In this interview, Mr Femi Adeshina, Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, discusses the suspension of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Engr. David Babachir Lawal, and the Director General, National Intelligence Agency, NIA, Amb. Ayo Oke, from office.
Adeshina says Nigerians should expect a thorough investigation by the three-man investigative panel headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The interview, which was first aired on Channels TV, also touched on the on-going anti-corruption fight.
Who is the Presidency?
That takes me back to school days when we were taught rhetorical questions and what we were told was that rhetorical questions don’t need answers. So I see it as a rhetorical question.
We don’t see it as such. You issued a statement that President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered an investigation into allegations…. made against the SGF, Mr. David Babachir Lawal, in the award of contracts….. You issued that statement. The Presidency is used by people when they are referring to statements coming from that office.
There are certain things you cannot do unless it has the buy-in of the President – there are certain things you dare not do.
Things like what?
If the President is the one that is running the country, then everything you do, particularly the key things, must have his buy-in.
When we say the Presidency, who do we refer to?
Well, I must return that to the media because, most times, when anybody talks – it could even be a presidential aide – they attribute it to the Presidency. It’s a media issue.
I mean attributing everything, even when a Personal Assistant to the President, when he does something or tweets something, it is attributed to the Presidency.
I don’t think it should always be like that though if I was actively in the media I would probably do the same thing. I just understand what is being done and I know it’s a media way of doing things.
So, that question of ‘who is the Presidency’, talk to it’?
Well, if we must get an answer to that question, then we must get it from the SGF who said it.
Because he asked it.
The President ordered the suspension of the SGF and the DG, NIA, pending investigation. The puzzle is that why must the President lump the SGF and the NIA DG together, because the SGF has had his issue since December last year, but the NIA matter is very recent. Why?
There’s the saying that a matter is not fully settled until it has been permanently settled. You’ll notice that the SGF’s matter had been running. It is in the interest of the SGF himself that the matter be permanently settled. He has had a career in engineering before deciding to come and serve his country. It is in the interest of the electorate that voted this government into power because this government was voted-in on the promise that it would revamp the economy, fight corruption and secure the nation.
So, why did it take government so long?
So long is relative. You remember that there was a resolution from the Senate that he should be removed but the President said due process was not followed and that due process must be followed and after that…
That position of the President was considered by many as pre-emptive and that it wasn’t the business of the President at that time to say what he said?
The Senate wrote the President and not the Committee, and what was expected upon receiving the letter was to have since suspended the SGF or tell him to step aside for proper investigation but that was not done.
That was the feeling of some people and, as a feeling, it may not be right. The President is a man who does things after really considering all sides; he’s a man who errs on the side of caution.
Yes, Mr. President takes his time when it comes to people around him?
That’s not true. He takes his time in everything and he, too, has said it. When he was Head of State in 1985, he was 42years and did things like a 42-yr-old. But now he’s 74 and he does things like an old man that he is – sees all sides, hears all sides
So, what is the speed then that has informed the suspension of the DG of NIA?
It is a running issue and it’s a major issue and you know that that volume of money hasn’t been seen anywhere in the country before and it’s a matter that you cannot allow to just run without any response. And remember, it was not even done immediately. It’s been in the public domain for more than a week.
So, we get a letter from the Senate to the President and it takes four months to act, and now you say the President had to take his time and on this he immediately acts?
The two issues are not commensurate. You cannot compare the two.
That’s why people are saying why lump them together?
It’s because there is an investigation committee that has now been instituted and the team can look at both issues and that’s why it’s done together now.
What changed at this time and having written the Senate and not acting, why setting up a panel now to investigate and suspend him?
Mind you, the President did not clear the SGF. He merely said due process was not followed.
The President, according to what his statement to the Senate suggested, was that he wasn’t in the mood to remove the SGF, so what has changed between that time and now?
He has just now been asked to step aside for an unfettered investigation and the outcome of the investigation will determine what follows next and it is very important that the investigation is done for the sake of the people involved. If not resolved, it would be like an albatross that will hang on their necks.
Is this committee going to factor into the report of the Committee about the N2.5billion meant for the IDPs in the North East and other reports from the Senate which indicted the SGF?
The Committee is going to look at the gamut of all the issues so that they can come out with a conclusion that is fair, just and right.
Why wasn’t this matter referred to the EFCC (in the case of the SGF) and then the DSS (in the case of the NIA DG)?
It’s a matter of procedure by government. If government feels this is the way we want to go about it, so long as it is legal, then there is nothing wrong with it.
People are now asking, how deep is corruption in the Presidency?
You don’t need to single out the Presidency. There is corruption everywhere and the Vice President has said it before that there is corruption everywhere.
There’s the feeling that there’s renewed vigour in the fight against corruption based on the suspension of the SGF.
The conclusion may have been right that it is a resetting of the anti-corruption war, but, in reality, the anti-corruption war had been there and it had been going on. The feeling now is just because of the weight of the persons involved – the SGF and the NIA DG. You don’t necessarily judge something by the volume of noise. Yes, I saw a lot of excitement but, being an insider, I know what is going on.
Okay, why were these people not arrested as the judges whose house were broken into?
Allegations don’t amount to indictment. These people have allegations against them. No prima facea case has been established against them yet.
Oh! So were prima face cases established against the judges before their houses were broken into?
The circumstances are different because a number of things were found in the houses of the judges that were indicting.
But the Senate, too, had found a number of indicting instances against the SGF; yet nothing happened. They raised huge questions?
The Senate’s decision cannot be final.
Yes and nobody was saying the Senate had the final say but nothing was done then?
Matters have to be investigated
Yes, investigated, but people are asking, why now? I recall the President’s statement saying that he had gone through what the Senate had sent to him and that a committee had investigated the allegations of the Senate and he came to certain conclusions. His investigations were more about the process of the Senate’s work and not the meat of what happened in PINE.
You know, after writing that letter, the President travelled two days after.
You’re right. But there was an Acting President?
Yes, as an Acting President, he had powers to do certain things and you heard from the Vice President himself that there were some things he still referred to the President and may be that is one of the issues.
Why is the EFCC not the one looking at the SGF’s matter?
If it gets to that point, the EFCC can then look into it.
What is the side of the NIA’s matter that you can tell us because there are many sides to it?
This is the biggest volume of cash that has ever been recovered, so you can expect so many types of stories, with people laying claim to the money.
The investigation will unravel that.
Does the money belong to the NIA?
That is the claim. But don’t forget that the Rivers State government, for instance, is also laying claim to that money.
Will the Rivers State government be invited?
When the committee completes its work in 14days as announced, its report will be released.
Will the public be privy to it?
The first thing is, the President set up the committee, it will report to the President and when the President has studied and decides to announce what the decision is, the public will then have it.
Why should people believe that anything credible can come from this committee?
These three gentlemen who have been appointed to investigate the matter are as credible as you can have them in Nigeria, and, I believe, they will do what is just, what is fair and what is right.
Some people are still of the view that this committee’s work is dead on arrival because of the personalities involved and the arm of government involved and, therefore, suggest that an independent panel should be set up to investigate the matter.
It’s an opinion and those who have preferred the opinion have a right to do so, but it doesn’t mean it is the best thing.
To further strengthen the earlier question, people scoff at the idea of the panel because when the judges were going to be dealt with, it was so swift but now that it involves people in the Presidency, we are being told about one panel made up of the same Presidency people. Why should Nigerians expect a credible investigation? In fact, they add that it goes against the grain of fairplay?
That question is prejudging things.
What if the panel concludes its work and they are not cleared. Nigerians should let these men of integrity do their work without any kind of prejudice.
When the results are out, we can then review the process.