Thursday, 23 March 2017

Grass-Cutting Scandal: SGF Lawal makes U-turn, promises to appear before Senators on new date

Less than 24 hours after he told senators investigating him and others for alleged fraud that he would not appear before them, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, has made a U-turn. Mr. Lawal was summoned by the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Humanitarian Crisis in North-East which had earlier indicted him for his role in a N230 million grass-cutting scandal. Following his indictment, the Senate had called for his removal by President Muhammadu Buhari. However, the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, on January 24 read a letter from President Muhammadu Buhari stating that Mr. Lawal was not given fair hearing at first hearing, thus leading to the new invitation. Mr. Lawal and the Managing Director of a company he established, Rholavision, were asked to appear before the Senate committee today, Thursday, in a public hearing. However, on Wednesday, the SGF wrote to the Senate, saying he would not appear as he had filed a case in court against his invitation. “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 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,” Mr. Lawal was quoted by the News Agency of Nigeria as saying in the letter. Rholavision also wrote to the Senate committee that it’s managing director would not appear as he was bereaved having recently lost a close person. Based on the decision of the two invitees, the Senate committee postponed the hearing to a new date yet to be fixed. However, on Thursday, Mr. Lawal again wrote the Senate committee, asking it to reschedule the public hearing to enable him attend. In the letter dated March 22, he said he could not honour the Thursday invitation due to an engagement, the News Agency of Nigeria reports. Rholavision was incorporated as an IT firm by Mr. Lawal in 1990, he had confirmed. The company was found by the Senate to have handled a N233 million bush-clearing contract in the north-east in 2016. While money was paid for the contract, the work was not done, the senators said. The Senate alleged that as at the time the contract was awarded in March 2016, Mr. Lawal was still a director in the company and that he only resigned in September of that year. Even so, as at the time of presenting the interim report, the Senate said Mr. Lawal “is the signatory to the company’s account.” Mr. Lawal’s directorship of Rholavision while being a public official contravened Nigeria’s code of conduct for public officials as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, the Senate said. Mr. Lawal has, however, insisted he resigned from Rholavision after he was appointed SGF in 2015, before the company got involved in the controversial north-east contract.

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