Published On: Fri, Apr 21st, 2017

Is Lawal’s suspension victory for Senate?

EZREL TABIOWO in this piece, examines the implications of the suspension of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal on the relationship between the executive branch of government and the Senate

President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against corruption has no doubt, regained momentum, with the unexpected suspension of two key officials of the government;  Mr. Babachir Lawal, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Amb. Ayo Oke, Director General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
Lawal, prior to his suspension on Wednesday, had been in the centre of a corruption allegation involving the award of contract to a company owned by him while serving on the Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE).

The Senate Adhoc Committee on Humanitarian Crisis in the North East, while investigating the activities of PINE in the region following the escalating humanitarian crisis, stumbled on hard evidence which revealed gross abuse of privileges.
The Senator Shehu Sani-led committee, in its report which was considered by the upper chamber on December 14, 2016, indicted Lawal.
Senator Sani, who presented the report during plenary, accused the SGF of using his office to enrich himself and called for his prosecution for allegedly violating the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, 2007 and the Federal Government Financial Rules and Regulations pertaining to the award of contracts.

He said PINE took undue advantage of the provision of emergency situation contract award in the Public Procurement Act 2007, to inflate contracts.
Sani said: “Contracts were awarded to companies belonging to top government officials’ cronies, family members and close associates. For example, Rholavision Engineering Limited, incorporated in 1990 with RC No. 159855 at the Corporate Affairs Commission, Abuja, to carry out information and communication technology services, a company anchored by the SGF, was awarded consultancy contract for the removal of the invasive plant species in Yobe, state on March 8, 2016.

“Although Lawal resigned the directorship of the said company in September, 2016, it is on record that he is still the signatory to accounts of the company. About 95 to 100 percent payments of all contracts awarded by PINE have been paid even as some contracts are yet to be fully executed.
“For instance, payment of N108 million for the supply of 1,100 units of temporary tarpaulin cabins at N302,000:00 per unit, was made to Dantex Nigeria Limited, despite the fact that 125 units valued at N37.7 million were yet to be supplied.”
Sani lamented over the plights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), both in camps and within host communities.

In their separate contributions, lawmakers lambasted the SGF and backed the position of the interim report which called for the suspension and prosecution of Lawal.
Among the lawmakers is Senator Dino Melaye, who alleged that Lawal did not resign as a director of a company which handled some contracts in the North-East, despite his appointment as SGF.
“The SGF rushed to the Corporate Affairs Commission in September only when the Senate started investigating him. He awarded a contract to his company where he is a signatory. The SGF has exhibited anti-Buhari tendencies.
“This is gross abuse of office. I call for his immediate resignation and after that, he should be prosecuted. It is time to call a spade a spade. It is time for the Senate President to act,” Melaye said.
Accordingly, the senate called for the suspension of Lawal, over what it described as gross abuse of office.

 Lawal attacks Senate
Drawing the battle line with the senate, the suspended SGF, in a swift reaction to his alleged involvement in the IDP contract fraud, attacked the upper legislative chamber saying the allegations leveled against him were nothing but nonsense.
Speaking to National Assembly correspondents after the 2017 Budget presentation by President Buhari last year, Babachir said: “The Senate is talking balderdash. It has developed the habit of Bring Him Down syndrome. Nigerians have decided that we should destroy our best. We should all destroy the promising and best among us by bringing people down without a cause. This is just how I saw it”.

He continued: “I have the report of the Senate Committee in which it was said that I didn’t resign from Rholavision Nigeria Limited. Let me tell you, Rholavision was formed by me in December 1990, and it has been a company that was run very successfully. Now, when I was appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation, I resigned from that company on 18th August 2015. I can see that in their report, they are talking about 2016. I don’t know where they got their facts.
“By the way, it is very instructive that when the committee was sitting, no effort was ever made to invite me to come and make a submission. It is therefore, surprising that they devoted a whole session to maligning me, claiming what is not true without even giving me the chance to come and put my own case before them”.

Presidency responds to Senate
Sequel to the allegations made in the reports of the Senate Adhoc Committee, President Buhari, days later, ordered the investigation of top officials of his administration who have been accused of corruption.
The directive was contained in a short statement by President Buhari’s spokesperson,

Garba Shehu.
The statement read: “The attention of the presidency has been drawn to a number of reports in the media, in which various accusations of corruption have been levelled against some top officials in the administration.
“In that regard, President Buhari has instructed the Attorney General of the Federation to investigate the involvement of any top government officials accused of any wrong-doing. If any of them are liable they will not escape prosecution.”
Barely one month after the Presidency’s directive to probe officials accused of corruption and despite hard evidence brought against Lawal, President Buhari, in a letter to the Senate surprisingly cleared the SGF of all allegations of corruption and wrongdoing.
Buhari, in his letter read by Senate President Bukola Saraki, while defending Lawal gave reasons why he could not act as demanded by the Senate, saying the SGF was not given fair hearing before the indictment.

According to him, neither the SGF nor the company said to have been used to perpetrate the alleged illegality was invited by the Senator Shehu Sani’s Committee.
He also said the report of the committee was signed by three of the nine members of the Adhoc committee, thus, making its report a minority one.
Consequently, the President said he had no choice than not to act against Lawal as canvassed by the Senate.
But in a quick reaction, Senator Sani raised a point of order to defend his committee’s report, saying the President’s claims were false, insisting that Lawal and other parties involved were summoned, adding that his committee had evidence to that effect.
He also said seven out of nine members of the committee signed the report, not three of nine as claimed by President Buhari.

 Buhari makes U-turn
Apparently disturbed by its own decision public expressed in the letter to the Senate, the Presidency succumbed to pressure mounted on it by persistent criticisms, and made a dramatic u-turn that fateful Wednesday by suspending the Secretary to the Government of the Federation pending conclusion of investigations.
The statement spelling out Lawal’s suspension read: “President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered an investigation into the allegations of violations of law and due process made against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr David Babachir Lawal, in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE). The President has also directed the suspension of the SGF from office pending the outcome of the investigations”.

 Senators react
Reacting to the suspension, Senator Sani, lauded it, saying that that the president’s action was commendable.
He said: “The sword of truth is not just cast and sharpened for the neck of foes but also for those of friends.
“Moral gallows is not just meant for a belligerent foe but for a perfidious friend.
“Courage is dispensing justice; greater courage is dispensing justice against our emotions and temptation towards saving a friend.
“It’s easier to annihilate an adversary for a heap wrong than reprimand a friend for a mountain of wrong.

“It’s commendable for the president to heed the call to fumigate the throne of lice and bugs with the same ability he goes after rodents afar,” he said.
Sani added that “the senate and the committee have nothing personal against the SGF or any person affected.
“We simply did our job in conformity with our constitutional responsibilities and the moral calling of our conscience.
“We cannot jubilate because a mighty mortal is caught in the trap of his fate; we are neither saints nor Angels, but we have a duty to raise a card and blow the whistle.”
On his path, Senator Adamu Aliero representing Kebbi Central Senatorial district, stated that suspension of the SGF would strengthen executive and legislative relationship.
“The suspension of SGF is a welcome development which will go a long way in mending fences with the executive”, he stated.

The Senate Adhoc Committee on Humanitarian Crisis in the North East, while investigating the activities of PINE in the region following the escalating humanitarian crisis, stumbled on hard evidence which revealed gross abuse of privileges.

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