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Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, may have entered the black book of the Senate for obvious reasons. During the week, the upper legislative chamber summoned Lawal to appear before it over his comments on the constituency projects. Appearing before the Senate Joint Committees on Ethics, Appropriation and Finance on Wednesday, the SGF restated his position that the Federal Government would not be able to fund the constituency projects contained in the 2016 budget because the revenue accruable to the country had dropped drastically. His statement, though factual and represented the true position of things, was not pleasing to the hearing of the Senators. There seems to be more issues the Senate holds against the SGF than the constituency matter. I think the constituency matter is just a mere smokescreen. I will return to this shortly.
The focus of this week’s piece is about the SGF, but not about Lawal and the Senate, as it were, because yours sincerely is not qualified to hold and is not pretending to hold brief for the Senate. The upper legislative chamber is well equipped to defend itself. It parades both couth and uncouth distinguished lawmakers who can be unleashed on Lawal. If the Senators like, they can summon any public officer to appear before them or issue a warrant of arrest if any invited officer fails to heed their invitation. They may also resort to ‘impeach’, after all they recently threatened to commence impeachment proceedings against President Muhammadu Buhari.
Babachir may have walked into Senate’s trouble because he is opening his mouth too wide; he is getting too political, I guess. Waxing political on the SGF seat may not really be a sin. Though the SGF operates in a civil service environment, the job, as I see it, is not necessarily one for civil servants or technocrats. It would appear that the choice of who mounts the office of SGF depends on what the president, who is the appointing authority, wants to achieve with that office at any point in time. The SGF is the head of the Secretariat of the Federal Government. He is the Secretary to the Federal Cabinet, the clearing house for the administrative and policy work of the government. Some president may want an SGF that is grounded in policy, a technocrat as it were, who would be able to deal with the nitty-gritty of government policies, another president may want the one with serious grounding in politics to hold the office and help the administration in the area of managing politicians.
At the Commonwealth where the creation of SGF’s Office appears to have been borrowed, former colonies of Britain, which embrace the idea, see the SGF more or less as a cabinet secretary and the occupant is more often than not a technocrat. But the separation of the position of SGF from that of Head of Service in Nigeria may have taken care of the problem of who should occupy the office. Whereas the Head of Service is a career civil servant who is not expected to be a politician and cannot claim membership of a political party, the SGF may be a politician, a card-carrying member of a political party.
Giving this background, a random check of those who had occupied the office of SGF from Obong Ufot Ekaette in 1999 with the resurgence of democratic rule in the country under President Olusegun Obasanjo to Chief Anyim Pius Anyim under the immediate-past President Goodluck Jonathan would show that Ekaette is perhaps the only one that can be seen as not a career politician of the lot. Ekaette was appointed by former President Obasanjo as SGF on May 29, 1999, holding the office till the end of the second term of Obasanjo. He was a career civil servant, well grounded. He retired as Permanent Secretary. Ekaette was Principal Secretary to Head of State General Yakubu Gowon, served in the Federal Ministries of Industries, Information, Education and National Planning. He was Secretary, Public Service Department and Head of Service. Ekaette was also Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Industries and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing among others. He was not a politician but his wife was and is still is I suppose.
Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who succeeded Obasanjo, however, preferred a known politician, with some stint in the public service, rising up to the position of career diplomat, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, as SGF. There is no law guarding against the appointment of politicians as SGF as I earlier pointed out, however, getting too political on the job may be dangerous for the occupant of the office.
It would seem something always went awry when a politician mounted the office. Recall that Kingibe was removed unceremoniously by Yar’Adua for allegedly playing too much politics. There were also reports at the time that Kingibe was allegedly scheming to take over from a sick Yar’ Adua. Also, not many would positively remember Anyim’s period as SGF under President Jonathan or credit him with some remarkable achievements in that office. Perhaps, what some may remember him for is the multi-million dollar Abuja Centenary City, which the present government may have put in abeyance as some alleged it was a smart move to fleece the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja of prized land.
Now, with the coming of President Buhari, Lawal, a Christian from Adamawa State, emerged as SGF against all expectations. There is no doubt that he is eminently qualified to hold the office. Many, however, thought that President Muhammadu Buhari would not readily appoint a Christian if he decided to pick from that North-eastern state. Babachir Lawal himself said this much during a thanksgiving service in Abuja over his appointment. “I am Secretary to the Government today, because those people that I mentioned (Chief Bisi Akande and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu) were the very first to put the idea in the mind of the President. They were the ones that made it possible. Because if it has been left to Northerners, it is doubtful if they will take a Christian man to make Secretary to the Government of the Federation,” he said.
However, as SGF, and perhaps because he is a card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in his state, it would seem that his work is more of playing politics than anything else. His interventions, his statements have seemed to suggest so. A few examples will suffice here. It was the SGF who proffered reasons while the anti-graft bodies are not probing APC members, kind of defending allegations as to why the anti-graft crusade has been labelled selective.
In a recent interview with Vanguard, Lawal said: “Let us be very sincere and reasonable. Obviously, to my mind, the preponderance of corrupt people would be in the PDP for one reason; they have been in government for 16 years and they were the only ones enjoying the booty, and they were doing it in a flagrant manner. Tracing my own (political) genealogy for instance, from ANPP to CPC and now APC, we were not getting anything. Nobody was giving us contracts. PDP were the ones in government; they were the ones the president was approving money for sharing; they were the ones that took government money to fund their election”.
In the interview, he also said the report of the 2014 National Conference organised by the Jonathan administration was not a priority of the Buhari administration. He said: “The government has not taken a decision on the 2014 National Conference. I understand that some Nigerians want it implemented but the government has been too busy with key areas of governance to talk about an exercise that we thought was essentially diversionary and a sort of, maybe, a ‘job for the boys’. “If you remember, it was reported that almost everybody in the committee got N7 million and we consider it essentially as job for the boys.
