Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari sacked Babchir David Lawal as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, as well as the Director-General, National Intelligence Agency, Ayodele Oke, over alleged corruption. VIVIAN OKEJEME looks at the development vis-à-vis the accompanying reactions
In the build-up to the 2015 general elections, the Peoples Democratic Party-led government came under heavy attack from the All Progressives Congress for alleged corruption. As a matter of fact, the APC, which now holds the nation’s leadership banner, described the Goodluck Jonathan administration as corruption- ridden.
Graft war years after
But more than two years down the line, since President Mohammadu Buhari took charge, some are of the view that the story appears not to have changed. It is a common knowledge that, like the previous ones, the Buhari administration also has its own fair share of alleged graft, despite spirited efforts by the government to nip same in the bud.
From 1999 till date, successive governments consistently harped on the need to tackle corruption headlong. But one amazing thing over the years is that the more corruption is being tackled, the more it raises its ugly head.
But the question here is; is the present government really doing enough in the fight against corruption or is corruption fighting back? This is a debatable one, depending on which side one stands on this nagging issue.
Outstanding graft cases
Two alleged corruption cases that are very monumental and mindboggling under the present administration are that of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Engineer Babachir Lawal, and former Director- General of the National Intelligence Agency, Mr. Ayodele Oke.
Babachir is being alleged to have spent over N500million on grass cutting at the Internally Displaced Persons Camp in the North-east. For Oke, he is being accused of having a link with the huge sums of money found in a private apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos state. It took the government several months before decisions could be taken on the issues.
And curiously, Oke and his wife, claimed ownership of the money. A whooping sum of $43.4 million, £27,000 and N23.2 million was found at the seventh floor of House 6, Apartment 7B, Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, in April 12, 2017.
The building where the money was found was under surveillance for several months before the EFCC operatives moved in and recovered same.
The Senate was stunned when its ad-hoc committees investigating the contract, was told that N530million was spent on grass cutting. The committee chair, Senator Shehu Sani, said their investigation revealed that Mr. Lawal spent N530million and not N272million as previously claimed.
He added that the Presidential Initiative on the North-East (PINE) under the office of the SGF flouted the rules of procurement in awarding contracts, Furthermore, the committee submitted that most of the contract awards did not go through the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), saying majority of funds earmarked for them was frittered away.
The committee also discovered that since it was established, PINE was paying less attention to the critical needs of the IDPs in the North-east region. They said the bulk of funds were used for issues that do not address the immediate needs of the IDPs, but spent on issues that took care of the interest of the officials and associates.
Consequently, the Senate recommended that relevant agencies should investigate why contract-benefitting companies paid over N500million to Rholavision Engineering Limited, a company in which the suspended SGF allegedly had interest in.
Sensing that the administration’s credibility was at stake, a panel, headed by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo was set up to investigate the duo of Babachir and Oke. And after months of suspense, the panel turned in the verdict: the duo should be sacked, with President Buhari swiftly implementing same.
Upon their sack, dissenting tunes were raised on the development with some very senior lawyers sharing their thoughts. While some lawyers describe the sack as a ploy to buy credibility, as according to them the action was belated, others are of the view that the outcome of the report should be made public and if found culpable, they should be prosecuted.
In this latter group is Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN. “If there is still anything that should be investigated about corruption before or after sack, they should be probed and if they are found wanting, they should be prosecuted. Government should conclude on what really happened for the public to know.”
On his part, human rights lawyer, Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa, sees the action of the government as belated, saying it is an application to buy credibility.
According to him, Nigerians cannot be fooled because the sack had already lost its value.
“The sack is belated. The action of the President is not voluntary, they were forced to take the decision.The action has lost its value. A government that wants to fight corruption should not be prodded into taking action. It is an application to buy credibility. We cannot be fooled; we are entitled to the outcome of the white paper.
“Money, time, resources were expended and therefore, they should release the report.”
For another SAN, Lateef Fagbemi, the action was late in coming. “Truth be told, every well-meaning Nigerian must commend the effort of the present government in combating corruption in the country.
“That said however, the case of Maina and that of Babachir Lawal, I sincerely think, ought to have been handled differently. I expected the government to have come out with a definite position on its suspended SGF, having received the report of the committee purposely set up to look into the allegation against him.
“The time it took the government to take position in Babachir Lawal’s case makes Nigeria people to have doubt about the sincerity of the government in the fight against corruption.”
On his part, Malam Yusuf Ali, SAN, described the sack as long overdue, adding that if any crime is committed in the committee’s report, the law should be allowed to take its course.
“The action of the FG in sacking them is long overdue. The report of the committee should be made public. People should know what really happened and if any crime committed, they should be prosecuted.”
Presidency invites EFCC, ICPC
And as a further demonstration of its zero tolerance for corruption, the federal government said it’s done with its own administrative role and that the EFCC and ICPC could take over. Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu confirmed this position.
“The position of the President, therefore, is that investigative agencies, which have already commenced the investigation of the two officers removed from office, will go on with their work of investigation without any interference or hindrance.
“”The President under our laws can, through the Attorney General enter a nolle prosequi to stop an on-going trial. He may upon conviction, order a pardon.
“Beyond these, the president cannot order investigation agencies not to investigate anyone and does not intend to do so in this, or any other circumstance.
“Based on his wish and desire for a strict observance of the law, the President expects the EFCC, ICPC and such agencies to proceed with ongoing investigations..
“When and where they have reasonable grounds to charge former or serving officers to court under our laws, they do not require the permission of the President to do so.”
With this position of the Presidency, the EFCC has swung into action. Sources say, the agency’s chair, Ibrahim Magu will lead a team of crack detectives that will probe the Osborne Towers discovery, amidst interim forfeiture of the sum as ordered by a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos.
How far can the probe go?