Babachir Lawal: What is Your Defence?

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POLSCOPE
with  Eddy Odivwri
eddy.odivwri@thisdaylive.com   08053069356

Many times, I fear that the ululation about anti-corruption fight is a lone fight by President Muhammadu Buhari as many people around him either do not believe in the fight against corruption or have just been extremely careful in ensuring that they do not get caught in the cesspool of corruption, and not necessarily that they are not partakers in the feast of unleavened bread. In the present case involving the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir Lawal, I have examined the details of the allegations against him and I am wondering why he has been so quiet. Why has he not mounted a strong defence to clear his name and integrity of the injurious allegations against him?

Aside the initial blurting where he described the verdict of the senate committee which investigated him as “balderdash”, Mr Lawal has been silent. Is he benumbed with guilt? Or is he merely dismissive of the allegations because he believes the Paulean declaration, that If the President be for him, who can be against him? This will be a major litmus test for the Buhari administration and the avowed fight against corruption. Will the president be impartial and intolerant of any form of corruption, no matter who is involved? Would he strike Lawal if found wanting or he would deoderise the reeky deal and paper over the obvious crack? Nigerians are waiting and watching. This is particularly challenging for Mr President not only because Lawal is a very top government official, but also because two previous allegations against two prominent officials of the administration : Chief of Army Staff, Maj Gen Tukur Burutai (accused of owning expensive off-shore houses, seemingly above his earnings) and the Minister of Defence, Maj Gen Dambazzau (accused of compromise in the funds allocated for the purchase of arms by the Jonathan administration); were all swept under the carpet or so it seemed when some reports cleared the accused persons of any blame.

Now for Babachir Lawal, the story line of the accusation against him is as straight as six o”clock. His office had the duty to award contract for the supply of food and other items to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Lawal really awarded the contract to Josmon Technologies Ltd, though without following due process. But that would not have been much an issue if that was the end of the story. It is curious that for IDPs who were dying in hundreds due to malnutrition and starvation, the N248, 939, 231 contract was to clear grass, not to supply food or beddings or other victuals… Worse still, the contract was awarded to an engineering company. What is the business of an engineering company with grass-clearing or attending to the needs of refugees? Pray, what kind of “invasive plant species” would need over N248m to clear? The grasses would never grow again? How big is the area to be cleared? And let me also ask: was the so-called grass even cleared? Of what use is grass-clearing to a man dying of hunger? As if all that was not enough, N200million out of the contract sum, found its way back into Lawal’s company, Rholavision Engineering Ltd. Josmon Technologies Ltd, paid N10m into Lawal’s company’s account 20 times from March 29.

What kind of kick back is that?

If the remaining N48 million plus was what was actually needed to clear the so-called grass, why the overkill “padding” of N200million? Was that not the hallmark of the PDP-led administration that virtually wrecked the Nigerian economy?

The words of Buhari are echoing in my head: “if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us…” Pray, must we take advantage of every oddity to enrich ourselves in such ungodly manner? Where is our conscience? Was it not bad enough that people were held up in refugee camps? Why further worsen their woes by not only diverting the funds for their upkeep, but also cornering a huge chunk of it for personal use? If it is confirmed, it will be a despicable act of man’s inhumanity to man. Already soldiers in the “war front” are fainting because of lack of water and food. The video of soldiers begging for food and water trended all through the week, in the social media. I have seen the bank statement of Rholavision showing the undeniable payments from Josmon Technologies. What is Lawal’s defence? If the allegations are confirmed, as they seem, Babachir has breached public service code by engaging in acts betraying conflict of interest.

His lawyer, (can’t remember his name) who appeared on AIT last Monday, mouthed red herring arguments and merely nibbled on the matter by claiming that Lawal was not “properly invited” to defend himself by the Senate committee. What does that mean? The SGF was formally written by the Shehu Sani-led senate committee that investigated the allegation and he rebuffed the invitation. So how “proper” can an invitation be? The lawyer claimed that Lawal had relinquished his shares from the company at the time the payments were made into Rholavision Engineering’s bank account. But the SGF’s letter to the CAC showed that he only informed of his resignation from the company only on September 16, 2016 when he wrote to the commission informing it of his intention to relinquish 1, 500, 000 ordinary shares, whereas he claimed that he had resigned since August 15, 2015, and as a result was not a party to whatever business Rholavision contracted. It was just a ploy to sell short our collective intelligence.

