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Visionscape scandal: What to know about stinky Lagos waste management deal

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As as an agreement was signed with Ambode-led administration, Visionscape, a private foreign-owned waste management company, vapourised like foul fart from Africa’s most-populated city.

In a landmark move that took many by surprise, former Governor Akinwumi Ambode had, after the enactment of the Lagos State Environmental Management and Protection Law on March 1, 2017, signed an agreement with Visionscape.

It is then a troubling development that Lagos State government is still paying for the misadventure of Visionscape some four years after the controversial waste management firm unceremoniously exited operations in the state.

The Lagos State Government in its capacity as the Sponsor/co-obligor on Visionscape’s N28.47 billion of 5-year bonds issued at 17.5 percent, and due in 2022, has been making monthly payments of N713.7 million into its irrevocable sinking fund accounts backing the bond.

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According to a report on MoneyCentral, the fund is then used to settle semi-annual coupon payments of N4.28 billion due to Visionscape bond investors such that all Visionscape debt service obligations have been met by Lagos since 2018.

The interest payments are set to continue until maturity of the bonds in September 2022, redemption of which will likely fall on the balance sheet of the Lagos State government.

That’s a great deal for the lucky high net worth individuals and investors being paid on behalf of a company that ceased operations in 2018.

Not so much for Lagos State taxpayers and residents who have endured shoddy garbage disposal and what insiders say is a corrupt deal enabled by poor governance in Lagos.

“The Visionscape deal was rotten to the core from the beginning and couldn’t pass the simplest procurement smell test,” a source familiar with the inner workings of the deal revealed.

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“So why was it eagerly pushed by the former Lagos State Governor Ambode and why has the current Governor Sanwo-Olu refused to probe those that fleeced the state?”

MoneyCentral was able to get in touch with two former expatriate workers of Visionscape who described it a dysfunctional company that was ill equipped to handle the garbage disposal needs of a mega city of 21 million people.

“Visionscape did hire a CEO and COO who both had Waste Experience and a few chosen expats that had some Waste experience. However, the purchasing, funding, accounting, marketing were all cronies, personal friends, college friends of the Chairman Adeniyi Makanjuola with limited business experience,” the source said.

Former Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in 2016 introduced the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI) backed by a passed Environmental Management and Protection Law.

The Lagos State Government then awarded contracts to the Visionscape Sanitations Solutions limited and its strategic partners for deployment of waste management infrastructure.

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“The concept was great, the thought process non-existent and the people of Lagos were once again literally picking up the trash of an abusive self-serving Government and their cronies,” a second source, and former expatriate staff of Visionscape said.

“The leaders of Visionscape had no experience of the Garbage Industry nor did they have any existing contracts when they entered their agreement with the City of Lagos.”

When Visionscape was handed the garbage disposal contract, Lagos generated 14,000 metric tons of garbage each day.

Meanwhile a garbage truck can haul 10 to 15 metric tons, which means Visionscape needed to operate 1,120 garbage trucks every day hauling an average of 12.5 metric tons to keep current with waste generation.

If any of the 1,000 plus needed trucks were to break down it means you are now behind a route, the source explained.

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Visionscape however operated only 49 Route Trucks each day and 14 tractor heads with trailers, to transfer the loads out to the dump site, meaning they had zero chance for success.

When Visionscape launched its N20.3 billion (Series 1 tranche A) 5-year bond in 2017, it claimed in the information memorandum (a document produced prior to selling a bond, and essentially functions as an opening pitch to any prospective buyers/investors) that about N16.3 billion of the bond proceeds will be used to acquire fleet for transfer loading stations, strategic acquisitions and related infrastructure, expected by September 30, 2017.

It couldn’t be established whether any of that infrastructure was ever procured meaning most of the proceeds of the bond are unaccounted for as Visionscape essentially shut down operations the following year, following the unexpected exit of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who lost his bid for a second term in office to fellow APC party member, Babajide Sanwo-Olu at the primaries in October 2018.

Soon after Ambode’s loss, Simon Reading, Chairman of the Board of Investors of Visionscape explained why the company was shutting down its operations.

He said the decision was reached following “heightening political tension in the state” and reported cases of attack on its employees, destruction of its operational vehicles and equipment.

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“Of utmost concern are the recent developments surrounding the turbulent political environment wherein it was reported that the opposition in the upcoming gubernatorial race used subversive language about the residential collections contract and called it a misadventure,” Reading said then.

Calling Visionscape a “misadventure” is probably an understatement.

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The Lagos state government claimed it took over Visionscape assets (procured with the bond proceeds) and the outstanding liabilities, once Visionscape ceased operations, as a justification for the State to continue paying bondholders from the state’s budget.

