with Oke Epia
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The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is in exultant mood. In fact, senators can be said to be balling. Not because it is Christmas but because they have gained a pound of flesh from a hitherto truculent traducer, a top member of the ruling cabal who is now holding the short end of the stick fighting a political battle of his life. If he loses this battle, he may very well become a victim of the administration’s heavily contested anti-corruption war. And that to a major extent is the driving motivation behind the Senate’s interim report on alleged misappropriation and diversion of billions of naira voted to cater for millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) holed up in camps across the North-east of Nigeria. The Red Chamber is riding on the back of the misfortunes of hapless constituents to extract maximum damage on a political tormentor. That is politics. And these are politicians who can politicize anything and everything as long it advances their interests. But would the senators be blamed for this? If Mr. Babachir Lawal, the bulky and burly Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) had been much discreet and discrete, his opponents would not have found the weapons with which they are now using to cut his frame to size. If he had been a true apostle of the war against corruption as the single most trumpeted policy thrust of the administration, he may not have found himself in this bind. Indeed had he been appropriately guided by public service rules as chief custodian of government he would fallen so cheaply for the messy pot of porridge that now threatens his destiny.
Had he been less antagonistic to the lawmakers perhaps his sins could have been overlooked. Had he been no denouncer of lawmakers’ constituency projects or had been at worst indifferent to their execution, he would have been a true party man helping the All Progressives Congress (APC) actualize the change mantra. Had he been opposed to or unsupportive of the prosecution of Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) he would have been an enabler of cordial Executive-Legislature relationship whose little malfeasance would have been treated as a family affair. But Mr. Lawal was none of these; instead he was everything that stood contradictory to the interests of senators and by extension, members of the National Assembly. So when they found slingshots unwittingly provided by the SGF himself, they knew there could be no better time to strike. And for the Senate it was a perfect coup. The attack was timed to coincide with the day President Buhari was scheduled to present the 2017 budget before a joint session of the National Assembly, an event that would be attended by Mr. Lawal.
Before joining the House of Representatives chamber for the session, the senate sat at plenary and resolved that the SGF be removed from office and prosecuted over alleged complicity in the diversion of funds meant for humanitarian intervention for IDPs in the North East. Mr. Lawal’s office supervises the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PiNE). Senate resolution followed the presentation and adoption of the interim report of its Adhoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North East. The report was presented by the Chairman of the Committee, Sen. Shehu Sani who represents Kaduna Central under the platform of the APC. Although the report dwelt on the general mismanagement of the funds, it provided details of how Mr. Lawal allegedly contravened provisions of the Public Procurement Act and Federal Government Financial Rules and Regulations pertaining to award of contracts. Recall that the Senate had in October constituted an 8- member Adhoc Committee to ascertain the amount of funds released to PINE and how such were utilized.
The senate had taken the decision following the adoption of a motion on ‘‘Mounting humanitarian Crisis’’ moved by Sen. Baba Kaka Garbai, an APC member from Borno State. Sani told the senate that his committee had visited some IDPs camps in the North East and conducted a three day public hearing after it reached the following findings, among others: Prevalence of serious humanitarian crisis in the North East with evidence of hunger, disease, squalor, deprivation and want amongst the IDPs; absence of the Federal Ministry of Health in the camps visited and that “although the presence of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and States Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) were noticed, they had very little synergy with other agencies;” and that “despite claims by some Federal Government Agencies that huge sums of money was spent on IDPs in the North East, what the committee saw, did not justify and reflect such claims.” The report further noted that “all contracts from the PINE were awarded under the principle of emergency situation as stipulated in Section 43 (1) & (2) of the Public Procurement Act 2007;” and that “most of the contracts awarded have no direct impact on the lives of the people;” while adding that “the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE) took undue advantage of the provisions of the emergency contract situation to over inflate contracts and award contracts to companies belonging to top government officials.
“For example Rholavision Engineering Limited incorporated by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to carry out information and communication technology services anchored by Engr. Babachir Lawal, the current Secretary General to the Government to the Federation was awarded a consultancy contract for the removal of invasive plant species (or sea weed) in Yobe State. However, it was noted that although Engr. Babachir resigned from the directorship of the company in September 2016 it was the Committee’s finding that he is still the signatory to accounts of the company; “That 95% to 100% payments of all contracts awarded by PINE have been paid although some contracts are yet to be fully executed. For example, the payment of One Hundred and Eight Million Naira (180,000,000) for the supply of 1100 units of temporary tarpaulin carbines despite the fact that 125 units valued at Thirty Seven Million, Seven Hundred Thousand Naira (37,700,000) is yet to be supplied.” The committee then made some recommendations which were adopted by plenary with slight amendments in a few cases.
These were: “That the Federal Government and States in the North East should as a matter of urgency ensure food items are adequately and promptly provided to displaced persons in order to address the prevailing malnutrition observed amongst them; that serious effort should be made by both Federal and State governments of the North East to provide conducive learning atmosphere for children of the IDPs; that the Federal Ministry of Health should be compelled to deploy personnel to all IDP camps to support efforts of the International Humanitarian Crisis Managers and the Nigerian Airforce medical team in providing the necessary medical assistance so as to avert possible outbreak of communicable diseases like cholera, measles and diarrhoea; Federal and State governments should intensify efforts towards reconstruction of destroyed infrastructure, rehabilitation and empowerment of the IDPs so that they can go back to their homes; That the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative (PCNI) should ensure that there is synergy and proper coordination among all humanitarian crisis agencies if the IDPs are to gain maximally from the entire exercise; The Presidential Initiative on North East should forward a detailed report of all contracts awarded by it to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) as requested by Section 43 (iv) of the Public Procurement Act 2007;” and “that public officers culpable of contravening any Public Procurement Act, 2007 and the Federal Government Financial Rules and Regulations pertaining to the award of contracts should immediately resign and be prosecuted by relevant authorities.” But dismissing the charges, Lawal said that calls for his dismissal and prosecution are misplaced attempts to rubbish his reputation.
In fact, his response to questions from reporters who accosted him at the National Assembly same day the senate gave its damning verdict was curt and angry. It was more about retaining his plum job and less about the indignation that should attend the looting of funds meant for the welfare of IDPs. For the SGF and his band of supporters, these hapless citizens seem no more than expendables on the political chessboard. Just like the vindictive gang baying for his blood. ––Epia, Publisher of OrderPaper.ng is on Twitter @resourceme.