By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Wahab Abdallah and Dirisu Yakubu
Lawyers have expressed mixed opinion on the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to constitute a panel to review allegations of impropriety against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. Babachir David Lawal over his indictment by the Senate over his role in the execution of contracts to alleviate the effects of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East.
The president had on Wednesday announced the constitution of the three-man panel to investigate allegations raised during a Senate investigation that Mr. Lawal, benefited from the award of N220 million contracts awarded by the Presidential Initiative for the North East, PINE. The contracts were channeled by the Federal Government through his office.
The Senate had in its interim report submitted by an ad-hoc committee headed by Senator Shehu Sani indicted Mr. Lawal on the issue and recommended that he should be relieved of his position and prosecuted.
President Muhammadu Buhari, however, in a reply to Senate President Bukola Saraki claimed that he forwarded the report to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami upon whose recommendation he observed that the Senate ad-hoc committee failed to invite Lawal to hear his testimony, and also, that the report was signed by only three of the nine members of the committee.
Senator Sani, however, faulted the claim noting that Lawal was invited but failed to appear and also that all but two of the members of the committee signed the interim report.
Apparently peeved by the president’s response, the Senate had last March given the president two weeks within which to act on the report and also to relieve the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu of his position. As part of its retaliation, the Senate also refused to consider the nominees of the president forwarded to it for confirmation as Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs.
The president, however, surprisingly wielded the big stick last Wednesday when he suspended Lawal from office as he constituted a three-man panel comprising Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Malami and the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno to review the allegations raised against Lawal and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, Ambassador Ayo Oke over the discovery of N13 billion in foreign and local currencies in a safe house in Lagos.
Among the lawyers who responded were Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN, Mr. Monday Ubani, Second Vice President of Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Barrister Kennedy Khanoba, head of Khanoba and Khanoba Chambers, Abuja, Barrister Abdulrahman Abubakar among others.
Barrister Khanoba, in faulting the new panel said:
“I’m really surprised with the decision of the President on this. If you ask me, this is absolutely unnecessary because already, we were told that the Attorney General of the Federation had cleared the SGF of the alleged infractions. I think Mr. President is trying to play to the gallery. At the end, the same panel would clear him and recall him back to his exalted office and I think it is quite unfortunate.”
Speaking in the same vein, Barrister Agama Rafael, Principal Partner, Bethel Chambers, Abuja said:
“I am not optimistic about Osinbajo panel because like the AGF, it would pronounce the SGF not guilty. Mr. President ought to have taken this action (suspension of the SGF) a long time ago after the Senate indicted Babachir after what appeared a proper and thorough investigation.
“Maybe, they would prove me wrong. His suspension is in order but Osinbajo committee or panel is unnecessary.”
Mr. Monday Ubani, Second Vice President of Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, on his part said:
“The President did not mention the reason he ordered for another investigation. But I think he is not satisfied with the first report. If the first report that cleared the SGF was given to him and he has now set up another panel and has made the Vice President the head, he is telling the world that he has confidence in Osinbajo. What he has done is to constitute a fact-finding committee. ”
Speaking in the same vein, Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN said he saw nothing “wrong in seeking a second opinion. Perhaps, he is not okay with the first report by the AGF”.
Barrister Abdulrahman Abubakar, an Abuja based lawyer on his part said he saw nothing wrong, saying:
“No person who shows that he has been tried by any court of competent jurisdiction or tribunal for a criminal offence and either convicted or acquitted shall again be tried for that offence or for a criminal offence having the same ingredients as that offence save upon the order of a superior court. In the absence of the panel not being a tribunal or court; there is no harm setting up another panel.”