23.4 C
Abuja
Monday, May 27, 2024

INVESTIGATION: How Borno Rep member seeking re-election influenced award of ₦1.2 billion contract to his company

spot_imgspot_imgspot_imgspot_img
spot_imgspot_img
By: Uchenna Igwe and Imran Ridwan
Mr Satomi risks jail term for influencing the award of contracts to his private company through a committee he oversees.
In contravention of Nigeria’s public procurement law, at least five public projects worth ₦1.2 billion were awarded to Obtuse Tech Engineering and Construction Limited, a company in which a federal lawmaker, Ahmed Satomi, holds significant interests.
Mr Satomi, who represents Jere federal constituency at the federal House of Representatives, established Obtuse Tech Engineering and Construction Limited, with company registration number RC1114389, in May 2013, according to records at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), with himself and Ali Garga Bukar as directors and shareholders.
Mr Satomi, who currently sits on the board of the company, is seeking re-election to the Nigerian House of Representatives in the 2023 elections.
While Mr Satomi established Obtuse Tech Engineering and Construction Limited and was both shareholder and director at incorporation in 2013 alongside Mr Bukar, UDEME found that he recused himself as a director in the company according to a resolution filed with the CAC on February 2, 2018 – a year before he assumed office.
However, Mr Satomi has continued to influence the award of government contracts to Obtuse Tech Engineering and Construction Limited from FERMA – which he oversees – and other government agencies. In several documents cited by UDEME, Mr Satomi continues to be listed as contact person for the company.
Sources familiar with the lawmaker’s activities revealed that his trend of awarding or influencing the award of government contracts to his firm dates back to his time as head of two government agencies: the Borno State Road Maintenance Agency (BORMA) and the Borno State Emergency Management Agency (BSEMA). UDEME could not independently verify this, but we traced five recent projects to the company over a seven months period of investigation.
Of these five projects executed by the lawmaker’s firm, three are zonal intervention projects (ZIPs) he nominated between 2019 – when he was elected – and 2022. The ZIPs were awarded by the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), an agency Mr Ahmed exercises oversight control on by virtue of his position as Vice Chairman, House Committee on FERMA.
Breach of several laws
In 2020, FERMA awarded a ₦113 million contract for the construction of vegetation control and solar streetlights in the Old Maiduguri Khaddamari/Dala Ngomari area, to Mr Ahmed’s Obtuse Tech Engineering and Construction Limited. The agency also contracted the company for the reconstruction of the Kwajaffa Crescent/Jamilu Road in Maiduguri, worth ₦250 million.
One of the contract award document
The following year, the company was awarded ₦113 million for the construction of a road with drainage in the Jere, Maiduguri area.
Other projects found to be linked to the Mr Satomi’s company include the construction of the 3.7km Jiddari Polo road and drainage within Jiddari Polo, Jere LGA (₦649,364,226.75) and the construction of a stormwater outfall within Jiddari Polo, Jere LGA (₦88,171,114.92) –both awarded by the Borno State Ministry of Works.
These actions clearly violate the provisions of Nigeria’s code of conduct bureau and tribunal act. Section 5 of the code states that “a public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities,” just as he or she shall not “engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade” as provided by section 6 of the act.
Contract documents of some of these government projects awarded to Obtuse Tech, sighted by UDEME, specifically listed Mr Satomi as the official contact person of the construction firm.
One of such is a letter introducing Obtuse Tec Engineering and Construction Limited as a contractor for the Kwajaffa Crescent/Jamilu Mosque Road, Maiduguri – one of the five projects under review in this report.
The letter with reference number FMPWH/SPU/IL/2020/015/I/693 and dated March 18, 2021, was signed by Akinola Suara, a deputy director of special projects at the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, and addressed to the ministry’s federal controller in Borno state. The title reads: “SDGs/ZONAL INTERVENTION/CONSTITUENCY/DIRECT MANDATE PROJECTS: INTRODUCTION OF CONTRACTOR”.
Official contract document listing Hon. Satomi’s name
In another aberration of extant laws, UDEME found that Obtuse Tech Construction and Engineering Limited had also defaulted on its annual returns to the federal government, leading to the declaration of the company as “inactive” by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Records at the CAC revealed that the company last filed its annual returns in 2017 – two years before it was awarded the projects.
The filing of annual returns is a crucial obligation for companies incorporated in Nigeria. It allows the government to ascertain the operations of companies that seek to get public contracts.
