Babachir Lawal: A matter of honour
The editorial, titled “Babachir Lawal: A matter of honour,” calls for the SGF’s resignation or his sack by “his integrity-conscious appointer,” President Muhammadu Buhari. The call is an upshot of certain infractions of which the SGF is accused.
The editorial also indicates that its notion of the infractions is hinged on some “findings, backed by documentary evidence” which it describes as “sufficiently damning.” And that the “findings” are the outcome of an inquiry by the Senate, whereupon the legislative body, which it describes as “so lofty an institution,” made recommendations against the SGF to which it links the call for his resignation or sack.
But then, the same editorial, apparently without knowing it, raises doubt about the correctness of the Senate’s “findings” in the following statement: “If the Senate’s report is correct, then this SGF has broken his oath of office, broken the Procurement Act and broken the Code of Conduct law for public officers.”
The “if” that begins this last quote is no doubt a big one, for on it hinges the question of the rightness or otherwise of the punitive action the editorial canvasses against the SGF. That is besides its hint of the contradiction of the editorial having approbated and reprobated at the same time, by upholding the Senate’s “findings” to the extent of recommending punitive actions based on them and also raising doubts about their correctness with the “if”.
Shouldn’t this prompt us to ask with a fair mind: What if the findings are not correct? Would it still be right to have called for the resignation or sack of the SGF? Why call for such extreme punitive action against a public servant, despite the prospects of tarnishing his reputation irreversibly, over “findings” which even the canvassers are unsure of their correctness as suggested by that “if”? Could this be politics masquerading as moral indignation?
Besides, it cannot be gainsaid that an accusation cannot be a proof of its justification, especially if the accused disputes it. And the editorial, after alleging that the SGF “was found to have held on to his directorship of a private company long after he was appointed SGF” also acknowledges that “he disputes this.”
It then curiously adds that “he has not produced concrete evidence that he did the right thing under the law,” as if the onus now rests on the accused to prove the case against him contrary to the maxim that “who alleges must prove”? Doesn’t this justify those who may think like this writer that the SGF is a victim of a conspiracy of biases?
Even the Senate would not doubt the validity of these questions or the oddity of the editorial describing it as “so lofty an institution,” if it used “lofty” as a synonym of “noble.”
If memory serves us right, it is the same Senate whose members went to show solidarity last year to its President, Bukola Saraki. He was facing a corruption trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Like the SGF, there were calls from certain quarters for his resignation. In a parallel case, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, had been accused of doctoring Senate rules to some self-serving end, amounting to forgery.
Some people thought it was “ignoble” – the opposite of “lofty” – that the senators would suspend the business of law-making and troop to the tribunal en masse to show support for their President given the nature of the charges against him. I am ambivalent about the rightness of this view.
But I certainly think the Senate was right in insisting that its principal officers, its President and his deputy, should not be made to face disciplinary action until the cases against them are proven in accordance with the rule of law. And both men remained in office despite those accusations and while the matters were in court.
What I do not understand is that the same Senate does not seem to think that what is good for the geese of its principal officers – the insistence on not punishing them prematurely, based on unproven and controversial accusations – is not good for the gander of the SGF.
This is an inevitable inference from the reference to its having made recommendations against the SGF based on its “findings” whose correctness the editorial calls to question with that telling “if.” Again, doesn’t this show that there is more to the accusations against the SGF and his travails than is apparent? So much that those behind them would rather circumvent due process to get him out of their way, and without giving him fair hearing?
The editorial also alleges that “SGF Babachir Lawal was both dismissive to the point of arrogance in his response to the Senate accusative report,” adding that he “complained that he was not invited to give his side of the story and so, ‘the Senate is talking balderdash ….’”
Also, that “it has been reported… that the accused was contacted by the Senate committee and he responded in a November 28, 2016 letter signed not by him but by a senior official in his office.”
For an editorial that also asserts that “perception is considered fact because the public believes and acts on it,” apparently to persuade the President to sack the SGF or create the impression that he is unserious in fighting corruption, which smacks of emotional blackmail, one wonders why anyone would be surprised that certain utterances and actions may be described as “balderdash” in the heat of the moment or as a mark of candour.
The truth is that perception is not fact; and things should be what they are perceived to be to an honest society. We know what will happen to us if we perceive fire as water and dip our finger in its flame, besides giving cause for sane people to question our sanity. People cannot be lawbreakers because we perceive them as such. That would be prejudicial, and I believe I have drawn attention to enough facts in the editorial that justify my alleging prejudice against the SGF. We cannot get to justice through the path of prejudice.
Talking of fair hearing, do we normally indict someone by ascribing to them a letter that was not signed by them, as in the SGF’s case? And while the editorial acknowledges the rightness of President Buhari having “ordered an investigation into Babachir Lawal’s and other cases,” which “must be concluded quickly and the matters laid to rest,” it curiously prods the president to sack the SGF, and put the cart before the horse, even before the investigation is concluded.
Why hasten to exact punishment before full investigation? Should a nation that believes in the rule of law accept such behaviour? It shouldn’t.
Somorin is a media consultant.