“I’m not the bride, I’m the bride’s friend.” If you are familiar with the Nigerian social media space, you may have come across videos showing friends of a bride-to-be lining up to deny being the bride before the bride-to-be shows up at the end of a queue.
There are many other variations of the trend, and when we get to the end of this story, there might be a feeling of some semblance to it.
This story began with FIJ’s November 7 report of how the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs (OSSAP-SDGs) paid N147.1 million into the account of Enseno Global Ventures, an Abuja-based restaurant run by Nkiru Ezekwesili.
What the report exposed was that the OSSAP-SDGs paid the restaurant to construct blocks of classrooms and a skills acquisition centre, a venture the restaurant was not qualified for, and which it executed away from its planned location.
FIJ began digging further into the company’s operations and found a money trail that amounts to N367,461,782.93. The company has collected all this from the government since it began operations. All the contracts were for building and construction, all but one were vague and all were paid for between March 2022 and May 2023. The vagueness would surface later in the story.
When FIJ set out to find the persons responsible for the company’s dealings, several names surfaced, and although we found the money trail and where the government was paying into, every individual with some affiliation to the payments seemingly told us “I’m not the bride”. So, we went to the end of the queue.
INSIDE ENSENO’S ‘ENGINEERING’ RESTAURANT
The first time we reported on Enseno Global Ventures (Enseno GV), the OSSAP-SDGs responded saying the company was not a restaurant. Above is a screenshot from the company’s website (ensenogv.com) with a header that reads: ‘A Perfect Place To Stay, Eat And Have Fun In Karshi Abuja.’
Just below the header is a subhead that reads: “Come experience our exceptional cuisines in a hospitable manner”. On the same page, the website says, “Meet The Chefs Of Enseno.”
This four-year-old company provides food and recreation to people in Nigeria’s capital city, but two years ago, it was bidding for contracts to erect blocks of classrooms all over the country, and it was winning.
On the Corporate Affairs Commission’s (CAC) website, we found the company’s registration date to be October 7, 2019, but information available on the Open Treasury portal, and scraped to BudgIT’s Govspend platform, reveals the company won contracts and received payments for building and construction on March 16, 2022, May 15, 2023 and May 22, 2023.
All the contracts were awarded before 2022 as disclosed to FIJ by Akin Ajani, an architect who worked on one of the projects.
With payment code 10009178108, Enseno GV collected N37,960,211.91 on March 16, 2022, as payment for the construction and furnishing of six units of three classroom blocks in three senatorial districts of Niger State. No locations, no schools and no exact addresses were stated in this contract. It was vague.
The second payment with code 100106276063 was a N147,127,467.58 income from the OSSAP-SDGs on May 15, 2023, for the construction of classroom blocks and skill acquisition centre in Ajeromi Primary School in Lagos State, a project the company moved to another location.
Its final payment from the government was N182,374,103.44 on May 22, 2023, for what is described as one percent standard deduction from Golden Castle Integ Global Ltd. for the construction of a 100-bed mother and child hospital in Edo State. Again, no exact locations and no address for this project.
All three payments amount to N367,461,782.93. This company was only executing building and construction contracts for the government, and other than the second project, the projects were vague and had no specific locations for anyone who might want to verify if they were executed or not. All were linked to the OSSAP-SDGs.
‘I’M NOT THE BRIDE’
On October 17, FIJ had a telephone interview with Nkiru Ezekwesili, second largest shareholder of Enseno GV, and the one who runs the business, according to her staff.
She denied knowing about the project and promised to get back to FIJ. She failed to do so until November 8, a day after our first publication. When she called, she said, “I am not Enseno, I do not run Enseno, I am not the one who took the contract too but I will send you the number of the person who did.”
At about 7:48 am the same day, she sent the phone number of one Adebisi Abdulwasiu. FIJ called Abdulwasiu for multiple days, but the last time we spoke, he told FIJ he was unavailable and would get back to us. He never did.
Abdulwasiu was not on any of the documents linked with the company, and five of its shareholders bore Ezekwesili as last names. Nkiru, however, maintained she was not responsible for the contract or the company.
Hours after her call, one Muhammed Musa Bagana called FIJ to offer an admittance of guilt and try to get us to pull the story down for incentives. Bagana described Enseno GV as ‘my client’.
He said he was a lawyer and founder of Growth and Development Monitoring Initiative (GDMI), an NGO.
Bagana wanted us to stop calling Ezekwesili, Abdulwasiu and others related to the company, and asked that we direct all our questions to him. He said his clients were guilty of violating procurement laws but wanted FIJ to delete the aforementioned report.
In a telephone interview with FIJ on November 8, Bagana said the company was guilty but he was not the one who got the contracts. We went further down the queue until he told us Nkiru’s son got the contracts in the company’s name and sent out to others to execute. This, Bagana told FIJ, was why Nkiru did not know her company was being used.
He refused to disclose this son’s name or his contact because, according to him, the son is a civil servant who cannot speak with the press. Bagana, however, revealed more.
THE TELEPHONE INTERVIEW
When FIJ spoke with Bagana on the phone, he admitted to reading our findings. He said he discussed with Nkiru and resolved to not contend the findings.
“I advised that there’s no point of arguing; there’s no point of doing all these things on the pages of newspapers,” Bagana told FIJ. “I said let me go to this writer since we are on the same level. Like I said, I work with Growth and Development Monitoring Initiative, and I’m a lawyer by profession.
“If I go straight to the point, if possible, you can recant it and remove the publication because the project was carried out and you were asked to go to Lagos and see the project on site, but you never showed up.”
