Many Nigerians who knew President Muhammadu Buhari when he was the military ruler of Africa’s most populous country from January 1984 until August 1985 will not begrudge him the credit he gets for his strict campaign against indiscipline and corruption. For the record, at least some 500 politicians, officials and businessmen were jailed as part of a campaign against waste and corruption.
Though some might argue that that was nothing short of the heavy-handed repression of military rule, a number of people would still agree with analysts who hailed his efforts to end the endemic graft that has crippled Nigeria’s development for several decades.
When Buhari became president in 2015, his reputation as a disciplinarian was bandied about in the media, and many Nigerians were optimistic that he would not tolerate the waste and carelessness that had become common among most top government officials.
Buhari took a big gamble when he dismissed the allegations, and this further undermines the perception of his fight against corruption.
For one, people expected the president to take concrete action, following allegations by a committee in Nigeria’s upper legislature that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Engr. Babachir Lawal, inflated contracts and misappropriated funds meant for internally displaced persons in Nigeria’s north-east, where an eight-year insurgency by Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram has displaced more than 2,3 million people throughout the Lake Chad region.
After four months of remaining silent over the allegations, President Buhari finally bowed to pressure from Nigerian lawmakers on 19 April 2017 and suspended Mr Lawal, pending the outcome of investigations. He immediately set up a three-man panel, to be chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, to probe the allegations.
‘A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.’ Fifth Schedule, Part 1 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered an investigation into the allegations of violations of law and due process made against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Babachir Lawal, in the awarding of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North-East (PINE),” his spokesman, Femi Adesina, said in a statement. “The president has also directed the suspension of the SGF from office, pending the outcome of the investigation.”
It has taken President Buhari nearly four months to react to the allegations against a top member of his Cabinet. This does not speak well of his honesty and his stated undertaking of tackling waste and corruption.
Mr Lawal is a top politician, and being the SGF means it behoves him to ensure the effective co-ordination and monitoring of the implementation of government policies. He was the head of the Presidential Initiative on the North-East, which was set up by President Buhari last October to coordinate the reconstruction efforts in a region that has been ravaged by insurgents. The committee raised millions of dollars on behalf of those displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency, but reports of the poor living conditions in the IDP camps makes for worrying reading.
Just two months after the committee was established, the Nigerian Senate launched investigations into alleged cases of misappropriation by the committee. Senators accused the members of the committee of being corrupt after it could not properly account for about 2,5 billion naira (USD794 2825). This money formed part of the funds released for capital intervention. A top member of the committee even went as far as claiming that the committee spent 203 million naira (USD644 957) to clear taipa grass in Yobe State.
In its interim report the Senate Committee alleged that Mr Lawal, through the Presidential Initiative on the North-East (PINE), awarded a contract of 270 million naira (USD850 422) for the cutting of grass in Yobe State to a company he had interests in. The report showed that the SGF awarded a consultancy contract to Rholavision Engineering Limited, an IT company that he established in 1990.
Funny enough, President Buhari dismissed the report of the committee in January, saying that Lawal was not given a fair hearing. And even when the Senate invited Lawal to appear at the National Assembly to answer questions from lawmakers, he never showed up. Instead, he wrote a letter to the committee to say that he would not be available for the hearing because he had gone to court to challenge the invitation. As much as it is not a bad idea for a principal to support his or her subject, Buhari took a big gamble when he dismissed the allegations, and this further undermines the perception of his fight against corruption.
For the record, the Nigerian constitution frowns upon any public servant who uses his or her position or authority for selfish reasons. “A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities,” reads the Fifth Schedule, Part 1 of the 1999 Constitution.
If anything, Buhari has to go beyond sacking his secretary to taking stronger measures against him if the three-man panel should find him guilty.
If anything, Buhari has to go beyond sacking his secretary to taking stronger measures against him if the three-man panel should find him guilty. The president should not forget how hundreds of IDPs in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, blocked highways in August last year to protest poor living conditions despite the millions that had been raised in aid and donations. The protesters had chanted: “We’re hungry! We don’t want any feeding committee again because they aren’t giving us quality food. Give us our food directly.” It is quite clear that these protestors knew exactly what the source of the problem was…