GCR Ratings, which rates the bonds of the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) – the Municipality Waste Management Contractors Limited (MWMCL), created by visionscape (for the bond issuance) however said in October 2021 that there was a lack of “documentary evidence supporting the transfer of the assets of Municipality Waste Management Contractors Limited to Lagos State.”

The reason for that may not be unconnected to further alleged unwholesome acts accompanying the shutting down of Visionscape.

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“When Visionscape closed, its trucks were leased to the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) at huge prices. The financial books were cooked, fried, toasted, grilled each day. I am not quite sure if there were two sets of books or three,” one of the former expatriate staff stated.

“There were so many Internal failures within Visionscape that the people of Lagos would never understand unless it was written about,” he said.

A few examples were as follows, according to information passed across to MoneyCentral.

The whistleblower informed that trucks were purchased for one price then sold Internally to Visionscape for a marked-up price. Expatriates meanwhile were responsible for paying their own payroll taxes to their country of origin and not to Nigeria.

When homes were leased for expats they were often done at overvalued market prices and many small vendors were never paid although invoices were submitted to Lagos State for payment.

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Monies from Lagos may have also been funneled into Dubai Companies and other European businesses that ended up failing.

Between 2018 and 2019, Makanjuola the former Chairman of Visionscape was named as a Director in 8 companies incorporated in the United Kingdom (U.K).

The companies are: Sovereign Confectionery Company Ltd, Raven Renewable Energy Ltd, Raven Petroleum Ltd, Vision Marine Recycling Ltd, Sovereign Foods Ltd, Raven Commodities UK Ltd, Bespoke Management Services Ltd, and Visionscape UK Holdings Limited.

Seven of the companies have today folded up/dissolved, while one is dormant, according to data from Endole, an aggregator of corporate data from both public and private sources which maintains a database of over 7 million companies that covers the entire UK.

“The new insights into the accounting surrounding the Visionscape project highlight yet again the opacity of the finances of Nigeria’s biggest subnational economy,” said Ikemesit Effiong, Head of Research at SBM Intelligence.

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Analysts say that Lagos, despite a surge in revenue collections largely built on the back of arguably the country’s most sophisticated taxation regime, has historically been reticent to publicly disclose how public finances are managed.

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Furthermore, while tax enforcement and compliance are high by Nigerian standards, probes and investigations into possible financial misappropriation are unheard of.

“In essence, the issues arising from the evolving Visionscape’s story is emblematic of and is perhaps the most vivid illustration of business as usual in 21st Century Lagos,” Effiong said.

If the Lagos state government has been recalcitrant to investigate the visionscape deal through the office of its Attorney General (Ag), the Federal Government through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has also chosen to play ostrich and turn a blind eye.

A legal luminary who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic said the fact that no one has been probed for the Visionscape scandal, confirms a lack of political will by Nigeria to get tough on sleaze.

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“In the US the Feds would have probably swooped in to clean house with a couple of indictments dished out, if the State Ag refused to do its job,” he said.

“But it’s par for the course for Nigerian politicians who today are snapping up N100 million presidential expression of interest forms, with nobody questioning the source of those funds.”

Technically, the EFCC is a federal agency with wide investigatory powers over matters involving financial misappropriation in Nigeria but there is an open-ended legal question about its jurisdiction over such issues where they involve state-backed and state-managed corporations and institutions.

This has stopped it from opening investigations into the financial practices in a number of Nigerian states in the past.

Unlike the U.S Watergate scandal where the crime was bad but attempts at a cover-up made it worse until it was brought to light, the hapless people of Lagos have no advocate in their corner providing oversight over the wheeling and dealings of the tiny but powerful elite that run the affairs of the city of 21 million people.

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“The EFCC is hardly an independent investigative body and it often cherry-picks the cases it takes up depending on the political will it is able to secure from the ruling authorities. It appears in this case that the absence of the requisite political will to ask hard questions about this company (visionscape) is the primary reason why there has been little movement on this issue,” Effiong of SBM Intelligence, said.

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Crime

ICYMI: Oba of Benin accuses EFCC of corruption

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Oba of Benin, Ewuare II has alleged that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is aiding crimes in the country.

The monarch made the allegations when he received the new Benin Zonal Director of EFCC, Effa Okim in his Palace in Benin on Monday.

He cited a case involving unnamed former palace officials who were left off the hook after they were arrested for fraud and handed over to EFCC in Benin for investigation and prosecution.

The Oba alleged that some EFCC operatives allegedly handled the case with kid gloves, which led to the release of the culprits a few years ago.

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The monarch, who did not name the palace officials, expressed shock that the EFCC investigators allegedly swept glaring evidence of fraud against them (the palace officials) under the carpet.

While tasking the commission to fight crime without fear or favour, the Oba added,” We want to draw your attention to one or two grey areas in your operations”.