FIJ reminded Bagana that our publication did not claim the project was not executed but that it was executed in a different location and by an unqualified entity.
Responding, Bagana said, “I know. It is a misplacement of location.” When we reminded him the company was set up as a restaurant, he said, “I know. You got across to Nkiru and she said she was not aware but would confirm and get back to you. So, now she has confirmed and you can equally hear from her. Now, can you help to go to Lagos to see the project was reallocated?”
FIJ again reminded Bagana that the completion of a project was not in question, and Nkiru confessed to FIJ that Abdulwasiu used her company name to secure the project.
To these, Bagana replied, “I am on the same page with you, but when they sourced for my intervention, that is why I am reaching out. I am travelling to Ghana today, but I would be happy if for my intervening now, you can consider that I know what to do, and I would advise them accordingly so that this thing… already it is committed. The offence is committed. We too, we did something like this to one honourable, but someone intervened, and we said ‘Let it go, but it shouldn’t be…’
“You know what Nigeria is today, I can come and meet you because of this procurement law to get a job. I meet you and ask if you have a company, if you pay your taxes, and I help you to get contracts. I think this is what they are doing. We shouldn’t punish somebody because they wanted help. What did you expect Nkiru to say? It is her son, her own son, that gave them the project.
“My intervening is not because they have not committed the offence. We know the procurement law. The clause saying ‘general contracting’, those things are inserted by the CAC to enable the owners of the company to do what they can do diligently.”
What Bagana referred to in his last statement is a clause inserted into the objects for which the company was set up.
In the document containing the company’s registration details and what it was set up to do, ‘general contracting’ was included. This term means the company can embark on general contracts, but lawyers have faulted this term, and they told FIJ that for building and construction projects, one would need engineering certification and must be set up for construction purposes to execute such project. Monday Ubani (SAN) and Benard Onigah, former members of the Nigeria Bar Association’s leadership, told FIJ this much.
What we learned from our conversation with Bagana was that Abdulwasiu executed the projects, but Nkiru’s son was using her company to win contracts and give to others. We also learned Bagana himself had some role to play in the scheme.
Two years into the company’s operations, Nkiru’s son and Abdulwasiu had secured three different contracts for projects they needed a three-year tax clearance and engineering qualifications to qualify for.
We asked Bagana about the vague projects, and first he denied knowledge of them, but days later, he told FIJ the company executed the projects. When we asked him for proof of this execution, he failed to provide any.
On November 9, we also sent the documents to Desmond Utomwen, media aide to the OSSAP-SDGs. He said he would find out and get back to us, but he also failed to provide information on the vague projects.
Meanwhile, Akingunola Omoniyi, the head of Network for the Actualisation of Social Growth and Viable Development (NEFGAD), a CSO, issued a statement on November 11 faulting untraceaple projects.
Omoniyi said, “A public procurement proceeding is unique in its entirety with no room for any ambiguity that will make it unimplementable or untraceable for public accountability and scrutiny; hence, the mandatory requirement of a project evaluation/feasibility and impacts assessments reports as a precondition for any procurement proceeding, these reports serve as Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) carrying all genetic information of the project, including project location, land survey and other geo-features necessary to the successful implementation/execution of the project.”
With no locations, addresses and details for the vague projects, they ran foul of procurement law and were ambiguous. This, Omoniyi said in his statement, meant they were “standing on nothing”.
So far, we know what the company did, how they did it, who was involved in doing it, and how much money they benefitted from doing it, but the Bagana mystery remained.
Why did Bagana want the story down? Who was he? Why were various pressmen calling FIJ on his behalf to have the story removed. We looked into his activities.
In looking into Bagana, we set out to find what he had done in the past and what things he was linked to. Three things popped up: procurement fraud, bribery allegations and the OSSAP-SDGs.
We found a November 16, 2021 report detailing how the OSSAP-SDGs violated procurement laws in awarding a N139.341 million contract to E-Concept Technologies Limited to provide 200 units of Solar Street Light at Youth Centre, Bwari Area Council of Abuja.
In the report, it states, “Mr. M. M. Bagana, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of E-Concept Technologies Limited, speaking to MAWA Foundation, admitted that due process was not followed by the OSSAP-SDGs before his company was awarded the contract.”
Bagana was the CEO of the company that violated procurement law in 2021, and he did it with the help of the OSSAP-SDGs. This report states that just as he did with FIJ on November 8, he admitted to violating the law.
The MAWA report went on to state, “Mr. Bagana, who did not want the report to be made public, and his company indicted offered to give MAWA Foundation the sum of 2,000 Dollars bribe to kill the investigation, or in a worst-case scenario, water down the report and by ensuring his company name was not mentioned.”
This was not the only time Bagana’s name was linked to public procurement fraud.
Three years before the MAWA report, another report detailed how his E-Concept Technologies illegaly obtained a contract from the Border Communities Development Agency (BDCA).
According to this report, Junaid Abdullahi, a son-in-law of then President Muhammadu Buhari, was heading the BDCA and awarding contracts to unqualified companies. Bagana’s company was one of them. We quizzed Bagana on this, and he refused to comment.
On multiple occasions, FIJ called and texted Bagana, but he refused to comment on his previous activities. Instead, he asked that FIJ focus on the current activities of Enseno GV.
He still refused to provide more information on Nkiru’s son whom he said was responsible for the procurement law violation, and still could not provide information on the vague contracts.
What we learned during the course of this investigation was that the federal government was a willing groom paying monies into the accounts of unqualified entities from as far back as 2018 to 2023, and Bagana was one of the brides.
This report was produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation
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