EXCLUSIVE: How agency headed by Buhari’s in-law is violating Nigeria’s procurement law

President Muhammadu Buhari [Pix: Daily Post Nigeria]
President Muhammadu Buhari [Pix: Daily Post Nigeria]

Fresh procurement documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES have revealed how the Border Communities Development Agency (BDCA) shortlisted unqualified companies for a slew of federal contracts across the country.

Junaid Abdullahi, a son-in-law of President Muhammadu Buhari, is the executive secretary of the border agency.

About 33 companies were prequalified for eight zonal intervention projects worth over N1.3 billion that were reviewed by this medium.

The contracts were amongst nearly 400 self-enrichment projects of federal lawmakers advertised for execution by the BDCA between late July and early August.

In shortlisting the firms, procurement officials at BDCA overlooked tax clearance certificate, one of the top two requirements which any interested firm must present to meet the basic requirement of contract award.

In its invitation to tender published on July 29, the BDCA had said all firms must have a minimum annual turnover of N50 million in taxes over three years — but officials prequalified at least 18 firms whose annual taxes were substantially below N50 million, according to tax documents obtained by this newspaper.

Estivus Nigeria Limited, the last of the 33 companies reviewed, did not qualify for the contract because it obtained its tax clearance on August 16, 2018, three days after the bidding process closed on August 13, 2018.

It remained unclear how the firm was smuggled into the list of companies whose bids were received as of deadline.

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A BDCA official claimed that may have been an error which would could still be corrected before the final companies are announced.

VIOLATING THE LAW

The procurement irregularities by the BCDA are a violation of federal contracting provisions, and were even acknowledged by the agency’s executive secretary who told PREMIUM TIMES he had no scruples blurring procurement regulations to “support small or upcoming firms” who may otherwise have been unable to secure contracts on the accounts of insufficient personnel, finances or other regulatory constraints.

But the Public Procurement Act (2007) does not permit federal agencies or their leaderships to manipulate laid down rules in favour of any segment of the society.

Section 23 (1) of the law says, “Where a procuring entity has made a decision with respect to the minimum qualification of suppliers, contractors or service providers by requesting interested persons to submit applications to prequalify, it shall set out precise criteria upon which it seeks to give consideration to the applications and in reaching a decision as to which supplier, contractor or service provider qualifies, shall apply only the criteria set out in the prequalification documents and no more.”

By listing companies that have no annual tax turnover of N50 million in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the BDCA is in violation of extant procurement law.

The law did not enumerate the requirements an agency must list for contractors, but it strictly emphasised that once an agency set its requirements in a public tender process, it must play by that rule till the end of the process. No amendment or discretion could be exercised in the middle of the process.

Nigeria’s public procurement processes have for years been dogged by abuses and violation of the enabling law.

But coming under an administration that promised to bring sanity into public service, including procurement process, the shortlisting of unqualified firms by the BCDA could further dampen the hope of anti-corruption campaigners that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government would be different.

“The fight against corruption is more potent when it is effective at the prevention stage,” anti-corruption activist, Lanre Suraj, told PREMIUM TIMES. “The public procurement in Nigeria is reputed to be responsible for 70 percent of corruption that has taken several trillions of naira into the hand of fraudulent individuals.”

Junaid Abdullahi, executive secretary of the BDCA, told PREMIUM TIMES the agency used its discretion in giving special concessions to some firms in violation of the law.

“We cannot be demanding a tax clearance of N50 million per year from a company that is small and bidding for contracts of N2 million, N5 million,” Mr Abdullahi said. “As long as it is done across board and no one is excluded” from benefiting from the relaxed rules.”

When reminded that the eight contracts scrutinised by PREMIUM TIMES ranged between N120 million and N250 million, Mr Abdullahi struggled to muddle up the matter, saying this newspaper was referring to a separate tender, a false claim he held on to despite repeated clarification by this reporter.

Mr Abdullahi, son-in-law to President Buhari, was not the head of BDCA during the controversial prequalifications. He assumed office towards the end of October following his appointment by the president, but has carried on with the flawed process.

Mr Suraj said those involved in prequalifying companies without due tax documents should be prosecuted for violating procurement regulations.

“If someone can breach what has been clearly and publicly listed as requirements in the invitation to tender, then the person should be arrested and prosecuted,” Mr Suraj said.

