The World Bank blacklisted at least, 11 Nigerian firms and contractors in 2022, The ICIR can confidently report.
The affected organisations include Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nigeria Limited, Chez Aviv Nigeria Limited, Lutoyilex Construct Limited, Softech IT Solutions and Services Limited, ALG Global Concept Limited, and AIM Consultants Limited.
Other contractors banned by the Bank are Bamidele Obiniyi, Frank John Friday Nnaji, Isaiah Salihu Kantigi, Abuharaira Labaran, and Amin Moussalli.
Sanctioning contractors that breach the procurement guidelines of the World Bank is a usual occurrence the global bank does to promote transparency in contract awards and prevent procurement fraud among corporate entities it transacts business with.
The financial institution found the affected entities guilty of procurement fraud, corrupt practices, and other ‘cross debarred’.
An organisation or contractor is considered ‘crossly debarred‘ in this context when a member of the group of Development Financial Institutions (DFI) finds a contractor guilty of procurement fraud or related offences, and other members of the DFI decide to effect the same sanction on the firm.
It is called mutual enforcement. And this exists among the African Development Bank (AfDB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American Development Bank Group, and the World Bank Group.
Gitto’s case was of ‘cross debarment’ from the AfDB, and the sanction took effect on December 28, 2022.
The AfDB accused Gitto Costruzioni of ‘fraudulent and obstructive practices’ during the bid tendering for the contract award of the Bank’s Transport Sector Support Programme (Phase II).
The World Bank, due to the agreement among the DFIs, decided to enforce the same sanction on the firm.
It is worth noting that Gitto Costruzioni has executed notable projects in Nigeria, which included the National Ecumenical Centre, Abuja; Akwa Ibom International Airport, Akwa Ibom state, and the Central Bank of Nigeria, Yenagoa in Bayelsa state.
The apex bank has delisted it for the next four years for procurement-related offences.
The decision took effect following an investigation conducted by the Bank’s Integrity and Anti-corruption Office. The unit is responsible for preventing, deterring and investigating allegations of corruption, fraud and other sanctionable practices in the AfDB’s financed projects.
The firm’s ineligibility period is expected to end on September 9, 2026. Gitto is located at Plot 737, Mabushi District, in Abuja.
The contracts for which it was sanctioned included the rehabilitation of the Yaounde-Bafoussam-Babadjou road, the improvement of the Great Zambi-Kribi Road, and the improvement of the Maroua-Bogo-Pouss road.
The World Bank stated, “The rehabilitation of the Yaounde-Bafoussam-Babadjou Road, Improvement of the Great Zambi-Kribi Road is aimed to respond to the urgent need for further economic development in the poorest regions of Cameroon and the Far North and East regions.”
Contractors barred for nine years
By the sanction, the affected firms and individuals have been prohibited from participating in World Bank-financed contracts until October 3, 2031.
For instance, Nnaji, one of the affected contractors, was blacklisted on October 2, 2022, and is ineligible to participate in World-Bank-financed projects until October 3, 2031.
He was blacklisted with Chez Aviv Nigeria Limited the same day, and the sanction extends to the same period – October 3, 2031. This implies both were banned for nine years and guilty of fraudulent and corrupt practices.
“The period of ineligibility for Chez Aviv Nigeria Limited (“Chez Aviv”) extends to any legal entity that it directly or indirectly controls. The minimum period of ineligibility is the nine-year period indicated,” a note released by the Bank on debarred firms and individuals stated.
The note continued, “Provided, however, that after this minimum period of ineligibility of nine years, Chez Aviv may be released from ineligibility only if it has demonstrated to the World Bank Group’s Integrity Compliance Officer that it has complied with the following conditions:
“(a) Chez Aviv has taken appropriate remedial measures to address the sanctionable practices for which Chez Aviv has been sanctioned; and (b) Chez Aviv has adopted and implemented, in a manner satisfactory to the Bank, integrity compliance measures as may be imposed by the Bank Group’s Integrity Compliance Officer pursuant to subparagraph 9.03(b) of Section III.A of the Sanctions Procedures (e.g., an integrity compliance program or elements thereof) to address the sanctionable practices.”
The Lagos-based firm, with registration number 401253, was registered on February 20, 2001. The directors are Igwe Anthony, Friday Nnaji and Steve Nnaji.
Procurement fraud – a usual occurrence among local firms
Reports have shown that breaching procurement guidelines has been a major corrupt practice perpetrated during public procurements. It is not peculiar to the private sector but also to government spending.
It is a usual occurrence during every budgetary provision and contract award in the country.
According to the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply Management of Nigeria, about 30 per cent of the nation’s resources are lost due to the manipulation of its procurement process.
The ICIR also documents a series of suspicious contracts, some of which flouted the country’s Public Procurement Act (PPA) 2007.
Regardless, the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) had to set up the federal contractors’ database as part of measures to reduce the fraudulent trend in government spending.
It would also enable interested public members to easily establish a firm’s eligibility to secure contract awards from government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
It showcases the level of compliance with the Pension Commission (PenCom) obligation, the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), the Industrial Trust Fund (ITF), tax payment at the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
As a result, any firm that fails to comply with the above requirements is mostly considered ineligible to be awarded contracts; otherwise, such would have breached the procurement law.
Meanwhile, both Softech IT Solutions & Services Limited and Kantigi were sanctioned for four and five years. The sanctions for both entities took effect on March 29, 2022.
Sanctioned for improper payment to project officials
Also, AIM Consultants Limited and Moussalli were banned same day – February 22, 2022. They had just a two-year ban. The sanction will expire on December 21, 2024.
