By UMAR SA’AD HASSAN –
If President Buhari sincerely thinks he is doing the right thing by asking the attorney-general of the federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, to probe allegations of corruption against two government officials, then, we are in deeper trouble than we thought. The only plausible explanation for it (if that is not the case) is that he is carving out an escape route for “his people”. There is just no upside to this arrangement. The AGF cannot be expected to rely solely on evidence presented by the Senate because of the circumstances surrounding the relationship of its leadership with the Presidency and, as such, would have to go the extra mile to ascertain some of the allegations against the acting EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu, and the secretary of the government of the federation, Babachir Lawal. If not for anything it is for President Buhari’s stand on corruption — a prominent factor in his victory at the 2015 polls. If more compelling evidence surfaces, it will hurt the president a great deal. I don’t think Malami is the best person to handle this when he has a DSS he supposedly can vouch for after pulling its current boss, Lawal Daura, from retirement to man its affairs.
Acting EFCC boss Magu is said to have accepted bribes severally even before he was elevated to his present status, and that he is currently domiciled at a N20m per annum residence paid for (for two years = N40m) by a beneficiary of his dubious practices. For the AGF to do a good job, he might be required to not only study files, bank statements and phone records over a period of time but also interview/interrogate a lot of people — from Magu’s colleagues down to the subjects of previous investigations he handled. The AGF and those in his office are not equipped to perform these tasks for the simple reason that they weren’t trained to do so. They are lawyers.
There is a need to be thorough, as I stated earlier, because of the implications of more damaging evidence emerging. The president has already been criticized for his nonchalance to allegations that there had been sharp practices by SGF Lawal when they first sprang up, and many still feel he would sweep the matter under the rug at the slightest opportunity.
Both sets of allegations are so sensitive that they touch on the integrity of President Buhari’s administration. If the president can refuse to comply with numerous court orders granting the former NSA, Sambo Dasuki, bail for the sole reason that it is unfair for him to seek medical care abroad, while millions have been left orphaned and homeless by the abominable acts of him and his cohorts, then, he should know that it is also not within the moral ambit for his SGF to steal from those people. It would be catastrophic for the AGF to come up short.
The case against Lawal is a very strong one. Apart from the contract sum that was inflated (N270m to clear invasive weeds), the company was reportedly incorporated in 1990 to offer ICT services, and the lawmakers claim that, as at the time the contract was awarded in March 2016, he was still part of the company, which is a clear contravention of the Code of Conduct for public officials as enshrined in the constitution. As at the time the committee submitted its report, he was still the sole signatory to the company’s bank accounts.
If Lawal is let off the hook, this government would be no different from the last one that shielded its aviation minister, Stella Oduah, and helped the then petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Maduekwe escape from a National Assembly probe into how she was flying private jets with taxpayers’ money.
As things stand, Buhari’s “Zero tolerance for corruption” reputation is hanging by a thread. The former first lady has not been prosecuted or as much as questioned by the EFCC despite having her properties seized. Many still feel the seizure was a face-saving measure necessitated by her public attempt to bail out her cronies by laying claim to the monies found in their accounts. Her husband, the ex-president, has not been questioned despite being linked to Dasukigate by at least two persons. That thread would give way if Magu and Lawal aren’t dealt with accordingly.
The best interests of Nigeria would have been better served if the president had constituted a committee, preferably one comprising former and present servicemen along with the attorney-general: former servicemen, to ensure neutrality; present ones, to accord the government investigative apparatus when required; and the AGF, to provide legal advice. The AGF would ordinarily be the most dispensable member of an ideal probe committee.
His primary duty as the nation’s chief law officer is the prosecution or otherwise of criminal cases as is provided by Section 174 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and while some may say nothing precludes him from handling a probe when asked to, the need for a bodacious inquiry into a matter he is ill-equipped to handle outweighs any other consideration.
— Umar Sa’ad Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano.