There is no doubt that President Muhammadu Buhari is at cross roads as a result of last week’s resolution by the Senate, urging the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, to resign from office, as well as the call on relevant authorities to immediately prosecute him.
This resolution was made on Wednesday December 14. And as if that was not enough, the apex legislative chamber, the following day, Thursday December 15, reiterated its call that Lawal must go and even called on President Buhari to sack him for alleged North-East Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) contract fraud and abuse of office.
Lawal’s trouble started when the ad-hoc committee on the North East Humanitarian Crisis reported to the Red Chamber that the SGF was involved in contracts award and execution, intended to alleviate the sufferings of the IDPs.
The committee’s report showed that it was not just that he participated in the contract award and execution that landed him into the Senate trap but the fact that one of them was allegedly carried out with a lot of fraudulent motives, and it was linked to a company belonging to him.
The chairman of the committee, Senator Shehu Sani, while presenting the report of the committee to the Senate in plenary, said that some of the contracts were awarded to companies belonging to highly placed government officials, cronies and family members.
The Senate had earlier mandated the committee to investigate the crisis situation in the insurgency ravaged North-East, particularly with respect to utilization of resources mapped out for the rehabilitation of the IDPs.
Accordingly, the committee visited some of the lDPs camps and conducted a three-day public hearing after which it came up with shocking findings.
Sani in his submission said that it was absolutely true that there was serious humanitarian crisis in the North-East as evidenced by the plight of the IDPs both in camps and within the host communities.
His words: “There is hunger, disease, squalor, deprivation and want amongst the lDPs. This observation is corroborated by a statement accredited to the United Nations Deputy Coordinator of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Mr. Peter Lundberg, to the effect that a projected 5.1 million people will face serious food shortages as the (Boko Haram) conflict and risk of unexploded improvised devices prevented farmers from planting for the third year in a row, causing a major food crisis in the North- East.”
The report observed that the SGF violated some of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act and the Federal Government Financial Rules and Regulations guiding award of contracts.
For instance, Senator Sani pointed out that the committee discovered in the course of its investigation that Rholavision Engineering Limited, a company, with Lawal as director, was awarded consultancy contract, with no tangible work on ground to justify the money spent.
He explained that the company’s duty was the removal of invasive plant species in Yobe State, stating that, even though Lawal resigned his directorship of the company in September, it is on record that he was still signatory to the accounts of the company.
The lawmaker said that Lawal’s role in the contract awards notwithstanding, the Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE), which carried out the entire procurement activities, operated in total contravention of relevant laws.
He lamented that those awarded contracts took undue advantage of the provision of emergency situation contract award in the Procurement Act to outrageously inflate the contract figures.
He also said most of the contracts had no direct bearing or im-pact on the IDPs, who were living in deplorable conditions, despite huge sums of money released by the government in addition to help from donors within and outside Nigeria.
His words: “Despite the claim by some Federal Government agencies, what is on ground as seen by the committee does not justify or reflect the claims.
For example, over 70 per cent of displaced children both in camps and within host communities were out of school due to lack of infrastructure. Generally there is acute shortage of food amongst the IDPs as observed in one of the IDPs visited.”
Senator Dino Melaye in his contribution said that the report indicated that Lawal became SGF before his resignation as director of the company. He added that the SGF’s action is disgraceful and runs contrary to the anti-corruption crusade of President Buhari.
“When this committee started looking at the books, Babachir Lawal ran to the Corporate Affairs Commission and quickly withdrew his directorship of the company after the execution of the contract.
As I speak to you he is still a signatory to the account of the company. This contract is not a constituency project. I am aware that going by the budget of 2015 and 2016, there is no contract award labeled against the person or name of company of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
“This is disgraceful, this is abominable, this is condemnable, this is unheard of and this is an embarrassment to members of the All Progressives Congress (APC).Babachir Lawal has exhibited anti-Buhari tendencies.
This is gross abuse of office, the truth is mightier than any currency and every lie has an expiry date,” he said, Unfortunately for the SGF, he could not control his temper after listening to all the uncomplimentary statements made against his person by the Senate, resulting in his sharp reaction to the development.
Speaking with journalists on the matter when he came to the National Assembly on the entourage of President Buhari, to present the 2017 budget the same day the Senate called for his resignation and prosecution, he expressed regret that the apex chamber did their investigation without inviting him to state his position.
He dismissed the senators’ comments on him, describing the call for his resignation and prosecution as unreasonable, rubbish and a calculated attempt to pull him down.
He said: “The Senate is talking balderdash; it has developed the habit of 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.” The Senate was quick to describe his comments as unbecoming of a public officer of the SGF’s status, who according to them, has been notorious for such outbursts in public.
Consequently, it ordered its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to investigate the derogatory comments against the institution of the Senate credited to the SGF.
The decision of the Senate to probe Lawal’s comments against it followed the adoption of a motion by a Point of Order raised by Senator Melaye under matters of personal privileges drawn from the Senate Standing Orders.
Speaking on the motion, the Senate deputy leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, said the 8th Senate was irrevocably committed to President Buhari’s anticorruption war, urging his colleagues not to dignify the SGF’s utterances by stressing on it as his comments were inconsequential.
Na’Allah pointed out that Lawal would have done himself a lot of good if the time he dedicated to castigating the Senate was used to defend himself of the allegations against him. Similarly, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, urged that the issue should not be swept under the carpet.
The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, in his comment, wondered why an appointee of the president would be rude to the Senate at a time President Buhari is seeking the cooperation and collaboration of the legislature in the interest of national development.
Justified as the Senate’s fury may be, there is insinuation that the attack on Lawal is an indirect attack on Buhari by the senators. Those who hold this view said the intention of the lawmakers is to rubbish the president’s integrity claim; that after all, his cabinet is made up of corrupt individuals.
But, as the public waits to see how the issue would be resolved, there is no doubt that President Buhari is facing a big dilemma on the appropriate decision to take: Whether to remove Lawal to prove his uncompromising anti-corruption stand, or to leave him in order not to have been seen to be cowed by the Senate.