Drama in Aso Rock as Buhari suspends, probes SGF, NIA DG
• APC, NASS, Ozekhome laud govt’s action
• Exercise, an afterthought, says Fayose
• Wike welcomes probe of $43m in Lagos home
There was a mild drama at the Presidential Villa, Abuja yesterday following the announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari suspending the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal and the Director General (DG) of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke.
A statement by the presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, said both officials remained suspended until they were fully investigated. Lawal is being probed over allegations of an award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE). Oke, on the other hand, is facing scrutiny for his agency’s role in the $43 million and other local currencies found in an Ikoyi, Lagos apartment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
By the suspension of these officials, the government seems to have affirmed its commitment to its anti-corruption agenda. But how the matter is finally resolved will determine the strength of the resolve of the government to beam the anti-corruption searchlight on its officials.
Shortly after the announcement, State House correspondents sighted the axed officials being driven into the Villa. However, it could not be established whether Lawal had prior knowledge of the presidential directive as at the time of his suspension, but he was seen by newsmen after a closed-door meeting with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
When reporters sought his reaction after the meeting, the suspended SGF queried the source of the report. The following conversation ensued:
Newsmen: Your suspension has just been announced. How will you react to the development?
Babachir: Who announced it?
Newsmen: The Presidency
Babachir: Then ask them. Why are you asking me? Who is the Presidency?
Newsmen: Have you been informed of the suspension?
Babachir: By who? About what. What about you? Have you been informed?
Newsmen: Yes sir.
Babachir: By who?
Newsmen: By the Presidency sir.
Babachir: I have not seen it. I should have been given… I have not seen the press release so I cannot comment on it.
Newsmen: It is currently trending online. Are you doubting the authenticity of the statement?
Babachir: I have not seen it.
Newsmen: Tell us the outcome of your meeting with the Vice President sir.
Babachir: I am always here. I always meet the Vice President. I used to come here even before I was made SGF.
Apparently looking bemused, he thereafter walked away and was chauffeur-driven out of the Presidential Villa. In the same vein, Oke, who arrived at the seat of power shortly after Babachir left to seek audience with the Vice President, could not gain access as he was barred by the security agents at the entrance to the Vice President’s wing of the Presidential Villa.
Oke, who later made another attempt at the security gate accessing the forecourt linking the entrance to President Buhari’s office, was again denied access, as the remote controlled gate remained firmly shut.
Hitherto, the NIA boss enjoyed the privilege of gaining access to the President through the gate along with the service chiefs, National Security Adviser (NSA), Inspector General of Police (IGP), DG State Security Service (SSS), Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Head of Civil Service of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister. The suspended NIA boss was forced after being denied access to drive out of the presidential villa looking dejected. He was, however, sighted about 45 minutes later being led to Prof. Osinbajo’s office by the Vice President’s Chief Security Officer.
Consequently, a three-man committee, headed by the Vice President with the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice as well as the National Security Adviser as members, has been raised to investigate the allegations. It has two weeks to submit its report.
By the new development, the most senior permanent secretary and officer in the SGF and NIA offices are to act as heads while the investigation lasts. Meanwhile, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has backed the President over the decision.
Its spokesman, Malam Bolaji Abdullahi in an interview with The Guardian, said there was nothing abnormal with the measure. His words: “The action by the president is part of the normal procedural thing to do. If someone is being investigated, it is normal that that individual is required to step aside to allow the investigation to be concluded. It also demonstrates the resolve by the president to entrench transparency and accountability. This is my interpretation of what happened.”
Besides, the National Assembly and famous constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, lauded the exercise. The Senate communicated its satisfaction in a statement yesterday by the chairman of its ad hoc committee on the humanitarian crisis in the North East, Shehu Sani.
“It is commendable that the president has taken the Senate committee report and recommendations seriously. The sword of truth is not just cast and sharpened for the neck of foes but also for those of friends,” he added.
In their commendation messages, Representatives Aliyu Magaji Dau (APC Jigawa) and Johnson Agnayinman (APC Edo) noted that the action sent a signal that nobody was above the law.
They, however, called for restraint so that fair hearing for the affected officials would not be compromised. Describing the axing as “good riddance to bad rubbish”, Ozekhome held that the measure was indicative that President Buhari was beginning to listen to the voice of reason on the need to entrench good governance in the polity.
“The suspension of the N250 million grass-cutting SGF and the N15 billion Osborne Road warehousing NIA DG, NIA is good riddance to bad rubbish. I am sure the government is beginning to listen to my critical but patriotic voice. We cannot continue to be a laughing stock in the international arena,” he stated.
But Governor Ayodele Fayose considered the exercise as an afterthought. In a statement by his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, the governor queried: “Would the president have set up a probe panel if these scams were linked to anyone in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or those members of his party that are not in his good books?”
He added: “Most importantly, what business does a presidential committee have with an investigation into crime? Are they telling Nigerians that they have lost confidence in all the intelligence and investigative agencies of the government, including the EFCC and DSS?”