Now That Heads Have Rolled -By Dele Agekameh

Filed under: Political Issues |

Dele Agekameh

 

Last week, following his characteristic snail’s pace contemplation, President Muhammadu Buhari finally terminated the appointments of Babachir Lawal, the embattled secretary to the government of the federation, and Olusola Oke, the head of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). The president’s order came six months after the duo were placed on suspension over separate allegations of corruption brought by the Senate in Lawal’s case and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the case of Oke.

Lawal’s woes began when a Senate committee started looking into his award of contracts as the head of the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE) which was created to alleviate the plight of people ravaged by the Boko Haram war in the area. Towards the end of 2016, the Senate unearthed details of irregular award of contracts and bribes paid into accounts controlled by Lawal. However, the president failed to act until April 2017, when NIA’s Oke was caught up in the Osborne cash discovery of about $43 million by the EFCC in Ikoyi, Lagos. Lawal and Oke were subsequently suspended and a three-man panel headed by the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, was tasked to investigate their cases.

What is particularly striking is the president’s initial reluctance to look into Lawal’s case. Many of the president’s decisions come belatedly after sustained public outcry and demands for action, especially when it involves members of the president’s cabinet or party. The Senate’s motives may have been shady, but the facts, as they say, speak for themselves and ought to have been taken up regardless.

After the allegations against Lawal came to the fore late in 2016, the president wrote to the Senate in January 2017, claiming that he would not act because Lawal had not been given an opportunity to defend himself. But the truth is that Lawal had refused to appear before the Senate. Oke’s very publicised cash trouble seems to have forced the president’s hand with Lawal as it would have been tactless to move against Oke while continuing to protect Lawal.

The shameless politics that has been practised in Nigeria since 1999 has been playing out at the background of the whole issue since Lawal was first hounded by the Senate in 2016. There are some within the ranks of the Senate that fingered Lawal as the chief architect of the Code of Conduct Tribunal proceedings against Bukola Saraki, the Senate president.

In an apparent revenge mission, the Senate launched the probe into PINE with its clear target in mind. And it wasted no time in publicising its findings to pressure the president to move against his man. This, perhaps, explains the president’s initial resistance as an act of defiance. But what it does not explain, is how the fist-thumping between the Senate and the Presidency contributes to the general welfare of Nigerians.

Now that Lawal has finally been let go, Junaid Mohammed, a former lawmaker, has claimed that Boss Mustapha, Lawal’s replacement, is, in fact, Lawal’s first cousin. While there are no laws prohibiting the appointment of family members of sacked political appointees to take their place, a case can be made on the basis of common sense and good judgement that such a move is testy, especially at a time when Buhari’s popularity has taken a dip. If true, it would seem like a consolation to Lawal who may have been left untouched, had the circumstances allowed. For all we know, he may have picked his successor or at least, had a measure of influence on the decision.

On the one hand, the pressure of Nigerians and the opposition seemed to have achieved results through the sacking of Lawal (and Oke), while on the other hand, the president strips that result of any real bite by appointing the man’s cousin to take his place in a country of over 180 million people. The indelicate decisions that have been taken at the highest levels of government in Buhari’s time as president are simply disturbing. Far from the president’s personal blame, his advisers and strategists, are also culpable as they ought to play a role in ensuring that the right decisions are made in that office.

The problem is that when the president is surrounded by the wrong team, wrong decisions will be made and it is the people that suffer the consequences. At the moment, no one has been suspended or sacked for the re-instatement of Abdulrasheed Maina, even though the president, by ordering the disengagement of Maina, effectively admitted that it was a thoughtless decision. Buhari’s policy of half measures is becoming the hallmark of his presidency. This is why there have been calls from many quarters that Lawal and Oke must be prosecuted since they have been indicted. It shows lack of faith in the president’s resolve, and even worse, it raises questions on his sincerity and integrity.

There was no reason Lawal and Oke should not have been handed over to the anti-corruption agencies for investigation upon their suspension. The setting up of unnecessary panels of inquiry in criminal matters is usually a pre-cursor to cover-ups and clandestine deal-making that do not serve the public good. Having delayed prosecution for six months, it is unlikely that the public is about to get to the truth of the allegations against either of the men and equally improbable that any real legal repercussions will result from any prosecution now conducted.

It is noteworthy that the ex-NIA boss had earlier fingered the national security adviser and member of the VP’s three-man panel, Babagana Monguno, as being privy to operations involving the seized cash that apparently emanated from the Central Bank of Nigeria. Reports also revealed that Monguno had briefed Buhari on the operations. Now, several months down the line, these revelations have been hushed and the Presidency has declared that the anti-corruption agencies are free to perform their duties. No doubt, there has been house cleaning and any new ‘revelation’ and outcomes emerging from this matter, will be stage-managed drama deployed to appease the public’s thirst for closure.

The real issue here is that skeletons lie behind every closed door in our government. The dirty politics is facilitated by the dirty hands of the politicians and new scandals are merely results of somebody’s decision to open the doors to where the skeletons of his adversary lie. It is clear Saraki and the senate knew where Lawal’s skeletons lay. Open doors will mean transparency and good governance but many of these ‘doors’ that have revealed skeletons in the past, have now been shut again. This is how the appointment of Lawal’s cousin ought to be interpreted.

Before we cheer the rolling of heads, we ought to be sure that it is not only the heads of Nigerians in the North-East and other troubled areas that are, in fact, being lost. Our politicians are hydra-headed snakes and it is increasingly becoming clear that no amount of rolling heads can put down the beast of corruption in Nigeria. Having waited for so long for Buhari to finally take decisive action on a matter close to his comfort zone, the sacking of Lawal and Oke seems almost like an anti-climax as the appointment of Boss Mustapha signals a return to the same.

The president is known to be fiercely loyal to his appointees and this has resulted in many clashing objectives between officials in his government, who enjoy relative job security. Is it better for Nigerians to allow the president stick with his people even in the face of damning indictments or do we have to settle for the foot-dragging that led to the final sacking of Oke and Lawal?

As the legal maxim goes, justice delayed is justice denied. There is no telling what the delay has achieved in this case, but we can be sure that any legal outcomes now will be diluted. That is why calls for the prosecution of Lawal and Oke, while not undesirable, may be merely playing to the gallery at this point.

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