Babachir Lawal: A matter of honour
The findings, backed by documentary evidence, and recommendations of the Senate against Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, are sufficiently damning to warrant that he resigns from the high office he holds. Mr. Lawal should forthwith, as a matter of personal honour, leave voluntarily or be removed by his integrity-conscious appointer, President Muhammadu Buhari. He may then have time enough to clear his name through the due process of a transparent investigation and prosecution. Perhaps then, Lawal may qualify for a return to his current or any other high office in future.
He was found to have held on to his directorship of a private company long after he was appointed SGF. He disputes this but he has not produced concrete evidence that he did the right thing under the law. As a public servant, Lawal is constitutionally bound to, according to Section 172of the extant constitution , observe and conform to the Code of Conduct for Public Officers stated in the Fifth Schedule, Part 1.
It stipulates that“a public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interests conflict with his duties and responsibilities.” Section 2(b) also demands that a public officer – which Lawal certainly is as defined in the Fifth Schedule, Part 2 (10) – “shall not, except where he is not employed on full time basis, engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade .,.”
The report of the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, states that Babachir David Lawal breached these provisions of the constitution and more. He not only retained his position in a private company that he claimed to have ‘formed in 1990’, the company not only got patronage from the Presidential Initiative on the North-East (PINE) which is administered by Lawal’s office, but also received payment in a manner that violates the rules that govern the provision of goods and services under the Public Procurement Act, 2007.
Besides that, the procedure of award and payment violates the procurement law, the N223 million contract ‘for the removal of invasive plant species from Komadugu Yobe Water Channels’ was considered too high for such service, and, in the words of the senators,‘most of the contracts awarded by PINE have no direct bearing/impact on the lives of the displaced persons apparently languishing in hunger, disease, squalor and other deplorable conditions…’
SGF Babachir Lawal was both dismissive to the point of arrogance in his response to the Senate accusative report. He complained that he was not invited to give his side of the story and so, ‘the Senate is talking balderdash [and] has developed the habit of bring-him-down-syndrome’. It has been reported, however, 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.
The case built by the Senate appears serious enough to demand a robust, point-by-point and documented response from the SGF. So far he has offered nothing of the sort. Indeed, he has even tried to belittle it. This is unacceptable and it must not be. 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. More importantly, it would imply that his company benefited unduly from the misfortune of internally displaced citizens. That raises very serious moral questions in addition to the legal ones. In which case he is due for prosecution as recommended by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Perception is considered fact because the public believes and acts on it. President Muhammadu Buhari risks reaping a public perception that the high hope put on his administration to reduce corruption was misplaced. That would be terrible. It is just as well, therefore, that President Buhari has ordered an investigation into Babachir Lawal’s and other cases. This must be concluded quickly and the matters laid to rest. But, if in truth he has ‘zero tolerance’ for integrity deficit or even a suspicion of it, then Buhari does himself and his administration no good to retain for a minute a high official whose integrity is called into question by so lofty an institution as the Senate. This is not a trivial accusation by some inconsequential petitioner. Lawal should be let go of now.
In any case, this country is not at all short of qualified, patriotic, and selfless persons who can serve as SGF. The point must be made that Babachir Lawal, and by extension the anti-corruption fight of the Buhari government are under scrutiny in this matter. Indeed, because of the very influential and powerful position occupied by Lawal, the total integrity of this government is in question and how this case is handled or resolved will determine whether Nigerians can continue to believe in this government or not.
The implications and repercussions are many and various for Buhari, his government, and the ruling party. Let this All Progressives Congress(APC) government demonstrate its much-touted change of direction and style from the sordid past that it inherited by acting decisively and swiftly against even a whiff of corruption within its ranks. In the destructive matters of corruption, there can be no excuse to shilly-shally.
If Babachir Lawal will not voluntarily resign, he should be sacked now.