The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Thursday told an Ikeja High Court that the contracts awarded by the Nigerian Ports Authority under the chairmanship of Chief Olabode George were inflated.
George led the board of the NPA between 2001 and 2003.
The commission also said that the award of the contracts, totalling 24, 252, did not follow due process as it breached the Federal Government’s regulations and directives.
An investigative officer of the commission, Mr. Bamanga Bello, stated this in ‘a written statement on oath’ which he adopted in the court on Thursday after being led in evidence by his lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana.
It was during the proceedings of the N500m suit instituted by George against the Independent Communications Network Ltd, publishers of The News magazine and PM News newspaper.
The Editor-in-Chief of The News, Mr. Bayo Onanuga, and another staff of the magazine, Mr. Ademola Adegbamigbe, were joined as co-defendants.
In the suit, George claimed that a story contained in the July 2005 edition of the magazine, published by the defendants, was libelous and damaging to his reputation.
George added that the story, which linked him to an alleged N5bn fraud in the NPA, was malicious and designed to bring him into disrepute.
However, Bello, who represented the Chairman of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, in the committee set up by the Federal Government to review and verify NPA‘s contracts between 2001 and 2003, told the court that George approved them illegally.
Under cross-examination by George‘s lawyer, Mr. Adebambo Adesanya (SAN), Bello added that the commission was still investigating the matter and that some of the persons allegedly involved in the forgery of documents had been charged to court.
The presiding judge, Justice Akeem Oshodi, adjourned the matter till January 28, 2008.
In his statement on oath, Bello wrote, “The Board of the NPA under the chairmanship of Chief Olabode George approved various contracts without due process and in clear violation of extant government rules and regulations, orders and the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Investigation revealed that the NPA, during the period under review, awarded over 24, 252 contracts valued at over N100bn.
”The board, under the chairmanship of George, approved various contracts which only the Ministerial Tenders Board or the Federal Executive Council had power to approve and thereby contravened Section 61 of the Criminal Code.
“It was also revealed during the period under investigation that contracts awarded by the board were generally inflated as can be seen from the Report of the Committees and Annexures 11. The act of inflation of contract prices is tantamount to conspiracy and stealing, contrary to Section 516 and 390 of the Criminal Code. This action also contravened Section 22 (3) of the ICPC Act 2000.
“It was also discovered that George left office with about four vehicles belonging to the NPA which prompted the committee to write to him as a result of which he returned the vehicles to the NPA.
”Even after George had been removed as the chairman of the NPA, he was still occupying the two properties belonging to the NPA at Ikoyi, Lagos and Maitama, Abuja, contrary to government regulations.
“Most of the contracts awarded by the NPA under the leadership of George were not budgeted for, contrary to Section 22(4) of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission Act.”
The Special Committee on the Review and Verification of Contracts awarded by the NPA from 2001 to 2003 led by Ribadu had in 2006 indicted the former board led by George.
The committee’s report was presented to former President Olusegun Obasanjo on February 21, 2006.
Presenting the report, the EFCC boss said the committee’s fundings and observations included widespread financial recklessness, flagrant violation of existing government rules and regulations on award of contracts, disregard for due process, gross and massive inflation of contract prices and excessive contract splitting.
Ribadu had said, “The committee has established that the board and management of the NPA during the period under review were responsible for the flagrant violation of the existing government rules and regulations of award of contracts.
“The committee has also established that the NPA awarded a total of 24,252 contracts during the period under review with a total value of N46,946,402,776, $236,913,986, £24,905,588, DM 461,936,147, ¤926,957 and 4,087,918 shekels.
“Most of those contracts were awarded without due regard to existing rules and regulations, which resulted in NPA accumulating a huge contract debt running into billions of naira without corresponding value to the authority.
“The committee has established that the outstanding contract bills for the period under review stood at N9,264,411,707; $1,634,772; £2,920,575; ¤919,001 and DM 41,052.
“The committee made strong recommendations, including the recovery of misappropriated funds, structural and administrative changes, which we believe will assist in sanitising the operations of the NPA and forestall future occurrence of these or similar incidences.”
Receiving the report, Obasanjo had commended members of the committee for a good work and assured them that the Federal Government would study the report and be guided by its recommendations.
He also assured the NPA creditors that their cases would be treated on merit.
“I think we are clearing the Augean stable little by little. the NPA is one of the last to be given a clean-up,” Obasanjo had said.
The EFCC had on November 26, 2007 tendered the report before the court.
The document, which was presented by Bello, was admitted as evidence before the court.
After the court accepted the report, Falana also sought the permission of the court for Bello to give an oral testimony on the document.
The court, however, directed that Bello’s testimony should be made on oath. That prompted Falana to apply for an adjournment.
– The Punch