By Bolaji Adebiyi in Abuja
More than a month after the submission of the report of the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo committee that investigated the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, and the Director-General of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke, President Muhammadu Buhari remains undecided on what to do with the two senior officials of his government who were asked to step down from office more than five months ago.
Both were suspended from office on April 19, 2017, and asked to go and clear themselves of allegations of corrupt practices before a three-man committee headed by the vice-president.
Other members of the committee, which was given 14 days to turn in its report were the National Security Adviser, Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno, and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami.
Although the report was ready for submission on May 8, it was put on hold as the president had to travel to London a day earlier for medical reasons. It was eventually submitted on August 23, 2017, after his return.
Asked for his committee’s findings, Osinbajo told State House correspondents to await presidential action on the report, suggesting that the wait might not be long since the investigation did not fall within the category of one that required a white paper committee to review before a decision could be made on it.
Since its submission, it has been more than a month and Senator Shehu Sani, who headed the Senate committee that raised the dust over Babachir’s alleged mismanagement of funds meant to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in the North-east, said yesterday that the delay in the release of the Osinbajo report was unbecoming of a government that had made war against graft its priority.
“We are deeply concerned that more than a month after President Buhari received the Osinbajo report, action has not been taken on it,” he told THISDAY, urging the president to expedite steps to release the report.
Although the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, told THISDAY last week that there was no cause for anxiety as his boss was taking his time to consider the report, presidency sources said the president might, in fact be in a dilemma on how to implement the findings of the Osinbajo committee, which reportedly indicted Lawal and recommended his removal from office.
“The committee found that the award of a contract to a company related to another company in which the SGF had interests was improper, and therefore an indefensible infraction of the code of conduct for public officers,” a reliable source said, adding: “It was recommended that he be relieved of his position in the public interest.”
On Oke, the source said the committee found that the foreign currency equivalent of N13.3 billion found in a flat in Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos belonged to the NIA as claimed by the suspended spy boss, but queried the unusual operational procedures of the agency, which it argued were open to widespread abuse and corruption.
“The committee recommended his immediate retirement as well as the overhaul of the agency’s financial rules and procedures to make them more transparent within the context of the demands of its peculiar operations as an external intelligence arm of the country,” the source said the report had recommended.
Multiple presidency sources said although Buhari has no problem implementing the recommendations on Oke, since he (Oke) is expected to retire in a few months, and the regulations guiding the operational procedures of the NIA are within the powers of the president to review without recourse to the legislature, his main challenge is how to provide a soft landing for Lawal.
Lawal, said a source, is a close ally and confidant of Buhari, who, as the national vice chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) North-east, worked tirelessly for the victory of the president in the region during the 2015 general election.
Relieving him of his post, according to the source, would amount to sacrificing him, an action which close confidants of the president suggest would be politically inexpedient, as it would whittle down their ranks in the Presidential Villa power configuration.
“But given the wide public interest Lawal’s case has generated, and against the background of the obvious reluctance of the presidency to move against him until the Oke matter broke, it would be equally politically inexpedient not to relieve him of his post as SGF,” the source said.
Besides, said another source, Lawal’s removal would present its own political complications as North-east politicians would demand that his replacement comes from their region, even as South-east party bigwigs have argued that the vacancy has presented Buhari an opportunity to redress the perceived marginalisation of the region (South-east) in political appointments since he assumed office.
Sani corroborated this line of thinking in his interview with THISDAY yesterday, saying: “The Senate and the Osinbajo committees’ reports have become a bone in the throat of the president.”
According to the senator who headed the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Investigation on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-east that indicted Lawal in December last year, “President Buhari is caught in a dilemma. If he acts on the Osinbajo report and punishes Lawal, he would be stepping on the toes of his friends, who are his close confidants.
“If he fails to take action on the report, he would be stepping on the toes of Nigerians, who will judge his anti-corruption crusade by his decision on the report,” Sani reasoned.
Saying Buhari has no option than to act and remove Lawal from office, Sani warned that the president’s delay in acting on the Osinbajo report was casting a stain on the federal government’s crusade against graft.
“My proverbial insecticide and deodorant tale has become a reality and would remain so until the president acts on the Osinbajo report,” he said.
Lawal had been accused by the Senate of awarding a N200 million grass-cutting contract to Rholavision Nigeria Limited, a company he allegedly had interests in, through the Presidential Initiative on North-east (PINE), which at the time was under his supervision.
The Senate recommended his removal from office and prosecution. But the federal government, which asked the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Malami, to investigate the Senate allegation, rejected the recommendations on the grounds that he and his company were not given fair hearing before the Senate came to its conclusions.
As the Senate tried to invite Lawal and his company to come and defend themselves, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) broke the news of a cash haul totalling N13.3billion in an unoccupied flat in Osborne Towers, Ikoyi in Lagos.
With the NIA claiming ownership of the huge funds, Oke’s trouble began, necessitating his suspension along with Lawal.
A statement by the Special Adviser to the President, Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina said the president had ordered a full-scale investigation into the discovery of large amounts of foreign and local currencies by the EFCC which were being claimed by the NIA.
According to Adesina, the investigation would inquire into the circumstances in which the NIA came into possession of the funds, how and by whose or which authority the funds were made available to the NIA.
The investigation was also to establish whether or not there had been a breach of the law or security procedure in obtaining custody and use of the funds.