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Lawal, Oke as test cases for Buhari’s war on corruption

Lawal, Oke as test cases for Buhari’s war on corruption
September 25
12:41 2017
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A month ago Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo submitted two reports to President Muhammadu Buhari, products of the work of a committee he headed. The committee, whose two other members included the attorney general of the federation and the national security adviser, was set up on April 19 specifically to probe allegations of corruption against the suspended secretary to the government of the federation and the director general of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).

A major kernel of the Buhari administration is war on corruption which, naturally, means different things to different Nigerians. Some see the war as an exercise in smoke and mirrors, which target only political opponents or those who have fallen out of favour with the government while some, see it as something desirable. This column has always been of the view that as long as there is a valid case of sleaze against an individual, bring it on, as this government will not continue to be in power for life. The government, in one of its early steps, set up a Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption in August 2015 headed by a professor of Law and senior advocate, Itse Sagay, with a $5 million fund put together by Ford Foundation, McArthur and Open Society Foundations. Even though our dear Professor Sagay seems more interested in talking and raking up controversies for this government rather than the committee assignment.

I’ve gone to this length to remind us that the Buhari administration has been proclaiming it loud and clear that we should judge it on its anti-corruption credentials and battle. And at a level, it has been more than pontification but the action seems minuscule considering the noise the government makes. Till date, the war between the attorney general and the EFCC acting chairman – as he is yet to be confirmed by the National Assembly, has not been settled. There have been open accusations between them that one can be pardoned for thinking they are not part of the government. Part of this government’s failure too is the inability to secure the EFCC chair’s confirmation even when the APC is the majority party in the legislature.

As bad as our senate is, it is to their credit that the senators were the ones that alerted Nigerians to the fact that Babachir David Lawal set up phony companies to secure contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE) and also was the signatories to the accounts of some companies which obtained contracts from PINE even while he was still serving as the secretary to the Government of the Federation. In one instance, a contract of over N200 million was awarded to a company belonging to Mr. Lawal to clear “invasive grass species” Forget the agronomical terminology, Lawal’s company was paid so much just to clear grass in a displaced persons camp in an area which is more arid than tropical forest. The total sum of money for the contracts traced to Lawal by the senate was N1.3 billion.

Ayodele Oke, erstwhile NIA director general, was suspended because the agency under his watch claimed N13 billion –total naira equivalent as foreign currencies were discovered also, found in an apartment at Ikoyi, Lagos by the EFCC. Several theories have been propounded as to the source of the money, but till date Nigerians are not sure how it got there or what it was meant for.

That was what the Osinabjo committee was set up to do, as contained in a statement by the president’s spokesperson, Femi Adesina, on April 19. “President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered an investigation into the allegations of violations of law and due process made against the Secretary to the government of the Federation, Mr. David Babachir Lawal, in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE).” The same statement also contained the committee’s brief on the NIA’s claim over the money discovered in Ikoyi.

While researching this piece, I discovered that the next time Nigerians got to hear about the committee’s work was on May 21, a month after it was set up. I could not confirm whether it was a response to media enquiries or a routine report but the vice president’s spokesperson, Laolu Akande, said then, “When time comes the outcome of the panel would be made manifestly public and Nigerians would be satisfied.” Recall also that Osinbajo was the acting president this period and so he could not report to himself, but what happens now, a month after the report was submitted to Buhari?

The ponderous pace of this government is well known and evident in its failure to take critical decisions when necessary, but it will do well to let us know how far with Lawal and Oke. It will also add more verve to its war on corruption or whatever remain of it.

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