Kaduna State Government has described as false the story by Sahara Reporters of a ‘Contract Bazaar’ involving the execution of drainage works in the major metropolitan centres of the state.

The government on Wednesday responded to Sahara Reporters, after the website published Kaduna State documents that suggested a massive duplicity to the tune of N3 billion in award of contracts for urban drainage.

A statement from the governor’s office, signed by his spokesperson, Samuel Aruwan, said the news media exaggerated the documents and attempted to drive a malicious narrative.

A four-page document published by the Sahara Reporters itemised contracts awarded by the el Rufa’i administration for rehabilitation of drainage in major towns across the state but which did not conform with the public procurement regulations. The contracts, which the platform valued at N3 billion, were alleged to have been fraught with contract-splitting, influence peddling and other sharp practices.

Aliyu el-Rufa’i, an Air Vice Marshal and brother of the governor, was accused of courting five contract awards using six separate companies as fronts. Also, some obviously fictitious names, like Aunty Asabe and Uncle Idi, were said to have pocketed millions in state money.

According to the report, one of the governor’s wives, captured as Her Excellency in the contract document, was awarded a contract through Khairun Nas Nigeria Limited. Other members of the el-Rufa’i family awarded contracts are Ahmed el-Rufa’i, who got through Bafe4 Investment Limited, and Aisha el-Rufa’i, who got the contract for Ghana Road through Mohsal Global Concept.

Also not left out in the contract scramble, according to the news platform, is Mr. Yusuf Barnabas Bala, Mr. el Rufai’s deputy, who was awarded 13 contracts through Ojo Limmy Nigeria Limited, Maronian Nigeria Limited, Folarc Design Partners, Home Vestors Limited, Habi Moulds Limited, Golden Powers Nigeria Limited, Zamsnunom Enterprises Limited, Mustras International Limited, Nerat and Partners Limited, James Wagner and Partners Limited and De-Raheems Concept Limited.

The Secretary to the State Government, Balarabe Lawal, the state’s head of due process, including members of Kaduna State House of Assembly, were also mentioned in the report as having allegedly cornered millions in public funds for themselves.

The platform said its report highlighted the hypocrisy of Mr. el-Rufa’i, who has been known to speak effusively against corruption, nepotism and incompetence. In all, a total of 282 contracts and about two-dozen beneficiaries were captured in the contract-splitting scandal.

But Mr. Aruwan, on behalf of his principal, debunked the allegations in their entirety. “There was no contract bazaar, neither was N3 billion spent on the drainage works.

“Malam Nasir el-Rufa’i, his family and senior officials of this government are not involved in sharing contracts or using fronts. Rather, the KDSG stepped in to stop one of its agencies going rogue on the drainage works, stopped the project, reviewed it and took disciplinary action,” the statement said.

The spokesperson said a public works official who allegedly tried to defraud the state through fictitious sewage contracts was fired by the administration in February. He said the governor authorised the Kaduna State Public Works Agency, KAPWA, to commence rehabilitation of drainage system in the state’s key municipal areas in December 2016. Adding that the project, although popular with residents, was suspended after running for only one month due to overwhelming claims of irregularities — at “a great political cost.”

“By the end of January 2017, the massive scale of the works and appeals to the governor by many senior politicians to promote and confirm the acting AGM to the position of GM of KAPWA, indicated that something was amiss.” Mr. Aruwan said. “The governor, therefore, directed that some investigation of the state of affairs be undertaken immediately.”

The spokesperson said the investigation uncovered that the then management of KAPWA went out of its lawful bounds, and had potentially committed the state to a bigger than intended liability.

“Investigations revealed that many of the names on the list have no connection to the drainage works.

“Many of the names are of non-existent people with surnames attached to them to justify the use of fronts by the same officials of KAPWA whose services have been dispensed with.

“Others that exist have denied knowledge of the contracts and the names of those they were supposed to have sponsored,” he said.

Consequently, Mr. el-Rufa’i dismissed Hayatudeen Makarfi as acting AGM of KAPWA in February 2017, after he “was unable to produce evidence linking the so-called contracts to most of the names of existing and living persons.”

Mr. Aruwan said only N119.2 million had been paid to contractors before the project was suspended, while Investigations have verified further outstanding payments of N626 million.

Mr. Aruwan said the el-Rufa’i administration strictly adheres to procurement laws in its contract award activities.

“The default mode for the government is a rigorous insistence on open, competitive tendering,” he said. “But not every contract meets the threshold for this. The Public Procurement Law of the state requires that only contracts above N5 million be advertised.

“Kaduna State is thorough about advertising its contracts. Its tenders are regularly published in national newspapers. In 2016, KDSG published 72 adverts for tenders and employment opportunities. Thus far, in 2017, we have advertised 19 tenders and vacancies,” he said.

Similarly, Mr. Aruwan said the fact that the governor had fired the official at the heart of the suspicious activities as far back as February was enough proof that he knew nothing about it.

He explained that the contracts were awarded in just a few millions because the government wanted its economic impact to be felt by many residents of the state, rather than concentrating it in the hands of a few.

“The nature of the works were such that influential persons introduced members of the public to secure the works. And the identities of these sponsors were recorded as an additional guarantee that the contracts would be delivered by the beneficiaries.

“This is not the use of fronts. It is simply the energising of the local economy through public works that were allotted to local companies. Is it reasonable behaviour for someone intending to use fronts to also unmask themselves?” he said.

Mr. el-Rufa’i, according to the statement, appreciates and supports investigative journalism, but admonished media practitioners to approach such task with diligence.

“That obligation is best exercised with diligent attention to details, verification and not rushing to sweeping conclusions,” the governor said.

Mr. Aruwan said the administration plans to continue the project after new changes have been implemented and the rainy season over. In the meantime, “intervention works are going on to safeguard buildings, fences and culverts, and allow for free flow of water,” he said.