Democracy Under Threat As SGF Shuns Invitation, Says Senate


The Senate

Leke Baiyewu, Abuja

The Senate on Wednesday raised the alarm that the failure of the executive to answer legislative summons would end democracy in the country.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, stated this in an interview with The PUNCH, while reacting to a letter written by the Secretary to the Government of the  Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal.

The SGF, in the letter to the upper chamber on Wednesday, said he had dragged the Senate to court over a probe into the alleged management of funds meant for the rehabilitation of the North-East.

Lawal, in  the letter to the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, said he would not appear before the probe panel on Thursday (today) as he had filed processes in court. The letter was sighted on Wednesday by our correspondent.

The SGF’s letter came the same day the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.), failed to honour the Senate invitation.

The upper chamber had ordered Ali to appear before it on Wednesday (yesterday), in the NCS uniform.

But the Customs boss shunned the invitation, citing a suit filed by a lawyer, Mohammed Ibrahim and advice of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, as reasons.

The PUNCH learnt that the some senators were irked on Wednesday when the Senate received a letter from another member of the executive (the SGF).

When contacted, the Senate spokesman told our correspondent he was not aware of the letter written by the SGF.

He, however, stated that  the trend of public officials refusing to answer legislative summons was becoming a threat to Nigeria’s democracy.

Abdullahi said, “I am not aware of that. But we are waiting to see what happens. That is exactly what we are saying; that if this continues to happen, then, bye bye to democracy. It means I can even go to court to stop you (our correspondent) from doing your work.

“We will see how that will continue to play out and I think this is the end of democracy in Nigeria if that continues to play out. We are performing our constitutional mandate and if anybody is going to court to stop us, then, what it means is that we should all go to court and stop the entire government from working.”

The letter written by the SGF read, “Your letter of invitation to appear before the above committee refers.

“I wish to kindly request that you draw the attention of the other members of the committee (to the fact) that I will not be able to appear before the committee primarily because I have gone to court to challenge the invitation, among others.

“Please, find attached the court documents.”

The Chairman of the committee, Senator Shehu Sani, while confirming the receipt of the letter, declined to disclose what the lawmakers would do to the SGF.

When asked if he had received the letter, he said, “Yes. If you have the letter, that is it. Go and write your story.”

When also asked how he felt about the development, Sani replied, “As far as I am concerned, we are going ahead with the sitting (investigative hearing).”

When further asked if the Senate would react to Lawal’s move as it did to the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.), Sani said the decision would be taken after the hearing.

“I don’t want to comment on that for now. Report what he has done and wait to see what we will do tomorrow (today),” he said.

The committee had invited Lawal to appear before it on Thursday in a letter signed by Sani, dated March 15, 2017, and addressed to Lawal’s Kaduna address.

It read, “The Senate at its sitting on 4th October, 2016, debated on a motion on “mounting humanitarian crisis in the North-East” after which an ad hoc committee was constituted to, among other things, conduct a public hearing in order to ascertain how much has been released to the Presidential Initiative on the North-East; ascertain how these funds have been utilised from inception to date; and investigate the diversion of grains and other food items from the Strategic Grain Reserves, NEMA and other sources for the IDPs.

“Consequently, the committee held a three-day public hearing between 6th and 8th December, 2016, even though some of the invited stakeholders refused to attend. In order to give them a fair hearing, the committee has resolved to conduct another public hearing.

“You are hereby invited once more to the public hearing.”

Sani had told our correspondent that the panel intended to give the SGF a second chance.

Based on the interim report of the committee, the Senate had on December 14, 2016, called for the resignation, probe and prosecution of the SGF over alleged mismanagement of funds meant for the North-East rehabilitation under his watch.

The lawmakers specifically called on security and anti-graft agencies to arrest and prosecute Lawal, who is overseeing the Presidential Initiative on North-East, for allegedly owning one of the companies awarded contracts in the rehabilitation of the North-East.

Lawal was alleged to have resigned his directorship of the company after becoming the SGF and after the company had executed the contract.

One of the companies linked to the SGF was said to have been awarded the contract for the removal of invasive plants along river channels and 115 hectares of simplified village irrigation operation in Yobe State for the sum of N272,524,356.

But Lawal claimed that the panel did not invite him for his defence, saying that the lawmakers were out to malign him.

The PUNCH had exclusively reported that the committee on February 1, 2017, had requested  the Bank Verification Numbers of some companies linked to the SGF, who were contracted for various projects on the rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced Persons.

It was also reported that the lawmakers might re-invite Lawal for questioning. ‘

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