“You cannot change the rules midway into a bidding process, it is a criminal offence to violate the Public Procurement Act in such a manner.”

The anti-corruption campaigner said federal lawmakers who nominated a large chunk of projects being executed by the BDCA are often responsible for nomination of contractors.

TRYING THEIR LUCK

A spokesperson for Ferab Hilltop Nigeria Limited, which has an annual average turnover of just N1.2 million, told PREMIUM TIMES the company knew it might not qualify for the project based on set out requirements, but tried its luck nonetheless.

“We bidded for so many things, even when you know that you do not have everything, but you could still try your luck, this is Nigeria,” the Ferab representative told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone. He declined to give his name.

He admitted that “even abroad”, there are thresholds and statutory requirements for awards of contracts.

The National Council of Public Procurement is a key component of the Public Procurement Act, but successive administrations since it was enacted in 2007 have failed to set up the body.

PREMIUM TIMES reported last December that Mr Buhari has also joined his predecessors in violating the law by refusing to inaugurate the body. Presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu responded to the report at the time, saying the council would soon be set up, but no such step has been taken so far.

“We need to set up the council in order to take away the responsiblity of awarding contracts from the president and his cabinet members,” Mr Suraj said. “The procurement fraud that is being perpetrated every day that the council is not set up is too much.”

Despite the flawed process, the award letters for the contracts would start going out from the BDCA at the end of December, Mr Abdullahi said.

“We have a lot to do and we do not have enough time.”

LIST OF PROJECTS

1. KEKE NAPEP FOR FARM TO MARKET TRANSPORTATION IN BURSARI/ GAIDAM/YUNISARI FEDERAL CONSTITUENCY, YOBE STATE NEW BCDA SGF 135,000,000.

2. PROVISION OF AGRICULTURAL INPUTS AND EQUIPMENTS IN CHIKUN/KAJURU FEDERAL CONSTITUENCY, KADUNA STATE NEW BCDA SGF N250,000,000

3. SUPPLY OF 500 MOTORCYCLES TO KANO SOUTH SENATORIAL DISTRICT, KANO STATE NEW BCDA SGF N140,000,000

4. SUPPLY AND DISTRIBUTION OF ICT MATERIALS FOR UNEMPLOYED WOMEN IN OYO CENTRAL SENATORIAL DISTRICT, OYO STATE BCDA SGF N150,000,000.

5. PURCHASE OF MOTORCYCLES AT GOMBE CENTRAL NEW BCDA SGF N120,000,000.

6. ENTREPRENEURSHIP & EMPOWERMENT TRAINING OF YOUTHS AND WOMEN IN OGBIA FEDERAL CONSTITUENCY, BAYELSA STATE NEW BCDA SGF N120,000,000.

7. SUPPLY, DISTRIBUTION AND TRAINING OF YOUTH IN ICT IN CHIKUN/KAJURU FEDERAL CONSTITUENCY, KADUNA STATE NEW BCDA SGF N250,000,000.

8. EMPOWERMENT AND TRAINING OF YOUTHS IN KANO MUNICIPAL, KANO STATE, IN SAFANA/DANMUSA/MATSARI LGAs, KATSINA STATE AND IN ODOTIN/IFELODUN/BONPE, OSUN STATE BCDA SGF N150,000,000.

LIST OF UNQUALIFIED COMPANIES:

1. GLOBAL GREEN I.T. AND TELECOMS NIGERIA

2. E-CONCEPT TECHNOLOGIES LTD

3. STYLBRID NIGERIA LTD

4. BOLTEM & SONS GLOBAL SERVICES LIMITED

5. AD-BOTOG INTERNATIONAL LTD

6. CRAWLEY INTEGRATED SERVICES LIMITED

7. NORTH GATE GLOBAL CONCEPT LIMITED

8. SANMAN GLOBAL VENTURES LTD

9. METRIC INFO LTD

10. BEACHSTONE LTD

11. OMADAC ENGINEERING LIMITED

12. SUCCESS & RESOURCES INT MANAGEMENT LIMITED

13. AIDSWATCH CONSULTING LIMITED

14. MEQSTAR GLOBAL LTD

15. FERAB HILLTOP NIGERIA LIMITED

16. SYNCWISE INTEGRATED SERVICES LIMITED

17. NANIC INVESTMENTS AND SERVICES LIMITED

18. ESTIVUS NIGERIA LIMITED

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