The Director-General of the Enugu-based Project Development Institute (PRODA), Charles Agulanna, who is mired in corruption allegations, has been reappointed by the Buhari administration
Mr Agulanna is being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged fraud. He has also been summoned, at least, twice by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), alongside his half-brother Albert, and others, PREMIUM TIMES can confirm.
A PREMIUM TIMES investigation also revealed that Mr Agulanna flouted public procurement law in the award and payment of contracts. He was first named substantive director-general of PRODA in 2015 after acting in the capacity for three years.
Formerly known as the Research and Production Department of the old Eastern Region, the institute was the manufacturing engine room for the prosecution of the civil war for the defunct Biafra Republic.
One of the most notable inventions of the institute during the civil war was the “ogbunigwe” bomb, a self-propelled rocket with an 8-kilometre range that could wipe out a company of enemy troops.
After the civil war, it was renamed PRODA and enlisted as one of the 17 agencies under the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Shortly after the civil war, PRODA pioneered the first made-in-Nigeria ‘car’, branded PRODA. The low-cost prototype was taken on a roadshow across the country. However, a functional version of the vehicle did not see the light of the day as the government later jettisoned the idea.
After years of being in limbo, PRODA crept back into the consciousness of many Nigerians recently after the immediate past Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, announced that by 2018 Nigeria would start the production of pencils. PRODA was the agency saddled with the responsibility of leading this “revolution.”
But despite huge budgetary allocations, perhaps to kick-off the pencil production, the government has been unable to rouse the comatose agency from its deep slumber. The so-called pencil revolution is yet to start, and the agency is fast rotting away.
Shortly after he was appointed the acting Director-General of PRODA in 2012, Mr Agulanna started awarding contracts for the supply of equipment, installation and staff training to Chukason Nigeria Limited, a company with a shady background.
Investigations by this newspaper revealed that John Yar, the person who paraded himself as the owner of the company, usurped the company from its true owner, Sylvester Chukwu, in order to use it to win contracts from PRODA.
Apart from its dubious background, the newspaper also discovered that contracts awarded to Chukason completely flouted the country’s public procurement law.
Chukason was awarded contracts without evidence of competitive bidding as required by the public procurement law. Also, a review of the company’s file with the Corporate Affairs Commission revealed that at the time it was awarded a N34 million contract for the installation of equipment and staff training, it was yet to file its annual returns for three years.
In PRODA’s 2013 capital projects, Chukason was engaged to procure, install equipment and train staff of the institute’s Materials and Energy Technology (MET) Department.
For instance, according to the 2013 contract, Chukason was required to purchase one Unit of Toledo Thermogravimetric Analyser (TGAISFTA) at N8.5 million; one unit of JIEBO Technology Carbon and Sulphur Measuring Instrument CS 995 at N7.3 million; JW-RB Series BET Surface Area Analyser at N660,440,00; and two units of High Speed Refrigerated Centrifuge Model GLIDMA at N910,100.00. Others included one unit of Thermo Scientific Lindberg Furnace Blue M Three Zone Tube with Mulite Process Tube at N950,000, among others.
The company was also engaged to train six workers from the department for N2.8 million.
But while the company was fully paid for the contract, it failed to supply items such as JW-RB Series BET Surface Area Analyser. The staff were also not trained.
When the leadership of MET department kicked against the non-execution of some of the items in the contracts, Mr Yar wrote an undertaking in November 2014, promising to install the items during his next delivery to the company.
But his undertaking was controversial. Mr Yar wrote on behalf of Mega Enterprises Limited, a company unknown to the contract, but the undertaking was written with a Chukason Nigeria Limited letterhead.
PREMIUM TIMES later learnt that Mr Yar wrote the undertaking on behalf of the strange company in order to conceal the conflict between him and the owner of Chukason Nigeria Limited.
Owner of Chukason Nigeria Limited Kicks
Mr Chukwu, whose name appears at the CAC as the founder of Chukason Nigeria Limited, in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said Mr Yar was a “fraudster.”
He said Mr Yar approached him in the past to use his company to bid for contracts at PRODA. But after the contracts were awarded, Mr Yar disappeared, he said. He added that even after he complained to the management of PRODA, the agency did not stop dealing with the alleged impostor.
“But as I’m talking to you now, Yar has been on the run. I once reported him to police over this matter. So, if you take me to EFCC on this matter, I am ready to say what I know. I regret the day they brought that boy here that I should assist him,” he said.
During a visit to PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Yar declined to comment on the allegation that he usurped the Chukason Limited from the rightful owner.
He said the matters were already being addressed.
