Shall They Walk Away Free?


The handling of the corruption cases involving hitherto suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal, and the former Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ayodele Oke, is to say the least, uninspiring. Olawale Olaleye writes

Last Tuesday, October 31, two months and eight days after being handed the report of a presidential panel headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on August 23, four days after he had returned from his 103 days medical vacation in London, President Muhammadu Buhari finally took the initiative to act on the corruption allegation that had blemished his former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir David Lawal; a former Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ayodele Oke and by extension, his anti-graft crusade.

Whilst Lawal ran into trouble over some ‘high level grass-cutting deal’ for the IDPs, Oke on his part has not been able to offer tangible explanation, at least to the knowledge of the public, on how the agency under him had kept the billions found in a private luxury apartment in Ikoyi, which he had admitted ownership. These two developments happened at different times, although not too far in time from each other. But evidently, one actually compelled the eventual trial of the other.

And finally when the president acted, he merely relieved the duo of their responsibilities and asked them to go, although with a proviso that the anti-corruption agencies could try them if convinced they have cases to answer. He also added that he would not interfere in their independent investigation and its aftermath.

“Based on his wish and desire for strict observance of the law, the president expects the EFCC, ICPC and such agencies to proceed with ongoing investigations. When and where they have reasonable grounds to charge former or serving officers to court under our laws, they do not require the permission of the president to do so,” a statement by one of the two presidential spokespersons, Garba Shehu, stated.

First off, it is important to know what the next line of action is after a presidential administrative panel of inquiry submits its report. To that extent, is the Osinbajo panel report classified? If it is, then it is pointless asking either the ICPC or EFCC to prosecute on a classified report. However, if on the other hand, the report isn’t classified, why prevent the public from knowing the content if indeed government is honest in the fight against graft?
On the flip side, if the accused persons are deemed guilty, perhaps from the report, is their sack the only provisional disciplinary measure as contained in the report? However, if they are not guilty of the charges against them and the report stated as such, why sack them? There are quite too many questions that are begging for answers on the Lawal and Oke matter, which unfortunately, the government has not shown readiness to answer them.

But one thing is clear from the president’s action – he has seen that the report was damning and the only thing he could do was to relieve them of their postings. But this, he has also done reluctantly otherwise, if he had his way, he would have acted differently. After all, it has taken him over two months after receiving the report to act. To now say it was the prerogative of the anti-graft agencies to go after them as if a matter of choice is to say the least, at variance with his highly touted anti-graft crusade.

Whatever was wrong with a downright presidential order for them to be picked up, this time, acting based on the report, especially when the president is not oblivious of the fact that heads of sensitive agencies like the EFCC and ICPC don’t take such initiatives when cases with vested interest are involved except pushed to, then, this descent to mischief at the highest level is too palpable to be ignored.

Truth is if the president genuinely wants to combat graft, no opportunity had better presented itself than this. But where the president feels encumbered because of the personality of those involved, then, he cannot successfully run a nation that way.

It was Lawal, who once asked a rethorical question: “which presidency?”; and today, he has been adjudged right because he is just about to walk away free even where all fingers of culpability points at him. There is no point wasting time banking on the anti-graft war of this government, people now contend. It is daily becoming a façade and a move targeted only at the opposition and or identified enemies of the government, because people are treated differently and based on their political leanings.

As far as the matters of Lawal and Oke are seen before the observing public, the president has failed to deliver leadership by example. One, by his action and decision, Lawal is walking away with the grass cutter deal, while the people may never get to know the truth about the Ikoyi billions again. Where then is the right of the people to know or the transparency which this government sold as its strongest point during the elections in 2015?

Just as in the case of Lawal and Oke, another golden opportunity to make a signature statement with the anti-graft crusade might have been bungled in the case of a former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina. And if you care to know, this vicious cycle will continue with the Buhari presidency.

Although it is worthy of mention that the EFCC has already summoned Oke and wife over the Ikoyi billions, it is equally important to keep an eye on how the matter involving Lawal would be handled.