North East Funds Diversion: Senate Demands SGF’s Resignation
The Senate, on Wednesday asked the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, to resign his appointment for alleged misappropriation of funds earmarked for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Boko Haram devastated North-East.
The Senate also called on the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to immediately commence the prosecution of the SGF, whom the Upper Chamber also accused of abusing his office in the roles he played in the award of contracts in respect of the North East humanitarian crisis.
The Upper Chamber took these decisions while adopting the interim report of its Adhoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, which was presented by the chairman of the committee, Senator Shehu Sani.
According to the lawmakers, the SGF violated some of the provisions of Public Procurement Act and the Federal Government’s Financial Rules and Regulations guiding award of contracts.
Reading the findings of the committee, Sani said that some of the contracts were awarded to companies belonging to highly placed government officials, their friends and family members.
For instance, the legislator pointed out that the committee discovered in the course of its investigation, that Rholavision Engineering Limited, a company with Lawal as Director, was awarded consultancy contract, with no tangible work on ground to justify the money spent.
He explained that the company’s duty was the removal of invasive plant species in Yobe State, noting that even though the SGF resigned the directorship of the company in September, 2016, it was on record that he was signatory to the accounts of the company.
Sani maintained that Lawal’s role in the contract awards notwithstanding, the Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE), which carried out the entire procurement activities, operated in total contravention of relevant laws.
He lamented that those awarded contracts took undue advantage of the provision of emergency situation contract award in the Procurement Act to outrageously inflate the contract figures.
He also said most of the contracts had no direct bearing or impact on the IDPs, who were living in deplorable conditions, despite huge sums of money released by the government, in addition to various assistance from donors within and outside Nigeria.
The lawmaker also regretted that, in spite of the health challenges in the camps, there was absence of the Federal Ministry of Health, except for the presence of Nigerian Air Force medical team, which had only few equipment at its disposal.
He, however, said that the committee equally noticed the presence of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), working with other agencies.
His words: “Despite the claim by some Federal Government agencies, what is on ground as seen by the committee does not justify or reflect the claims.
For example, over 70 per cent of displaced children both in camps and with host communities were out of school due to lack of infrastructure. Generally, there is acute shortage of food amongst the IDPs, as observed in one of the IDPs visited,” he said.
In his contribution, Senator Dino Melaye said that the report indicated that Lawal became SGF before his resignation as director of the company. He said that Lawal’s action was disgraceful and ran contrary to the anti-corruption crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari, calling for his resignation and prosecution.
He said: “When this committee started looking at the books, Babachir Lawal ran to the Corporate Affairs Commission and quickly withdrew his directorship of the company after the execution of the contract. “As I speak to you, he is still a signatory to the account of the company. This contract is not a constituency project.
Mr. President, within my myopic knowledge, I am aware that going by the budget of 2015 and 2016, there is no contract award labelled against the person or name of company of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. “This is disgraceful, this is abominable, this is condemnable, this is unheard of and this is an embarrassment to we members of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Babachir Lawal has exhibited anti-Buhari tendencies.
This is gross abuse of office, the truth is mightier than any currency and every lie has an expiry date.” At this point, the Leader of the Senate, Ali Ndume, drew the attention of the Senate to the fact that since the report was an interim one, the decision to call for the SGF’s resignation was premature.
He said: “I am worried. The worry is the fact that this is an interim report. We have seen the content, discussed it, suggested way forward for completion, but what decision do we take based on interim report.”
In his remarks, the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, commended the chairman of the committee and all the members for being able to submit a report before the end of this session.
“The message clearly coming from the Senate to all those in charge of these funds is that we cannot continue with business as usual. “For those who have contravened the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, I believe that this government that stands on the issues of fighting corruption is seen to do the right thing,” he said.
He urged the committee to complete the report in good time, while assuring that resolutions and recommendations would be taken seriously. Meanwhile, the SGF has sharply reacted to the call by the Senate for his resignation and prosecution, describing their decision as unreasonable, rubbish and of no consequence.
Lawal, who spoke to journalists on the matter when he came to the National Assembly on the entourage of President Muhammadu Buhari to lay the 2017 budget, regretted that the apex chamber did their investigation without inviting him to get his position.
He, however, frowned at the attitude of some politicians who are in the habit of witch-hunting and pulling down others. He said: “The Senate is talking balderdash; it has developed the habit of bring-him-down syndrome.
Nigerians have decided that we should destroy our best, we should all destroy the promising and best among us by bringing people down without a cause. This is just how I saw it.
“I have the report of the Senate Committee in which it was said that I didn’t resign from Rholavision Nigeria Limited. Let me tell you, Rholavision was formed by me in December 1990, and it has been a company that was run very successfully. “Now, when I was appointed SGF, I resigned from that company on 18th August 2015.
I can see that in their report, they are talking about 2016. I don’t know where they got their facts. “By the way, it is very instructive that when the committee was sitting, no effort was ever made to invite me to come and make a submission.