The suspension of Director-General of National Intelligence Agency, NIS, Ambassador Ayo Oke, and Secretary to Government of the Federation, Mr. David Babachir Lawal, elicited dramatic responses from both officials who were involved in a mild drama on hearing of the development.
While Oke was suspended over the $43 million, £27,000 and N23 million cash found in a luxury apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, Lawal was suspended over involvement of his companies in the controversy surrounding the welfare of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, in the North-East.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir Lawal and Suspended Nigeria Intelligent Agency NIA Ayo Oke Recall that the Senate had found the SGF complicit in the mismanagement of IDPs’ finances and asked the President to sack him.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, who disclosed these in a statement yesterday, said President Buhari has set up a three-man panel, headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, to investigate both government officials.
Other members of the panel include Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, and National Security Adviser, NSA, Major-General Mohammed Babagana Monguno (retd).
The statement, which said the committee had 14 days to submit its report to the President, asked the most senior officer in the NIA to take over from the Director-General, while the most senior Permanent Secretary in the office of the SGF was asked to take over from the SGF.
Mixed reactions from prominent Nigerians and institutions, however, trailed the President’s action. While some hailed the action, others said it was not comprehensive enough and that both the SGF and NIA D-G should have been asked to resign their appointments.
Those who reacted include the Senate, Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN; Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State; former Political Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasabnjo, Akin Osuntokun; former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa and Mallam Yusuf Ali, SAN.
Others are General Secretary of United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, Adidi Adodo; both Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State; President, Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Professor Abiodun Ogunyemi and the Director, Distance Learning Centre, University of Ibadan, Professor Oyesoji Aremu. Adesina’s statement suspending both officials.
The statement issued by Adesina read: “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 David Babachir Lawal, in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East, PINE.
“The President has also directed the suspension of the SGF from office, pending the outcome of the investigations. “In a related development, the President has ordered a full scale investigation into the discovery of large amounts of foreign and local currencies by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in a residential apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, over which the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, has made a claim.
“The investigation is also to inquire into the circumstances in which the NIA came into possession of the funds, how and by whose or which authority the funds were made available to the NIA.
‘’It is also to establish whether or not there has been a breach of the law or security procedure in obtaining custody and use of the funds. “The President has also directed the suspension of the Director-General of the NIA, Ambassador Ayo Oke, pending the outcome of the investigation. “A three-man committee, comprising the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and the National Security Adviser, headed by the Vice President, is to conduct both investigations.
“The committee is to submit its report to the President within 14 days. The most senior Permanent Secretary in the SGF’s office, and the most senior officer in the NIA, are to act, respectively, during the period of investigation.”
Suspended officials at Presidential Villa The suspension of the SGF and NIA D-G did not, however, go without drama as they battled with tears on hearing of the development. Both men were seen minutes after the announcement of their suspension at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. While Lawal was seen coming out of the Vice President’s office after a private meeting, Oke was barred from accessing President Muhammadu Buhari’s office.
Who’s Presidency? The SGF who was apparently reluctant to speak to journalists on sighting them when walking out of the Villa. But journalists followed suit. Persuaded to speak, the SGF in bits told journalists that his suspension was news to him.
On stepping down from Osinbajo’s office, Lawal was shocked to see a battery of journalists waiting for him. “419ers,” he said to journalists, apparently on a friendly note, and while he continued walking out of the office, journalists were on his trail.
The interview with him went thus: Journalists: Your suspension has just been announced. How will you react to the development? Lawal: Who announced it? Journalists: The Presidency. Lawal: Then ask them. Why are you asking me? Who is the Presidency? Why is it that you people are struggling to take my photograph today, something that you people are not used to doing?”
Journalists: Have you been informed of the suspension? Lawal: By who? About what? What about you? Have you been informed? Journalists: Yes sir. Lawal: By who? Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir Lawal briefing State House Correspondents after leaving the Presidential Villa Abuja after the announcement of his suspension in Abuja on Wednesday Journalists: By the Presidency, sir. Lawal: I have not seen it. I should have been given… I have not seen the press release so I cannot comment on it. Journalists: It is currently trending online. Are you doubting the authenticity of the statement? Lawal: I have not seen it. Journalists: Tell us the outcome of your meeting with the Vice-President sir. Lawal: I am always here. I always meet the Vice-President. I used to come here even before I was made SGF.
Some minutes later, the NIA boss in access drama Minutes later, the convoy of two vehicles of the suspended NIA D-G arrived the Villa, and on sighting journalists who were already waiting, the security operatives quickly devised a strategy to prevent him from the glare of television cameras.
