“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know what you are talking [about], please. I just came in, they gave me that… let me find out; I will get back to you,” Nkiru Ezekwesili, owner of Enseno Global Ventures (Enseno GV), an Abuja-based restaurant, told FIJ during a telephone interview on October 17, 2023.
“You are saying you aren’t aware of the contract?” FIJ asked.
Sometimes, stories begin from the point of climax, and they circle back to where it all began. This is one of such stories.
When an office headed by a former Lagos State deputy governor paid N147.1 million from the federal government’s purse into the account of a restaurant to build blocks of classrooms and a skill acquisition centre in a primary school in Lagos, it raised eyebrows. But to better understand the scale of FIJ’s findings, we would need to go way back.
On March 7, 2016, Muhammadu Buhari, a Nigerian former president, appointed Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire as his senior special assistant on sustainable development goals (SSAP-SDGs).
It was a new office, and she was tasked with helping the country meet the United Nations’ 2030 deadline for achieving the SDGs. Prior to her appointment, she served as deputy to Governor Babatunde Fashola in Lagos from 2011 to 2015.
Orelope-Adefulire spoke highly of her intention to achieve SDGs 3 and 4 which border on good health and primary education.
On May 15, 2023, her office paid N147,127,467.58 to Enseno Global Ventures Ltd. for the construction of one acquisition centre (type A) with a pile on the raft foundation and one block of six classrooms at Ajeromi Primary School, Lagos State. The contract payment was marked 100106276063.
This project would improve the quality of education in the community and state if executed, and it was a step in the right direction for meeting SDG 4.
Five months after payment, FIJ visited Ajeromi Ifelodun LGA in Lagos to find out what became of the project.
NO SIGN OF CONSTRUCTION
On October 6, 2023, FIJ visited the community in search of a school that fit the description on the contract. We found that there were about 72 primary schools in the area, and we checked what some of them looked like.
What we met was dilapidation, understaffing and ill-equipped classrooms.
Seven days later, we visited the community again to find if there were any skill acquisition centers or new classrooms in the area.
When we spoke to some of the staff of the government-owned schools, they told us on condition of anonymity that no one had been there in over a year to improve the quality of the schools.
“Help us tell the government to do something here,” one teacher told FIJ. “You can see around that this place does not have anything.”
When we showed the contract details to a headmaster, he said, “From what I can see here, this is unreal. There is no school like that here that has benefited from such a contract since I came here over four years ago.”
Unable to find a school called Ajeromi Primary School, we looked up the Lagos State public records on primary schools in the state and found that Ajeromi Public Primary School was supposed to be located on 68, Iyalode Street, Ajeromi.
With this new information, we set out to Ajeromi again on October 17, 2023. There, we learned that a mosque now sat on the land where the primary school used to sit and the school had moved to a new location in the same neighbourhood.
We visited this new location and found the primary school. What we observed was that there were no new constructions within the compound, and bar the storeyed building which was the school, no other building could fit into the piece of land.
FINDING THE CONTRACTOR
To find the company tasked with executing this contract, FIJ checked the Corporate Affairs Commission’s (CAC) records.
We found that the company was inactive, which means CAC did not have its tax records, and it was registered on October 7, 2019.
The significance of its date of registration would come up later in the story, but let’s dwell on what else we know about the company for now.
After performing a surface search on the CAC portal, we learned the company was led by one Nkiru Ezekwesili and had two other directors, Jacinta Nnadozie and Chinwendu Ugezu. This can be found here.
Nnadozie’s address matched the address listed as the company’s head office in Abuja; Plot 25/26 Solutionist Estate, after Naval Estate, Karshi, Abuja.
This address, FIJ found on Google Earth Pro, housed Enseno GV restaurant. To be sure there were no disparities, we checked the company’s website.
Although it borrowed from materials on a foreign website and contains incomplete information, the company had a listed phone number. On our first few attempts, this number did not go through.
However, when we tried again on October 17, a staffer was on the other end of the call. We would get to that too. Prior to this call, we wanted to learn more about the company, so we enlisted the services of FOLegal, a law firm, to help do a deep search of the company on CAC.
On October 6, FOLegal returned its findings. Documents sourced from CAC revealed that the inactive company had six shareholders, and bar Ezekwesili, all shareholders shared the same address as the Abuja restaurant.
We scoured through to find if the company was registered as a construction or engineering company but found no indications of such in the objects for which it was registered.
At this point, we had learned there were no new classrooms or skill acquisition centres in Ajeromi Ifelodun community, and the company tasked with building them was operating as a restaurant which only began operations in 2019.
With many unanswered questions, we emailed Ezekwesili and Ugezu on October 14. After waiting three days, we called the company’s office in Abuja.
Responding to us, a staffer said he would convey our message to Ezekwesili when she arrived. Hours later, she called.
