A federal ministry’s former Director of Procurement, Mohammed Muazu, on Monday, explained his roles in an alleged deal involving some members of the National Assembly on the sharing of constituency project profits in 2014.
Mr Muazu, who was testifying at the Federal High Court in Abuja as a prosecution witness, did not give the names or the number of lawmakers involved in the profit-sharing deal.
He was testifying as the seventh prosecution witness in the trial of a former Minister of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs, Tanimu Turaki, who is being prosecuted alongside others on 16 counts of money laundering.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) accused Mr Turaki, his former Special Assistant, Sampson Okpetu, as well as two firms – Samtee Essentials Limited and Pasco Investment Limited – for allegedly using different companies to launder about N854 million between 2013 and 2015.
Testifying in the case as the seventh prosecution witness on Monday, Mr Muazu said the Federal Ministry of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs (FMSDIGA) which was then being headed by Mr Turaki, entered a profit-sharing deal with the National Assembly members to raise campaign funds for the lawmakers from the profits realised by the companies that were awarded the constituency project contracts.
Constituency projects are nominated by lawmakers in the annual national budget for placement in their constituencies. They have become controversial over the years as they have been riddled with corruption, nepotism and uncompleted projects.
Mr Muazu told the court that the lawmakers nominated the companies that executed the projects in 2014 and part of the profits were shared between the legislators and the companies.
“In 2014, members of the National Assembly brought to the Ministry of Inter-Governmental Affairs some intervention projects for processing and execution.
“The leadership of the House and members of the constituency outreach committee were asked to nominate companies to execute the projects,” the witness said while being led by the prosecuting lawyer, A. U Ringim.
The witness, who said the arrangement was introduced to him by then Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Tahir Haruna (now deceased), added that over 5,000 companies participated in the pre-qualification verification exercise, but he would not remember how many of them made it to the final stage.
He said under the arrangement, one Abdulrahaman Yusuf, a Bureau De Change (BDC) operator, collected part of the profits from the contractors, converted it to dollars and hand it over to Mr Haruna, for onward transmission to the lawmakers.
“The companies were asked to give part of the profits so that members of the National Assembly will use it for their campaign for 2015,” Mr Muazu said.
The witness, maintaining that the companies donated part of their profits out of their freewill, said, “Nobody was coerced”.
“Some complied, some did not. Money was transferred to the BDC, converted to dollars and paid to the Permanent Secretary for onward transmission to members of National Assembly,” the witness said.
Fielding questions under cross-examination by Mr Turaki’s lawyer, Joe Kyari-Gadzama, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the witness confirmed that the execution of constituency projects was previously domiciled at the Federal Ministry of Finance but was later relocated to the FMSDIGA.
He agreed that there was a negotiation committee of the FMSDIGA that met with National Assembly members for the ministry to be given the role of executing the constituency projects.
Asked if knew that “the House of Representatives members were so happy with the ministry that they said the ministry should handle the constituency projects,” the witness said “yes”.
He conceded that he had two companies who executed part of the constituency projects against the code of conduct that bars civil servants from running such businesses and being beneficiaries of such government contracts.
He also conceded that he had refunded “a lot of money” to the EFCC.
He said he refunded N45 million on July 9, 2019; N25 million on May 13, 2019, and N5 million on October 5, 2015.
When confronted with his previous statement made to the EFCC, he confirmed that there was an “outstanding bonus of N220 million” from the funds received from the contractors that was shared by the ministry officials.
But he insisted that all the contracts were executed, adding that the funds he received were proceeds of consultancy services provided by the companies.
The witness was asked if despite returning money, he had been arrested, charged or prosecuted, he said “no”.
He said he was not aware that Mr Turaki had to refund any fund to the EFCC.
He also said the former minister was not a shareholder in any of the companies that benefitted from the contract awards.
He also said Mr Turaki never asked for money or requested that money be given to anybody from the proceeds of the contracts.
The judge, Inyang Ekwo, adjourned till Tuesday for continuation of trial.
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