With the indictment of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, by a Senate committee headed by Shehu Sani and calls for the former’s resignation, some Nigerians are waiting to see the conclusion of the matter, GBENRO ADEOYE writes
Nigeria is surely a country with many challenges but the humanitarian crisis in its North-East region arguably ranks among its biggest.
An estimated 20,000 persons have been killed as a result of Boko Haram insurgency in the seven years that it has ravaged the region, where the United Nations Children’s Fund has described as fast turning into a famine-like situation.
It recently said that 400,000 children were at risk of death as a result of severe malnutrition and other ailments.
And UNICEF’s outlook is not isolated as some other international organisations have also painted a gloomy picture of the situation in North-East Nigeria.
For instance, after a visit to Maiduguri, Borno State in 2015, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, described the humanitarian crisis in the region as “one of the worst in the world”.
It noted that around 1.5 million people have been displaced by the conflict with almost as many as 200,000 refugees in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
However, reports have shown a sharp contrast between the welfare of internally displaced persons in the various camps in the region and the amount of money that has been donated, locally and internationally towards that purpose.
Incidentally, in October 2016, Senate President Bukola Saraki inaugurated an 11-person Ad hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, headed by Senator Shehu Sani, to investigate the suspected diversion of funds meant for IDPs in the region, vowing that there would be no cover-up.
It was however learnt that only three of the members of the committee were brave enough to embark on the trip to some IDPs’ camps in the North-East.
Apart from Sani, the other senators that took the trip to the North-East were Ben Murray-Bruce and Mallam Ali Wakili.
Afterwards, the committee conducted a three-day public hearing and arrived at some conclusions as put in its interim report, which was obtained by Saturday PUNCH.
The committee noted that “there is serious humanitarian crisis in the North-East as evidenced by the plight of the internally displaced persons, both in camps and within the host communities.”
It also highlighted a case of “hunger, diseases, squalour, deprivation and want amongst the IDPs”, an observation that was noted by the United Nations’ Deputy Coordinator of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Peter Lundberg, who said that “a projected 5.1 million people will face serious food shortages as the (Boko Haram) conflict and risk of unexploded improvised devices prevented farmers planting for a third year in a row, causing a major food crisis in the North-East”.
According to the committee, the Federal Ministry of Health was absent in all the camps visited, while noting that the few critical government agencies like the National Emergency Management Agency and and its state counterparts were noticed, but without synergy with other agencies.
But one of the committee’s most critical observations is that the condition of the IDPs in the camps did not justify “the huge sum of money (that is) being spent on IDPs in the North-East” as claimed by some Federal Government agencies.
It said, “Over 70 per cent of displaced children, both in camps and with host communities were out of schools due to lack of classroom infrastructure, inadequate teaching materials and even teachers. They were also seen loitering in the camps malnourished, sickly, and poorly dressed.
“Generally, there is acute shortage of food amongst the IDPs; as observed in one of the IDPs visited, three bags of rice of 50kg each, a bag of beans of 50kg and a 4 litre keg of palm oil were given to 30 people for 15 days.
“These were considered too insufficient as confirmed by many IDPs that interacted with the Committee.”
In the award of contracts, the committee indicted the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, who oversees the Presidential Initiative on North-East.
The report said in part, “That most of the contracts awarded by PINE have no direct bearing/impact on the lives of the displaced persons apparently languishing in hunger/starvation, disease, squalour and other deplorable conditions in all the IDPs.
“That PINE took undue advantage of the provision of emergency situation contract award in the Public Procurement Act, 2007 to overinflate contracts.
“Not only that, contracts were awarded to companies belonging to top government officials’ cronies, family members and close associates. For example, Rholavision Engineering Limited incorporated in 1990 with RC No. 159855 at the Corporate Affairs Commission, Abuja to carry out information and communications technology services, anchored by Babachir Lawal, the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was awarded consultancy contract for the removal of the invasive plant species in Yobe State on March, 8, 2016.
“Although, Babachir resigned the directorship of the said company in September, 2016, it is on record that he is still the signatory to accounts of the company.
“That 95 per cent to 100 per cent (of the) payments of all contracts awarded by PINE have been paid even as some contracts are yet to be fully executed.”
As part of its recommendations, it, therefore, urged the Federal Government and states in the North-East to, as a matter of urgency, ensure that food items are adequately and promptly provided to displaced persons in order to address the prevailing mal-nutrition observed amongst them.
It also called on PINE to forward a detailed report of all contracts awarded by it to the Bureau of Public Procurement “as requested by Section 43 (IV) of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.”
In addition, it asked the BPP to revaluate all contracts awarded by PINE under the emergency situation arrangement to recover any proceeds from overinflated contracts.
“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.
“Any public officer culpable of contravening any of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, 2007 and the Federal Government Financial Rules and Regulations pertaining to the award of these contracts should be duly prosecuted by the relevant authorities,” it concluded.
Based on the report, the Senate, therefore, called for the resignation of Lawal and his prosecution forthwith.
President Muhammadu Buhari has consequently directed the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to investigate corruption allegations against top government officials.
However, some experts have said that morally, Lawal should have resigned pending the outcome of further investigation into the matter.
A human rights lawyer, Mr. Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa, said Buhari’s administration was not sincere about its fight against corruption, adding that the ideal thing was for the SGF to have resigned his appointment as an occupier of the government’s engine room.
He said, “The office of the SGF is the engine of the government, so if that room is stinking, so you can imagine what is oozing out from the government.
“The SGF awarded contracts to a company in which he had interest in the past. He has been circulating documents, saying that he had relinquished his shares in the company but he refused to tell us if the other shareholders are his children, relatives or known friends.
“And the fact that he had an interest in that company should have disqualified it from bidding for the contract let alone winning it. Then, it did not just win the contract; the company embezzled the money for the contract and refused to do the job.
“So there are two cases of breach of trust by the SGF; he awarded contracts to a company in which he had an interest and also awarded a contract to a company that did not do the job, thereby leaving the people there malnourished and abandoned.”
The National President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Malachy Ugwumadu, also described the situation as a big scandal for President Buhari’s government.
He said Lawal is innocent until proven guilty but that the allegations should put a moral burden on him to resign his appointment.
He said, “The questions raised border on the moral burden against the SGF. Whether rightly or wrongly, there have been allegations of such monumental corruption levelled against him, but under Section 36 (5) (of the constitution), the respect of innocence is in his favour, except if the President is too scandalised by this and urges him to step aside pending the conclusion of such investigation.
“But if Lawal is found guilty, there is no way the government will have an option other than to relieve him of his job. That way, you do damage control to restore the public confidence in the government that is fast waning. On the whole, it is bad enough and goes to the heart of the credibility that the present government parades, undermines its integrity quotient and puts a big question mark on its sincerity of purpose.
“The government must do more to save the country of the confusion that parades the political space, where people are now confused whether indeed the watchdogs have not suddenly become those to be watched.
“You cannot on the one hand be campaigning against corruption while accusing fingers are legitimately pointing in the direction of your agents.”
However, a lawyer, Mr. Tunde Esan, said the antecedents of the Senate do not evoke public confidence in its actions.
“The antecedent of the Senate also suggests that it is not sincere about the things it says. The lawmakers buy new cars every now and then and have never been seen to be on the side of the masses.
“So the question is: are the senators doing this because they care or because they want to tell Nigerians a high ranking official of Buhari, who claims to be fighting corruption, is also corrupt?”