A tale of greed, ego and balderdash
This theory, I can swear, has not been put to test in any school offering public administration as a course of academic or professional studies. Certainly not at the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria, ASCON, in Topo, Badagry or at the Centre for Management Development, CMD, in Lagos. Nor, for that matter, in any of the best universities in the country.
But now, there is an opportunity to prove the veracity of this theory or give the lie to it once and for all. And that opportunity has been provided, gratuitously, by Engineer David Babachir Lawal. You remember him? The one who held sway as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, with the elegant acronym of SGF from August 27, 2015 until he was forcefully separated from that exalted office last week by President Muhammadu Buhari, his employer. No other opportunity can equal this. And, it is as clear as day light, no other candidate can match the suspended chief scribe with his rich background, a man whose occupation, by his own admission as stated in his curriculum vitae, is politics and his profession is engineer (sic).
The interesting thing about him is that he was a man beholden to the president. He was perceived to be a man of unimpeachable integrity, the man who wore the toga of probity and accountability as part of his flowing babaringa or on the sleeves of his richly embroidered kaftan. A saint, almost. Such a person could not be casually accused of any wrong doing in office, even by the most audacious of lawmakers, or made to suffer any irritation in the hands of petty minded critics, eternally looking for one’s faults.
The president carefully selected Babachir for that office convinced of his loyalty and integrity, to say nothing about his intelligence and competence. In fact, don’t forget that on assumption of office, Babachir himself assured the nation that he was coming to that office with his incredible competence and integrity. For a job well done, even our most unassuming president would be forgiven if, in the privacy of his bedroom, he did, indeed, congratulate himself for his uncommon find in Babachir in whom he swore to repose an absolute trust and confidence.
For a proper appreciation of his position, it is germane to put in focus the cardinal programme of the Buhari administration. Reduced to three, they would appear in this order: war against corruption, war against insurgency as represented by the Boko Haram menace and the recovery of the ailing national economy.
Setting up the machinery of government to implement this lofty programme of action was not going to be a tea party or a child’s play. Certainly, it was not a monkey business. Buhari needed a competent and tested hand to man the engine room of his administration. The SGF would be the fulcrum around which government machinery would revolve. Policy formulation and implementation would be the main focus of the office. And the man for that job would have an overdose of the kind of humility and temperament required to make friends, not foes, for the administration.
In his absolute wisdom and to the best of his ability, armed with all the information available, Buhari chose Babachir David Lawal for the job, convinced of his unalloyed loyalty. Convinced also that he would not betray him, that he would not fall into the temptation of regarding the all pervasive filthy lucre as part of the fringe benefits of that office, believing in all honesty, that Babachir is not one of those eternally consumed by ego and self-conceit, those who are endowed with the unconscionable capacity to talk first before they think later.
Did Buhari make a mistake in his choice of chief scribe and other key staff? Unfolding events will confirm this one way or the other. But the signals that something was amiss were there from the beginning.
Unprovoked, the newly installed Secretary Babachir let the world know, in case of any doubt, that, but for the foresight and insistence of Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, national leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, he would not have been picked as SGF. His brothers from the North, he said, would not have allowed it to happen because he was not a Muslim. Impolitic?
Babachir forgot to mention garrulousness as one the unenviable qualities he brought to that office. And his uncanny ability to detect balderdash two or three kilometres away. Worthy of note was when a certain Senate Committee headed by Senator Shehu Sani accused him of awarding contracts to his personal company and recommended his suspension and prosecution. He waved it off as balderdash.
Balderdash? The last time I checked that word, it was not an engineering term. Certainly not a word to be used for distinguished lawmakers, even if you think they are not distinguished, even if you hold them in the lowest possible esteem. Certainly, it would be deemed unbecoming of a man representing the president of this country to use those words even in extreme anger. But that is where there is a high premium on decency and decorum.
I cannot tell how the president felt. Those who thought that Babachir’s incredible background made him unsuitable for that job and proceeded thereafter to swear he would not last six months, have been proved wrong. He has lasted a whole of one year and eight months. And there is nothing to suggest he would not bounce back. In the nearly 30 months on the job, his enemies, bad belle all, had accused him of all sorts of transgressions including the most outrageous: collecting bribe to offer appointments to unwary Nigerians.
But I think it is the handiwork of his political opponents. For instance, how could they even think that the man would send his cronies out to canvas for money from prospective office seekers? How can people descend so low, in the name of politics, to suggest that he would even tamper with the list of approved board members, remove names and insert his own. Such perfidy was obviously beneath him but they did not give up.
To give a lie to those peddling these dangerous speculations, his office has had occasions to put out disclaimers and denials. One, his office did not give out jobs. The Federal Civil Service Commission does. He was only the chairman of the committee to reconstitute boards of federal agencies and there was no way he alone could influence who was appointed and who was not appointed. In any case, chairmen don’t take bribe and they don’t eat kola. The bottom line was whatever their antics, they amounted to no more than balderdash.
As if to nail him by all means, fair or foul, his critics and a legion of his enemies came up with this grass cutting business. In summary this is how they went about it. According to a report in the Daily Trust of Thursday, April 20, 2017, the Senate Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North East under the leadership of the aforementioned Shehu Sani, had accused Babachir of being director of Rholavision company while serving as secretary to the government and also influencing the award of contract to the said company to engage in grass cutting.
The contract was awarded by the Presidential Initiative on North East, PINE. And Babachir, to make the story clear, was the chairman of the presidential initiative. The Senate committee did not stop at finding fault with him for breaching code of conduct for public officers. It went further to say that the contract was not even executed. It then recommended Babachir’s suspension and prosecution.
But he denied it all. And the presidency backed the embattled scribe by officially clearing him in a letter to the Senate signed by the president on January 17 this year. The presidency said that Babachir was not given a fair hearing and asked Abubakar Malami, attorney general and minister of justice, to wade into the matter.
A lot of water must have passed under the Aso Rock bridge since then. What is not clear now is what has changed? For the matter to take this long to resolve, I guess, it has to do with the president’s avowed determination to ensure fairness and his legendary proclivity for shielding or protecting his faithful followers. Loyalty has its reward and Buhari is not unmindful of that attribute. But when the push comes to a shove, the needful has to be done. And the needful in this case is to give Babachir the last chance to prove his innocence or his guilt. And for the president to make the necessary sacrifice to redeem the image of the government, to prove it can bite, without fear or favour, as much as it can bark.Credibility, personal and presidential, is at stake.