His lawyer who was flaunting some unseen documents on his Ipad (on set) even indicated that Lawal wrote his own lawyer about resigning from Rholavision in August 2015. Does the lawyer not know that it is the document to the CAC that matters? Clearly, Lawal was trying to be clever by half by pushing such specious and silly arguments about having resigned before the ‘kick-backs” were paid. The payments stretched from March till September 2016. But even if he truly resigned, is he not alarmed that such payments were made into his company? Or would he claim that he was not being briefed about the goings-on in the company? What are the payments for? And for crying out loud, what is the Director of Josmon Technologies who effected the payments saying? No doubt, the suspicious payments are taken to be bribes. It is instructive that the N2.5 billion fund allocated to the Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE), under the office of the SGF could not be accounted for. Little wonder that hunger is ravaging the IDPs while some N200 million is sitting pretty cool in some people’s bank account. How terrible we can be! Acts like this blur the difference between this government and the condemned and odious past governments. It’s as if nothing has changed despite the loud and repeated dress-ups.

In a way, it is as offensive, if not more, as frittering away money meant for the purchase of arms meant to fight Boko Haram insurgents, leading to the mass killing of people including even soldiers. In this case, people who have been rescued are simply being starved to death by diverting the funds meant for their welfare. Surely, if the allegations against Lawal are confirmed, I dare say that it would be as heinous as the crime committed by the many disgraced officials of the immediate past administration, and so should not only be sacked immediately but also given a tougher prosecution for the monumental betrayal of the signature identity of the administration that undeservedly appointed him.

Canticles…
It’s Tomorrow, But is Christmas in the Air?
Did you say tomorrow is Christmas?
Need you ask? Is it not obvious?

Nothing is obvious to me. Only the Christmas Carol songs.
So what else do you want?

Haba! Need you ask? Have you not always been in this city at Christmas?

Where are the decorations on the streets? Where are the Yuletide lightings? Where are the flying hampers? Where are the gift trains? Where is the shopping frenzy? Where are the bright and seductive colours Christmas is known for? Where is the fun? Where is the festive feel? Have you been to Balogun market or Oyingbo market this week? Didn’t you see the surging crowd of people buying and selling? My brother, go and check well, people are turning to second-hand clothes for Christmas. Ask those who run boutiques or sell children’s clothes and they will tell you market is dull and dry? Can you imagine buying Okereka clothes for children at Christmas? But didn’t you notice the mass movement of travellers out of the cities for the yuletide celebration in their villages? Hmmm, check well. They are fleeing city hardship. They want some rural relief and break. For them to even garner transport fare is a huge challenge. Just go around to check.

Are you implying that people will not have rice to eat at Christmas? Ugh, You and I know that it never usually ended with eating rice and chicken. Even now, finding rice to eat will be a big problem. With a bag of rice selling for N20,000 per bag, how many families can afford that? And have you heard of the cost of palm oil and even onion and tomato? My brother, leave matter, condition is critical! Why are you complaining? Those are the usual signs of Christmas. Cost of items will hit the roof. That’s how it has always been. In any case, must a family buy a bag of rice? They can buy in smaller measures. Look out of the window and you will see that a lot is happening. Don’t sit in your room and think that Christmas is dull. A lot is happening. Go to the city malls and the mass of shoppers, go to the Cinemas and you will find surging fun seekers.

Theatres are organising plays. Comedians are hosting shows. Musicians are blasting away at various shows. Come on, Christmas is bubbling! There is city buzz for fun. Check out the hot joints. My brother, step out and find… You talk as if you don’t know there is recession. You may need to compare the volume of transactions then and now and you will understand what I am saying. Leave that thing. Recession is in the mind. Life goes on. We are not new to recession. We had a worse one in 1989. But here we are waxing even stronger and kicking. Forget your sorrow and dance. Forget your sorrow and sing. Forget recession and groove! Let me tell you. The only thing in abundance is fear and insecurity this Christmas. How can normal people hit the streets as you are recommending with all the insecurity around? Ugh? Insecurity? That’s another dimension from your huge bag of pessimism. It is not a bag of pessimism. It is the reality.

Can’t you see the anger in town? Can’t you see the impatience and frustration wrecking our people? Can’t you see how the collapsed socio-metrics is turning us into sub beasts even at Christmas? I don’t know what you are talking about. How can you not know? Are you not in the society? Can’t you see the only commodity cheaply available is violence and frustration? Did you not hear of how an innocent poor LASTMA official was murdered in the Apapa area of Lagos by a brainless mob? Did you not hear of how two masked men abducted a female Customs official in the presence of her two daughters at an eatery in FESTAC town? Or would you say you did not hear of how an angry set of youths clubbed a travelling young man (a driver) to death in Kafanchan (Southern Kaduna) simply because Fulani herdsmen have been terrorising their communities unchallenged?

All of these calamities are taking place in the week of Christmas. Is that what Christmas is known for? Where is our humanity? Where is the love we should be sharing and celebrating with? Hmmmmm…, the times are evil my brother. We need to watch and pray. But let me not fail to wish you compliments of the season.