By Tunde Adetunji, Abuja.
Like a poorly conducted orchestra, the relationship between the Executive and the Legislative arms of government worsened further yesterday when the head of cabinet and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, told the Senate point-blank he will not honour their invitation because of a court case he instituted.
Coming on the same day another presidential appointee and Comptroller-General of Customs was asked to resign for hiding under a court action to evade the Senate, analysts feared Wednesday that government could go into a state of anomie with the face-off, especially if President Muhammadu Buhari did not play the card of a statesman.
Babachir was at the centre of comments by Senator Shehu Sani, when he described a letter written by President Muhammadu Buhari exonerating Lawal as the funeral of Buhari’s anti-corruption war, pointing out that when the president wants to fight corruption outside the presidency, he uses a disinfectant but when it is within the presidency, he uses a deodorant.
Wednesday, Lawal’s letter to the Senate stated: “Your letter of invitation to appear before the above committee refers
“I wish to kindly request that you draw the attention of the other members of the committee that i will not be able to appear before the committee primarily because i have gone to court to challenge the invitation among others.
“Please, find attached the court documents.”
In inviting him to appear on Thursday, 23rd March at 10:00 a.m., Sani had said: “The Senate at its sitting on October, 2016 debated on a motion “mounting humanitarian crisis in the north east” after which an ad-hoc committee was constituted to among other things.
i Conduct a public hearing in other to ascertain how much has been released to the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE)
ii. Ascertain how these funds have been utilized from inception to date and
iii. Investigate the diversion of grains and other food items from the Strategic Grain Reserves, NEMA and other sources for the IDPs.
“Consequently, the committee held a three day public hearing between 6th to 8th, December, 2016, even though some of the invited stakeholders refused to attend. In order to give them a fair hearing, the committee has resolved to conduct another public hearing.
“You are hereby invited once more to the public hearing ….”
In an interim report after the first seating, the Senate Committee accused Lawal and companies he had interests of alled fraud, but in a letter to Senate, Buhari backed his appointee.
His letter elicited a scathing tirade from Sami and others. Sani’s All Progressives Congress (APC) summoned him, but nothing came out of it as it appeared he was merely advised not to embarass the President.
Wrote Buhari then: Dear Distinguished Senate President, Re-resolution by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria concerning the humanitarian situation in the northeast region particularly in relation to the alleged role if the secretary to the government of the federation, Engr. David Babachir David Lawal in the contract implementation regime of the presidential initiative for the northeast (pine).
You may recall your letter with reference NASS /8X/R/01/5 dated 15th December, 2016 in respect of the Senate consideration of the report of its ad-hoc committee on the mounting humanitarian crisis in the northeast that conveyed the resolution of the committee as contained in paragraph 1 subsection 8 therein which reads as follows. Engr. Babachir Lawal having contravenes the provisions of part one of the 5th schedule of the 1999 constitution as amended had breached his oath of office and should resign and be prosecuted by the relevant authority, S/075/02/01/16.
Following a receipt of your letter, I setup a review team to consider the recommendations from the senate committee. I have also conducted further investigation based on Engr Lawal’s response to the allegations and issues raised in the Senate resolution. I have come to the following conclusion that I believe will guide the senate in the proper review of its interim report and eventual resolution.
1. The report forwarded to the presidency by the senate which informed the decision that Engr Babachir Lawal should resign and be prosecuted by the relevant authority S/075/02/016 was an interim report as against a final report which ought to have be presented to the senate in the plenary for adoption as a binding and final report before submission to the presidency given the weight of allegations made in the report.
2. The senate committee setup to investigate the mounting humanitarian crisis in the northeast comprised of nine members namely, senator Oluremi Tinubu, senator Mohammed Hassan, Senator Solomon Adeola, senator Ben Murray Bruce, Senator Tayo Alasoadura, Senator Theodore Orji, Senator Yahaya A. Abdullahi, Senator Mallam Aliu Wakili and Senator Issac M Alfa.
3. The review of the interim report shows that the interim report was only signed by only three out of the 9 members namely senator Solomon Adeola, senator Yahaya Abdullahi, and Senator Isaac M. Alfa
4. The signing of the interim report by three out of 9 members of the committee makes it a minority report of the Senate committee and not a committee report being an interim report. Thus, presenting a challenge for the presidency to determine the weight to attach to the report as currently presented.
5. I have also observed that the senate ad-hoc interim committee report and the votes and proceedings of the Senate have not in its own right establish that Engr Babachir Lawal was ever given an opportunity to appear before the committee and defend himself.
6. It is also on record that company linked to him Rollervision engineering limited was also not invited at anytime before the committee to defend himself against the allegations which eventually formed the fulcrum of the Senate’s case against the company.
You are invited to note that non application of principles of fair hearing by the senate ad-hoc committee is a clear contravention of section 36 (1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and against all principles of rule of law as initiated in the Nigerian legal system as well as the roles of the National Assembly committees on handling of public petitions.
Consequently, I am of the view that baring other consideration that may arise as a result of subsequent investigation of Engr Lawal by the interim ad-hoc committee. The current report as presented to the presidency in its own right does not meet the principles of fair hearing and compliance with the senate rules for conduct of investigations in matters relating to abuse of office by public officers.
In replying on the foregoing I am not able to approve the recommendation to remove and prosecute Engr Lawal on the basis of the Senate ad-hoc committee report dated 15th December, 2016.