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Presidency, Senate Face-Off Over SGF Babachir Lawal
There were indications on Thursday that the controversy over corruption allegation levied by the senate against the Secretary to the Federal Government, Babachir Lawal, may not die soon, and could result in a worsening relationship between the Presidency and the Senate.
Following the report of an adhoc committee of the Senate on mounting humanitarian crisis in the North East, the Red Chamber had on December 13 passed a resolution asking President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend and ensure the prosecution of Lawal for alleged contravention of the Nigerian constitution.
The Shehu Sani – led committee revealed that Lawal’s company, Global Vision Ltd., is one of the firms that benefited from inflated and phantom contracts awarded by Presidential Initiative for the North East, PINE.
His company was awarded over N200 million contract to clear ‘invasive plant specie’ in Yobe State.
The committee found that as at the time the contract was awarded in March 2016, Lawal was still the director of the firm. Although he resigned in September 2015 after his appointment, he is still a signatory to the company’s account, thus contravening Nigeria’s code of conduct for public officials as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.
But in a letter to the Senate read by Senate President Bukola Saraki on January 22, President Buhari said he had no reasons to suspend or prosecute Lawal.
He said the SGF was not given fair hearing by the Senate, stressing hat neither Lawal nor the company said to have been used to perpetrate the alleged illegality was invited by the Senate adhoc committee.
Moreover, the President said the report of the committee was signed by three of the nine members of the ad hoc commitee, thus making it a minority report.
But in a swift reaction to the President’s letter, Sani said Buhari lied, stressing that the letter contained “dis-information and distortion of facts.”
The senator said the committee invited Lawal through a letter that was acknowledged by the Permanent Secretary of the office of the SGF. He displayed the acknowledged copy of the letter and promised to hand it over to the Clerk of the Senate.
Sani added that the committee also placed adverts in three national dailies listing names of those invited, including the SGF, and that seven members of the committee, not three as claimed by the president, signed the report.
He said Buhari was mis-informed to sign the letter and he concluded that the letter “is a funeral service for anti-corruption in Nigeria.”
The senator explained that the presidency was fighting corruption in the National Assembly, the judiciary and the wider Nigerian society with “insecticides, and when it comes to fighting corruption within the presidency, it uses deodorant,” to the applause of his colleagues.
Sani’s comments did not go down well with the presidency as the reaction of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, indicated.
Chairman of PCPAC, Itsa Sagay, gave a quick rebuttal to Sani’s allegation.
The respected Proofessor of Law, who admitted he didn’t know much about the allegations against the SGF, however insisted that the Senate did not give him a fair hearing.
“My own view is that they should give him a hearing and if at the end of it, they consider that he’s liable, then they should come to the conclusion and condemn him if they want. But they should give him a hearing. That’s all,” Sagay said.
He also took a swipe at Sani who he said was a “a political antagonist of his own party.”
Many observers, including some APC senators, have expressed disappointment at the reaction of the President to the Senate indictment of Lawal, saying that it goes to confirm allegations that Buhari was shielding corrupt persons who are close to him.
The opposition PDP in a reaction also called the anti-graft war of the Buhari administration a ruse and a witch-hunt of its members. The party wondered why the president would ignore such “weighty evidence” implicating Lawal of complicity in the award of contract amounting to over N200 million.
The party also frowned at the re-presentation of Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, after his rejection by the Senate over alleged security report by the Department of Security Services, DSS, implicating him in some unwholesome acts.
There are indications that the Senate haS also resolved to invite the Director General of the DSS to clarify his agency’s report against Magu before his confirmation.