When news broke early Wednesday that President Buhari had ordered the suspension of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal and Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayodele Oke, it was against the backdrop of a realization that the President had been missing from the public eye. Some said he had been skipping office hours while others claimed that the last time he was sighted was when he attended Jumat service. It didn’t help that he canceled Wednesday’s FEC meeting.
When that news broke, it divided Nigerians – as always – between those who saw it as a validation of their belief that the General had no favorites when it came to fighting corruption, and those who saw it as a smokescreen designed to hide bigger issues, like the President’s allegedly worsening health condition or the fact that under an administration that prides itself on fighting corruption, dollars could be found in a building, claimed hours later by the DG of the NIA as money meant for a secret mission, a mission that the President was unaware of.
As news of the suspension spread and opinions flew around, the suspended DG of NIA allegedly tried to seek audience with the Vice President who had been filling in for the President for on and off. He was denied access and he left, according to Sahara Reporters, in tears.
His partner in suspension, the SGF, Babachir Lawal – who had been battling issues on why he awarded a grass-cutting of N250 million naira to his own company knowing fully well what the law says on that – stormed into the Villa and straight into the Vice President’s office. After minutes of being inside, he came out and when he was asked what he thought about his suspension, he said he had heard nothing about suspension. When reporters told him the Presidency had ordered his suspension, he answered: “Which Presidency?”
That of course is a loaded question. It’s a question Nigerians had been asking. Who exactly is the President? The President’s wife said the Presidency had been hijacked. Kaduna Governor said cabals now ran the government. And even APC national leader, Bola Tinubu raised a similar objection. The suspended SGF’s question should not be passed off as rhetorical. It deserves to be answered. An answer to that will go a long way to assure Nigerians that they aren’t in a rudderless ship, just floating around, transported by the wind.
Again, while Babachir Lawal got the step-aside treatment, others have not been so lucky. Those who are not fortunate enough to wine and dine with the President, when caught, are heckled by the EFCC, subjected to media trials and media character assassinations, they are then dragged to court and when/if the court clears them, they are held in prison while the government claims it is building a water-tight case. It’s a tale of two powers. The treatment you get depends on how powerful and influential you are and how many people can #standwith you.
Maybe I’m being cynical, but I expect that at the end of the investigations – if we can even call it that – Babachir Lawal will be cleared and asked to return to office while Ayodele Oke’s suspension will be made permanent followed by a few weeks’ heckling by the EFCC.
It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. We saw it with Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and his 500 million dinner for Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka. We saw it with Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Fashola and his 300 million to erect 2 boreholes and 78 million to build a website. What of the Chief of Army Staff, General Buratai and how his snake farming helped him get enough money to own two very expensive properties in Dubai?
Here’s to hoping that for once the Buhari administration proves me wrong and that for once, the administration does not confirm the fears and doubts of the nation. Babachir Lawal was wrong to have awarded a contract to himself while serving in the government. We know this. We know the law’s stand on this. The Senate Committee led by the Senator from Kaduna, Senator Shehu Sani has proved this and submitted a report recommending the SGF’s dismissal. A suspension should not be a ruse to let things quiet down; it should be a way to make that suspension permanent followed by a revoking of that contract. Nigerians are watching. The President – whoever that is – will do well to take note of this.