A witness yesterday absolved former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Babachir David Lawal, of any complicity in the award of an alleged N544m grass-cutting contract.

Mr Hamza Adamu Buwai, a principal witness of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, on Wednesday told an FCT High Court, Jabi Division, that Mr Lawal was not involved in the award of the alleged N544 million grass-cutting contract awarded by the Presidential Initiative for North East (PINE).

According to Mr Buwai, the ex-SGF was not a member of PINE and was also not a member of its Ministerial Tenders Board responsible for award of contracts for the North East Region.

Mr Buwai, a Deputy Director in charge of Finance and Account of the PINE however admitted that a consultancy job was awarded to a company, Rholavision Engineering Ltd, in which a junior brother to Mr Lawal has shares.

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Under cross examination by Chief Akin Olujimi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), counsel to the former SGF, Mr Buwai told the court, presided over by His Lordship, Honourable Justice Charles Agbassa, that a Ministerial Tenders Board awarded the consultancy job to Rholavision Engineering Ltd. 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 Ltd while the consultancy for the supervision of the contract execution went to Rholavision Engineering Ltd.

The ex-SGF is standing trial alongside his younger brother, Hamidu David Lawal, who is said to be a director of Rholavision Engineering Ltd; 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 charge bordering on fraud to the tune of N544.1million, to 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% 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 recognise 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,” Mr Buwai said.

The witness further told the court that consultancy only was awarded to Rholavision Engineering Ltd in the first phase of the contract on January 14, 2016, adding that the company was paid 2.5% of the total contract sum.

Mr Buwai informed the court that following approval from the Permanent Secretary, Special Services in the office of the SGF, Rholavision Engineering Ltd was paid twice at 50% 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 adjourned the matter to March 31st 2021 for continuation of trial.

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