All companies incorporated in Nigeria are required by law to file their annual returns with the CAC at least once every year. Companies that fail to comply are classified as “inactive” by virtue of sections 417 – 424 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020.
CAC Search Report
The award of contracts to Obtuse Tech Engineering and Construction Limited violates Section 14 of the Public Procurement Act 2007. Section 16(8)(d) of the Act disqualifies a company from participating in procurement proceeding or holding government contracts if it “is in arrears regarding payment of due taxes, charges, pensions or social insurance contributions, unless such bidders have obtained a lawful permit with respect to allowance, deference of such outstanding payments or payment thereof in installments.”
UDEME could only trace five of the projects, however, sources familiar with the company’s activities said it receives a lot of such contracts.
For instance, in 2021, Mr Satomi’s company was also awarded the contract for the construction of an 8.2km road project across the Baga road market – Jajeri – Umarari – Bulabulin and another one running through the Texaco – Churchkime – Abdu One Road. These contracts are valued at N2.8 billion naira.
Projects poorly executed – residents
UDEME visited sites of the five projects executed by Obtuse Tech Engineering and Construction Limited for on-the-spot assessment.
Parts of the N250 million-naira Kwajaffa – Jamilu road were observed to be deteriorating with breakages. Residents who spoke to UDEME registered their displeasure over the status of the project which they attributed to poor execution by Mr Satomi’s company.
State of the Kwajaffa – Jamilu Road
Bulama Abba, a resident, faulted the quality of materials used in construction of the project. “It’s just a year since they completed this road, but it has started fading and breaking,” he said.
Another resident, Jamilu Musa said the poor condition of the road and drainage placed residents at risk during rainfall.
“Which kind of construction is this? In between the road and drainage, there are holes not properly covered with gravel. We suffer very well during the rain because water does not flow into the drainage,” he said, adding that the road was not durable and would not stand the test of time.
It is a similar experience for residents of Jiddari Polo, where the lawmaker’s company undertook the construction of a 3.7km road and drainages as well as a stormwater outfall – both valued at over N730 million naira.
Jiddari Polo Road
Despite the construction of these projects, residents say the flooding problem confronting them still persists – a situation they attribute to the poor execution of the road and drainage projects.
“The road has been constructed but we are not happy because it was not done properly. The road is fading, breaking and the drainage water is not flowing well. When it rains, it could take up to five days for water to clear up,” community head of Jiddari Polo, Mustapha Fantami said.
Barely a year after it was constructed, residents in the Kasuwan Shanu area of Jere, Maiduguri have also expressed concerns over the deteriorating condition of the road and drainage constructed by Obtuse Tec Engineering and Construction Limited.
State of the Kasuwan_Shanu road and drainage
Abduwa Isa, a resident, lamented the poor work done by the contractors. “The government has done their part but the construction company did bad work for us. For instance, they left a large hole in the middle of the road and after they completed this road, but came back to patch it with cement and concrete.”
Mr Isa noted that the community had to crowdfund to fix parts of the culverts that had crumbled.
In the Khaddamari/Dala/Ngomari area, it is a better experience for residents who commended the government for the provision of solar street lights. Tanko Abubakar, the village head of Dala said the installation of the streetlights have given the area a new and improved look.
“These street lights have given us full security; at night you can move anywhere without fear. The government has done well, we need more of these developments in our community,” he said.
In September 2022, a report by HumAngle showed how a drainage project handled by Obtuse Tech Engineering and Construction Limited had worsened flood risks in Bulabulin Garandam community, channeling water into the homes of residents and creating large bodies of stagnant water that now serve as make-shift swimming pools for children in the area. The drainage is part of the 2.8 billion naira Baga-Jajeri-Umarari-Bulabulin road project awarded to the company by the Borno state government.
Solar Streetlights at Dala and Ngomari communities
Across Mr Satomi’s constituency, there is an airwave of fear of criticising the lawmaker, as such an action could attract vicious attacks from his supporters. One of his constituents, Fadila Abdulrahman, experienced this In January 2022, after thugs loyal to the lawmaker beat her mercilessly over a Facebook post critical of his performance. The thugs were arrested by the police, but Mr Satomi dissociated himself from the incident in a statement.
Lawmaker mum on issue
