The Pharisee Called Babachir Lawal

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THIS REPUBLIC BY SHAKA MOMODU       shaka.momodu@thisdaylive.com

Mr Babachir David Lawal, though an engineer, looks every bit a fulfilled man having risen to the exalted position of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), but it’s doubtful whether it was on merit. His cavalier demeanour, careless talk and hypocrisy speak brightly to the underlining attributes that have become second nature to this government.

That cavalier attitude was on full display in his interview sometime in June this year where he contemptuously dismissed the 2014 National Conference report as a product of “job for the boys by the previous government”. He condescendingly stated further that “the exercise of governance is not about reading reports. The reports are here, so many volumes that for example, it would take me like seven days to go through. I wonder what happens to my work while I am reading it; while the economy needs attention, unemployment is there, insecurity is there, people are blowing up pipelines and so on”. Interestingly, with all the attention Lawal and this government claimed to be paying to the economy, the result is a disastrous recession, record inflation which stands at 18.49%, unprecedented unemployment at 13.9%, waning investor confidence and a never-before-experienced poverty level that has turned many families into beggars across the country.

Again, in the last few months, Lawal has spoken powerfully against corruption, using the now favourite strape-line, “corruption is fighting back” against critics of Buhari’s anti-corruption war methods and tactics. It’s a cudgel that agents of this government have deployed to push back justified criticisms.

In interviews, seminars and workshops, he has been a leading advocate of a new order anchored on “zero tolerance” of corruption. He mercilessly lampooned the last government for the “rot” it left behind, repeatedly warning that the war on corruption would progress without pause, and that there would be no sacred cow as the law is no respecter of anybody.

Lawal’s interview with the Vanguard newspaper published October 30, just two months ago, is particularly striking. He was in his element, defending this government’s anti-corruption campaign against accusations of being bias and selective.

And for the benefit of those who missed it, let me provide a few excerpts from his reactions: “Why are you focusing on negative perceptions of people who are the perpetrators of these crimes?” He queried the reporter who sought to know why the fight against corruption was being selectively prosecuted. “We are talking about chasing thieves. It has nothing to do with equity. We are chasing people who took away government money, our money, people who impoverished us; people who put us in this situation that you are now accusing this government of.

If the previous government had deployed the resources available at that time properly, a time when oil was sold for over $ 100 per barrel, over and above our quota and we didn’t see anything they did with the money, so we should keep quiet? No!”
On the gestapo manner judges were arrested recently, Lawal had this to say: “There is nobody that is above the law. Don’t use the word like ‘status’ when people are accused of corruption. What status does such a person have? When somebody decides to abuse a position that God has given him, a position that government has graciously allowed him to occupy and serve the people, and he decides to use it to his own advantage, what status should you ascribe to me if I decide to be a thief?”

That was Lawal in his own words. Those haunting words carry the force of irony and the weight of tragedy of the hypocrisy of these anti-corruption crusaders. I tried many times to deny for him that what I read about his involvement in official abuse of office and corruption couldn’t be true. But tried as I did, the reality of his involvement just stared back more forcefully. In the face of overwhelming evidence, his defence increasingly looks like a hollow mockery of the truth. And his denial and bluster stared at me in meaningless arrogance.

Fellow Nigerians, I hardly know what to say about this man called Babachir Lawal and people like him or how to say it. But methinks we need the help of behavioural scientists to understand the factors responsible for this kind of double life. It appears stealing is in the DNA of the average public office holder in Nigeria. He has become a prisoner to his own words, and all who have read about the standard of morality he set for others will laugh at him and this finger-pointing government.

Is it not ironic that at the very time Babachir was uttering every word in that interview, condemning corruption, he was actually not just abusing public office but betraying public trust by lining his pockets with public funds? During the public hearing on PINE activities, its key officers could not convincingly account for the N2.5 billion released to them to tackle the crisis in the camps of the IDPs. The truth here which must NOT be lost is that Lawal awarded a contract to clear grass – just grass in Yobe State at the cost of 272.52 million to Josmon Technologies. Yet no grass was cleared, according to the Yobe State Commissioner for Information, Mohammed Lamin.

