‘Only Mr. President can remove me’
When the air was initial creamed with rumour of his impending removal following series of allegation of underhand dealings since he was appointed Director General of Nigeria’s Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mounir Gwarzo was quoted as saying “only the President can remove me from office”, a diplomacy many Nigerians now refer as “impunity” under the President Muhammadu Buhari led All Progressive Congress (APC) led Federal Government.
Then, the big shock, when Kemi Adoesun, Minister of Finance, suspended Gwarzo from office “in order to pave the way for unhindered investigation” after revelations emerged of how he paid himself N104 million as severance package immediately he became DG of SEC, in total disregard to the standing rule in the civil service which states that severance benefit can only be paid to an employee who has concluded his or her service or has completely disengaged from service.
But in a dramatic twist, as it is now a characteristic of officials of the government, Gwarzo claimed he was suspended because of the forensic audit he carried out into the financial affairs of Oando Plc, which SEC under him commenced over sixty days earlier; with a leaked letter detailing how Adeosun, in a meeting with him on Monday, November 27, 2017, verbally instructed him (Gwarzo) to discontinue the Oando probe, but he objected to the request.
Adeosun in her response through media department of her ministry said “the copy of the memo in the possession of the Minister was delivered with a message that any action against Mr. Gwarzo would result in same being leaked to the press. It was this threat of blackmail that strengthened the resolve of the Minister to suspend Mr. Gwarzo and allow the Administrative Panel of Inquiry to proceed with its probe”, and insisted that “Gwarzo was suspended because he refused to stop the forensic audit he ordered into Oando’s finances, were misleading and mischievous.”Since Gwarzo was promoted within the commission to become a DG, the service rule says that he is not yet entitled to a severance package.
Campaign Against Impunity in Nigeria (CAIN), a right group, and several other Nigerians already demanding that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), quickly make public the outcome of its ongoing investigation into the activities of the suspended DG of SEC.
Shina Loremikan, convener of CAIN in Nigeria, laments at a news conference last Thursday the way the issue of Gwarzo was being handled by anti-corruption agencies, saying that the EFCC must act now because it was in possession of all supporting documents on the allegations “which are also in our disposal”.
“Considering the likelihood that a lot more acts of impunity may have been committed unchecked under the arrangement in which Mr. Gwarzo functioned as the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission without checks from a board, the Campaign Against Impunity in Nigeria calls on the Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun to order a thorough audit of the finances of the commission.
“We also urge the minister to stand firm and not buckle under any pressure by the campaign of impunity being sponsored by Mr. Gwarzo against her person. The entire process smells of an attempt to cover impunity with blackmail. We therefore demand that Mrs Kemi Adeosun should make public the report of the Administrative Panel put in place to investigate the allegations against Gwarzo. She should also direct her office to forward the report to the EFCC and ICPC,” he said.
This trend of impunity, as many Nigerians like to call it, was first noticed when few minutes after the presidency announced the suspension of Babachair Lawal as Secretary to the Government of the Federation sometimes in April this year, following Shehu Sani (Kaduna Central) led Senate panel which indicted him of embezzling N200 million in a northeast grass-cutting scandal.
Unknown of the decision to suspend him pending outcome of investigation which was even dramatised, the now sacked SGF asked State House correspondents who broke the news to him “who is the presidency”? The visibly stunned Lawal was initially reluctant to speak to reporters as he kept on walking his way out of the Villa upon been approached for comments.
Nigerians cannot forget in a hurry the blame game on the side of government and the resultant intense public outcries over the Lawal’s scandal before government finally bowed to popular wishes. The Senate panel for Internally Displaced Persons in the northeast that uncovered the irregularity was kept waiting during the public hearing, which was scheduled for 10: am that fateful day, at the elsewhere SGF’s request, but he failed to honour the summons.
When the committee submitted its report on Lawal to the Senate after he twice failed to appear before it, President Buhari, who was then preparing for his longest medical trip in the UK, wrote to the Senate, picking holes in the allegations of corruption and misconduct levelled against Lawal. But Shehu Sani, who led the committee fired back at the President when he said: “corruption in the Senate, the Judiciary and others is treated with insecticide but corruption in the Presidency is treated with deodorant”.
As Nigerians were moving away from the episode after an executive panel headed by Yemi Osibanjo, Vice President concluded its grass-cutting investigation and recommended the sack of Lawal, the biggest corruption allegation scandal under the Buhari government erupted like a volcano and raised dust still yet to settle.
Ibe Kachikwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, in an August 30 memo to President Buhari explained that Maikanti Baru, the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), unilaterally approved contracts worth $26 billion without recourse to him or the NNPC board.
This was NNPC’s response: “What is required is the processing and approval of contracts by the NNPC Tenders Board, the President in his executive capacity or as Minister of Petroleum, or the Federal Executive Council, as the case may be. There are therefore situations where all that is required is the approval of the NNPC Tenders Board while, in other cases, based on the threshold, the award must be submitted for presidential approval. Likewise, in some instances, it is FEC approval that is required”. It also clarified that the response was following a directive from President Buhari to Baru and his team, mandating them to react to the issues raised in the petition that was written by Kachikwu.
But apart from the fact that on May 9, 2017, President Buhari wrote a letter to both Yakubu Dogara, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Bukola Saraki, President of the Senate, notifying them that he had relinquished presidential authorities in accordance with the Nigerian Constitution, an act which stripped him off presidential powers, the NNPC Acts also states that approval of contracts above $20 million must be ratified by the Board, which Kachukwu chairs.
The reinstatement and promotion to director of Abdulrasheed Maina, former chairman of the Presidential Pension Task Team who is wanted by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and foreign security agents for alleged corruption also followed the same pattern.
Aside the claims and counter claims by the President’s cabinet members in the narration on how Maina was brought back to the civil service, Maina specifically stated in a video that his reinstatement followed a meeting he held in Dubai with Abubakar Malami, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation and Babagana Monguno, National Security Adviser, on the order of President Buhari.
Before the video, the family of Maina had also alleged that their son was reinstated by the Federal Government because “he is a messiah that reformed the pension scheme and was promised security to come and clean up the mess and generate more revenue to government by blocking leakages”, and accused a “cabal” of being behind the travails of their son.
President Buhari responded by ordering an immediate investigation when the news of his reinstatement broke, even as senior government officials directly involved iMaina’s recall traded blames and denied responsibility. But the president is yet to sanction men for the embarrassment, while no security formation has been able to arrest Maina.
While Nigerians are still asking questions about the perceived impunity in government, the House of Representatives two weeks ago raised questions over a purported presidential approval exempting some special NNPC’s accounts worth N50 billion from the Treasury Single Account.
The committee members were enraged by memo from Abba Kyari, purporting to convey President Buhari’s exemption directive that the said accounts be exempted from the TSA because the memo did not say much other than opening with the line, “I have been directed.”
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