UDEME reached out to Mr Satomi, for comments, but he did not respond. Calls to his mobile number were left unanswered.
When contacted, Mohammed Umar Shuwa, Mr Satomi’s media aide, declined comments on the issue. “Who gave you my number? I cannot give you somebody’s information like that,” he blurted, ending the call abruptly. Further calls to his line were also unanswered.
Lawmaker’s conduct unlawful – Lawyers, Civil Society
Meanwhile, Ilevbaoje Uadamen, head of BudgIT Foundation’s Tracka, said public officers have made it a tradition to award contracts to themselves in Nigeria. To solve the problem, Mr Uadamen suggests that anti-graft agencies investigate and prosecute government officials found to be engaged in such conducts.
“You can’t be a referee in the same game you are playing. The EFCC and ICPC should enforce the provisions of the code and conduct under the Public Procurement Act if lawmakers act against any of the laws.”
Human rights and constitutional lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, described the conduct and activities of the lawmaker as a breach of his oath as a public officer.
“The conduct of that lawmaker is not just a breach of his oath he swore as a public officer, but an abuse of the code of conduct bureau and tribunal act,” he said.
Mr Effiong noted that Mr Satomi engagement with the company “The only business or profession a public officer is permitted to undertake is farming. Any other engagement is illegal. That is the position of the law.”
Hyedima Mshelia, a lawyer at the Bwala and Co law firm, said Mr Satomi’s conduct was also contrary to the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, which barred public officers from engaging in execution of government projects or receiving gains from the same.
Section 57 (9) of the Public Procurement Act (2007) states that: “Every public officer involved directly or indirectly in matters of public procurement and disposal of assets shall: (a) divest himself of any interest or relationships which are actually or potentially inimical or detrimental to the best interest of government and the underlying principles of this Act; and (b) not engage or participate in any commercial transaction involving the federal government, its ministries, extra-ministerial departments, corporations where his capacity as public officer is likely to confer any unfair advantage – pecuniary or otherwise on him or any person directly related to him.”
Another lawyer, Obia Sunday of Keena Partners, said the lawmaker’s conduct put him in a position of conflict with his duties and responsibilities and that he risks being jailed.
“A lawmaker should not be a beneficiary of any government contract and neither should his friends or relatives. It is not fair if the person disposing of is also the person receiving,” he said. “If a public officer directly or indirectly attempts to influence in any manner the procurement process to obtain an unfair advantage, the law makes provision for a term of imprisonment not less than five years without a fine, even a summary dismissal from government services and the case should be heard in Federal High Court. The law under section 58 of the Public Procurement Act 2007 provides for these offenses,” he said.
The Act in section 57(12)(b) describes “conflict of interest” as existing where a  government official, “possesses a direct or indirect interest in or relationship with a bidder, supplier, contractor or service provider that is inherently unethical or that may be implied or constructed to be, or make possible personal gain due to the person’s ability to influence dealings.
In the past, there have been reports of government officials who engaged in sharp practices that granted them personal gains from the public procurement process through the influence of award of government contracts to their own companies and/or those owned and/or operated by their relatives, friends and associates, in violation of extant laws.
Some of them include current governor of Bauchi state, Bala Mohammed; former governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Ebonyi state governor, Dave Umahi; Peter Nwaoboshi, a senator representing Delta North and his colleague representing Kano North, Barau Jibrin. During a public probe into the accounts of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2021, the then Minister of the Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio accused members of the National Assembly of being beneficiaries of NDDC projects.
We will investigate – ICPC
UDEME reached out to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) – an anti-graft agency with a focus on executive and constituency projects – for comments.  Officials of the commission, whom the UDEME team visited for comments on the investigation, said the commission would investigate the case and react accordingly. They declined to have their names mentioned because they are not authorised to speak on the matter.

 

UDEME is a member of the steering committee of the ICPC’s Constituency and Executive Projects Tracking Group (CEPTG).

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Read

spot_imgspot_img
spot_imgspot_img

Latest stories