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Pressure Mounts On Buhari To Drop SGF Babachir Lawal
The refusal of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal to resign from office and the reluctance of President Muhammadu Buhari to drop him has continued to generate reactions among Nigerians.
Lawal was indicted by a senate ad-hoc committee probing the humanitarian crisis in the North East for allegedly abusing his office and contravening public service rules by remaining a signatory to the accounts of a company that benefited from contract awards after he took office.
The senate had consequently asked Buhari to sack and prosecute him in the spirit of the anti-corruption posture of the administration.
But Buhari last week wrote the senate, saying he could not act on the lawmakers’ resolution because the SGF was not given fair hearing, and that only three out of the nine members of the committee signed the report that indicted him.
But the senate rejected the letter after Shehu Sani, the chairman of the ad-hoc committee, said seven, not three members of the committee signed the report, and that the SGF was invited to defend himself himself but he never showed up.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, a Non-Governmental Organisation, has written an open letter to Buhari, urging him to hand the SGF over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC, for investigation and prosecution.
A member of the Presidential Committee Against Corruption, Femi Odekunle, a professor, has also called on Buhari to suspend Lawal if he refused to resign from office to allow a proper investigation of his alleged crimes.
Odekunle, who spoke on a television interview on Sunday evening, believed that Lawal should have stepped aside, following the Senate panel report on the allegations of the grass-cutting contract scandal.
He said: “In a reasonable country, the President should have asked Babachir Lawal to step aside or Babachir Lawal himself should have either resigned or stepped aside.
“It is a dent (as far as I’m concerned) on our anti-corruption fight; on the struggle of the Presidential Advisory Committee to actually do what is good (and) to forge ahead with this anti-corruption position,” he said.
Recall that the Senate report alleged that Babachir Lawal, who was at the time Chairman of the Presidential Initiative on the North East, PINE, awarded contracts running into several millions of Naira to a company he had interests in.
The Contract, was intended for the clearance of “invasive plant species” at an Internally Displaced Persons’ camp in Yobe State, and was awarded for over N200 million to “Global Vision Ltd”, an ICT company.
As at the time of the contract award in March 2016, the SGF was reportedly still the Managing Director of the company. According to the Senate, Lawal resigned his position of the company only in September 2016, but remained the sole signatory to its bank account.
Last week, the Presidency sent a reply to the Senate explaining why it declined to act on the Senate’s recommendation for the SGF to be sacked, investigated and prosecuted.
In the letter, the President noted that the Senate ad-hoc committee report which indicted Lawal, was signed by only three out of the nine committee members, thereby making it a “minority report.”
The Presidency also claimed that Lawal was not invited to appear before the probe panel and defend himself.
But Odekunle, a criminologist, in the interview with Channels Television, faulted the manner in which the allegation against the SGF was handled by the presidency.
“The Presidency does not seem to put the right foot forward on this matter of the SGF,” he said.
“The least that should have been done was to have asked the man to step aside pending investigation,” he maintained.
Earlier on Saturday, SERAP demanded that the Presidency use the case of the SGF as an opportunity to reassure Nigerians of its commitment to the anti-corruption campaign.
“Rather than assuming a defensive posture to the matter, we advise you to use this case to show to Nigerians that there will be no two standards of justice in your Administration’s fight against corruption,” the letter read in part.
SERAP pointed out that “it is absolutely important that the public should have complete confidence and trust” in the administration’s “oft-repeated commitment to fight corruption and the impunity of perpetrators.”
The NGO agreed that though the SGF remained innocent until proven guilty as provided by the constitution, but it added that “the right to presumption of innocence is one that should have personally be raised by Mr Lawal and not your government, especially given his position as Secretary to the Government of the Federation.”
“SERAP believes that the guilt or innocence of Mr Lawal is for the court to decide, following a due process of law,” the letter read.
The NGO demanded that the President: “Urgently refer the allegations against Mr Lawal to both the EFCC and ICPC for further investigations, and if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence, for him to face prosecution”
Also, Buhari should “suspend Mr Lawal from his position as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, pending the outcome of any investigation by the EFCC and ICPC.”
SERAP also wants the federal government to “promptly and widely publish the outcome of investigation carried out by Mr Malami and instruct that any files relating to that investigation be handed over to the EFCC and ICPC to assist in their follow-up investigation.”
President Buhari is currently on a 10-day vacation in the United Kingdom, and has handed over state affairs temporarily to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who is now the acting President.
It remains to be seen what the Presidency’s next line of action would be.