“I can’t speak now. I need to really understand these cases,” Mr Yar said.
Worried by what they described as corrupt practices and ineptitude of the leadership of Mr Agulanna, the institute’s workers’ unions – Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions (ASURI) and the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) – consistently petitioned Mr Onu.
The unions, under the aegis of Joint Union of PRODA, in one of the petitions addressed to Mr Onu, and copied to the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), and chairman of the board of PRODA, among others, chronicled the infractions allegedly committed by the Mr Agulanna.
The letter, dated September 21, 2018, reads in part; “It is with a great sense of duty and responsibility that our unions have decided to throw some light on the inadequacies to our research institution, and the abysmal performance of the institute’s current DG/CEO, Engr. Dr Charles Nkem Agulanna and (the) entire management team. They have not only performed far below expectation, but have brought more damnation and retrogression to the institute, and research and development in the country. Ostensibly, the past six and a half years in the institute could be labelled as a wasted era in our lifespan.”
The petition was signed by Teddy Udenya and Celestine Chikelu as chairman and secretary of ASURI respectively, while Donald Ambakederemo and Nnanna Akachukwu signed as chairman and secretary of ASCSN, respectively.
Another petition addressed to the EFCC by a non-governmental organisation, Lygel Youths and Leadership Initiatives (LYLI), also accused the DG of purchasing a Toyota Prado SUV for the office of the chairman of PRODA board at N47.5 million even before approval by the institute’s tender’s board.
The vehicle, the organisation claimed, was bought at a time the institute was locked up for more than two weeks by the First Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) for failure to pay relevant taxes, and at a time the private security guards employed by the institute were yet to be paid for more than 12 months.
Meanwhile, another company, Gnvirons Limited, petitioned the D-G over allegation of diversion of funds meant for the contracts it executed on behalf of PRODA.
Speaking on the matter, the principal partner of Imo State-based Ebekuodike Chambers – T.S Ugwegbu, who confirmed he wrote the petition on behalf of Gnvirons, said he stands by the contents of the petition.
The petition reads in part; “The Tender Board of PRODA on 4th November 2014 approved a contract award, LOT 8 Ref: PDA/ACC/S200/Vol. of 5/11/2014, to Gnvirons Limited for “Strategic SMES Intervention and Empowerment Programme in Southern Ijaw Federal Constituency, Bayelsa State, for the sum of N45,532,950,.00. The Certificate of Award was signed by Dr. C.N Agulanna, acting as Director-General, PRODA.
“The Tender Board also approved on 5th November, 2014, a contract award to Gnvirons Limited, LOT4. Ref: PDA/ACC/S200/Vol. of 5/11/2014 on Skills Acquisition and Training for the sum of N38,844,622.50 but after execution of the projects, PRODA refused to pay the contractor.”
The petitioner alleged that the money that was supposed to be paid to the contractor “was criminally converted” to Albert Agulanna, a half-brother to the DG.
Gnviron alleged that Mr Albert used forged document as well as impersonated representatives of the company in order to illegally divert money for his personal use.”
It said N38.8 million was paid into the First Bank of Nigeria Plc with Account Name- Northern Stream International Limited while N45.5 million was paid into Fidelity Bank Plc with Account Name Clemari Engineering Services Limited.
DG denies allegations
When reached for comment, Mr Agulanna initially declined to comment, saying he could not talk to someone unknown to him.
He later denied any wrongdoing, especially on those allegations concerning Chukason Nigeria Limited.
“The matter concerning Chukason has been investigated twice by ICPC and the management of the institute was exonerated from any wrongdoing. The DG was not found wanting in any way. The problem is between the owner of the company and an outsider who made use of the company with a power of attorney. They had issues beyond the control of the institute. The company is yet to receive payment on outstanding debts on the job,” he said via SMS.
He, however, did not respond to questions about the eligibility of the company to be awarded contracts. He also failed to reply other enquiries including the controversy surrounding the purchase of an SUV for the institute’s board chairman’s office.
PRODA DG’s Controversial Reappointment
After six and half years in the saddle as the director-general of PRODA, Mr Agulanna was expected by law to proceed on mandatory terminal leave in October 2018 but refused to leave the office. Instead, he clung on to power for more than two months.
When he eventually handed over power to the most senior officer at the institute, Edwin Oriaku, on January 2, 2019, he stated clearly in his handover letter that he had only completed his first term in office, signalling his determination to return.
Mr Agulanna reportedly wrote three different letters of handover within two days, with different contents.
