As many Nigerians continue to mount pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to sack the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir David Lawal, over his indictment by the Senate for corruption, Iyobosa Uwugiaren takes a critical look at the many sins of the embattled SGF and how he might have failed the simple integrity test
President Muhammadu Buhari had steadily challenged members of the public, who are quick to accusing some members of his cabinet of corruption, to come up with strong evidence to justify their claims, and see if he would hesitate in dealing with them if found wanting.
Perceived as a no-nonsense and straightforward man by many of his followers and admirers, Buhari had said time without number that there would be no sacred cows in his on-going war against corruption in all departments of the nation’s institutions.
Yet, not many observers, including opposition parties, doubt that the President has always appeared as if living in refutation, which has become the trademark of his administration, when it comes to dealing with serious national issues, especially when it comes to alleged corrupt practices against his appointees.
But, events in the last few days have suggested that Buhari is now willing to clear his name – the wrong perception about him protecting his appointees and members of his party from being investigated over corruption.
To be sure, amidst escalating corruption allegations against some top officials of his government, President Buhari recently directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), to investigate the involvement of any of the officials. However, not many people doubt that the decision was provoked by the contract scandal enveloping the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir David Lawal.
In a two-paragraph statement issued by the President’s spokesman, Mr. Garba Shehu, the President was said to have instructed the Attorney General of the Federation to investigate the involvement of any top government official accused of any wrong-doing, saying if any of them is liable he/she would not escape prosecution.
The Senate recently urged Buhari to suspend the SGF, Mr. David Lawal, and ensure his prosecution over alleged breach of the Nigerian laws in the handling of contracts awarded by the Presidential Initiative for the North East, (PINE). The presidential directive followed a report by an ad-hoc committee of the Senate, led by Senator Shehu Sani, on the swelling humanitarian crisis in the North-east.
The committee, in its interim report submitted recently, indicted the SGF for allegedly receiving a N233 million contract to clear invasive plant species (removal of weeds) in Yobe State through his company, Rholavision Nigeria Limited. The Senate said he had remained a director of the company till September 2016, over a year after his appointment, in breach of Nigeria’s code of conduct for public officials as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.
However, in response to the indictment, the SGF admitted setting up Rholavision in 1990 to carry out information and communications technology services, but the Senate has discovered that the SGF handled the N233 million bush clearing contracts in the North-east in 2016, just as the Yobe State Government said the contract was never executed.
The SGF has since denied any wrongdoing, telling journalists in Abuja that the Senate was only victimising him and trying to rubbish his personality.
“The senate is talking balderdash; it has developed the habit of the bring-him-down syndrome”, the SGF was quoted as telling the National Assembly correspondents recently.
He added: “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 of today (Wednesday) to maligning me, claiming what is not true without even giving me the chance to come and put my own case before them.”
The Senate’s findings came at a time the United Nations was launching a $1 billion humanitarian appeal to combat poverty in the north-eastern part of the country that has been ravaged by the deadly terrorist Boko Haram group, and the response from the Buhari-led administration was to condemn the “blatant attempts to whip up a non-existent fear of mass starvation by some aid agencies.”
Aside the fact that the challenge of livelihood in the affected zones, where many are dying daily of hunger and want is real, it requires a hands-on approach.
Indeed, there are reports that even the little resources and assistances being provided by well-meaning Nigerians, the international community, corporate organisations and non-governmental organisations are being looted by some unconscionable officials of this administration.
Also, the substantial allegations against the SGF, a close political associate of Buhari, came at a time members of the opposition parties and some critical minds are saying the president’s anti-corruption drive is tainted by its extremely skewed focus on key operatives of the former President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration and the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) officials.
For those very mistrustful of the Buhari anti-corruption crusade, the SGF indictment is a test case for the President, chiefly bearing in mind that the money being talked about is for the well-being of the most exposed people in the country today. And there is a near agreement that the alleged contract scandal involving the SGF is an issue of serious public interest – touching at the very root of President Buhari’s anti-corruption bravado.
True, many political and anti-corruption monitors have said it is not just enough for the Buhari-led administration to continue brandishing his self-acclaimed uprightness as the sole substratum of his anti-corruption stance, arguing that for the drive against corruption in all public institutions to preserve any facade of honesty, all public officers must be seen to be above board.
However, either by inadvertence or commission, Buhari’s body language has suggested that his seemingly anti-corruption war is targeted at key aides of former President Jonathan and members of his party, PDP.
Already, there are fears in some quarters that the presidential directive to the AGF to probe the allegations against some of his appointees, including Lawal, is part of the secret moves to clear the SGF and others of any wrongdoing. The sound argument is that given the monstrous nature of the allegations and the type of evidence so far produced by the Senate as well as the strategic position of the SGF, Buhari by now, ought to have suspended Lawal from office, while the investigation is on-going.
For those familiar with the many dirty secret dealings of the SGF since appointed by the President, they have wondered why he is still in the office, insisting his character is questionable.
Their assertions include that in the early days of his office, the SGF was accused of solely directing the Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to raise N3 billion to fund APC governorship election in Bayelsa State, and that the President did not get to know about the secret deal until after the election. And some APC members who participated in the controversial election claimed the SGF “cornered 40 per cent” of the N3 billion released by the NDDC.
The revelation of the secret deal was said to have consequently pitched the SGF against the former management of the NDDC, which later led to the sack of the entire management staff.
Seen as the head of Buhari’s political gang by many in government, the embattled SGF was also said to have put suffocating pressure on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), ahead of the recent Edo State governorship election, to manipulate the election in favour of the APC candidate for obvious political interest.
A source at INEC who spoke with THISDAY in confidence during the election, had fingered some senior security officers and Lawal, for the manipulation of the election.
In particular, the SGF was said to have bragged to some key officials at INEC that the President Buhari-led APC could not afford to lose Edo State, which is the only APC governed state in the South-south geo-political zone. He was quoted as telling INEC officials that the loss of Edo State would further dim the record of Buhari and endorse the seemingly rebuff of the President in the South-south geo-political zone.
“And we have the SGF on tape. He talked big that as political head in the President Muhammadu Buhari-government, APC could not afford to lose Edo governorship election. But top management staffers of INEC are also mindful not to destroy the credibility and independence of the commission. We neither report to political parties nor government officials. And we should be allowed to do our job”, the INEC senior official had told THISDAY.
A similar experience was also said to have played out during the recent Ondo State governorship election, in which he was alleged to have teamed up with opponents of his principal to frustrate the candidate of the APC, Rotimi Akeredolu, believed to have the president’s blessing. In addition, he was also said to have planned to use a phony N1.3billion ecological fund to prosecute the election before the plan was leaked and subsequently foiled.
A native of Hong Local Government Area of Adamawa State, the SGF is also said to be using his office to regularly corner huge fund from heads of federal government’s agencies by recurrently summoning them to his office, forcing them to fund some projects, citing the President’s interests.
A graduate of Engineering from Ahmadu Bello University in 1979, Lawal, who was appointed the SFG on August 27, 2015, had some experience in engineering by working with the Delta Steel Company, Aladja, the Nigerian External Telecommunications Limited and Data Sciences Limited, before his current job, is likely to kiss goodbye to his plum position if the Senate report that indicted him is to be taken seriously by President Buhari. But can the President refuse or fail to do otherwise?
For those very mistrustful of the Buhari anti-corruption crusade, the SGF indictment is a test case for the President, chiefly bearing in mind that the money being talked about is for the well-being of the most exposed people in the country today. And there is a near agreement that the alleged contract scandal involving the SGF is an issue of serious public interest – touching at the very root of President Buhari’s anti-corruption bravado