In this report, VIVIAN OKEJEME, looks at the controversies that led to the suspension of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ayodele Oke.
In what seems like affirming good intention and redeeming the image of his administration on the fi ght against corruption, at a time various courts across the country gave verdicts in favour of some people accused of corruption, President Mohammadu Buhari, last week bowed to pressure and suspended the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayodele Oke.
Lawal was accused of corruption in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE), while Oke on his part claimed the controversial N13billion discovered at an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos, belonged to the NIA.
Th e president, who had been accused of shielding some persons accused of corruption in his government, is perceived as having moved against members of his cabinet to prove that he is neutral and committed to the fi ght against corruption.
Sequel to the suspension, the president set up a probe panel comprising of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, AttorneyGeneral of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami and the National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno, to investigate the separate issues.
Investigation into Ambassador Oke’s claims would look into the circumstances in which the NIA came into possession of the said funds; authority the funds were made available; as well as whether or not there has been a breach of the law or security procedure in obtaining custody and use of the funds. Lawal is expected to be investigated on allegations that he violated law and due process in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE).
Global Vision Ltd allegedly owned by the SGF, was indicted by the Senate in December for benefi ting from infl ated contracts as well as failing to execute some contracts allegedly awarded by PINE. The said firm allegedly got over N200 million contracts to clear grass at Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Yobe state. To this end, the Senate asked President Buhari to suspend and ensure the prosecution of Lawal. The Senate’s resolution followed the presentation of a report on mounting humanitarian crisis in the North-East by the Senator Shehu Sani-led ad hoc committee. President Buhari, rather than implement Senate’s recommendations, however, wrote the Senate claiming he could not carry out the recommendations because the SGF was not given fair hearing. A three-page letter by the president, dated January 17, 2017, and read on the fl oor of the Senate by Senate President, Bukola Saraki, noted that: “neither the SGF nor the company said to have been used to perpetrate the alleged illegality, were invited by the Senator Shehu Sani led-committee.”
Th e president further stated that the report of the committee was signed by three of the nine members of the ad-hoc committee, thus making its report a minority report. Buhari in the letter also said that: “Consequently, I am of the view that barring other considerations that may arise as a result of subsequent investigations of Lawal by the interim ad-hoc committee, the current report as presented to the presidency in its own right, does not meet the principles of fair hearing and compliance with the Senate Rules for conduct of investigations in matters relating to abuse of offi ce by public offi cers.
“In the light of the foregoing, I am not able to approve the recommendation to remove and prosecute Lawal on the basis of the Senate ad-hoc committee report dated December 15, 2016,” Buhari. Th e president’s reaction irked a section of Nigerians, who concluded that the president ignores, makes excuses and even defends allegation of corruption against his close associates.
Buhari has also been accused of sweeping under the carpet, cases pending before the anti-graft agencies involving members of his cabinet. While the suspension of two key members of his cabinet may have won the president some points in terms of public perception concerning his administration’s commitment to the fi ght against, it has also left divergent views.
To some, the action of the president as regards the SGF did not come as a surprise while others insist that it is an afterthought and should have been handled long before now. Renowned lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome, described the SGF and NIA DG’s suspension as “good riddance to bad rubbish.” Th is is as the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), described it as a logical consequence. “I think this is a logical consequence of what has been happening in the last three months. Th e SGF had this plank hanging over his head where his company was awarded a contract for N300 million to cut grass.
“First, grass is totally irrelevant to the needs of the Internally Displaced People. Also, a person in that high position in government must not be a benefi ciary of any contract. “He should have known better. People had been clamouring and this was a matter of time, it was a situation simply not sustainable. In that situation, it was inevitable but people were only too impatient,” Sagay said. On the NIA DG, he said: “As for the NIA man, that one is really frightening because what is emerging is that they hid that money in that house pretending to be carrying out a covert operation without the knowledge of the government in power.
“You are acting on behalf of a President and he does not know of the operation and you have this huge sum of money. Th e implication is that the money was hidden there in order to be shared. With regards to these two people, I think it is just a logical consequence.” In his view, another legal practitioner, Mallam Yusuf Olaolu Ali (SAN), said the SGF should have resigned long before now.
According to him, “A lot of outrage has trailed the continued keeping in offi ce of the suspended SGF, Mr. Lawal, when the Senate had taken decision over his alleged involvement in the IDPs funds, especially his alleged ownership of companies that handled the project at the IDPs.
“The President appointed the two offi cers and can fi re them at any time but that of the suspended SGF ought to have come before now, in view of the Senate indictment on the contract scam allegedly involving his company. “One expected that President Muhammadu Buhari ought to have asked his suspended SGF to resign from offi ce before now to allow proper investigation into his alleged involvement in the contract scam but with the suspension, a proper investigation would now be done on the issue.”
Also, the second vice president of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani, said the suspension of the two key offi cers of government will give credibility to President Buhari led administration. “The suspension of the President’s appointees over allegation of malfeasance will restore his approval rating and evidence him as a man that detests and abhors indiscretion on the part of those close to him in this government.
Th at is the way to go, always. We must win the war against corruption.” On the internal probe of the SGF before now, there were some levels of unquiet over the clearance by the investigative panel put up by the Presidency, “Such an act is not a virtue for Mr. President to give him (SGF) a clean bill; people are asking questions and are waiting to see what will happen,” he concluded. It is only time that will tell, whether or not Lawal and Oke would return to their positions after the fresh investigation by the three-man team, led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.