The Senate, on Tuesday, criticised President Muhammadu Buhari’s defence of the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly insisted on its demand for the removal and prosecution of the SGF, who the Senate accused of awarding contract to a firm where he was a director in the humanitarian crisis in the North-East.
Buhari had, in separate letters to the Senate, urged the lawmakers to confirm Magu as the Chairman of the EFCC while picking holes in the Senate’s allegations of corruption and misconduct against Lawal.
Six months after Buhari wrote the Senate, asking for legislative approval of Magu’s appointment, the lawmakers, on December 15, 2016, rejected the nomination based on a “security report” by the Department of State Services.
The DSS, in its report, specifically said Magu was not fit for the EFCC chairmanship, alleging that his activities had made him ineligible to hold the office.
The Senate, after rejecting Magu’s nomination, had communicated the rejection to the President.
The Senate had also called for Lawal’s resignation, probe and prosecution over alleged wrongdoings in the management of funds and contract awards in the presidential committee on the North-East rehabilitation under his watch.
The decision was based on the interim report by the Senate Committee on the Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, headed by Senator Shehu Sani, which was released on December 14, 2016.
The lawmakers called on security and anti-graft agencies to arrest and prosecute Lawal, who is overseeing the Presidential Initiative on the North-East, for allegedly owning one of the companies awarded contracts in the rehabilitation of the North-East.
Lawal was alleged to have resigned his directorship of the company after becoming the SGF and after the company had executed the contract.
The SGF had denied the allegations, saying what the Senate said was “balderdash.”
Buhari, in his response to the communications from the Senate, which was read by Senate President Bukola Saraki during the plenary on Tuesday, said the report on the SGF was in the interim, which showed that the probe by the panel had not been concluded.
The President, however, argued that the Senate did not invite Lawal during its investigative public hearings, which was against the principle of fair hearing.
Buhari’s letter on Magu read in part, “I write with reference to your letter, no NASS /85/R/016, dated December 15, 2016, wherein you conveyed to me the resolution of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria reached on the same Thursday, December 15, 2016, in respect of my earlier request for the confirmation and appointment of Mr. Ibrahim Magu Mustapha, the nominee, as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
“I have taken due note of the contents of the aforesaid resolution as it concern the nominee, particularly the conclusion of the distinguished Senate not to confirm the nomination of Mr. Magu due to a security report on the nominee issued by the Department of State Services and addressed to the Senate via a letter dated October 3, 2016.
“Upon receipt of this said resolution, I took administrative steps within the executive arm of government to ensure the speedy clarification of issues relied upon by the Senate in arriving at its decision. These steps included a request for the response of the nominee to the allegations contained in the report, out of the desire to ensure that the credibility of our anti-corruption campaign is not compromised or called to question.”
The President recalled that “the prosecution of the anti-corruption war in all aspects of our polity” was a programme to which his administration had committed itself since its inauguration on May 29, 2015.
The President added, “In the above context you will agree with me that there’s a need to maintain the current momentum and capacity of the EFCC since May 29, 2015. It is in the above context that I, therefore, request to crave the indulgence of this distinguished Senate to favourably accept my renomination of Ibrahim Magu Mustapha for the position of the EFCC Chairman, having received adequate clarification, considering the matter relied upon by the Senate in arriving at its decision.
“Mr. President of the Senate, I make this request for a favourable reconsideration by this distinguished chamber against the background of the critical role of the Senate in driving the anti-corruption campaign of the present administration through a proactive legislative agenda and adequate appropriation support for the important work of the agency such as the EFCC.”
In a separate letter on Lawal, which was equally read by Saraki at the plenary, Buhari’s letter read, “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 authorities, S/075/02/016, was an interim report as against a final report which ought to have been presented to the Senate in plenary for adoption as a binding and final report before submission to the Presidency, given the weight of the allegations made in the report.”
The President also pointed out that the Senate committee comprised nine members, saying, “The review of the interim report shows that the interim report was only signed by only three out of the nine members, namely Senator Solomon Adeola, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi and Senator Isaac M. Alfa.
“The signing of the interim report by three out of nine 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.”
Buhari further said he also observed that the committee’s report and the votes and proceedings of the Senate had “not, in its own right, established that Engr Babachir Lawal was ever given an opportunity to appear before the committee and defend himself.”
He added that it was also on record that the company linked to Lawal, Rollervision Engineering Limited, “was also not invited at any time before the committee to defend itself against the allegations which eventually formed the fulcrum of the Senate’s case against the company.”
The President stated, “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, barring 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 the 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 December 15, 2016.”
Speaking on Buhari’s letter under Order 43, Chairman of the Senate panel, Senator Shehu Sani, criticised Buhari’s letter as a pointer to the fact that his administration was losing its anti-graft war.
Sani said, “It is shocking to me that such a letter can come from the Presidency with such misinformation and outright distortions. They lied by saying that the committee didn’t invite the SGF: the committee invited the SGF and the letter was acknowledged by the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the SGF.
“If they have the intention of simply reaching a pre-determined conclusion by covering up on the issues raised by the committee, that is one thing.”
The lawmaker, who condemned the President’s letter for omitting his name on the list of members of the committee, stated that seven members of the panel signed the interim report and not three as claimed by the President.
He said, “Issues were raised that only three members of the committee signed that interim report; that was also a second lie coming from the Presidency. I have a copy of the interim report, which was initially signed by seven members of the nine members of that committee and I am going to submit it to the Clerk of the Senate.
“Even if it (total number of members) is nine and then, three people signed, we still have a quorum. But, here, I have seven people.
“Secondly, I will say this clearly: this letter is a funeral service for the anti-corruption fight.”
Saraki, at that point, interrupted Sani, but senators roared in the chamber, indicating their opposition to the interruption.
Sani added, “Mr. President, when it comes to fighting corruption in the National Assembly and the judiciary and in the larger Nigerian sectors, the President uses insecticide, but when it comes to fighting corruption within the Presidency, he uses deodorants.
“I stand by the report of the committee and it is very clear to us: if we can allow this committee’s report to be shredded into pieces, then, I think it would be in order for us to open all the 138 prisons in this country for all the convicts and awaiting trial inmates to go scot free.”
Addressing journalists after the plenary on Tuesday, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, pointed out that Buhari failed to address the issues raised by the lawmakers against Magu and Lawal.
He, however, said the President’s letters would be subjected to legislative processes.
Abdullahi added, “I will give you an insight into what we looked at. With respect to the letter on renomination of Magu, the letter has been read. There are one or two observations on that but we are still going to subject it to our legislative process.
‘‘The key observation is to the fact that the letter did not address the bulk of the security issues that were raised in the DSS report, but he has been sent back to us as a renominated candidate.”
On Lawal, the Senate’s spokesman said the chamber was in total agreement with the President that it was an interim report by the Sani-led committee.
“We still stand by the veracity of the interim report because we, as legislators, are fully aware that if our procedures are faulty, then, we don’t have any ground. So, the Senate still stands by its interim report,” he said.