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SGF is no sacred cow, let EFCC probe him- SERAP tells Buhari

Babachir Lawal’s Suspension: Praise and Concerns

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to handover the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for proper investigation.

Babachir, who had been embroiled in a N200m contract scam, was recently cleared by the presidency which also turned down a recommendation by the Nigerian Senate for his sack.

However, SERAP, unimpressed by President Buhari’s action, has raised concerns that the much canvassed anti-corruption war risks being rubbished on grounds of undue favouritism extended to the president’s acolytes.

SERAP made its position known via an open letter addressed to Buhari in which it said, “We are concerned that the failure to suspend Mr Lawal from his position as Secretary to the Government of the Federation pending the investigation by Mr Malami, and the perceived lack of transparency in the outcome of that investigation may have created the impression that your government is treating Mr Lawal as a sacred cow.”

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The letter was dated January 27, 2017 and signed by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni.

The group also urged Buhari “to urgently refer the allegations of corruption against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for further investigation, and if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence, for him to face prosecution.”

Concerned that the presidency may not have acted transparently, SERAP advised Buhari to “urgently publish the outcome of the investigation conducted on the matter by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, and to ask Mr Malami to hand over the file to both the EFCC and ICPC.”

The letter further reads: “SERAP believes that Mr Lawal’s case presents your Administration with a real opportunity to reassure a lot of Nigerians who may be worried about the direction of travel of your anti-corruption agenda. Rather than assuming a defensive posture to the matter, we advise you to use this case to show to Nigerians that there will be no two standards of justice in your Administration’s fight against corruption.”

“SERAP also believes the recommended approach would help to address the growing public suspicion and pessimism about your government’s ability to fight high-level official corruption to a standstill, and to avoid any collateral consequences. It is absolutely important that the public should have complete confidence and trust in your Administration’s oft-repeated commitment to fight corruption and the impunity of perpetrators.”

“It is true that Mr Lawal enjoys a constitutionally and internationally guaranteed right to a fair trial, which includes the right to be presumed innocent unless and until proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. But we believe that the right to presumption of innocence is one that should have personally be raised by Mr Lawal and not your government, especially given his position as Secretary to the Government of the Federation. SERAP believes that the guilt or innocence of Mr Lawal is for the court to decide, following a due process of law.”

“To assist the government to achieve public confidence and trust, effectively spread the gospel of anticorruption, and be on the right side of history, SERAP made the following recommendations:

Urgently refer the allegations against Mr Lawal to both the EFCC and ICPC for further investigations, and if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence, for him to face prosecution;

Pending the referral to the EFCC and ICPC, to suspend Mr Lawal from his position as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, pending the outcome of any investigation by the EFCC and ICPC;

Promptly and widely publish the outcome of investigation carried out by Mr Malami and instruct that any files relating to that investigation be handed over to the EFCC and ICPC to assist in their follow-up investigation.

“SERAP notes that following a report by the Senate ad hoc committee which indicted Mr Lawal over alleged breach of Nigeria’s law in handling contracts awarded by the Presidential Initiative for the North East, PINE, you reportedly instructed Mr Malami to carry out further investigation into the allegation. Among other allegations contained in the Senate’s report is that Mr. Lawal’s company, Global Vision Ltd benefited from inflated contracts of over N200 million to clear ‘invasive plant specie’ in Yobe State. According to the report, Mr. Lawal was still the director of Global Vision as of the time the contract was awarded in March 2016, and remains the signatory to the company’s account.”

“SERAP further notes your instruction to Mr Malami to carry out further investigation into the allegations, as well as your recent letter to the Senate effectively raising some technical and procedural concerns about the report which indicted Mr. Lawal.”

SERAP’s letter was copied to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

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