THE President Muhammadu Buhari administration added verve to its war against corruption on Monday, as it kicked the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, (NIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke, out of office.
Buhari’s needless dithering on the cases of the two men, and his seeming reluctance to bring them to justice, had been an open sore for the government, which many angry Nigerians had unrelentingly poked to ensure that it did not heal.
The agitation for the resolution of the two cases again burst onto the front burners of public discourse recently, following the tango between the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, and the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Maikanti Baru, over the conclusion of $2 billion deals by Baru, without recourse to the minister, as the chairman of the NNPC Board.
The clamour, however, rose to a crescendo following the resurfacing of Abdulrasheed Maina, the former Pensions Reform Panel boss, who had been on the run and had been declared wanted by the EFCC and Interpol, as a director in the Ministry of Interior. The outrage that these two incidents generated led to copious references to the Lawal and Oke cases, and it is only right that the president eventually brought a closure to the cases, by giving the two men the boot.
For the records, Lawal was sacked for what became known as the “N200 million grass cutting contract.” In actual fact, he was indicted by the panel set up by the president and headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to probe the allegations against him and had, alongside Ayo Oke, been suspended from office since April 19, which is six months ago. The Osinbajo Panel, which had the National Security Adviser (NSA), General Babagana Monguno, and the Attorney-general of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, as members, had submitted its report on the two cases on August 23.
Babachir Lawal was investigated for awarding a N200 million contract for the cutting of grass and the clearing of some waterways to a company in which he had interest, under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE). He had earlier been indicted by the Senate Committee on the Humanitarian Crisis in the North East. The sacked NIA Director-General was, on the other hand investigated following the discovery of $43.4 million in a Lagos apartment, which he claimed to be a “safe house” of the intelligence agency.
The president has done well to kick these two men who have significantly detracted from the credibility of his anti-corruption war out of their jobs, but the lessons from these incidents will be better learnt if Nigerians are availed of the full details of their offences, so that they can serve as a deterrent to others.
Beyond the release of the details, the two men will need to be made to have their day in court, if the impression is not to be created that the punishment for any wrongdoing in the public service is a sack, while the offenders are allowed to go home to enjoy their loot.
Beyond their prosecution, Nigerians also need to know how $43.3 million came into the custody of the NIA Director-General and with whose approval it did. The operations of the agency, relating to its finances, should also be investigated to ensure that huge public funds are not being misused under the guise of intelligence operations. Any arrangement by which a single public officer is allowed, either advertently or inadvertently, to have such huge funds in his custody, and outside the financial system, cannot be good for the nation, no matter what the “intelligence experts” may say.
On Babachir Lawal, the real test of this government’s anti-corruption war is whether it will be able to prosecute this man, who apparently enjoyed the confidence of President Muhammadu Buhari to have lasted this long after the news of the “grass cutting scandal” broke.
Although the president’s aides have said that he took this long to decide on the men’s sack because he is a careful person who would not like to make a mistake, the very long time that it took him to set up the Osinbajo panel, (and yet another nine weeks or so to accept the panel’s recommendations), is just too long to decide on the glaring cases. The long period created the impression that the decision to sack them followed Nigerians’ refusal to stop their relentless calls for the resolution of the cases, and their penchant for using the cases to embarrass the president and ridicule his anti-corruption campaign at every opportunity.
Patience is, indeed, a virtue, but Nigeria’s peculiar circumstances call for greater speed on the resolution of seemingly clear issues such as this one, especially for a government that prides itself on its anti-corruption efforts.
Now that the sack of these men has seemingly put the country’s anti-corruption crusade back on track, the president and his team should ensure that it does not derail again. The impression should not be created that corruption cases involving the cronies of the government are being swept under the carpet.
Every single case of misappropriation of public funds should be promptly investigated and anyone found to have dealt fraudulently with such funds should be brought to book as quickly as possible.