Providing human shield, the operatives guarded the D-G, seeking an alternative route to Osinbajo’s office through the back door. When they could not access the Vice President’s office, the NIA D-G and his men jumped into their vehicles and drove towards the Presidential forecourt through the Admin Officer’s axis.
For about two minutes, they got stuck at the gate, with no one opening it. The vehicles later made a U-turn and drove out of the villa. Minutes after the vehicles exited, the convoy of the National Security Adviser, NSA, Babagana Monguno, arrived the Presidential Villa. On hearing that the D-G would return to see Osinbajo, journalists remained outside and it took the intervention of the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, to clear them off the corridors leading to Osinbajo’s office back to the Press Gallery.
Meanwhile, the D-G was back at the Villa, heavily guarded and led by operatives to the Vice President’s office. The meeting was still on at press time. The NIA D-G, Oke, who hails from Oyo State, was appointed on November 7, 2013, by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Reacting to the suspension, the Senate yesterday described it as a right step in the right direction, and commended the President for doing the right thing.
Suspension is step in right direction — Senate
The Senate, which spoke through the Vice Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Ben Murray-Bruce, PDP, Bayelsa State, said: “The suspension is a step in the right direction, I am a member of the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East. Buhari is doing the right thing, he should be commended. It is a right step in the right direction.”
On their part, most members of the House of Representatives unanimously agreed that a detailed probe be carried out on the the suspended government officials. Minority Leader of the House, Leo Ogor, PDP, Delta State, said the NIA Director-General should tell Nigerians why he kept government funds in his private property, while Ajibola Famurewa (APC, Osun State), noted that President Buhari’s administration seemed to have slept for too long before taking action on those that rubbished his anti-corruption war it started in 2015.
Suspension an afterthought, cover-up plot – Fayose Ekiti State governor
Mr Ayodele Fayose, described the suspension as diversionary, an afterthought and a prelude to the official cover-up of the original owners of the money. Speaking through his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, Governor Fayose, who said the Buhari-led government was becoming an embarrassment to Nigerians with its macabre dance of shame, queried: “Would the President have set up a probe panel if these scams were linked to anyone in Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, or those members of his party that are not in his good books?
“Most importantly, what business does Presidential Committee have with investigation of crime? Are they telling Nigerians that they have lost confidence in all the intelligence and investigative agencies of the government, including the EFCC and DSS?
The Buhari-led Federal Government is operating like many governments within one government. There appears to be many Presidencies within the Presidency and this is the reason for the confusion everywhere.”
It’s a logical consequence—Sagay
Reacting to the suspension, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN, described it as a logical consequence. Sagay said: ‘’I think this is a logical consequence of what has been happening in the last three months.
The SGF had this plank hanging over his head where his company was awarded a contract for N300 million to cut grass.
“First, grass is totally irrelevant to the needs of the Internally Displaced People. Also, a person in that high position in government must not be a beneficiary of any contract. He should have known better. People had been clamouring and this was a matter of time, it was a situation simply not sustainable.
In that situation, it was inevitable but people were only too impatient. “As for the NIA man, that one is really frightening because what is emerging is that they hid that money in that house pretending to be carrying out a covert operation without the knowledge of the government in power.
You are acting on behalf of a President and he does not know of the operation and you have this huge sum of money. The implication is that the money was hidden there in order to be shared. With regards to these two people, I think it is just a logical consequence.”
It shows govt is responsible and responsive—Afenifere
Commending Buhari’s administration, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, said the step was responsible and responsive. Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin, said: “The government has done well to show it is responsible and responsive in this instance. That is the right thing to do though it is unfortunate that Oke is being suspended swiftly, while Lawal has taken ages.
We hope the panel set up under the VP will do a diligent job to bring proper closure to these issues and reassure the public that there is probity in government.”
It’s the right thing to do—Osuntokun
In his reaction, Political Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr Akin Osuntokun said the suspension was the right thing to do. Osuntokun said: “Well this is the right thing to do but I stop short of commending the government for doing it’s job — as if it is doing us a favour. It is noteworthy, however, that it took the government this long to respond. I don’t know what the D-G of NIA has got himself into, but he is into the deep end of a cesspool. The most damaging perspective is that this is the kind of African scandal that tickles the international media to no end. They are going to make a meal of it.”
