The news of the arrest and detention of Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filtered in on Wednesday night.
But it was a move that had been anticipated for more than a year — precisely 13 months and 10 days after Lawal was first indicted by the Senate.
The ‘grass cutting’ saga, for which Lawal is now being interrogated, was first unearthed by the Senate ad hoc committee on the North East, headed by Shehu Sani, the senator representing Kaduna Central.
On December 14, 2016, Sani had reported on the floor of the Senate how Lawal had awarded a contract to his own company for the purpose of cutting grass along the Yobe Water Channels. Sani informed the house that Lawal refused to present himself before the Senate committee to state his own side of the story.
“This is disgraceful, this is abominable, this is condemnable, this is unheard of and this is an embarrassment to we members of the All Progressives Congress, APC. Babachir Lawal has exhibited anti-Buhari tendencies. This is gross abuse of office,” Dino Melaye, controversial Kogi State senator, lamented after Sani presented the report.
At the end of the deliberations, the Senate adopted a resolution calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend Lawal and order his prosecution.
However, the presidency set up its own committee to examine the allegations against Lawal and suggest the best course of action. The committee, after its investigation, ‘cleared’ the former SGF, saying that his right to fair hearing was violated.
This much was communicated to the Senate in a letter written by Buhari in January 2017, explaining why he did not act on the Senate resolution that demanded Lawal’s sack.
Buhari also pointed out that the Senate committee report that indicted Lawal was signed by only three out of the nine members that made up the committee, making it a “minority report”.
Consequently, the Senate committee fixed another hearing and again extended an invitation to Lawal to attend the hearing.Still, Lawal shunned the invitation, saying he had challenged the matter in court.
The committee went ahead with its investigations, after which it came up with a more vivid narrative of how Lawal was ‘guilty’ of the allegations against him, and how non-existent companies were awarded hefty contracts by the Lawal-headed Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE).
In a move widely believed to be motivated by relentless public outcry, Buhari suspended Lawal on April 19, 2017, and ordered a committee, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to further probe the case — the second probe to be ordered by the President. The most senior civil servant in the office of the SGF was directed to assume the duties of the SGF on an acting capacity.
Though the committee was initially given two weeks to conclude its work, the report was officially submitted to President Buhari on August 23, 2017, shortly after he returned from his medical trip to London.
Following the recommendations of the committee, Buhari officially sacked Babachir Lawal as the SGF on October 30, 2017, more than two months after receiving Osinbajo’s committee’s report. Boss Mustapha was appointed as replacement.
However, it took another three months — and some people say, a damning statement by former President Olusegun Obasanjo — for the EFCC to invite Lawal for questioning over his role in the ‘grass-cutting’ controversy.
“It is true. The former SGF honoured an invitation and arrived at our office around 11am on Wednesday. He was thereafter detained,” Samin Amaddin, Acting EFCC spokesman, told reporters in Abuja.
It was gathered that Lawal was still at the Abuja office of the EFCC as of the time of filing this report.
Attempts by the EFCC to arrest Ayodele Oke, former Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), who was suspended and sacked alongside Lawal, albeit for a different offence altogether, have not yielded fruits.
The commission said Oke had consistently refused to honour its invitations, and an attempt to arrest him by force was met with stiff resistance by NIA and DSS officials stationed at his residence.