“No matter how much you try to support the EFFC from the palace, It is very difficult because they seem to listen to other parties. What I have been told is that they take instructions from the highest bidder.

“You know that I have been known for speaking the truth. I was not happy about certain things that happened with your predecessor.

“We get news from everywhere. We try to assist the EFCC. I even wrote a letter to the then-chairman who was removed from office.

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“I even sent an emissary to talk to him regarding certain elements in Edo State, particularly the palace.

“How can EFCC operatives, especially, the lady who handled the case I cited earlier behave like that? If I was asked to comment on her performance, I would score her zero. I do not know if she was doing an EFCC job or just dancing to the tunes of people who were giving her money.

“At the time we were trying to assist EFCC, the report we kept getting was negative and I was not happy about it,” Oba Ewuare II added.

The monarch, however, said the newly appointed Chairman of EFCC, Olanipekun Olukayode is on the path to greatness if he continues to demonstrate fidelity in his duties.

He also pledged the palace’s support to the state government in addressing social inequality and reducing social vices.

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Earlier in his address, Okim appealed to the Oba to support advocacy against financial crimes with Edo State ranking second behind Lagos State in the financial crime index in the country.

Recalling the historical ties between his state of origin, Cross River and Edo State, he solicited prayers and royal blessings to enable him to discharge his duties diligently.

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NDLEA declares India-based Nigerian couple wanted, arrests four cartel members

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The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency has declared a couple, Kazeem Omogoriola Owoalade and Rashidat Ayinke Owoalade, wanted for running a cocaine cartel from India.

This follows the arrest of four members of the syndicate in Lagos, where a Sports Utility Vehicle was recovered and two houses traced to them were sealed for forfeiture to the Federal Government.

This was made known in a statement signed by the agency’s Director of Media and Advocacy, Femi Babafemi, and shared on its website on Sunday.

The statement read, “A couple, Kazeem Omogoriola Owoalade (alias Abdul Qassim Adisa Balogun) and Rashidat Ayinke Owoalade (alias Bolarinwa Rashidat Ayinke), who runs a cocaine cartel from India has been declared wanted by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency following the arrest of four members of the syndicate in Lagos where a Sports Utility Vehicle was recovered and two houses already traced to them sealed for forfeiture to the Federal Government.

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“Two members of the syndicate: Imran Taofeek Olalekan and Ishola Isiaka Olalekan were arrested on April 3, 2024 following their bid to export 3.40kg cocaine on a Qatar Airlines flight going to Oman through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, MMIA Ikeja Lagos.

“While Imran was the courier conveying the drug consignment to Oman, Ishola recruited him for the head of the cartel, which investigation has now revealed to be Alhaji Kazeem Omogoriola Owoalade whose Indian residence permit bears Abdul Qassim Adisa Balogun based in India.

“Efforts to dismantle his network in Nigeria paid off after five weeks of surveillance and follow up operations when another member of the syndicate, Hamed Abimbola Saheed, who works directly with the baron was arrested on Tuesday 14th May at Abule Egba area of Lagos. It was indeed Saheed who lodged Imran in a hotel a day before his aborted trip to Oman and equally dropped him and Ishola at the Lagos airport the day they were arrested.”

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During a search of Hamed’s house, NDLEA operatives were said to have recovered some phenacetine, a cutting agent for Cocaine, weighing 900 grams.

He was said to have confessed that the recovered substance was what was left of the consignment Imran was taking to Oman the day he was arrested.

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His arrest led to a follow up operation at the home of the Owoalade couple at 20, Eyiaro Street, Ogudu Orioke, Lagos where another suspect was arrested and a new model Toyota RAV4 SUV marked FKJ-773 JJ belonging to Rashidat and additional 400 grams of Cocaine recovered in addition to already prepared suitcases to be used for illicit drug concealment, digital weighing scales and other paraphernalia.

NDLEA officers also intercepted two parcels at a courier firm in Lagos on May 15.

The parcels contained cocaine (587g) hidden in steel bolts bound for China and amphetamine concealed in vape pens and shea butter heading to the UK.

The statement added that an attempt to export 3.6kg of cannabis (loud strain) hidden in 36 water flasks to Dubai was foiled at a logistics company in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on May 16.

The owner of the consignment, Emeka Nwadiaro (aka Mega), was arrested in Onitsha, Anambra State, on the same day following a swift follow-up operation.

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The statement added, “While NDLEA operatives in Lagos intercepted a Mercedes Benz bus loaded with 840kg cannabis and arrested the driver, Samuel Henry, at Olojo in Ojo LGA, Lagos, another suspect, Lawal Adam was nabbed along Otukpo road, Aliade, Benue state on Friday 17th May with 75,000 pills of opioids including tramadol and exol-5. Two suspects: Olisa Etisi, 32, and Jonathan Umeh, 25, were arrested along Owerri – Onitsha road, Imo state following the discovery by NDLEA operatives of a big gas cyclinder used to conceal six blocks of Loud, a strain of cannabis weighing 3.85kg.

