SGF’s suspension: What next for Lawal?

SGF’s suspension: What next for Lawal?

The suspension yesterday of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babachir Lawal, came to many Nigerians as a surprise. This is because President Muhammadu Buhari has been variously described as one who places “undue premium on personal loyalty,” as such could “ignore, excuse, and even defend the alleged corruption of his close associates.”

Those who hold this view were vindicated shortly after the Senate indicted Lawal last year over alleged breach of the country’s law in handling contracts awarded by the Presidential Initiative for the North East, PINE.

Lawal’s company, Global Vision Ltd., was one of the companies indicted by the committee for allegedly benefiting from inflated and phantom contracts, most of which were not executed, but for which money was paid by the PINE. PINE is directly under the supervision of the SGF’s office.

The firm was said to have been awarded over N200 million contract to clear ‘invasive plant species’ in Yobe State. But during the course of investigation by the Senate, it was found out that no grass was cleared and as of the time the contract was awarded in March 2016, Lawal was still the director of Global Vision and that he just resigned in September last year.

To this end, the Senate asked President Buhari to suspend and ensure the prosecution of Lawal. The Senate’s resolution followed the presentation of a report on mounting humanitarian crisis in the North-East by the Senator Shehu Sani-led ad hoc committee.

But rather than carry out Senate’s recommendations, President Muhammadu Buhari, wrote to the Senate to say that he could not carry out the recommendations because Lawal was not given a fair hearing by the Senate.

In a three-page letter, personally signed by the President, dated January 17, 2017, and read on the floor of the Senate by Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Buhari noted that neither the SGF nor the company said to have been used to perpetrate the alleged illegality was invited by the Senator Shehu Sani led-committee.

He also said the report of the committee was signed by three of the nine members of the ad-hoc committee, thus making its report a minority report, adding “consequently, I am of the view that barring other considerations that may arise as a result of subsequent investigations of  Lawal by the interim ad-hoc committee, the current report as presented to the presidency in its own right, does not meet the principles of fair hearing and compliance with the Senate Rules for conduct of investigations in matters relating to abuse of office by public officers.

“In the light of the foregoing, I am not able to approve the recommendation to remove and prosecute Lawal on the basis of the Senate ad-hoc committee report dated December 15, 2016,” Buhari, had said.

However, about three months after initially clearing him, Buhari yesterday wielded the big stick by suspending him. It is only time that will tell, whether or not Lawal would return to his position after the fresh investigation by the three-man team, led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

From day one, Lawal left no one in doubt that he was in government to “eat.” For instance, at a Thanksgiving Church service, held in his honour, in October 2015, Lawal had said: “My wife has not met Bisi Akande, she has not met Asiwaju, she has not met Buhari, yet we have been with him. But, it is fundamentally important for Nigerians to know that goodness is not restricted to tribe, religion or political party.

“My opinion is that if you have no investment in human beings and you just invest in yourself, like most politicians present in this church do, you will end up as nothing. If you look at just your community for friendship, or you look at your religion or in the same church with you for friendship, I doubt if you will go anywhere.

“I am Secretary to the Government today, because those people that I mentioned were the very first to put the idea in the mind of the President. They were the ones that made it possible.

“Because if it has been left to northerners, it is doubtful if they will take a Christian man to make Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

“But these friends know me; they know that I am not ambitious. I just want to eat today and tomorrow I will find my way. By the grace of God, I am today the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, something I did not look for; people say it is hard work and dedication. It is not true, it is just by the Grace of God that the President will just pick you and say this is your position.”

For watchers of political events in the country too, including APC chieftains, Lawal is seen as one man who is not only incompetent, but one of those perceived to have constituted themselves into a clog in the wheel of the progress of the Buhari-led administration. This fact, was lend credence recently by the Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai.

El-Rufai, had in his controversial memo to President Buhari described both the SGF and the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, as persons, who should give way, if the administration was to deliver on its promises to Nigerians.

Specifically, he described the SGF as one who is “not only inexperienced in public service but is lacking in humility, insensitive and rude to virtually most of the party leaders, ministers and governors. The Chief of Staff is totally clueless about the APC and its internal politics at best as he was neither part of its formation nor a participant in the primaries, campaign and elections. In summary, neither of them have the personality, experience and the reach to manage your politics nationally or even regionally….”

If in the end, Lawal returns to his position as SGF, he would be the first in Buhari’s administration to survive obvious allegations of corruption against him. But if he fails to return, Buhari would have succeeded in sending a strong message to Nigerians and the international community that indeed, there are no sacred cows in his government.

Sun News