- President Buhari should bring Babachir Lawal to justice now
The war against corruption is the major plank of the change promised Nigerians by President Muhammadu Buhari when canvassing for votes in 2015. The Nigerian electorate bought into the President’s plan based on his personal integrity.
However, about 29 months into his administration, it appears the war is losing its verve. Very few of those charged with monumental corruption have had their day in court, and fewer still have been convicted. It is even more curious that the government has failed to take steps even to investigate members of the ruling party alleged to have participated in the mindless looting under the last political dispensation.
It is particularly alarming that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) under the current dispensation is one of those sensationally alleged to have offended the moral code by dipping his hands in the public till. Yet, the President has failed to effectively demonstrate transparency and firmness in taking decision on the matter.
The issues were brought to the public attention when, in its interim report, theSenate ad-hoc Committee on Monitoring Humanitarian Crisis in the North East submitted to the plenary last December indicted Dr. Babachir Lawal for alleged corrupt practice. The committee, headed by Senator Shehu Sani said the SGF misused his office by influencing the award of grass cutting contract at the Yobe Internally Displaced Persons’ Camp (IDPs) at the cost of N233 million.
The committee consequently recommended the SGF for suspension and prosecution.While availing the President of its report, President Buhari rejected the advice, and, without calling the attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to the alleged fraud, proceeded to exonerate the SGF known to be his staunch political ally. It took national outcry and protest by the Senate for a three-man committee, comprising Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Attorney-General of the Federation Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and the National Security Adviser to the President, Babagana Monguno, a retired major-general, to be set up in April.
A lot is wrong with the procedure adopted by the President in tackling the matter. Saddling Professor Osinbajo with the task was wrong. As a result, the government has been caught in a bind as it has thus been unable to raise a review panel on the report.
While the tardiness in handling it could be partially excused on the ground of President Buhari’s ailment, had the committee been coordinated by anyone other than the number two citizen, the report could have been implemented while Professor Osinbajo acted for the President. Even now, almost one month after it was finally submitted, no action has been taken.
We call for urgent action on the grave allegations. The five issues raised by the Sani committee border on crime and must be so treated. Was the said contract for grass cutting awarded for N233 million; how much were similar contracts awarded by the same or previous government? Was Rholavision truly incorporated as an ICT company; why was it then awarded the contract? Was Dr. Lawal at the time of the award in March 2016, by which time he was the SGF still on the board of Rholavision? Was he at the time the scandal broke out still a signatory to the company’s accounts?
We demand speedy resolution of this crisis. Suspension is not the answer to the posers. If guilty, the SGF should be prosecuted to show that President Buhari is serious about fumigating the public space. The position of SGF is too important to be filled by a civil servant (as is the case now with the acting SGF) who, by training, is too career minded to coordinate government business. Personal commitment should not be allowed to get in the way of national development.