President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday proved a point, that there are no sacred cows in the ongoing fight against corruption when he suspended a member of his cabinet and Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal.
The anti-graft hammer also fell on the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke, who was also suspended alongside the SGF, pending the outcome of a full blown investigation into their activities as directed by the president.
Oke wept profusely at the presidential villa yesterday, while making effort to see the vice president, even as SGF Lawal told State House correspondents that he was not aware of his suspension.
President Buhari constituted a three-man committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, with the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice as well as the National Security Adviser as members to carry out the probe of SGF and the NIA boss.
The committee, which has 14 days to conclude work, is to probe into allegations of violations of law and due process in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE) levelled against the suspended SGF.
The committee is also mandated to carry out a full scale investigation into the N15 billion found in foreign and local currencies by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in a residential apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, which the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) laid claims to.
This is contained in a statement issued by the special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Femi Adesina.
LEADERSHIP recalls that on December 14 last year, the Senate had called for the resignation and prosecution of the SGF, following alleged complicity in the diversion of North east humanitarian funds.
This followed the presentation of interim report of the adhoc committee on mounting humanitarian crisis in the North East to the Red Chamber by its chairman of the Committee, Sen. Shehu Sani.
Senate’s call for Lawal’s resignation followed alleged contravention of the provisions of Public Procurement Act and the federal government financial rules and regulations pertaining to award of contracts.
Adesina also noted that the investigation is to also enquire into the circumstances in which the NIA came into possession of the funds, how and by whose or which authority the funds were made available to the NIA as well as to establish whether or not there has been a breach of the law or security procedure in obtaining custody and use of the funds.
Adesina said, “The President has also directed the suspension of the Director General of the NIA, Ambassador Ayo Oke, pending the outcome of the investigation.
“A three-man Committee comprising the Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and the National Security Adviser, headed by the Vice President, is to conduct both investigations. The Committee is to submit its report to the President within 14 days.
“The most senior Permanent Secretary in the SGF’s office, and the most senior officer in the NIA, are to act, respectively, during the period of investigation”.
After their suspension was announced, there was a mild drama in Aso Rock as the DG of NIA was seen crying profusely, just as he made effort to see President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo Osinbajo to no avail.
Oke was denied access to enter Osinbajo’s office through the back gate reserved for the Vice President after he had attempted to use the Administration Entrance used by staff and visitors.
His convoy made up of two Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) drove towards the Service Chiefs Gate in an attempt to see the president but was also denied entry. At this point the DG NIA turned around and drove out of the villa.
Presidential spokesman, Adesina, later came and directed that State House correspondents should leave the administration gate to pave way for Oke to come back and meet with the VP.
Earlier, the suspended SGF met with the vice president at the presidential villa shortly after his suspension was announced.
After meeting with Osinbajo, Lawal came out feigning ignorance of his suspension when confronted by journalists. The following conversation ensued between the SGF and State House Correspondents:
Reporter: Your suspension has just been announced. How will you react to the development?
SGF: Who announced it?
Reporter: The Presidency
SGF: Then ask them. Why are you asking me? Who is the Presidency?
Reporter: Have you been informed of the suspension?
SGF: By who? About what. What about you? Have you been informed?
Reporter: Yes sir.
SGF: By who?
Reporter: By the Presidency sir.
SGF: I have not seen it. I should have been given… I have not seen the press release. So, I cannot comment on it.
Reporter: It is currently trending online. Are you doubting the authenticity of the statement?
SGF: I have not seen it.
Reporter: Tell us the outcome of your meeting with the Vice-President sir.
SGF: I am always here. I always meet the Vice-President. I used to come here even before I was made SGF.
Reactions Trail SGF, DG NIA’s Suspension
Meanwhile, reactions have trailed the suspension of the SGF, David Babachir Lawal and the DG NIA, with some stakeholders hailing the move by President Buhari and describing it as long overdue.
At the headquarters of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja, where the suspended SGF was formally a National Working Committee (NWC) member, there was jubilation among members of staff when the news filtered into the party’s secretariat.
People were seen in groups chatting and laughing as the discussed the intricacies of the unfolding event.
Though no one was willing to be named, the APC staff commended President Buhari on the decision, saying the action gives more credence to the anti-corruption stance of the present administration.
