Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote to the Senate explaining why he could not act on the suggestion of the Senate for him to ease out Mr Babachir Lawal as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The President’s letter basically raised certain technical issues in the process and procedure adopted by the Senate in reaching its decision. The President listed those as reasons for his resistance to the position of the upper legislative house.
Last December 19, I had written on the findings of the Senate and held that from the facts presented, one expected the President who rode to power on the basis of anti-corruption, to sack Lawal, without much ado.
The Senate had in that report drawn several conclusions including that Lawal is linked to a certain Rholavision Engineering Ltd, a company which apparently benefited from the audacious contract of N248, 939, 231 given to Josmon Technologies Ltd by the Presidential Initiative on North-East to clear “invasive plant species” (read, grass).
e in the media reports show that subsequent to Josmon receiving the contract, it made 20 different funds transfer of N10m each to Rholavision. It would seem therefore that Rholavision received N200 million from Josmon in those suspicious transactions which began from March 29.
I equally observed in December, and I still think that Lawal’s link to Rholavision is unmistakable. He was, until September 2016, a director of the company. This is a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, which Lawal, as the SGF, is subject to. What makes it even more appalling is the fact that PINE was under the direct operation of the SGF. So, if the Senate findings are factual, it means the SGF merely gave a public contract to himself, in a roundabout manner. This is another breach of the Code of Conduct.
Under paragraph 1 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, a public officer shall not put himself (or herself as the case may be) in a position where his/her personal interest conflicts with his/her duties and responsibilities. This summarises the guiding principle of the Code. But by sitting over a procurement process that awards contract to a company in which he has an apparent interest in, directly or indirectly, Lawal could be said to have breached the trust expected of him.
Paragraph 2 of the Code requires that a public officer on full time employment shall not “engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade” apart from farming. Lawal’s continuation as director of Rholavision until September, while already serving as a public officer, is a clear violation of the Code of Conduct.
In 2015, I wrote a three-part newspaper article on the Code of Conduct for public officers. I raised concern that this provision of the Code was in widespread breach and called for an auditing of procurement in some public agencies. The Senate’s investigation exposed that too.
The President’s letter said the SGF was not given a fair hearing. And one wants to believe that the further investigation conducted or ordered by the President gave him such fair hearing which led to the conclusion he drew that he had done no wrong. The further information given by the Senate seems to show however that Lawal was given a fair chance to be heard. That he failed to take full advantage of that to appear in person is his fault, not that of the Senate. And the attitude he displayed when he publicly dismissed the Senate’s recommendation is one we should condemn. By referring to the Senate’s decision as “balderdash”, he insulted an institution that represents our collective as a people and the core of our democracy. And I say so, in spite of what we think of those who sit in the Senate currently.
The President’s suggestion that only three of the nine members of the Senate committee signed the recommendation is a highly flawed argument. The letter sent to the President was not from the Senate committee, but from the Senate, taken after consideration of the report of the committee. The President is suggesting that a report signed by less than the majority members of a parliamentary committee is therefore termed a “minority” report. I disagree with the President here. That the report was signed by three does not necessarily say that the others disagreed with the content, for if that were so, they would have spoken up by now.
Granted, but not admitting that only those three held that position, there is nothing in parliamentary rules that stops a legislature from adopting even the minority report as the report and position of the house. This is because ultimately, what the house (in this case the Senate) adopts must have the imprimatur of the whole house. The reference to the workings of the Senate committee seems like an attempt to fish for extraneous matters as the reason to justify the President’s non-interest in sanctioning his appointee.
In sum, that presidential communication did more harm to President Buhari’s war against corruption than anything else. To say the least, it looked like an own goal. It looked more like a written response of Lawal to the serious accusations against him. That is why I even questioned who wrote the draft that eventually found its way to the President’s desk for his signature.
And this makes me agree with Senator Shehu Sani, the chairman of that ad hoc committee, who graphically accused the President of fighting allegations of corruption within the executive arm (I would say instead the President’s core team) with deodorant while he fights similar allegations against others with insecticide. This again, calls to question the fidelity of President Buhari to his well-advertised inaugural speech pledge that he belongs to everybody and belongs to nobody.
I therefore restate my position in my December 19 article that from all that has been shown so far, there is ample reason for the President to sanction Lawal. While I respect the argument that Lawal is merely accused without an indictment by a competent court, I also know that the position he holds is not sacrosanct, like one acquired via election. A political appointee’s position must be distinguished from the case of an elected official who can only be removed by impeachment, a recall by the electorate or by order of court.
The position and tenure of office of the SGF, like of most other appointees of the President, is merely at the pleasure of the President. The position is not even listed in or created by the constitution. So, if Lawal’s continued stay would continue to put a dent to the President’s avowed anti-corruption fight, wisdom demands that he be eased out or we may deem him to be doing the will of the President. In which case, we can therefore safely fear that President Buhari might have misplaced or lost his anti-corruption script or someone has deliberately destroyed or hidden the script from the President.