Shehu Sani, the senator heading the committee that blew the lid of the contract frauds at the Presidential Initiative for the North East, PINE, has commended President Muhammadu Buhari for suspending the official at the centre of the scandal, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal.
Mr. Buhari announced the suspension of Mr. Lawal Wednesday afternoon over allegations of breach of law and due process in the contracts awarded by PINE. The allegations were made by the Senate ad-hoc committee on ‘mounting humanitarian crisis in the North East’ chaired by Mr. Sani last December.
The Senate adopted Mr. Sani’s interim report which contained the allegations and, thus, resolved to call for Mr. Lawal’s suspension and prosecution.
“It is commendable that the president has taken the senate committee report and recommendations seriously,” Mr. Sani (APC-Kaduna) told PREMIUM TIMES.
But before now, the President hadrejected the call for action against Mr. Lawal. He said, in January, that the Senate did not extend principle of fair hearing to the suspended SGF and that the damning report itself was a ‘minority report’.
Specifically, Mr. Lawal was accused of holding directorship of a company, Rholavision, while being the SGF and used same company, originally registered for ICT services in 1990, to receive ‘grass-cutting’ consultancy contract from PINE, an agency under his supervision, all in breach of Nigeria’s code of conduct for public officials.
The company received the money but did not execute the contract, the committee found.
Mr. Lawal denied the allegation and dismissed the Senate of talking ‘balderdash’.
The infamous ‘grass-cutting’ scandal and the way Mr. Buhari appeared to have cleared the SGF initially impacted on the president’s popularity and raised questions about his commitment to fighting corruption, especially one perpetrated by officials under him.
“The sword of truth is not just cast and sharpened for the neck of foes but also for those of friends,” said Mr. Sani, after the eventual suspension.
He had, in immediate reaction to the president’s earlier clearance of the SGF,accused the president of bias, mockingly saying corruption in presidency was being treated deodorant.
He added: “It’s commendable for the president to heed the call to fumigate the throne of lice and bugs with the same ability he goes after rodents afar.”
“The senate and the committee have nothing personal against the SGF or any person affected, but we simply did our job in conformity with our constitutional responsibilities and the moral calling of our conscience.
“We cannot jubilate because a mighty mortal is caught in the trap of his fate, we are neither saints nor angels, but we have a duty to raise a card a blow the whistle.”
Similarly, a Peoples Democratic Party Senator from Edo State, Matthew Urhoghide, told the News Agency of Nigeria that suspension of the SGF following the Senate’s call meant both executive and legislative arms were working cooperatively to check corruption.
“We are all complimenting each other’s effort in fighting corruption, and that is the truth,” Mr. Urhoghide was quoted as saying by NAN.
He was reported to have also asked the president to heed the Senate’s call that the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, be dropped.
The Edo lawmaker was a major voice in the deliberation that led to the Senate’s suspension of the confirmation of 27 nominees for the positions of Resident Electoral Commissioners in protest against the refusal of the President to sack Mr. Magu, despite his repeated rejection by the lawmakers.
The spokesperson for Senate President Bukola Saraki, Yusuph Olaniyonu, said his principal had no personal view on the SGF’s suspension, saying ‘it’s a Senate matter’.
Senate spokesperson, Aliyu Abdullahi could not be reached for comment as his telephone was off at the time efforts were being made to get through to him.
The President suspended Mr. Lawal alongside the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayodele Oke, on Wednesday and directed they be investigated by a three-man committee consisting of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as chairman; National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno; and the AttorneyGeneral of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
Mr. Oke is to face probe over the huge cash discovered at an Ikoyi, Lagos, apartment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which he claimed belonged to the NIA.