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Defend Yourself Or Resign; Senate To SGF

Some members of the Senate have insisted that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, must appear before them to defend himself against the allegations of corruption and misconduct or quit his office.

The lawmakers, who insisted on their call for Lawal’s removal, arrest and prosecution, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to compel the SGF to defend himself before the lawmakers.

It was learnt on Thursday that the majority of the senators supported the Chairman of the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, Senator Shehu Sani, who dismissed Buhari’s letter in which the President gave reasons why Lawal would not be sacked.

Sani told our correspondent that the ad hoc committee might re-invite the SGF as its investigations continued.

“We can re-invite him (Lawal); there is no problem with that. If there is the need, we will invite him again,” he said.

Other senators, who spoke to our correspondent when asked of the next line of action after Buhari’s letter, said the President should allow the SGF to defend himself before the Senate rather than the President defending him.

The Senate had called for Lawal’s resignation, probe and prosecution over the findings in the interim report of the Senate ad hoc committee on the situation in the North-East.

The decision was based on the interim report by the Senate Committee on the Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, headed by Senator Shehu Sani, which was released on December 14, 2016.

The lawmakers specifically called on security and anti-graft agencies to arrest and prosecute Lawal, who is overseeing the Presidential Initiative on the North-East, for allegedly owning one of the companies awarded contracts in the rehabilitation of the North-East.

Lawal was alleged to have resigned his directorship of the company after becoming the SGF and after the company had executed the contract.

The SGF had denied the allegation, saying what the Senate said was “balderdash.” He alleged that there was an attempt by the senators to malign him, wondering why the committee did not invite him to confront him with those allegations during the investigative hearing.

Buhari had, in a letter to the Senate, dismissed the lawmakers’ allegations against Lawal, contending that the SGF was not given an opportunity to defend himself.

Meanwhile, The PUNCH obtained an invitation letter written by Sani-led panel in September last year.

Buhari had, in his letter to the Senate on Lawal, stated that the SGF was not given fair hearing by the committee.

But in the letter dated November 6, 2016, the committee asked Lawal to appear before it on December 6, 2016.

It directed the SGF to come with information on the contracts for the rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced Persons’ Camps in the North-East.

The Permanent Secretary in the SGF Office, Aminu Nabegu, in a letter dated December 6, 2016, responded to the committee’s invitation.

In an interview with our correspondent, Senator Adesoji Akanbi (Oyo South), said although Sani spoke the mind of the lawmakers, he was too harsh on the Presidency, being from the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress.

He said the Senate might reply Buhari, asking him to order Lawal to make himself available for the Senate probe.

He said, “Every letter needs to be replied. That is the normal thing to do. On the issue of the SGF, the content of the letter written back to us by the executive is untrue. The interim report we have shows that seven members of the committee signed it. If at all it was signed by three members and the Presidency was conversant with our procedures, he would have known that ratio three to nine is one-third, which means a quorum was formed.

“On a serious note, the allegations were not treated; they were not mentioned by the President. It was an allegation and the man (Lawal) was given the opportunity of fair hearing. He refused to come and he sent somebody, and he felt the person he sent was competent enough to represent him.

“I think the only thing that can happen, if they want to prove that they are fighting corruption, which we believe they are fighting, Mr. President should impose it on the SGF to appear before the committee. If Mr. President is sincere and he is convinced that the SGF is not being fairly treated, he should ask him to come.”

Also, Senator Danjuma La’ah said the lawmakers would not stop calling for Lawal’s removal and prosecution, stating that the SGF still had the opportunity to defend himself before the Senate.

He said, “As far as we are concerned, we won’t take issue with the President or even the SGF. We have stated our final decision and it stands. Even the letter written by the President, I don’t think he is the one who wrote it. Something is fishy somewhere because the President cannot go so low.

“We had made a decision and he was still writing back to us, telling us that this is what he wants and it doesn’t work that way.”

Senator Mao Ohuabunwa equally dismissed Buhari’s letter, saying Lawal must defend himself or quit.

He said, “Let us get the final report (by the committee) but he should come and defend himself. I think that should be the right thing. He should go to the committee and answer to its call as required by its invitation.”

“It is then left to the committee to compare what they have with what would be his response to the allegations.

“The right thing is, if the Senate invites you, you must honour that invitation and prove your innocence, if possible, with documents.”

Another member of the Senate also told our correspondent on condition of anonymity that several lawmakers, who spoke on Buhari’s letters on Lawal and the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, at the closed session on Tuesday, insisted that the SGF must not be allowed to escape justice.

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