The Senate on Wednesday, December 14, 2016 called for the resignation, probe and prosecution of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, over alleged mismanagement of funds meant for the North-East rehabilitation under his watch.
The lawmakers specifically called on security and anti-graft agencies to arrest and prosecute Lawal, who is overseeing the presidential initiative, for allegedly owning one of the companies awarded contracts for the rehabilitation of the North-East.
Lawal was alleged to have resigned as a director of the company after becoming the SGF and after the company had executed the contract.
The SGF, however, denied the allegation, saying what the Senate said was “balderdash” and an attempt by the senators to malign him.
He wondered why the committee did not invite him during the investigative hearing to confront him with the allegations.
The Senate had acted on the interim report by the Senate Committee on the Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, presented by Senator Shehu Sani, who is the committee chairman.
The committee said the probe was sequel to the mandate given to it, adding that it visited some of the Internally Displaced Persons’ camps in the North-East and conducted a three-day public hearing.
The report read in part, “The committee discovered that all contracts from the Presidential Initiative on the North-East were awarded under the principle of emergency situation as stipulated in Section 43 (i) and (ii) but with absolute disregard for sub-section (iii) and (iv) of the same Section 43 of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.
“Similarly, the entire procurement activities carried out by PINE in the North-East contravene Federal Government’s Financial Rules and Regulations number 2948.
“Most of the contracts awarded by PINE have no direct bearing/impact on the lives of the displaced persons apparently languishing in hunger, disease, squalor and other deplorable conditions in all the DPS.”
Such projects, the report stated, included two conferences on rebuilding the North-East and the purported “payment of N223m for the removal of invasive plant species in Komadugu in Yobe water channels.”
The committee added, “PINE took undue advantage of the provision of emergency situation contract award in the Public Procurement Act 2007 to overinflate contracts. Not only that: contracts were awarded to companies belonging to top government officials’ cronies, family members and close associates.
“For example, Rholavision Engineering Limited, incorporated in 1990 with RC No. 159855 at the Corporate Affairs Commission, Abuja, to carry out information and communication technology services, anchored by Babachir Lawal, the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was awarded consultancy contract for the removal of the invasive plant species in Yobe State on March 8, 2016.
“Although Babachir resigned the directorship of the said company in September 2016, it is on record that he is still the signatory to accounts of the company.”
The report said between 95 and 100 per cent payments of all contracts awarded by PINE had been paid, even when some contracts had yet to be fully executed.
It cited the example of the payment of N108m for the supply of 1,100 units of temporary tarpaulin carbines at N302,000 per unit to Dantex Nigeria Limited, despite that 125 units, valued at N37.7m, had yet to be supplied.
Speaking on the report, Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West), alleged that the activities of the SGF were against the anti-corruption agenda of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
He said, “I am aware that Babachir Lawal became Secretary to the Government of the Federation before this stipulated date. He became Secretary to the Government of the Federation last year. And when this committee started looking at the books, Babachir Lawal, in the fashion of the fastest man in the world, ran to the Corporate Affairs Commission and quickly withdrew his directorship of the company after the execution of the contract.
“I am appalled that it is on record by this document that as I speak to you, he is still a signatory to the account of the company. This contract is not a constituency project. Within my myopic knowledge, I am aware that going by the budgets of 2015 and 2016, there is no contract award labelled against the person or name of company of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
“This is disgraceful; this is abominable; this is diabolical; this is condemnable; this is unheard of and this is an embarrassment to us, members of the All Progressives Congress.”
While saying Lawal had exhibited anti-Buhari tendencies, the senator believed that the President “will be rolling in his chair in anger” over what the SGF had allegedly done.
Melaye added, “This is a gross abuse of office. From my own expected position as the senator representing Kogi West, already, there is a clarion call for the immediate – just like the judges – resignation and after completion of report, prosecution.”
Also, Senator Isah Misau (APC, Bauchi Central) specifically called on the
Department of State Services, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission and others to start Lawal’s investigation and prosecution.
Misau stated, “I want to state here that the reason why this government is not moving the way we want it is because of people like the SGF. This is the same person that is working against the institution of the National Assembly.
“We have two things to do. The first is to call for the immediate resignation of the SGF today. We are not going to give room for any lobby to take place. This thing (report) is already authentic.
“I think the DSS, EFCC, ICPC and all the security agencies, by showing that they are part of the crusade and anti-corruption war, should move ahead and invite the person and let us see that this anti-corruption war is for everybody; that it is not selective.”
Similarly, Senator Adeola Olamilekan (APC, Lagos West) stated that Lawal’s case was “one out of the numerous findings of this committee.”
He added that the huge discoveries made by the panel informed its decision to release an interim report.
Olamilekan said, “The man who was saddled with the responsibility of managing PINE, while he was giving his revelations to the committee, at a point, all he was telling the committee was not in tandem with the documents that were with us. We had to put him on oath, including the director from the Bureau of Public Enterprise.”
But Lawal, who was on Buhari’s entourage to the National Assembly for the presentation of the 2017 Appropriation Bill, told journalists that the lawmakers were bound to run him down.
The SGF said, “The Senate is talking balderdash; it has developed a bring-him-down syndrome. Nigerians have decided that we should destroy our best; we should all destroy the promising and best among us by bringing people down without a cause. This is just how I see it.
“I have the report of the Senate committee, in which it was said that I didn’t resign from Rholavision Nigeria Limited. Let me tell you, Rholavision was formed by me in December, 1990, and it has been a company that was run very successfully.
“When I was appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation, I resigned from that company on August 18, 2015. I can see that in their report, they are talking about 2016. I don’t know where they got their facts.
“By the way, it is very instructive that when the committee was sitting, no effort was ever made to invite me to come and make a submission. It is therefore surprising that they devoted a whole session of today (Wednesday) to maligning me, claiming what is not true without even giving me the chance to come and put my own case before them.”
Lawal not above the law, say groups, Odumakin
Civil rights groups and the National Publicity Secretary of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, have supported the call by the Senate on Lawal to resign from office.
Odumakin, in an interview with The PUNCH on Wednesday, said, “To keep him (the SGF) a day longer than necessary is to adopt the Animal Farm model, where all animals are equal but some, more equal than the rest.”
The Executive Secretary of the Anti-Corruption Network, Ebenezer Oyetakin, said the call by the Senate was appropriate, asking Buhari to replace Lawal.
On her part, a human rights lawyer, Carol Ajie, said, “The Secretary to the Government of the Federation is an integral part of the Presidency, hence Mr. Babachir Lawal should please exit.
“Make no mistake about it, we have an anti-corruption Czar as President; and the war against corruption will be won when serving public officers, appointed or elected, are subjected to the same level of scrutiny as the others who are out of government and out of power in order not to be seen to be promoting outlandish principles of ‘selectivism’.
“Justices of the Supreme Court and other courts are being arraigned before some of their junior colleagues on the bench over allegations of bribery and corruption and crass abuse of office. So, why can’t the Secretary to the Government of the Federation face the music? Is Lawal above the Law?”