Despite Handover, Agulanna Continued to Receive Salary
While Mr Oriaku resumed office as the director-general of PRODA in an acting capacity on January 2, 2019, he was only a titular DG, as evidence showed that Mr Agulanna remained as a signatory to the institute’s account and continued to draw salary as the DG on Grade Level 30 until his return on February 25.
For instance, the PRODA January 2019 payment schedule obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, indicated that Mr Agulanna received a full salary as the director general.
In spite of the allegations hovering over Mr Agulanna, the former minister, Mr Onu, insisted on his reappointment.
At a meeting held with representatives of aggrieved workers in his Uburu home in Ebonyi State on January 4, the minister acknowledged the genuine complaints of the workers against Mr Agulanna, but said the workers’ failure to honour a meeting called by the ministry’s permanent secretary on December 31, 2018, “made them to lose their case.”
“We told the minister that the notice of invitation to the meeting was short and that since it was on the last day of December, it was difficult for us to send representatives. But he took that as an excuse to punish us by reappointing a man he was also very sure is incapable of running the institute,” one of the workers in attendance, who asked not to be named, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“But the minister’s disposition to our argument had suggested that Mr Agulanna was fronting for some powerful people who may have just turned the institute to a cash cow at the detriment of workers,” the source added.
Lack of due process
Meanwhile, strong indications have emerged that Mr Agulanna’s reappointment may not have followed laid down procedures.
Instead of being signed by the Secretary to the Government of Federation (SGF) as is the norm, the letter reappointing Mr Agulanna was signed by Mr Onu.
A highly placed official at the office of the SGF, who does not want to be named, alleged that the minister was in the habit of disobeying rules and regulations, “especially when matters of appointments are concerned.”
The source said; “The procedure for reappointment is very clear. The outgoing DG is expected to show interest for a second tenure by writing to the minister listing his or her achievements during the first tenure, and what he or she plans to achieve during the second tenure and why he or she deserves to be reappointed. As soon as the minister receives that, he sends it to the Permanent Secretary who in turn sends to the supervisory department for the agency for assessment and a brief.
“The concerned director will then send the brief back to the permanent secretary, who will send the brief back to the minister giving recommendations. The minister will then write to the Presidency through the SGF listing the achievements of the concerned DG, and the SGF takes this to the presidency. If the president is convinced, then the SGF writes the letter of reappointment and sends to the concerned DG through the minister. That is the standard practice.”
Mr Onu Reacts
Speaking on behalf of the former minister, the deputy director of press in the ministry, Aminu AbdulGaniyu, however, said Mr Onu signed the DG’s appointment letter following the SGF’s directive.
He also said he was not aware that Mr Agulanna was facing probe, saying it is the responsibility of the anti-graft agencies to communicate the ministry that the DG was being investigated.
Mr Aminu said; “The minister said since he doesn’t work with neither EFCC nor ICPC he wouldn’t have known that an official of an agency under his watch was being probed.
“So there was no way he would have denied the DG the reappointment opportunity.”
Asked about the alleged degeneracy of the institute during the first six and half years tenure of Mr Agulanna, Mr Aminu said the minister could only respond to two of the many questions contained in PREMIUM TIMES’ letter.
“The minister was on his way out of the country when we discussed these issues, so he could not speak elaborately,” Mr Aminu added.
Rather than giving a yes or no answer to PREMIUM TIMES’ enquiry on whether it approved the reappointment of Mr Agulanna and gave Mr Onu the directive to sign the letter, the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) rather said it was looking into the matter.
More than three weeks after the letter was delivered to the SGF , a letter of acknowledgement signed on behalf of Boss Mustapha by his legal adviser, Emmanuel Akissa, stated in part; “Please be informed that the office is looking into the issues raised along with the Ministry of Science and Technology and will duly respond after confirmation of same.”
PRODA Board Chairman Reacts
In his response to PREMIUM TIMES enquiries, Daniel Onjeh, who was appointed the chairman of PRODA board in 2017, said the issues with PRODA are complex and that his leadership is trying to resolve them one after the other.
Mr Onjeh said that PRODA had almost collapsed before his appointment and that his board has been working round the clock to address the issues.
He denied being bribed by the DG with the purchase of the SUV, saying he had more than enough cars in his garage.
He said; “My brother, I can confirm to you that I also felt very bad first day I visited PRODA but most of the issues raised here are also not unconnected to the politics surrounding the appointment of a DG for another four-year term. I have just been told that the allegation about the Jeep isn’t correct.
“Let me tell you that I have my vehicles for personal use and even after my campaign during the 2015 elections I gave out some. The jeep bought for my office isn’t for my personal use. It is there at PRODA compound.