President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday night said he was aware of the investigation of two sacked officials by anti-corruption agencies, saying the investigation should continue.
Mr. Buhari’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, in a statement said “the position of the President therefore is that investigation agencies which have already commenced the investigation of the two officers removed from office will go on with their work of investigation without any interference or hindrance.”
Mr. Shehu added that the president “who is fully conversant with the provisions of the constitution will not stop the investigation of anyone because he has no such power under our laws. This is a decision of the Supreme Court.”
The spokesperson was reacting to criticisms that trailed the sack of Babachir Lawal and Ayodele Oke, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and former head of the National Intelligence Agency respectively.
President Buhari had ordered the sack of both men earlier on Monday following a review of a panel report that investigated allegations against them. The panel was headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Many Nigerians, though commended the dismissal of both men, asked that Mr. Buhari order their arrest and prosecution.
Mr. Shehu, however, indicated that the two men were already being investigated by the anti-corruption agencies.
“Based on his wish and desire for a strict observance of the law, the President expects the EFCC, ICPC and such agencies to proceed with ongoing investigations,” the spokesperson said.
“When and where they have reasonable grounds to charge former or serving officers to court under our laws, they do not require the permission of the President to do so,” he added.
The spokesperson for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Wilson Uwujaren, could not be reached for comments about the status of the investigations.
However, the panel headed by Mr. Osinbajo found Mr. Lawal culpable in a slew of allegations that included questionable diversion of funds meant for the internally displaced persons in the North-east.
Consequently, the investigative committee, which included Attorney-General Abubakar Malami and National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, recommended termination of Mr. Lawal’s appointment, the presidency said in a statement.
Mr. Oke was the head of NIA when the EFCC found N13 billion belonging to the foreign intelligence office in an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos, on April 12.
As with Mr. Lawal, Mr. Osinbajo’s panel recommended Mr. Oke’s dismissal after looking into the circumstances surrounding the cash haul.
The panel submitted its report on August 23, but Mr. Buhari did not act on it until Monday. Another presidential aide, Femi Adesina, told Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’ Monday evening that the president was being painstaking with the content of the report.
Before their appointments were ultimately terminated, Messrs. Lawal and Oke had beenplaced on suspension since April 19. They appeared before the panel on several occasions during its 14-day, closed-door sitting.
DEMAND FOR PROSECUTION
While welcoming their sack on Monday evening, a civic rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, admonished Mr. Buhari to reassert his anti-corruption posture by calling for a thorough prosecution.
“This is a positive development in the fight against grand corruption, although this decision is coming rather late,” SERAP said in a statement signed by its deputy director, Timothy Adewale. “Buhari now has to go a step further by making sure that both Lawal and Oke are promptly brought to justice in fair trials.”
“What the government needs at this time is a revolutionary approach to the fight against corruption if Buhari is to show his commitment to ‘kill’ corruption before corruption ‘kills’ Nigeria.
“Without effective prosecution of high-ranking public officials charged with corruption, this government’s fight against corruption may sadly turn out to be all motion and no movement, and this will eventually undermine the legitimacy of the anti-corruption efforts,” Mr. Adewale said.
The group also reminded Mr. Buhari to pursue criminal charges against the fugitive former head of presidential task force on pension reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina.
Mr. Maina was revealed by PREMIUM TIMES penultimate Friday as having sneaked back into the public service four years after he was sacked for alleged pension fraud.
Mr. Buhari ordered Mr. Maina’s dismissal with immediate effect and called for an investigation into how he was recalled.
“Buhari also has to move swiftly to publish a report of the investigation into the secret reinstatement of the fugitive former civil servant, Abdulrasheed Maina, and without delay identify and bring to justice anyone suspected to be involved,” SERAP said.
PAST ARREST CALLS
While President Buhari did not authorise the immediate arrest of Mr. Lawal and Oke, he has ordered arrests of persons indicted of corruption in the past.
When Mr. Buhari received the reports of the presidential arms probe panel in 2015, he ordered immediate arrest or former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and other officials of the last administration who were indicted.
Mr. Buhari raised the Committee on Audit of Defence Equipment Procurement in the Nigerian Armed Forces on August 24, 2015, in furtherance of his “determination to stamp out corruption and irregularities in Nigeria’s public service.”
The panel submitted its interim report on November 17, 2015, finding Mr. Dasuki culpable in the award of “fictitious and phantom contracts to the tune of N2,219,188,609.50; 1,671,742,613.58 dollars and 9,905,477.00 Euros,” amongst others.
Soon after receiving the report, Mr. Buhari “directed the relevant organisations to arrest and bring to book, all individuals who have been found complicit in these illegal and fraudulent acts,” according to a State House statement on November 17, 2015.