PINE Probe: Senate C’ttee Indicts Lawal, Demands His Prosecution

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• Recommends further investigation into payment of N500m into Rholavision account
• Alleges SGF was signatory to company’s accounts, 13 others
• Senate reverses self, commences screening of president’s nominees

Damilola Oyedele

The Senate ad hoc Committee on the Mounting Humanitarian Crises in the North-east has indicted the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, for breach of the Public Procurement Act and for abuse of his official position in the administration of the Presidential Initiative on the North-east (PINE).

The Senator Shehu Sani-led committee also recommended that Lawal be investigated to determine why companies that were awarded contracts by PINE paid over N500 million into the accounts of Rholavision Engineering Ltd, in which Lawal has an interest. He was also recommended for prosecution.

The committee, in its final report laid before the Senate on Tuesday, said the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) confirmed that Lawal, despite his claim that he had resigned from Rholavision, was still the signatory to the accounts of Rholavision and 13 other accounts, some of them with different names.

The report, which was obtained by THISDAY, was yet to be considered for adoption by the Senate.
The committee also established that PINE has paid less attention to the critical needs of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-east, but preferred to use the bulk of available resources on issues that served the pecuniary interest of officials and associates.
It therefore recommended that all resources found to have been misapplied or stolen, should be retrieved and anyone found culpable should be prosecuted by the relevant agencies.

The committee, in its interim report laid in December 2016, had indicted Lawal, but had expressed its intention to reopen the probe following a letter by President Muhammadu Buhari that Lawal and Rholavision were not given fair hearing.
Buhari’s position prompted the committee to reopen the investigation to enable Lawal appear before it on March 14.
Lawal had however failed to honour the invitation, initially writing to the committee that he had gone to court to challenge his summons, then made a U-turn and requested another date to appear.

A new date was scheduled for April 27, but Lawal who had by this time been suspended by the president over the allegations, again failed to appear before the committee. Neither did he send any communication to the committee, whose members waited for him for two hours.
Lawal is currently being investigated by a presidential panel headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.

The final report on Tuesday echoed most of the recommendations of the interim report and read in full: “That since there is evidence of malnutrition, hunger and starvation among the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the federal government and states in the North-east should as a matter of urgency see that food items, shelter and other essentials are adequately and promptly provided to the IDPs in order to address the prevailing malnutrition observed among them.

“That the issue of many out-of-school children in the IDP camps as a result of poor education facilities necessitates that concerted efforts should be made by both the federal and state governments of the North-east to provide a conducive learning atmosphere for the children of the IDPs.

“That the complete absence of personnel of the Federal Ministry of Health in the IDP camps leaves much to be desired, hence the ministry should be compelled to immediately deploy its personnel to all the IDP camps to support the efforts of the international humanitarian crisis managers and the Nigerian Air Force medical team in providing the necessary medical assistance so as to avert a possible outbreak of communicable diseases like cholera, measles, and diarrhea, etc.
“That the Senate do condemns the failure of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) that are critical to the emergency management to appear before the committee despite several invitations.

“That since it was established that PINE was paying less attention to the critical needs of the IDPs in the form of housing, the bulk of the resources were used for issues that were not addressing the immediate needs of the IDPs, but it rather wasted resources on issues that merely addressed the pecuniary needs/interests of the officials and associates therefore, the committee recommends that there is the need for concerted efforts to reorient the intervention effort to address the immediate needs such as health, education, rebuilding of homes, infrastructure and a secure environment.

“That since one of the issues hindering the management of emergency situation in the IDP camps is the lack of synergy and proper coordination among all humanitarian crisis managers in the camps, the committee recommends that the newly constituted Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative (PCNI) should ensure that there is proper synergy and coordination and government should ensure that PCNI be manned by people of high integrity; and inclusive enough to accommodate the leaders of the various communities that are involved.

“That since all the contracts awarded by PINE were awarded under the principle of emergency situations, PINE should forward a detailed report of all contracts awarded by it to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), in accordance with Section 43(iv) of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.

“That since it was observed that there was no bill of quantities on most of the contracts awarded by PINE under the emergency situation, the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) should undertake a revaluation of all such contracts to recover any proceeds from over-inflated contracts.

“That the relevant agencies should ensure that contracts partially executed but fully paid for must be completed by the concerned contractors, or they should be asked to refund the equivalent money of outstanding jobs to the government treasury.

“That all resources that have been misapplied or stolen by public officials should be retrieved and anybody found culpable of contravening any of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act and the Federal Government Financial Rules and Regulations pertaining to the award of these contracts should be duly prosecuted by the relevant authorities.

“That the bank transactions of Rholavision Engineering Limited and the confirmation by the Central Bank of Nigeria that the Bank Verification Number of Mr. Babachir David Lawal is still the signatory to Rholavision Engineering Limited accounts and 13 other accounts, some with different names; the committee is of the opinion that Mr. Babachir David Lawal has contravened the provision of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, the Public Procurement Act, and breached the Oaths of Office as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and should be prosecuted by the relevant authorities.

“That the committee also recommends further investigation by the relevant agencies of government on why contract benefitting companies paid over Five hundred million (N500,000,000.00) naira into Rholavision Engineering Limited accounts, a company in which Mr. Babachir David Lawal has interest.”

Senate Reverses Self

Also, the Senate on Tuesday reversed its position on the suspension of consideration of all executive requests, stating that it would screen the two ministerial nominees of the president to fill the slots for Kogi and Gombe States at plenary Wednesday.
Senate President Bukola Saraki made the announcement at plenary on Tuesday, adding that the screening of Prof. Steven Ikani Ocheni (Kogi) and Mr. Suleiman Zanna Hassan (Gombe) would commence at 10am.

The Senate also directed its relevant committees to begin the process for the confirmation of 27 nominees for Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and three nominees for non-career ambassadors.
It mandated its Committees on INEC and Foreign Affairs to submit their reports on the confirmation exercises in the next two weeks.
The presidency, in a letter to the Senate President, had requested the screening and subsequent confirmation of the RECs, eight of whom are eligible for reappointment.

The president in another letter also nominated Ocheni to replace Mr. James Ocholi who died in a car accident last year, while Hassan was nominated to replace Mrs. Amina Mohammed, who resigned from the cabinet in January this year to take up her appointment as Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations.
The Senate suspended the screening of the nominees last month on the grounds that the president had refused to remove the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, whom it had refused to confirm twice as substantive head of the commission.

However, during plenary on Tuesday, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, moved a motion for the commencement of the confirmation process, which was adopted.
A lawmaker, who preferred not to be named, however, clarified that the Senate had suspended the process for the confirmation of the RECs for two week to send a clear signal to the president on the disobedience of Senate’s resolutions, including that of allowing Magu to continue to act after his nomination had been lawfully rejected.

The two-week suspension by the Senate did not imply that the process was put on hold indefinitely, he added.
Another senator also noted that the consideration and screening exercise does not automatically mean that the nominees would be confirmed by the Senate.
“We have the ambassadorial nominees, the heads of extra-ministerial bodies, such as the Chairman of NERC (Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission), board members of the central bank and Niger Delta Development Commission, which Section 171 of the constitution was specific about.

“Magu’s confirmation falls into that of extra-ministerial bodies, so the matter is not going down like that, it is far from over,” the lawmaker said.
Before plenary ended, Saraki on Tuesday also announced the appointment of Senator Suleiman Nazif (Bauchi North) as the Chairman of the Committee on INEC to replace Senator Ali Ndume (Borno South) who is currently on a six-month suspension from the Senate.
Nazif, before his appointment on Tuesday, was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Labour, Productivity and Employment.