President Muhammadu Buhari, on Wednesday, shocked many Nigerians with the suspension of two key government officials, thereby reaffirming his resolve to stamp corruption out of Nigeria. This is how it happened.
Anyone with rich knowledge of their affinity would not bat an eyelid to believe that his suspension wasn’t an easy decision to make. Obviously, President Muhammadu Buhari must have rolled over and over on his bed many nights, deciphering between two hard choices of either keeping him and continue to face public bashing or dismissing him and stomach what people may say of their friendship.
For months, calls for his sack had continued unabated but the President remained unperturbed. Even when the calls reached a crescendo, he remained unmoved.
But just when no one had an inkling of it, the President lowered the sledge hammer, suspending him from office on Wednesday, April 19. He is Babachir Lawal, the hitherto powerful Secretary to the Government of the federation, SGF.
To many people, this is hurricane Buhari.
President Buhari, Babachir Lawal and Ambassador Ayo Oke
Lawal and Buhari had had a long standing father and son relationship. This dates back to 2002 when Lawal formally joined partisan politics. Buhari was his sole attraction and, from that time, he worked assiduously in each election year from 2003, when the President fired his first shot at the Presidency, to the 2015 presidential election when he finally won.
And so, it was not a surprise to many people when, in August, 2015, Buhari appointed Lawal the SGF. But then, both men were obviously oblivious of the evil that was lurking around.
Of course, except for what could be called Buhari’s due diligence and thoroughness, Lawal would have long gone. He became a candidate for eviction in October, 2016 when the Senate called for his sack. Why? A committee of the Senate, which investigated spendings from the funds earmarked for the welfare of the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, through the Presidential Initiative on North East, PINE, found Lawal complicit and recommended that he be shown the way out.
At the peak of the matter, the SGF apparently became temperamental and fired back at the senators, calling their demand “balderdash”. The spat that later ensued between him and the Senate assumed an embarrassing dimension. Yet, the Senate stood its ground.
To appease the senators, Buhari, in December, 2016, ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to initiate a probe of Lawal’s activities at PINE alongside the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, whose confirmation by the Senate had been stalled due to allegations of corrupt practices too.
Apparently, the report of the committee was not favorable to the senators who insisted that Lawal must leave.
The suspended SGF also shunned an invitation by the Senate to appear before its committee in March this year. He later wrote a letter to the committee, informing it of a legal suit he had instituted on the matter.
But barely 24 hours later, the SGF wrote another letter, asking the Senate to reschedule his appearance. But that didn’t happen until last Wednesday when Buhari fired him.
Lawal, a member of the cabal?
Lawal’s carriage at the Villa, especially during Wednesday’s meeting of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, allegedly portrayed him as a member of the kitchen cabinet of the President. At a time, he reacted to speculations that he was being called the member of ‘a cabal’. Also, one still can’t forget that a leaked memo of Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State to the President pointed in his direction as a member of the `cabal’.
At FEC meetings, Lawal was ‘chief whip’ and the council chamber was his. To this end, he called the Ministers to order and, to many people, he did it with arrogance.
Lawal was also described in some quarters as a careless talker. He was said to have on one occasion made Vice President Osinbajo a subject matter. He also reportedly jokingly told Buhari that the Vice President, Minister of Labour, Senator Chris Ngige, el-Rufai and, at a time, Governor Adams Oshiomhole, were reducing the average height of APC government with their diminutive stature.
The joke was said to have been very expensive to Osinbajo who had to wait patiently until an opportunity presented itself during the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, valedictory session for former Governors Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo and Oshiomhole of Edo States on February 16, 2017 to reply him.
When it was time for Osinbajo to speak, he said: “The club, as El – Rufai said, is one that comprises Dr. Chris Ngige, El -Rufai, Oshiomhole, and my humble self’. It is an Elite Club but people tend to take the matter to a great extreme. A certain gentleman by name Babachir Lawal , who is the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, told the President one afternoon that all of us that I have mentioned have reduced the average height of the leadership of the APC.”
That was Lawal. But to be fair to him, he sometimes overreaches himself.
Suspension comes days after el-Rufai visited Buhari
Historians will be quick to document that Lawal’s suspension happened days after el-Rufai, who had told Buhari in his leaked memo that some persons were clogging the wheel of progress of his government, visited the Villa after many months. The governor was to tell journalists that he was hated to be seen around the President by some persons, but assured no one could bar him from seeing Buhari.
The burden of friendship in anti-corruption chase
With the suspension of Lawal, one thing now stands clear: Politics, power and friendship don’t mix especially when a President is resolute on an anti-corruption crusade. From what is known, Buhari is serious with the war against corruption and would not compromise, irrespective of whose ox is gored. His appointees know this and many have since tamed themselves of avarice and gluttonous desires.
Oke, NIA DG’s dilemma
Meanwhile, Lawal was not the only top official of Buhari’s government that was suspended on Wednesday.
The Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, Ambassador Ayo Oke, was also suspended.
Oke is not known to be a partisan politician. Appointed by former President Goodluck Jonathan in November 2013, Oke had occupied the office for almost four years until the fateful Wednesday.
Many see him as an architect of his own downfall. How? The NIA, under his watch, allegedly got involved in the discovery of the $43 million at Osborne House in Ikoyi, Lagos. Hardly had the EFCC uncovered the money alleged to be proceeds of crime than the NIA jumped to claim its ownership. Many people were taken aback as to how and what the agency did with the money.
To unravel the circumstances, the President suspended him.
Osinbajo’s three-man-committee on course
Meanwhile, to investigate and unravel the circumstance, the President the same Wednesday announced a three-man-panel.
The panel, headed by Osinbajo and has Malami and the National Security Adviser, NSA, Babagana Monguno, as members, has since commenced sitting. It has 14 days to submit its report to the President.
The drama of how both men were caught unawares
It appeared that Lawal and Oke were not in the know of their suspension on Wednesday. Apparently, as of the time the announcement was made, the SGF was in a meeting with the Vice President at the Presidential Villa.
On hearing that he was around, State House correspondents decided to wait for him. Immediately, he was sighted coming down, journalists went to him to get his reaction. But Lawal, in his usual manner, jokingly called them ‘419ers’.
He also expressed surprise at the attention on him. As journalists’ questions came in torrents, he acknowledged that they had never taken snapshots of him the way they did that day. “Something was amiss”, he must have thought.
When he was told that he had been suspended by the Presidency, the SGF asked: “Who is the Presidency?”
The session with journalists was nothing short of a drill as everyone later filed outside the building where Lawal waited for his vehicle to take him away.
Minutes after Lawal was driven out, the convoy of the DG, NIA, Oke, drove into the Presidential Villa.
On sighting television and still cameras ready to capture him, Oke, who had alighted from his vehicle, marked KSF 309 DH, asked his bodyguards to look for an alternative route to the Vice President’s office.
This took them to the back of the building but there was no alternative door.
This time, to prevent clear camera shots, his body guards provided a human shield around Oke.
Minutes after, they all jumped back into the tinted vehicle and drove straight to the President’s Office through the Service Chiefs route. But they were denied access by security men on duty.
After about two minutes, the vehicles made a u-turn and drove out of the Presidential Villa in a bid to avoid journalists.
Will they return to office?
This is the question on the lips of many people. A lot of people believe that they are gone for good to help the anti-corruption war of the President. Though the statement by presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, used the word “suspension”, some people believe it was euphemism for good riddance to bad rubbish. But whether Lawal and Oke would return to office after 14 days lies in the report of Osinbajo’s committee and, ultimately, with the President. Indeed, Buhari, even though battling health challenges, is still in charge of his government. He showed that on Wednesday.