Members of the Senate have faulted the claim by a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, that the corruption allegations that led to his sacking are untrue.
The lawmakers alleged that Lawal, who failed to come forward to defend himself, was arrogant to the Senate and the Presidency during his investigation.
The former SGF had in an interview with Channels Television, aired on Friday night, described as stupid those who were calling him a corrupt person.
Lawal, who was accused by the Senate of allegedly awarding one of his companies with a grass-cutting contract to the tune of N223m under the Presidential Initiative for the North-East, had said he was happy that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was investigating him.
The ex-SGF had also dismissed the findings by the Senate Ad hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East led by Senator Shehu Sani, which probed, indicted and recommended his sacking and prosecution.
Based on the Senate’s resolution, President Muhammadu Buhari had set up a three-man presidential panel made up of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN); Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN); and the National Security Adviser, Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd.). The panel also indicted Lawal.
Lawal, who expressed his confidence in the EFCC to uncover the truth, disclosed that he and President Buhari, as leaders of the All Progressives Congress, met on a regular basis.
Reacting, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, in a chat with our correspondent on Saturday night, stated that the lawmakers were not biased in their investigation of Lawal.
Utazi said, “The Senate was not partial in investigating the PINE activities. What happened there drew the ire of the international donor agencies that were contributing to the welfare of the Internally Displaced Persons in the North-East geopolitical zone. It was this outcry that attracted the attention of the Senate and it constituted an ad hoc committee headed by Senator Shehu Sani.
“The committee complied with the audi alterem partem principle in law, which means giving a fair hearing to all concerned in carrying out its investigation. That committee approached the Senate in plenary with two reports: an interim and final reports.
“In all, the former SGF, Mr Babachir Lawal, was given an invitation to appear before the committee to make good his claims and he declined to respond to it. The committee even went an extra mile to publishing the invitation to the almighty erstwhile SGF in two national dailies and he showed contempt to the committee and, by extension, the Senate.”
Describing Lawal as “a former sacred cow,” the lawmaker stated that the lawmakers were expecting to see the defence to be filed by the ex-SGF when being prosecuted by the EFCC.
He added, “If all these attempts by the ad hoc committee to perform its constitutionally guaranteed oversight function was tantamount to partiality, you then be the judge. Like the former sacred cow, I mean the former SGF, retorted when journalists in the (Presidential) Villa wanted to confirm the news of his sacking by the Presidency, Mr Babachir Lawal arrogantly asked, ‘Which Presidency?’ If he could be that arrogant to the office that appointed him, I am not bothered if he extends his arrogance to the Senate.
“I am happy that he will be pleased to be investigated by the EFCC, which was set up by an Act of the National Assembly and not the ad hoc committee. It will be interesting to see the documents he will submit in his defence to the EFCC but not to the Senate. I wish him luck as we hold our breath in bated suspense for the outcome of the EFCC investigation of the PINE.”
Also, the Chief Whip, Senator Sola Adeyeye, described EFCC’s trial of Lawal as belated. The lawmaker also noted that the former SGF failed to take the opportunities made available to him by the legislative panel to defend himself.
Adeyeye stressed that the Osinbajo-led panel also indicted Lawal and recommended his sacking, which vindicated the Senate on its position on the matter.
He said, “In the case of Lawal, the truth is that, first, he refused to appear even though he did not have immunity from appearance before the National Assembly; second and more importantly, a different panel headed by no less a person than one of the most brilliant Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who also happens to occupy the office of the Vice-President, also made a strong indictment of Lawal. When that same man is indicted by a totally independent panel again, let the court have its way.”
According to the lawmaker, the case of the former SGF should have long been taken to court. “If the man wins in court, so be it; and if he does not, so be it,” he said.
When contacted, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi, declined to respond to Lawal.
Responding to a WhatsApp message sent to him asking if the Senate was indeed partial in the probe of the ex-SGF as alleged, Sabi-Abdullahi said, “No comments.”
The Vice-Chairman, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, in response to a WhatsApp message asking him if it was true that the Senate was biased in Lawal’s probe, said, “No.”
Sani, whose panel probed Lawal, could not be reached for comments. Calls made to him between Friday and Sunday were not answered.