On December 14, 2016, the senate asked Babachir Lawal, secretary to the government of the federation, to immediately resign from office.
This followed the recommendation of its ad hoc committee on the humanitarian crisis in the north-east, which had investigated the management of funds for internally displaced persons in the region by the Presidential Initiative on the North-east (PINE).
PINE at the time was under the SGF.
But on January 17, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote to the senate, saying he would not sack Lawal because he was not a given a fair hearing.
Shehu Sani, chairman of the committee which probed Lawal, alleged that the SGF awarded contracts to companies belonging to cronies and relatives of top government officials.
He explained that the committee found out that Rholavision Engineering Limited, a company, with Lawal as director, for instance, was awarded a consultancy contract.
The company’s major role, according to him, was the removal of invasive plant species in Yobe state.
He added that PINE, which carried out the all procurement activities, violated the laid-down rules.
Sani also said most of the contracts awarded had no direct bearing or impact on the IDPs who were living in deplorable conditions.
He then reeled off recommendations of the committee. Three of the recommendations are listed below:
PROSECUTION OF CULPABLE PUBLIC OFFICIALS
Sani’s committee recommended that any public officer culpable of contravening any of the provisions of the procurement act, 2007 and the federal government financial rules and regulations pertaining to the award of contracts, should be duly prosecuted.
DETAILED REPORT OF ALL CONTRACTS AWARDED TO PINE
The committee also requested PINE to forward a detailed report of all contracts awarded by it to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), as requested by section 43 (iv) of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.
REFUND BY CONTRACTORS
The senate panel also demanded that contracts partially executed but fully paid for must be completed by the concerned contractors, or asked to refund the equivalent money of outstanding jobs to the government treasury.
LAWAL DENIED THE ALLEGATIONS AND FIRED BACK AT THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
Shortly after the recommendations were made, Lawal granted an interview where he denied allegations levelled against him.
In response to a question on diversion of money meant for IDPs, he said: “Who is investigating? The senate? These are also part of the issues of separation of powers that people abuse. I do know that I don’t have immunity to accuse you without proof but the members of the national assembly can say anything on the floor and are immune to prosecution but people are abusing it and in this case people are maliciously abusing and wickedly abused their privileges in the national assembly.
“PINE, Presidential Initiative on the North East, was set up by President Jonathan – thank God for him. It used to be run under the finance ministry, under the minister of state. When I took over, we were wondering who was running the north-east programme until one day, the national assembly members from the north-east paid me a courtesy call thinking that it was being run by my office. I told them it wasn’t my office so I telephoned the vice-president and asked ‘Oga, who is running PINE?’, he said ‘I think it is your office’.
“When it got to budget period, I asked the minister of budget the same question about PINE, no he said it is your office or the NSA’s office. What I discovered was that there was a consultant, senior special assistant to the former NSA who was in charge of PINE.
“The man who was claiming to be leading the PINE was an adviser to the former NSA and such a person’s tenure lapses with the other principal officer.
“So I said you can no longer run PINE. At that time in 2015, there was N2.5 billion for the programme. The money was just thee doing nothing but paying consultants. I understand that at one time they were using it to buy pre-fabricated schools. The principle of PINE is this and there is a permanent secretary who runs PINE. There are 23 of such agencies in this office. We now said for people to return to their homes, we must guarantee that they are able to engage in productive work before they were pushed out, which means rebuild the schools that were burnt, rebuild the police stations and barracks so people can returns part of confidence-building. That’s just it.”