor and terminate the contract. Lawal failed to carry out BPP’s directive.

The contract was however terminated by the succeeding minister at the ministry of works in August 2010.

The presiding judge, Justice Adamu subsequently adjourned the matter to 4th and 6th February, 2013 for continuation of trial.

Dr. Hassan Lawal was slammed with a 44 count charge by the EFCC involving the sum of N75.5 billion.

He is facing trial along with nine others.

Lawal and his co accused (Dr. Adeogba Godwin Ademola, Digital Toll Company Limited; Swede Control Interlink Limited; Proman Vital Ventures Limited; Nairda Limited; Siraj Nigeria Limited and Wise Health Services Limited), who were first arraigned on May 11, 2011, however pleaded not guilty to the amended charge.

The case has been adjourned to 4th and 6th February, 2013 for continuation of trial.