By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, yesterday, narrated before a Federal High Court in Abuja, how a former Minister of Works, Hassan Lawal, diverted over N75 billion meant for the construction of a bridge across River Benue.
The anti-graft agency which made the disclosure shortly after it re-docked the ex-minister on an amended 44-count criminal charge bothering on conspiracy, money laundering and breach of public trust, noted that the diverted funds were earmarked for building a bridge that would link Nasarawa State to Kogi State through River Benue.
It told the high court that the Gutto-Bagana bridge project contract was thwarted following a conspiracy between the 1st accused person, Lawal, and four others, who it said used five separate companies to sequentially siphon the funds raised for the project under the Private-Public-Partnership, PPP, initiative of the then Federal Government under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
The other accused persons who equally took turns to plead not guilty to the charge, yesterday, were the Managing Director of one of the indicted companies, Dr Adeogba Godwin Ademola, Dave Enejoh, Okala Philip Yakubu and Thahal Paul.
Likewise, the five companies accused of complicity in the fraud, Digital Toll Company Ltd, Swede Control Intertek Ltd, Proman Vital Ventures Ltd, Wise Health Services Ltd and Abbey Building Society, were also charged by the EFCC.
Testifying in court, yesterday, a lead investigator of the EFCC who is a Deputy Superintendent of Police, Mr Chike Nwibe, told the court according to the terms of the contract under PPP, whereas the Federal Government contributed 40 per cent of the looted funds, both the Nasarawa andKogiStategovernments, each raised 10 per cent of the fund.
He said that though one of the indicted companies, Swede Control Intertek Ltd which was awarded the contract, was meant to provide the remaining 60 per cent of the fund, it failed to do so, but rather connived with the former ex-works Minister to divert monies that were contributed by the various governments.
He said the company had agreed to build the bridge within 24 months from the date the contract was awarded, manage it for 25 years after which it must have recouped its investment, and then hand it over to the government.
Nwibe told the court that though the company failed to fulfill its obligation, in conjunction with the 1st accused person, the company “simply disappeared from the radar, only for another company, Digital Toll Ltd, to emerge from nowhere and started collecting huge sums of money direct from the Federal Ministry of Works.”
Firm registered a day before contract was awarded
According to the witness, Digital Toll was discovered to have been registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, a day before the said contract was awarded on May 16, 2007, adding that investigations further revealed that it was the 2nd accused person, Ademola, that ran the two companies.
EFCC further told the court that it discovered that the companies used fake bank details to secure the contract, adding that part of the project earlier executed by a company, Nairda Ltd, for N2.6 million, was however reawarded to another company, Sirage/GIS Transport Nigeria Limited, owned by a Lebanese, for N438 million, despite that the project had already been executed and certificate of completion tendered.
Meanwhile, trial Justice Adamu Bello, yesterday, adjourned further hearing on the matter till February 4 and 6, 2013.