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SGF: Lawal’s road to trouble

He is famed as BD Lawal and until recently, one of the untouchables in the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Lawal an unabashed loyalist of Buhari plays the politics of Buhari and has consistently followed the president in all his political journeys.

Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Engineer David Babachir Lawal,

THE journey culminating in Wednesday’s suspension of the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir David Lawal, by President Muhammadu Buhari, began on Tuesday, October 4, 2016, when the Senate, based on a motion it entertained at the instance of Senator Baba Kaka Garbai, representing Borno Central Senatorial District on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, drew the attention of the upper legislative chamber through a motion he sponsored, to what he described as the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the North East and sought prompt intervention of the Senate to alleviate the situation.

Senator Garbai’s motion was upon a UNICEF report that about two million people were at risk of starvation in the North East. He also noted that Western diplomats had described the government’s response to the crisis as a “disgrace.”

Exhaustive  deliberations

He added that the state of affairs in the North East was overburdening the cash strapped states and local governments in the affected areas, urging the Senate to act quickly as according to him, the intensity of the humanitarian crisis in the North East had led to some IDPs taking to the streets in protest and obstructing vehicular movements and activities along the Maiduguri-Kano/Jos Road over the shortage of food.

After exhaustive deliberations during the day’s plenary chaired by its President, Bukola Saraki, the Senate came by a resolution setting up an eight-member committee, headed by Senator Shehu Sani, APC, Kaduna Central, to investigate the utilisation of funds,  grains and other food items from the strategic grains reserves, and NEMA and other sources for the IDPs. Moved at the gory picture of the plight of the IDPs, as painted by Senator Garbai, the Senate resolved also that each of the 109 senators must cough out the sum of N300, 000 for the maintenance of IDPs in the North East.

While inaugurating the eight-man ad-hoc committee on October 13, 2016, to probe the use of funds that were allotted to the humanitarian crisis in the North East so far, Saraki vowed that the Senate would unearth everything behind the humanitarian crisis, urging members of the ad-hoc committee to ensure that there was no cover-up in the investigation.

“The whole world is watching. We must ensure that there are no cover-ups as this is the first committee of its kind that has been inaugurated to embark on this task,” the Senate President said. “The work that this committee will be doing will impact the lives of the 4.5million families in the Northeast who are in dire need of relief, rehabilitation and other forms of assistance.

At the public hearing held at the instance of the committee on December 8, 2016, the committee discovered that the Presidential Initiative for the North East, PINE, could not properly account for about N2.5 billion, part of funds released for it for capital intervention, when all the people who appeared before the Senate ad-hoc committee presented their submissions. The committee uncovered what appeared to be cases of corruption, including phantom projects and inflated contracts by PINE.

In one case, at the Senate committee public hearing, PINE’S boss, Umar Gulani, had claimed that the agency spent N203 million to clear taipa grass in Yobe State; but this was rebutted by the state’s Commissioner for Information, Mohammed Lamin. Mr. Lamin said “no taipa grass was cleared in the state by any federal government agency in Yobe State.”

Mr. Gulani also claimed PINE expended N253 million on the clearing of invasive plants species around river banks in the state; and another N422.5 million to provide temporary shelter (tents) to displaced families in the state. These were also disputed by the Yobe State representatives led by Mr. Lamin. Also, PINE’s claim of spending several millions of naira to renovate 18 schools completely destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents in Yobe State alone was also rejected by the commissioner.

Only three schools have been renovated by agencies outside the state, the commissioner said. With the way PINE’s claims were shattered, the Senate Committee demanded evidence, including photographs and documents of contracts claimed to have been executed by the agency. From the statement of account submitted to the committee by PINE, it was discovered that while PINE donated N50 million to an unnamed NGO, it spent N2 million to feed internally displaced persons who should form the central focus of any effort at addressing the North-East crisis.

On Tuesday, December 14, 2016, committee submitted its report which prompted the Senate to call for immediate resignation, probe and prosecution of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, over alleged mismanagement of funds meant for the rehabilitation of the North-East rehabilitation under his watch.

The lawmakers specifically called on security and anti-graft agencies to arrest and prosecute Lawal, who is overseeing the presidential initiative, for allegedly owning one of the companies awarded contracts for the rehabilitation of the North-East. The report read in part: “The committee discovered that all contracts from the Presidential Initiative on the North-East were awarded under the principle of emergency situation as stipulated in Section 43 (i) and (ii) but with absolute disregard for sub-section (iii) and (iv) of the same Section 43 of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.