However, after Josmon Technologies was paid the huge sum, and in a classic example of fronting, it began to make instalmental payments into Rholavision’s account, a company in which Lawal was a director until September 2016 when he resigned, obviously because the Senate was breathing down his neck (the contract was awarded in March). But he was still the signatory to the accounts of the company, in order to keep a sharp eye on the steady inflow of ill-gotten gains. The Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-east in its interim report noted that PINE which is directly under Lawal’s supervision took undue advantage of the provision of emergency situation contract award in the Public Procurement Act, 2007 to over inflate contracts. Not only that, those contracts were awarded to companies belonging to top government officials’ cronies, family members and close associates.

For example, Lawal’s Rholavision was awarded a consultancy contract for the removal of evasive plant species in Yobe State. The report noted that 95% to 100% payments of all contracts awarded by PINE have been made even as some contracts are yet to be fully executed. The payment of N108 million for the supply of 1,100 units of temporary tarpaulin at N302,000 per unit made to Dantex Nigeria despite the fact that 125 units valued at N37.7 million were yet to be supplied is a case in point. As if all this wasn’t enough, the Yobe State government also disputed the N422 million PINE claimed was spent on the provision of tents for displaced families in the state. Claims of renovation of 18 schools destroyed by the Boko Haram in Yobe also turned out to false. According to the Yobe State government’s records, only three schools were renovated by PINE.

In 2015 when Lawal was appointed the SGF, he made an announcement that warmed hearts and minds that government needed to motivate its workers more to make them more productive. He stated that government workers were the least paid among workers in the country, and that was not good enough. Lawal then went on to promise that workers’ outstanding salary arrears, unpaid promotion arrears, death benefits and other allowances would be paid. Of course since then nothing has happened. It’s as if he forgot about the circular he issued to convey his message of motivation even before the ink of his signature dried on the paper.

Rather than think of how to fulfil the government’s promises to motivate and galvanise the workers into putting in their best efforts, he started to motivate himself, making a lot of money under the table from grass-clearing contracts at the expense of the starving victims of Boko Haram’s madness. Some of us have read heart-wrenching stories about the victims of Boko Haram — women, young girls and children in IDP camps being sexually exploited by security operatives and agents of government; we have read about the pain and suffering in these camps — reports of women begging to be provided with sanitary pads; I have seen pictures of malnourished children as a result of lack of food, water and medicines in these camps. It is frightening that someone as high up in government like Lawal who should ordinarily be moved to tears and who hails from the North-east would sit in his office in Abuja and pocket the money meant to alleviate some of the pain and misery of these people.

Interestingly, there seems to be a correlation between the celebrated $2.1 billion arms funds allegedly misappropriated by the former National Security Adviser (NSA) Sambo Dasuki and the unfolding IDPs funds’ scandal involving SGF Babachir Lawal. While Dasuki is said to have looted the money meant for the purchase of arms to fight Boko Haram, Lawal is said to have looted the money meant to alleviate the suffering of the displaced victims of terrorist attacks.

In another strange twist, while the National Conference was a “job” for Jonathan’s boys, IDPs funds’ scam has become a job for Buhari’s boys. So what has changed?
Who knows, when Lawal was sermonising during that interview, he probably got a credit alert via SMS from his bank notifying him of the inflow of illicit N50 million, N20 million, etc. into his company’s account. I can imagine him checking his phone, reading the message, and smiling quietly to himself about his exploits. And with a brave face, he would continue his sermon against corruption.

He obviously forgot the Biblical injunction to hypocrites: Remove the log in your own eyes to see clearly the speck in other people’s eyes. He cast the first stone even when he was not without sin; the consequences have come back now to haunt him.

Now, my answer to Lawal’s question that what status should be ascribed to him if he decided to be a thief: Let me refer him to the story of King David, Uriah and his wife, Bathsheba and Prophet Nathan in the Bible. Lawal’s pronouncement on others should be his punishment. Ironically, Lawal’s middle name is David.
Lawal needs to step down immediately.