When we explained the details of the contract and asked her role in it, she responded said, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know what you are talking [about], please. I just came in, they gave me that… Let me find out; I will get back to you.”
We asked if she was aware of the contract, and she replied, “No!”
MORE QUESTIONS, MORE DIGGING
When Ezekwesili said she did not know she was paid five months ago to build two facilities, it raised many more questions, so we waited for her to get back to us as promised.
We called a day later, and a day after that, and kept calling but she was not responding to any of our calls.
On October 19, we employed the instrument of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by sending a request to the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs(OSSAP-SDGs).
We wanted to know the process that led to the selection of the company for the project, why the payment was made, and if there was a track record they had seen to warrant the contract award.
Over seven days after our request, the office has not responded. This is in violation of the FOIA.
On October 24, 2023, a man who identified himself as Paul Stone, called FIJ to say he learned we were looking into the contract awarded to Enseno GV.
Stone said the company got the contract and there was “one honourable who got an architect to build it”.
He said they found that Ajeromi Primary School could not house the buildings and so moved it to two different facilities in Apapa.
He sent the architect’s number, and we called him. The man on the receiving end of the call was Akin Ajani.
Ajani told FIJ that one Honourable Saheed Ajetunmobi hired him to be involved in the construction of a skill acquisition centre in Ladi-Lak Nursery and Primary School on 2, Randle Road, Apapa, and a block of six classrooms in Metropolitan Nursery and Primary School, Adekunle Deen Street, Off Mile 2-Ijora Expressway, Ijora.
According to pictures provided by Ajani, they had completed the building as of April 22, 2022. This would become relevant later on.
We asked Ajani why they moved the buildings from where it was originally contracted to be to the new locations, and he said the decision was made after they found that the soil in Ajeromi could not take the buildings and they could not build in the primary school as there was no space.
He said after they took the decision, they communicated it to the OSSAP-SDGs and this was why the payment was delayed until May 2023.
He, however, ignored the questions of the restaurant’s qualification to embark on such a project, or how much it cost to build.
We called and sent text messages to Ajetunmobi, but he did not respond.
The Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020 states: “A business name must file its annual returns alongside financial statements not later than June 30, every year. Except for a single shareholder company, all companies must file annual returns alongside the audited accounts within 42 days after the annual general meeting.”
These returns are supposed to reflect on CAC’s website, but Enseno is listed as inactive, meaning it is yet to file its returns with the commission in violation of CAMA.
However, the Nigeria Startup Act 2022 provides a waiver for startups to be “exempted from payment of income tax for a maximum period of 5 years, three years initially and renewable for an additional two years and as well as other taxes chargeable on their income or revenues.”
With this, Enseno can get to skip three years of not filing its tax records with CAC, but according to the Public Procurement Act (PPA) 2007, any contract bidder must have fulfilled all its obligations to pay taxes, pensions and social security contributions.
Earlier, we highlighted how Enseno was set up in 2019, and how Ajani’s response showed that he finished the classroom building in April 2022. These two facts indicate that the project’s completion was a mere two years and six months after Enseno’s registration.
With no record of when the contract was awarded or when the building project began, we asked Ajani. He confirmed to us that the construction began in 2021.
This means that less than two years after a restaurant began operations, it secured and began executing a contract for the government without receiving any initial payments.
On October 27, FIJ spoke with Bernard Onigah, a former member of the Nigeria Bar Association leadership.
Onigah said it was necessary for a company to get three years of tax clearance before they could be awarded a contract by the government but “certain waivers could be afforded if the company executing the contract has certain expertise others don’t have, and they were invited by the government.”
He said, “The real issue is a company carrying out contracts outside why it was set up. If you are in building and construction business, you have to provide certificate of proficiency, and one of them is the COREN certificate.”
A Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) certificate is one professional engineers acquire to practice in Nigeria.
“For a company that operates as a restaurant and import and export of textiles, it has not shown that it is qualified to engage in construction because it is a highly professional and highly technical business.
“If CAC would require a COREN certificate to register an engineering company, then the Federal Government ought not to award to a company that is not registered or set up to carry out that contract. Everything about the process is wrong,” Onigah continued. “Tax requirement can be waived if the company has shown a record of qualification or a track record in the past.”
FIJ also found that in Enseno’s registration on CAC, it added general contracting to its activities, and this vague listing could mean it can embark on any kind of contract, but Onigah faulted it.
He said, “It is an anonymous provision, but it does not in any way relate to building and construction because building and construction is not an accidental business.
“One must show proficiency. Before the federal government can award a contract to anybody, they must show proof of work. They must show that they have done something in this line in the past.”
Ezekwesili, Orelope-Adefulire and Ajetunmobi refused to comment on the matter further, and whilst over N147.1 million ended up in the restaurant’s account, no party has yet explained the reason for the award, how a restaurant came to build a classroom and acquisition centre a year before the government paid it, and how a project awarded for a school in Ajeromi ended up in two locations away from the LGA.