N554m grass-cutting scandal

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, yesterday re-arraigned  former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, before an Abuja High Court at Maitama, over the alleged collusion in grass cutting contract fraud to the sum of about N554 million.Mr. Lawal, who served as SGF under President Muhammadu Buhari between August 27, 2015, and October 30, 2017, entered fresh plea of not guilty to an amended 10-count charge the EFCC preferred against him and six others. The other six Defendants that were also re-arraigned by the anti-graft agency, are; younger brother to the former SGF,   Hamidu Lawal, Suleiman Abubakar, Apeh Monday and two companiesRholavision Engineering Ltd and Josmon Technologies Ltd. The ex-SGF was among other things, alleged to have connived with the other Defendants and illegally diverted a contract the Presidential Initiative for North East, PINE, awarded for the removal of grasses in Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camps, to his own company. Meanwhile, the Defendants, who pleaded innocent to the amended charge  read to them before trial Justice Charles Agbaza, persuaded the court to retain the bail conditions it earlier handed them. The defendants were initially docked before the court on February 12, 2019. Their re-arraignment yesterday followed the demise of the former trial judge in the matter, Justice Jude Okeke. The trial had already proceeded with EFCC calling its witnesses, before Justice Okeke’s death on August 4, 2020. Following the development, the case-file was re-assigned to Justice Agbaza for the trial to start afresh. Late Justice Okeke had on February 13, 2019, granted the Defendants bail of the sum of N50 million each, with one surety . The court equally seized their international passports, even as it barred them from travelling out of the country without permission. Justice Agbaza slated January 20, 2021, to restart their trial. Some of the counts in the charge marked CR/158/19, read: “That you Engineer Babachir David Lawal while being the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF)   and a director of Rholavision Engineering Ltd, on or about the 7th of March, 2016 at Abuja in the Abuja Judicial Division of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory did knowingly hold indirectly a private interest in the consultancy contract awarded to Rholavision Engineering Ltd for the removal of invasive plant species and simplified irrigation to the tune of N7, 009,515.96 (Seven Million, Nine Thousand, Five Hundred and Fifteen Naira and Ninety Six Kobo only) by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) through the Presidential Initiative for North East (PINE) and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 12 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000.That you Engineer Babachir David Lawal while being the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and a director of Rholavision Engineering Ltd on or about the 22nd August, 2016 at Abuja in the Abuja Judicial Division of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory did knowingly hold indirectly a private interest in the contract awarded to Josmon Technologies Ltd but executed by Rholavision Engineering Ltd for the removal of invasive plant species and simplified irrigation to the tune of N258,132,735.00 (Two Hundred and Fifty Eight Million, One Hundred and Thirty Two Thousand, Seven Hundred and Thirty Five Naira only) by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) through the Presidential Initiative for North East (PINE) and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 12 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000.”