Meanwhile, Moussalli works as the managing director of Aims Consultants which is located in Lagos.
Based on a release with reference number 2022/46/INT made public, AIMs Consultants ‘made improper payments‘ of about N12.95 million to project officials under the directive of Moussalli.
“AIM Consultants made improper payments totalling Nigerian naira 12,954,400 (approx. US$45,500) to project officials. The payments were through AIM Consultants’ Resident Engineers in both states.
“Soon after receiving payments from the project, AIM Consultants transferred money to the personal accounts of the two Resident Engineers for onward transmission to various project officials. Engineer Moussalli authorized all the payments. This constitutes a corrupt practice under the World Bank’s Consultant Guidelines.”
Contractors on cross-debarment
There are four other contractors in the category of cross-debarment. They are Lutoyilex Construct Limited, Obiniyi, Abuharaira and ALG Concept Limited. The ineligibility period of the four affected entities was tagged “Ongoing” without a specific period to when the sanction would end.
Lutoyilex and Obiniyi are located Suite 295, Soar Plaza, Gwarimpa, Abuja, and were suspended on May 17, 2022, while ALG Concept Limited and Abuharaira were both suspended on the same day – March 7, 2022.
Faces behind blacklisted firms
The ICIR attempted to identify the owners of the suspended companies and the contractors. This was done through field visits and deploying the Open Source Intelligence Tools (OSINT). It showed Gitto, a company largely owned by the Italians, has six Directors.
They include Civil Engineering Company of Srl, Ebuara Agnes (Mrs), Nicola Busacca, Gitto Domenico, Salvatore Gitto, and Akpana and Co. Nigeria Limited.
The Civil Engineering Company holds a 95 per cent stake in the ownership of Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nigeria Limited. And the key principal of the Italian firm is Gianfranco Zinfollino.
Akpana and Co. Ltd., another shareholder, is also owned by eight directors.
One of them – Agnes Ebuara – had earlier appeared among owners of Gitto. She was listed as Ebuara Agnes (Mrs). This implies she owns shares in both companies.
Other directors are Agabi Achu, Agabi Kanu, Agabi Echaka. These names are also reflected as Achu Agabi, Kanu Agabi, and Echeka Agabi.
Chez Aviv Nigeria Limited is owned by three directors – Igwe Anthony, Friday Nnaji and Steve Nnaji.
Lutoyilex, an Abuja-based firm, is owned by Queen Bethel Obiniyi, Kelvin Olasunkanmi Obiniyi, Zion Feyikunmi Obiniyi, Oluwatoyin Alexzirah Obiniyi and Bamidele Johnson Abayomi Obiniyi. With registration number 1046648, its core area of strength is general merchandise and trading.
ALG Global Concept Nigeria Limited, a local construction firm, is owned by Abuharaira Gero Labaran. It was registered on April 20, 2016, with registration number 1330049. Abahuraira Gero Labaran and Fulaira Adam are shareholders of the firm. Fulaira Adam is also a Director, while Mohammed Sherif is the company’s secretary.
Aims Consultants Limited was established on November 20, 1979, with registration number 30821. It was rated as an active company by the CAC. This implies it complied with the Commission’s guidelines for submitting relevant documents, such as its annual report.
It has 11 directors. They include Saada Elias Moussalli, Lanre Fisher, Yahaya Umar, Amine I. Moussalli, Tatiana Moussalli-Nouri and Evita Moussalli Arc.
Others are Peter Fisher, Oyebanji Dominic, Adebayo Idowu Adebola, Umeadi Lawrence, Architect Paul Uzor and Idowu Adebayo.
Still, no feedback was provided as of the time of filing this report when this reporter reached out via the firm’s website.
On Thursday, January 19, The ICIR visited Gitto to seek a reaction to the ban by the World Bank. But the security officials disclosed that the corporate communication manager had left the company and the special assistant who could have responded was on leave. The visit was rescheduled to Monday, January 23.
When The ICIR made a further effort on Monday, the reporter was asked to visit on Wednesday, January 25.
Following a visit to the office on Wednesday, the security officials advised the reporter to submit an official request letter. This was done but with no response at the time of filing this article.
On-spot visit to the corporate offices of Lutoyilex and Softech IT Solutions and Services Limited was unsuccessful. The offices could not be located at the claimed address, and the security officials were unaware of the firm or the chief executives.
Bamidele Obiniyi of Lutoyilex was eventually contacted via a third party. He initially watered down the World Bank listing, saying it was not a current issue. He claimed his lawyer had intervened in the matter. But in another twist, he exonerated himself, saying one of his boys used the firm to seek a contract at the bank.
“We have responded already, and it has expired,” Obiniyi said. The ICIR requested a copy of the response, but he responded, ‘No.’ “It was not a blacklist but a suspension,” he added.
“One of the staff used the company, not me. And after an investigation, they suspended the company because it is registered in my name. But, they have lifted it…”
At the corporate headquarters of Aims Consultants Limited, owners of Wazobia FM, Cool FM, and Nigeria Info, The ICIR attempted to speak with the Corporate Affairs Manager, but the Client Service Officer at the reception said he was in a meeting and he would not be available for the day.
The ICIR waited for about an hour. Then, the official advised the reporter to write a note to the corporate affairs manager stating the purpose of the visit, and he would return with a call to The ICIR. That was done.
However, as of the time of filing this report, he was yet to return a phone call to The ICIR. Efforts to get his name was unsuccessful.
Other corporate entities could not be contacted at the time of the report due to an inactive website.