By CHIDI OBINECHE
the lingering impasse on the fate of Babachir David Lawal, the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF came to a screeching halt on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 when a terse two-paragraph statement from the Presidency directed him to proceed on suspension pending the conclusion of a three- man probe panel headed by the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbanjo. Other members of the panel are the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, AGF and the National Security Adviser, NSA Major General Babagana Monguno, Rtd. Lawal has been enmeshed in controversies on violations of law and due process made against him in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE).
The Senate had in response to mounting cries on the humanitarian crisis in the troubled North-east set up an ad-hoc committee headed by Senator Shehu Sani. The committee turned in its interim report on Wednesday December 14, 2016 and indicted Lawal for allegedly receiving N233 million contract to clear invasive plant species in Yobe State through a company, Rholavision Engineering Ltd, which he was said to have interest in. The committee called for his removal and prosecution, which was adopted by the Senate. But despite the opprobrium and public hoopla the scandal generated, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote the Senate giving an all- clear to Lawal on January 24, 2017. The clean bill of health handed down on lawal after the AGF Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN had freed him from all the shackles contained in the Senate report sparked off the ensuing stand-off between the executive arm of government and the Senate and further deepened festering allegations by some members of the public that the regime’s anti corruption battle is lop-sided. The Yobe State Government said the “grass cutting “contract was never executed.
Although the Senate report has been widely adjudged as fair, Lawal’s reaction and disposition after the exposure have implanted snide reviews of accumulated grievances and sore feelings between both parties. He had blurted out less than one hour after the indictment that “The Senate is talking balderdash; it has developed the habit of bring-him-down-syndrome. It is, therefore, surprising that they devoted a whole session of today, (Wednesday) at maligning me, claiming what is not true without even giving me the chance to come and put my own case before them.” Twenty four hours after his tantrums, Senator Dino Melaye who has since earned a reputation for being the avant-garde of the Senate leadership in all straits brought the matter up, saying his privilege and that of his colleagues were breached by Lawal. And that opened the floodgate of flaks and hostilities that cascaded inexorably to his suspension. A peep down history lane, however, opens a yawning story of cross vendetta between him and the Senate President Bukola Saraki. There is no love lost between the duo. Saraki is bitter over his “interloping “and opposition role to his emergence as Senate president. In the thick horse trading for the seat of Senate president, while the lynchpins of Saraki’s ambition took a reserved back seat and called the spins, Lawal was the front is- piece man, ‘shoving, elbowing’ and literally calling for a fight. There are also deep seated hard feelings in Saraki’s camp that the suspended SGF was the catalyst in the Senate president’s travails at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. He has also been very vocipherous in his support for Buhari and the anti- corruption battle, which has made other supporters and admirers feel cold and inadequate whenever the chips are down. He had said in one of his outbursts that, “Baba Buhari didn’t anticipate the problem we are in. The people who caused the problem are the ones challenging the government. I tell you that they will fail in the name of God.” Babachir Lawal’s episode, therefore, simply resonates with the classic case of a man whose overflowing love and support for his principal earned him more than an overdose of enemies.
Fresh wounds, old grudges
Like a cuckoo, the fallen SGF has often times alluded to former Lagos state governor and national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC as the brain behind his appointment as SGF. At a thanksgiving remark on October 21, 2015, he said “Tinubu and Akande were the ones that made it possible because if it had been left to Northerners, it is doubtful if they will take a Christian man to make Secretary to the Government of the Federation. According to our findings, President Buhari has allegedly been nursing grudges against Bola Tinubu since the scandal against Lawal broke out for foisting on him “a corrupt SGF”. Tinubu’s deft move which altered initial plans and calculations of Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, current Minister of Science and Technology as the SGF and snuffed out the South-east from the commanding heights of the regime had long been interpreted by the president and some of his key henchmen as a choreographed and orchestrated strain to hijack the machinery of government by building up Osinbajo as “the engine room” of the administration. A grateful Lawal has surreptitiously taken steps to ingratiate himself to Tinubu for the rare opportunity he gave him to serve as SGF, which came like a thunderbolt from the blues. Some observers of the simmering power play allude to last year’s budget where a whooping N52billion was allocated to Lagos State and less than N3billion for Yobe State. As the president mulled over Lawal’s indictment by the Senate, a blistering blame game swept through the corridors of power as it rekindled the feeling that he was not the president’s first choice. The dog fight for control of the ruling APC, which started as soon as the party won the election has created deep gaps and gulfs in the administration, shutting out essential units and imperatives of governance in a heterogeneous society. With Buhari strangulating vital tools of general acclaim in his bid to ensure that only his core loyalists are found in critical points of governance, a cavern of ‘ somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known’ loomed large. This has led to widespread insinuations of a cabal, which Lawal by his position and antecedents in the mix is being fingered as prime.
As part of his grand schemes to demonstrate unstinted loyalty to Buhari, Lawal, through several antics including proxy wars has been able to wriggle himself into the inner kitchen. In a famous interview on Channels TV in October, 2016 he said “I am honoured to be a cabal in this presidency: I have no apologies to make.” He went on a media binge articulating the president’s vision and interests. A very intelligent man, Lawal as SGF metamorphosed into a hard core bureaucrat, dismissed every work of the previous admistration with ease, often obviating logic. He oft-repeatedly consigned the 2014 National Conference as “job for the boys,” which, he said, would not merit more than a stare from the government. Through these schemes, he fanned the passions for a pro-Buhari agenda. His position on issues fused intrinsically with the operational modalities of the government especially in the confrontation with adversaries of the government. These were like elixir, which sounded like sweet music in the president’s ears and modeled the axed SGF‘s consolidation plot. Indeed Sunday Sun learnt that the president “accommodated” him warmly once he felt he has been able to fend off perceived threats and manipulations from Tinubu. But like the deer that would run itself lame before the real race, he launched into an ill-timed second term gambit for Buhari at a time the president was just recuperating from illness and the economy reeling on a rocky chair. The launch of the second term bid for Buhari, only flowed from Lawal’s unalloyed support and love for the president. The move ricocheted with suspicion on whose agenda he was advancing. And the hammer fell, notwithstanding the initial clearance in January. At the time the president capitulated; concerns have been expressed by many people within and outside the Presidency on the creeping polarization of the party and the Presidency by Lawal’s indictment. “Besides not controlling a major bloc in the APC, his issue was already giving the government a bad name,” Sunday Sun was told. The president was also desirous of giving a fillip to the anti- corruption crusade as he reeled under the shock discoveries of huge amounts of money by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC in Ikoyi, Lagos. It was reasoned that he could be touched rather than have the campaign bugged down continually by skepticism. Will the new move make people to move beyond skepticism into deep cynicism?