A troubling blend of questions bordering on corrupt practices, involving N1.4 billion in one case, and theft of public assets has been raised against the Surveyor-General of the Federation, Ebisintei Awudu, and his office, the OSGF, according to audit documents reviewed by PREMIUM TIMES.
The audit reports, for at least three years, included a recommendation that OSGF should be investigated by the anti-graft authorities and that the Accountant-General of the Federation should constitute an inquiry into the accounts of the office.
The reports, which though are interim observations requiring Mr Awudu’s explanations to the Auditor-General of the Federation, detailed observed contract frauds, as well as disregard for due process and accountability standards.
When contacted, Mr Awudu told this paper that officials opposed to him and desperate to see him leave office were behind his travails. He then declined to comment on the allegations raised in the reports.
He said the reports were interim and it was out of order for him to answer to journalists’ questions on them as he is only duty-bound to offer his explanations to the auditor-general of the federation. He denied any wrongdoing.
N1.4 billion between January and June 2018
Between January and June 2018, according to the audit inspection report on the surveyor-general’s office, questions of fraud raised by the auditor-general’s office involved a sum of N1.4 billion, including N725.8 million reported to have been paid to three companies within one week without any evidence of service or contract rendered.
The three companies included Altruinco services Ltd., F.A Kassim Survey Associates Ltd., and M. Yahaya and Associates. As presented in the table below, only Altruinco was paid on March 22, 2018, F.A Kassim was paid in three transactions in one day, March 27, 2018, the same day M. Yahaya was paid in two different transactions, according to the report delivered in November 2018.
“After a careful examination of all the payment vouchers for the period that were presented for audit inspection, it was observed that the above-listed payments were made without raising any payment vouchers in violation of FR 601 which stipulated that ‘…under no circumstance shall a cheque be raised or cash paid for services of which a voucher has not been raised.’,” according to the audit inspection report.
“It was also observed, after careful examination of all contract files, contract award letters and other procurement records…, the (of the surveyor-general) made the payments to the contractors without awarding any contract, LPO or job order to them.
“As a result, the contractors were paid for work/services not rendered to the office in violation of FR 708 which stipulates that ‘on no account should payment be made for services not yet performed or for goods not yet supplied.”
Then, the report also indicated that the payments were made in breach of FR 412 as no ‘certificate of completion’ was raised for any work done and that nowhere in the internal audit report of the office for the month of March 2018 were the payments mentioned.
The report then recommended to the Accountant-General of the Federation to “immediately convey a Board of Enquiry” to investigate “loss of public funds” in accordance with FR 2531.
The report also placed a duty on the accountant-general to refer the matter to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for proper investigation and possible prosecution.
However, the account-general, who was told to act within 14 days of receiving the report, is yet to formally refer the matter to the EFCC, investigation by this newspaper revealed.
But apart from the N725 million “irregular” payments, also scandalous were observations on the cases of awarding contracts, again, to F.A Kassim and M. Yahaya. in violation of the country’s public procurement law.
In one case, a N170 million contract for the acquisition of unmanned aerial system for surveying and mapping, including software (drone) training, was awarded to M. Yahaya and Associates instead of Quest Consolidated Ltd approved in the certificate of ‘no objection’ by the Bureau of Public Procurement. But then, auditors reported that the surveyor-general’s office’s store ledger shows no record the equipment was received.
On a visit to the OSGF, an official close to Mr Awudu told this paper the drone was procured contrary to the question raised in the audit report and that it is being used for various operations, including an aerial mapping of Katsina. We, however, did not sight the drone but were shown maps said to have been done using it.
Then, a N139 million contract was given to F.A Kassim for the acquisition of ‘state of the art server with customised software’ without the required due process certificate of ‘no objection’. There is no record of delivery in the store ledger, the auditors said.
An official close to Mr Awudu said the contracts were so handled because the nature of the contracts involved security and that the office was aware of the expertise of the firms awarded the contracts.
However, no such ground for disregarding the BPP exists in Nigeria’s law.
As our findings revealed, the OSGF is yet to respond to the queries and was about a fortnight ago sent a reminder from the auditor’s office.
A separate report on vehicle inspection for the period of January and December 2018 revealed the “possible theft” of at least three vehicles, two of which were traced to Mr Awudu himself.
The two vehicles, Toyota Hilux (4×4) double cabin, were acquired for separate projects in Borno State and Ogun State. The contractors, M Yahaya and Quest Consolidated were reported to have returned the vehicles upon completion of the projects.
However, according to the report, “during the physical inspection of all the vehicles belonging to the office, these particular vehicles were not presented for inspection. Further, enquiry from the transport unit revealed that the whereabouts of the vehicles are currently unknown.
“A review of available store records revealed that the vehicles were last issued to the surveyor-general of the federation.”
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, two different officials of the OSG confirmed that the vehicles were indeed “stolen” by Mr Awudu.
“It was so brazen, we all saw the brand new vehicles when they were brought. All of a sudden, we were told he took them to Bayelsa. Nobody ever saw them again,” one official said asking not to be named for fear of victimisation.
A culture of impunity
The latest 2018 reports were not the first to detail allegations of abuses against surveyor-general. A review of the preceding reports shows a pattern that stinks about an entrenched culture of corruption and abuses.
In the report for the period between January and December 2016, a N58 million contract for “acquisition and installation of the high precise (Trimble) geodetic continuously operation and reference station (COR) equipment with complete accessories” was reported to have been awarded to Mappigbiki Limited.
While a sum of N30.5 million was said to have paid to the contractor and the contract “certified fully executed,” the report stated that “a careful examination of the contract records” showed “that none of the equipment said to have been bought were taken on charge in the store ledger in violation of FR 2402(i).
“It was further observed that during the physical inspection of the project site by the auditors from the resident federal audit unit that no new equipment whatsoever was added or installed at the COR station. In the opinion of the auditors, there is nothing to on ground to justify that a sum of 58,117,686.50 was expended on the project.”
That 2016 report contained 20 cases of alleged abuse, including several millions of naira said to have been paid contractors without value for money.
The 2017 report was no different as it also detailed cases of alleged contract inflation, wrongful use of cash advances and so on.
Differing views on Mr Awudu
Mr Awudu, from Bayelsa State, was appointed at the twilight of the administration former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. Despite the official reports on the abuses in his administration, he has remained in office as if, as one official said, no level of official corruption is too much to be brushed aside.
Sources at the OSGF and the Auditor-General’s office say Mr Awudu is able to cultivate the establishment and that he enjoys the backing of highly placed presidency officials to neutralise ensure he remains in office despite his corruption scandals.
PREMIUM TIMES interviewed several officials in his office, many revealing different views while asking not to be named. While many believe Mr Awudu lacks the requisite capacity to lead the office and that he has turned the office into a cesspool of corruption, a few others see him a sort of turnaround manager who brings innovations to the office.