Both officials deserve to be sacked—Gen Williams, retd
Also speaking, Head of Transparency International in Nigeria, Gen Ishola Williams (retd), said: “I am sorry it took the President a long time to be able to suspend the SGF. But it is not too late to take action. If the SGF was a man of integrity, he should not have waited to be suspended, he should have asked the President to allow him step down for proper investigation. Now that he has been suspended, if I were Buhari, I will fire him.
After firing him, if it is found that he had taken a contract that would amount to conflict of interest, he should be taken to court. Suspending him alone is not enough. “On Oke, I still cannot believe the things I have heard. I am comparing Oke’s case to what Obasanjo did by taking money to the National Assembly, while the National Assembly exposed the money for the whole world to see it.”
They should have resigned—Balarabe Musa
Reacting, a former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, said the President should ask both Lawal and Oke to resign. He said: “I am not aware of the situation on ground but if what you are saying is correct, I think the best thing the President should have done was to ask them to resign.
Suspension is giving the impression that he has done something wrong and he is being punished. But, if it is because of the controversy surrounding his personality, then suspension is not the right thing.”
Let there be proper investigation—TUC
Also, Musa Lawal, who spoke on behalf of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, said: “In the interest of national peace, a government that is fighting corruption should act transparently. The suspension is right and welcome. Though suspension is not an indictment, let there be proper investigation so that at the end of the day, whoever is found clean, is free, and whoever is indicted is punished accordingly.
Suspension long overdue— ULC
Commenting, the General Secretary of United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, Adidi Adodo, said: “The suspension of the SGF was long overdue. We believe the President over delayed in suspending him. The next thing for the government is to look into the allegations against him to determine whether he is guilty or not.
For the Director-General of NIA, he should be probed very well.” SGF should’ve resigned—Ali Also, a legal icon, Mallam Yusuf Olaolu Ali (SAN) said: “A lot of outrage has trailed the continued keeping in office of the suspended SGF, Mr. Lawal, when the Senate had taken decision over his alleged involvement in the IDPs funds, especially his alleged ownership of companies that handled the project at the IDPs.
The President appointed the two officers and can fire them at any time but that of the suspended SGF ought to have come before now, in view of the Senate indictment of him on the contract scam allegedly involving his company.
One expected that President Muhammadu Buhari ought to have asked his suspended SGF, Mr. Lawal, to resign from office before now to allow proper investigation into his alleged involvement in the contract scam but with the suspension, a proper investigation would now be done on the issue.”
Also the Second Vice President of Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Monday Ubani, said : “The suspension of the President’s current aides over allegation of malfeasance will restore his approval rating and evidence him as a man that detests and abhors indiscretion on the part of those close to him in this government.
That is the way to go, always. “We must win the war against corruption. On the internal probe of the SGF before now, there were some levels of unquiet over the clearance by the investigative panel put up by the Presidency.
Such an act is not a virtue for Mr President to give him (AGF) a clean bill; people are asking questions and are waiting to see what will happen.
“ In his reaction, President, Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Professor Abiodun Ogunyemi said: “If that will allow for full and comprehensive investigations and allow us to dig to the root of the matter, it is a welcome development. It is not unusual to call for investigation and whosoever will obstruct the course of investigation can be asked to step aside. That does not mean he is guilty, it is to allow for thorough investigations. It is part of the normal procedure in public service rules.”
Also, the Director, Distance Learning Centre, University of Ibadan, Professor Oyesoji Aremu, said: “The suspension of the duo of Mr. David Babachir Lawal and Ayo Oke came to many Nigerians as a big surprise, given the seeming cold behaviour of the Presidency to some of the key figures in the government.
While that of the suspended SGF is long overdue, arising from the IDP-related scandal in which the Senate rubbished his integrity, that of the D-G, NIA is an instant measure to silence the opposition that the President meant business in his anti-corruption war.”
We’re not surprised—Edo PDP
In its reaction, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State said the suspension did come to it as a surprise. The party’s State Publicity Secretary, Mr. Chris Nehikhare said that: “What is surprising and worrisome is the three-man presidential committee set up to investigate the allegations.
Why Mr President has decided to use an unknown body that lacks investigative knowledge and skill baffles me.”
It shows Buhari has nothing to hide—Edo APC
Also reacting to the suspension order, the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Edo State, said “This has shown that he is committed to the anti- corruption fight. The fact that they were suspended does not mean that they are guilty. The President wants to be seen to be transparent and impartial and Nigerians should see that he is not impartial as has been alleged. It is a good step in the right direction.”