A staff who spoke to LEADERSHIP on the condition of anonymity said, “Since he was appointed the SGF, the only thing he is known for when he visits the secretariat is to be busy abusing everybody and even calling some thieves. Everybody is happy because the SGF forgot everybody he worked with while he was at the secretariat as a member of NWC.
“Every staff knows that Babachir does not deserve any pity because he did not give anybody in this secretariat, including those who worked with him any sense of belonging. Let him go and carry his cross alone. As you can see, everybody is praying he does not come back”.
Suspended deputy national publicity secretary of APC, Comrade Timi Frank, commended President Buhari for setting up a committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the recovered large amount of money from a Lagos house and that of the grass cutting scandal involving the SGF.
Frank, however, called on the President to take a step further by sacking all the serving “cabinet members who have in one way or the other brought disrepute to the administration of the APC”.
The APC chieftain, who was reacting in a statement he signed on Wednesday in Abuja over the suspension of the NIA boss and that of the SGF, said the action was long overdue.
He said, “We believe in the committee set up by Mr. President. This committee will come up with a result that will please Nigerians. Mr. President should take more bold steps like this to sack all the incompetent hands in his government.
“Nigerians want to see the type of actions President Zuma took in South Africa. This government must do more to ensure that the act of corruption become a thing of the past in Nigeria by getting to the root of this controversial $49M and anybody found guilty must be prosecuted.”
SGF’s Suspension Doubles Nigerians’ Confidence In APC Govt- Shehu Sani
Meanwhile, as reactions continue to trail the suspension of SGF Babachir Lawal and the DG NIA, the Senator representing Kaduna Central senatorial district, Shehu Sanni described the president’s action as credible.
This is just as a London based pro-democracy activist and social commentator, Kayode Ogundamisi, challenged other arms of government to follow the President’s example.
The duo spoke on a Channels Television programme, Politics Today, which was monitored by our correspondent in Abuja.
Sanni noted that the president has earned more respect for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) .
He said, “What the President did today has given a new credible line of believe among Nigerians that the respect the party was losing is now to a certain step being redeemed. The president, by his singular action of taking the Senate report seriously on allegations raised against members of his cabinet, has been able to restore confidence in the heart of Nigerians that he is committed to doing justice, not only to those who are very far away from him, but even to those that are close to him”.
Presidency Moves To Strengthen Whistle Blower Policy
Meanwhile, the presidency has commenced effort to strengthen the mechanism of the whistle-blower policy, following breakthroughs in the war against corruption and unaccounted wealth
The senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said the enthusiastic response of Nigerians to the whistle-blower policy has boosted the tempo of the anti corruption crusade of the Buhari administration and as a consequence, the government was considering ways of enhancing the structural capacity of the whistle-blower mechanism.
He told State House correspondents yesterday afternoon that government was considering empowering the mechanism by either bringing it under the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PCAC) or some other body to imbue the process with a strategic national purpose.
“In a word, government thinks that the whistleblower mechanism is too important to be left without a strategic, national direction”, he stated.
Shehu commended the zeal and patriotism of Nigerians for responding positively to the whistle blower incentive policy, which is intended to expose hidden looted funds.
According to the presidential media aide, “no public policy can succeed or go far enough without public support and participation”, and that “when the citizens realise they are victims of corruption, they may feel encouraged to join the efforts to expose looted funds”.
Shehu explained that the huge and incredible amounts of looted funds being recovered by EFCC and the whistle-blower efforts “is a revelation about the mindless, callous and reckless scale on which Nigeria had been robbed by unpatriotic and egregiously selfish public officials”.
He said the election of President Buhari in 2015 was a divine intervention in response to the desperate cries of Nigerians for urgent change, adding that “stealing by officials under a democratic government at the expense of people’s welfare is worst betrayal of voters mandate”.
The Presidential spokesman also indicated that the government is getting suggestions to bring the issue of illegal weapons in the hand of citizens that are used to fuel intra and inter-communal violence under the purview whistle blower policy.
“Yes, it is true, the presidency has has received suggestions that call for the whistle blower policy to be extended to the possession of illegal weapons by powerful individuals in the country. The government will look at all that and make a pronouncement. Nigerians would be encouraged to expose the presence of illegal weapons in the homes of powerful politicians and other public figures who may use those deadly arms for sinister political agenda”, he said.