“Similarly, the entire procurement activities carried out by PINE in the North-East contravene Federal Government’s Financial Rules and Regulations number 2948. Most of the contracts awarded by PINE have no direct bearing/impact on the lives of the displaced persons apparently languishing in hunger, disease, squalor and other deplorable conditions in all the DPS.

“Such projects, the report stated, included two conferences on rebuilding the North-East and the purported “payment of N223m for the removal of invasive plant species in Komadugu in Yobe water channels.” The committee added that: “PINE took undue advantage of the provision of emergency situation contract award in the Public Procurement Act 2007 to overinflate contracts. Not only that: contracts were awarded to companies belonging to top government officials’ cronies, family members and close associates.

But the SGF, however, denied the allegation, saying what the Senate said was “balderdash” and an attempt by the senators to malign him. He wondered why the committee did not invite him during the investigative hearing to confront him with the allegations.

The SGF said: “The Senate is talking balderdash; it has developed a bring-him-down syndrome. Nigerians have decided that we should destroy our best; we should all destroy the promising and best among us by bringing people down without a cause. This is just how I see it. I have the report of the Senate committee, in which it was said that I didn’t resign from Rholavision Nigeria Limited. Let me tell you, Rholavision was formed by me in December, 1990, and it has been a company that was run very successfully.

Fair hearing before the indictment

“When I was appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation, I resigned from that company on August 18, 2015. I can see that in their report, they are talking about 2016. I don’t know where they got their facts.”

While the Senate was waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari to act on its resolution on the SGF, the latter stunned the former when on Tuesday, January 24, he responded to the Senate resolution requesting him to remove Lawal and prosecute him through a written letter read by the Senate President at the day’s plenary. In the letter, the president defended Mr. Lawal and gave reasons he could not act as demanded by the Senate. Buhari, in the letter said the SGF was not given fair hearing before the indictment.

He said Mr. Lawal said neither the SGF nor the company said to have been used to perpetrate the alleged illegality was invited by the Shehu Sani-committee. He also said the report of the committee was signed by three of the nine members of the ad-hoc committee, thus making its report a minority report. Consequently, the president said he had no choice than not to act against Mr. Lawal as canvassed by the Senate.

But in a quick reaction, Senator Sani raised a point of order to defend his committee’s report. He said President Buhari’s claims were false, insisting that Mr. Lawal and other parties were involved and his committee had evidence. He also said seven of nine members of the committee signed the report, and not three of nine as claimed by the president.

Senator Shehu Sani, who said he was shocked that President Buhari could be misled to write such a letter, described it as “the funeral service for anti-corruption fight” in the country. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who had also expressed shock on the president’s action, told Buhari that the world was watching him on how he would handle the Senate’s resolution calling for the sack of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr Babachir Lawal, for allegedly soiling his hands in corrupt practices.

The development resulted in frosty relationship between the Senate and the Presidency leading the former to declare that it would no longer treat any communication from the Presidency pending when its grievances were resolved. Apparently, the presidency has capitulated to what many saw as a test case for its war against corruption.

Timelines

  • Tuesday, October 4,2016— Motion on humanitarian crisis in the North-East debated.
  • Same day-Senate President names eight-member probe committee headed by Senator Shehu Sani.
  • Thursday, October 13,2016—Saraki inaugurated the Senator Shehu Sani-led ad-hoc committee on investigation of humanitarian crisis in the North-East.
  • Thursday, December 8,2016—Senate ad-hoc committee on investigation of humanitarian crisis held public hearing.
  • Tuesday, December 14, 2016, Senate ad-hoc committee on investigation of humanitarian crisis in the North-East submitted report to Senate in plenary. 
  • Same day, Senate called on President Muhammadu Buhari not only to sack SGF but make him face prosecution for soiling his hands in corruption over contracts allegedly awarded to his company.
  • Tuesday, January 24,2017— President Muhammadu Buhari wrote the Senate exonerating SGF of any wrongdoing. He said the Senate before coming to its resolution, didn’t give SGF fair hearing. 
  • Same day-Senate flayed the anti-corruption posture of the federal government, describing Buhari’s action as “funeral service for anti-corruption fight” in the country.


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