They probably produced a document that is good and commendable but I mean, this government is too busy with very more vital areas of governance and we are not intending to spend our time reading reports”.
Former Foreign Affairs Minister and Deputy Chairman of that conference, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, who could n’t stomach that criticism and labelling said the SGF was ‘rude’ for calling elder statesmen who took part at the conference boys.
Also recently, the SGF dismissed insinuations by President of the Senate Bukola Saraki that he is responsible for the ongoing trial of some principal officers of the Senate for alleged forgery. Responding to his trial, an exasperated Saraki had alleged that there is now a cabal running the government of President Buhari.
But Lawal described the remarks as uncomplimentary to the person of the President. He said rather than drag the entire National Assembly structure into the case, it must be stated that only Saraki, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, a former Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, and a Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, Ben Efeturi, are on trial.
In the statement he personally signed, Lawal said: “Since the arraignment of the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki and, his Deputy Senator Ike Ekweremadu before the Federal High Court on Monday, June 27, 2016, the two leaders of the Senate, have issued two separate press statements conveying messages that are far from being complementary to the person and government of President Muhammadu Buhari. Senator Saraki in his statement clearly insinuated that Mr. President is not in control of his administration and that a cabal now runs the federal administration. On the part of Senator Ekweremadu, he insists that President Buhari is exhibiting dictatorial tendencies that can derail our democracy.
“From their statements, the two leaders of the Senate also gave this erroneous impression that by their arraignment, it is the entire Senate and indeed, the Legislative Arm of Government that is on trial. They want the public to believe that their prosecution is utter disregard by the Executive Arm of government for the constitutional provisions of separation of powers and that preferring the forgery case against them is a vendetta exercise.
“Since this case is in court, the Judiciary should be allowed to do its job. However, it is important to emphasize that this case involves only the four accused persons and should not be presented to the unsuspecting public as involving the entire Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The complaint leading to the forgery investigation was reported to the Police by some aggrieved Senators who specifically accused certain persons. It is not the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that is involved and definitely not the House of Representatives. To bring the National Assembly as a body into this court case is totally unwarranted. It can only be for other purposes and reasons outside the investigation and legal proceedings.
“A case of forgery is usually preferred against individuals. This is not different. As was the case with a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, who was accused of certificate forgery, what he did was to resign, honourably. The matter did not even go to court. In that particular case, it was never orchestrated as a matter for the National Assembly. The individual involved did not drag the entire Legislature into the matter”.
It is perhaps this statement that rankles the Senate, and not so much the one on constituency projects, in which Lawal said government would find it very difficult to implement the projects to the latter. In an interview with Daily Trust Newspaper in a June 28 publication, he had said MDAs might not find constituency projects as critical to the execution of their mandate and given the dwindling resources this could be some of the areas that will suffer during implementation.”
That statement had come as the relationship between the presidency and the Senate remains fractious over the prosecution of the Senate President and his deputy for alleged forgery. Any need to add more. My sense is the SGF is talking too much. He should talk less on issues of politics and concentrate more on the administrative work of the office. He should operate at the background if he needs to intervene at all in politics. He needs to tread softly in the areas of politics as I think his incessant interventions in politics may not bode well in the final analysis.
And Dino Melaye Sunk Low
have never been a fan of controversial Senator Dino Melaye from Kogi State. He began his sojourn in the Senate advertising his numerous exotic cars and personalised wine on the social networking site Facebook. It was n’t quite long after that infamous action that he disowned a popular actress whose pregnancy many who knew their close relationship swore he was responsible for. Sometimes I wonder how the electoral system threw up a man of questionable character like Melaye to represent Kogi West in the Senate, as opposed to a more decent Senator Smart Adeyemi, who contested on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform, though the politically wary in that state would tell you that our highly-referred former Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) President, Adeyemi, shot himself on the foot by trying to sit tight as Kogi West Senator against the established convention for representation in the area.
The same Melaye fought on the floor of the House of Representatives the other day over a motion and had to be suspended for a year around 2010. Rather than contest on the basis of superior idea and presentation, he traded blows on the floor of the hallowed chamber, throwing the House into a rowdy session, his dress torn in the process. As if the disgrace advertised on national television was not enough, the people of Kogi State rewarded him with a higher office. Melaye sunk into a new low during the week in the Senate, threatening to rape and beat up Senator Oluremi Tinubu, wife of All Progressives Congress National Leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Mrs. Tinubu’s offence was that she called for caution in respect of a demand by some Senators that the upper legislative chamber go for the ‘jugular’ in dealing with the forgery case instituted against Senate President Bukola Saraki, his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, and two others. It was at a closed-door session and we may not have been privileged to vividly capture all that transpired at the session. Melaye denied that he threatened to beat up and impregnate Senator Tinubu, but at the same news conference in Abuja where he issued the denial, he again betrayed his mental state, saying he could not have threatened to impregnate her because “biologically it is even impossible to impregnate Mrs. Tinubu because she has arrived at menopause.”
For the life of me, it’s high time the nation re-awakened that call for psychiatric test as a requirement for contesting election into high public office because of the eccentricity often displayed by lawmakers like Melaye. We need a psychiatric and drug test to determine the state of mental health of our public officers.
In the meantime, however, when politicians went gibberish like Melaye, it shows they are headed for the downhill. And no response can be more act to Melaye’s notoriety than the one by Sunday Dare, Asiwaju Tinubu’s Special Advise Media and Chief of Staff, who tweeted on his twitter handle thus: “Dino Melaye sunk to the lowest level ever today. From this point it is downhill for him”. Is Melaye headed for the downhill? I think so!