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“In Borno State, 70-year-old Adamu Mohammed was arrested at Mbulamel, Biu LGA on Thursday, 16th May with 2kg cannabis and 33.55grams of diazepam, while Gaddafi Sani, 27, was arrested with 30 kilograms of cannabis along Abuja-Kaduna road, Kaduna.”

NDLEA officers in Yobe State seized a large consignment of drugs from a petrol tanker on the Potiskum-Damaturu Road.

The drugs, which included 91.1kg of opioids and 13kg of cannabis, were hidden in secret compartments and were heading for Maiduguri, Borno State.

The driver, Ismaila Ali, was arrested in connection with the discovery.

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NDLEA officers also arrested four suspects in connection with the seizure of 2,025 pieces of improvised explosive devices (IED) materials in Niger State.

Two suspects, Abdulrauf Shitu Adeyemi and Asmiyu Rahim, were arrested on the spot, while Husaini Abdullahi and Nazifi Abdullahi were arrested in Sokoto and Kano respectively, following a follow-up operation.

The suspects and the explosive materials have been transferred to the appropriate security agency for further investigation. In a separate operation, Muhammad Lawal was arrested in Katsina state with 1,000 ampoules of Pentazocine injection.

A total of 105kg cannabis was on Friday, May 17, recovered from a house at Obola community, Owan West LG, Edo State, and a suspect, Gloria Oris, arrested when NDLEA officers raided the area.

In Kwara State, two suspects: Abdulganiyu Karaman, 55, and Sunday Abel, 37, were on Saturday 18th May arrested with 83kg cannabis and tramadol at Boriya, Baruten LGA, and Offa respectively.

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NDLEA officers also recovered 105kg of cannabis from a house in the Obola community, Edo state, and arrested a suspect, Gloria Oris, on May 17th. Additionally, two suspects, Abdulganiyu Karaman and Sunday Abel, were arrested in Kwara State on May 18, with 83kg of cannabis and tramadol.

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NURTW member, two others jailed for drug trafficking

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A 45-year-old driver and member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Tapha Mustapha, and two others, were on Thursday convicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for trafficking hard drugs.

Other convicts sentenced alongside the NURTW member are Andrew Ukelere and Anthony Chiemerem.

The three convicts were earlier arraigned before the court by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, on April 27, 2024, on charges bordering on conspiracy, trafficking in 13.9 kilograms of tramadol and 590 litres of Pentazocine, a psychotropic drug similar to cocaine.

During their arraignment, the prosecutor, Mariam I. Erondu, who was represented by Julian Negedu, told the court that the convicts were arrested with the drugs on March 19, 2024, on the Long Bridge area of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Lagos State.

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According to the prosecutor, the offences committed contravened Sections 11(b) of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act Cap N 30, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, and are punishable under the same Act.

The trio, however, pleaded guilty to the charges.

Following their guilty plea, Justice Kehinde Ogundare, adjourned the matter to Thursday for a review of facts and sentence, and then ordered that they be remanded at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre.

At the resumed hearing of the matter for review of facts, the prosecutor called Mr Benjamin Naetah, a Senior Exhibits Keeper with the agency, who tendered the drugs and other exhibits, which were admitted by the court.

Upon the conclusion of the review of facts, the prosecutor urged the court to convict and sentence the trio in accordance with the sections of the NDLEA Act that they were charged with.

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But the convicts’ lawyers, Lilian Omotunde and Ore-Ofe Ogunleye, in their plea for mercy, urged the court to award a non-custodian sentence on their clients, being first-time convicts and for not wasting the time of the court.

Omotunde, who is the counsel for the first and second convicts, said: “The first convict is a first-time offender; he is a member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers. He was contracted by the roadside to deliver a good after Lagos State, but he was caught up by the law.

“The second convict is a 35-year-old medicine store attendant, who was sent on an errand by his master.

“I urge the court to award a non-custodian sentence,” she said.

Also, counsel for the third convict, Ogunleye, urged the court to award a non-custodian sentence to her client.

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She particularly cited Section 426(2) paragraphs a, b, d and e of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.

Responding to the counsel’s submissions, the prosecutor, Erondu, who also cited Section 311 of ACJA, urged the court to consider the commercial quantity of the prohibited drug seized from the convicts and the damage it would have done to the country.

In his judgment, Justice Ogundare sentenced the first and second convicts to two years imprisonment, while the third convict was sentenced to a year imprisonment.

The judge however ordered both the first and second convicts to pay the sum of N500,000 each, and the third convict to pay the sum of N100,000, in lieu of the jail term.

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