Lawal on the spot

It was a taste of the bitter pill for the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Engr. Babachir Lawal, following his suspension yesterday by President Muhammadu Buhari, FELIX NWANERI reports


At last, President Muhammadu Buhari, bowed to pressure, yesterday, and suspended the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Engr. Babachir Lawal, as well as ordered an investigation into the allegations of violations of law and due process made against him in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE).

Also directed to step aside alongside the SGF, according to a statement by the Special Adviser to the President (Media and Publicity), Mr. Femi Adesina, was the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Mr. Ayo Oke, pending the outcome of the investigation into the discovery of large amounts of foreign and local currencies by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in a residential apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, over which the agency made a claim.

A three-man committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is to conduct both investigations. Other members of the committee are the Attorney- General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj. General Babagana Monguno (rtd).

While the committee is to submit its report to the President within 14 days, the President further directed the most senior Permanent Secretary in the SGF’s office and the most senior officer in the NIA, to act, respectively, during the period of investigation. Lawal’s suspension comes after a running battle with the Senate, which at a time, asked him to resign his appointment for alleged misappropriation of funds earmarked for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the insurgency ravaged North-East zone.

The Senate passed the resolution on December 14, 2016, and called on the AGF to immediately commence the prosecution of the SGF for abusing his office in the roles he played in the award of contracts in respect of the North- East humanitarian crisis. According to the lawmakers, Lawal violated some of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act and the Federal Government Financial Rules and Regulations guiding award of contracts.

The resolution followed the presentation of an interim report of the Ad hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North East headed by Senator Shehu Sani. The report revealed that some of the contracts were awarded to companies belonging to top government officials’ cronies and family members. It also revealed that a company, Rholavision Engineering Limited, with Lawal as director, was awarded consultancy contract.

The company’s major role, according to the report, was the removal of invasive plant species in Yobe State. “Although, Lawal resigned the directorship of the said company in September 2016, it is on record that he is a signatory to the accounts of the company,” the report stated.

The SGF responded by saying that the call for his resignation and prosecution by the Senate was an attempt to rubbish his person.His response, however, infuriated the legislators, who described it as derogatory and consequently called on President Buhari to sack and prosecute him.

But, the President in a letter to the Senate, read on January 23, read by the Senate president, Bukola Saraki, accused the apex chamber of acting in contravention of the principles of rule of law in the course of its investigation.

Buhari accused the Senate of failing to invite the SGF or his company, which is alleged to have been involved in contract execution in the North-East, noting that such action negated the principle of fair hearing and amounted to violation of the principle of rule of law and the constitution of the land.

The President also said that the Senate arrived at its conclusion and recommendations from an interim report, and argued that for such weighty allegation, the Red Chamber ought to have waited for the final report to be presented to it, upon which it would have made its final resolutions.

The President therefore, said that he would not sack Lawal based on the interim report, which in his thinking, did not meet the fundamental tenets and requirement of a democratic government as enshrined in the constitution.

But, it was not only the Senate that had issues with the embattled SGF. Some chieftains of his party – All Progressives Congress (APC), particularly Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasri el-Rufai, at a time faulted the way he ran the Office of the SGF, which is responsible for ensuring the effective coordination and monitoring of the implementation of government policies and programmes for the overall development of the country.

el-Rufai, a known ally of the President, in a 29-page memo, dated September 22, 2016 and entitled: “Immediate and medium term imperatives for President Muhammadu Buhari,” but leaked to the media last month, besides rating the performance of the APC-led Federal Government below average, hit hard on Lawal and the Chief of Staff to the President, Alhaji Abba Kyari. He described them as inexperienced and clueless.

His words: “You (Buhari) appear to have neither a political adviser nor a minder of your politics. The two officials whose titles may enable them function as such generally alienate those that contributed to our success.

The SGF is not only inexperienced in public service, but is lacking in humility, insensitive and rude to virtually most of the party leaders, ministers and governors. “The Chief of Staff is totally clueless about the APC and its internal politics as he was neither part of its formation, nor a participant in the primaries, campaign and elections.

In summary, neither of them has the personality, experience and the reach to manage your politics nationally or even regionally.” While it is not yet a fall for Lawal, who was said to be in a meeting with Vice President Osinbajo at the time his suspension was announced, as he merely stepped aside pending the outcome of the investigation, some stakeholders described the President’s action as long overdue.

The senator representing Kebbi Central Senatorial district, Adamu Aliero, in his reaction, said Lawal’s suspension will strengthen executive and legislative relationship. The former governor of Kebbi State told reporters in Abuja that the report of the Senate ad-hoc committee, which indicted the SGF, was detailed. He added that the Senate’s earlier call for the sack of SGF was not borne out of sentiment, but was in line with the anticorruption agenda, which ought to have been the responsibility of all arms of government.

The suspension of SGF is a welcome development which will go a long way in mending fences with the executive. The Ad-hoc Committee on the humanitarian crises in the North-East was very clear and without fault. For Mr. President to suspend SGF now, has been the wish of the Senate,” he said. Also reacting, the Second Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani, wrote on his Facebook page: “… the President has just done what some of us his admirers had always expected of him; decisive, firm, bold, strong, reliable and unpredictable! These are attributes of quality leadership; it is a virtue and not a vice.

The suspension of his current aides 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. President Buhari, that is the way to go always!”

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