March 24, 2017

Grass-cutting job awarded to 20 ‘ghost’ firms – Senate panel

The Senate has said it had not been able to trace the addresses of about 20 contractors engaged for the execution of various projects in the rehabilitation of the North-East.

An investigative hearing by the Senate on the management of funds meant for the rehabilitation of the North-East, billed to hold on Thursday, had been botched by the non-appearance of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal.

The Chairman, Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, Senator Shehu Sani, said the probe was not a witch-hunt against the SGF, whose office oversees the Presidential Initiative on the North-East.

He said this while addressing journalists after the plenary on Thursday, following a meeting with the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang.

Sani said, “Now, we are set to invite all those persons. It was supposed to be today but, unfortunately, it could not happen.

“Meanwhile, you should understand that we are not investigating the SGF alone; we are investigating contracts that were awarded under the PINE. And over 20 companies were involved, but something very strange is the fact that some of these companies involved in these contracts, we cannot actually trace their addresses.

“We went there but they were not there. The option before us is to either report that they are ghost companies or we keep on searching until we find them. But it is most likely that it will be easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for us to find some of these names here.”

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), advised Lawal to appear before the Senate.

Falana said no court in Nigeria could stop the Senate from doing its job as the case was different from that of the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.).

He said, “The investigation being conducted by the Shehu Sani committee into the grass-cutting contract is backed by Section 88(2) of the constitution. So the SGF is constitutionally required to appear and cooperate fully with the committee.

“If he fails to appear, the committee is competent to order his arrest pursuant to Section 89 of the constitution. This case is materially distinguishable from that of the CGC of Customs, who was invited to justify a policy on import duty.”