President Muhammadu Buhari suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir Lawal and National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Director-General Ayo Oke after two meetings with his kitchen cabinet last night.
There were indications last night that the Presidency may not recall the officials. Besides, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has invited the wife of the suspended DG for questioning.
But some members of the kitchen cabinet are opposed to the grilling of Mrs. Folashade Oke by EFCC since the President has raised a three-man committee to investigate the DG.
They said the presidential panel should complete its assignment before the EFCC moves in.
The suspension of the two officials was to enable the Federal Government investigate alleged infractions against them before a formal acceptance of their resignation.
Babachir will be probed over alleged N200million contract awarded to a company, Global Vision Limited, allegedly linked with him by the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE) for the clearing of “invasive plant species” (weeds) in Yobe State.
Oke is being investigated for alleged $43.4million operations cash, which was found by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at apartment 7B in Osborne Towers, Ikoyi,
The President wielded the big stick after two meetings with members of his kitchen cabinet on Tuesday night and at about 11am on Wednesday, a source told The Nation.
At the Tuesday night meeting were the President, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) and Chief of Staff Abba Kyari, who has just returned from a medical trip overseas.
The Director-General of the Department of State Security Service (DSS), Mr. Lawan Daura, who was to be part of the meeting, could not make it because he was in transit from Saudi Arabia where he had gone for lesser Hajj( Umrah).
But on Wednesday morning, the DG, DSS was part of the second session.
According to sources, the meeting went through the EFCC Interim Report on the $43.4million; a fresh security report on the PINE contract in which the SGF was implicated; the Senate Report on PINE and available options.
A source, who spoke in confidence, said: “The meeting was painstaking in looking at issues against the two officials, especially allegations bordering on compliance with due process and financial regulations and alleged abuse of office.
“The outstanding records of the DG of NIA made the meeting solemn but it was decided that there should be no scared cow. The implication of the wife of NIA DG on how the safe apartment was secured to keep the $43.4million was found to be ‘abnormal’.
“Non-disclosure of the cash to the President after almost two years in office was also said to be unexplainable.”
“As for SGF Babachir Lawal, fresh security reports available to the President decided his fate. Some decisions taken by PINE under his watch were faulted by the meeting.
“The President strongly felt the two officials crossed the line and he said the excuses were unacceptable.”
Responding to a question, the source added: “At the end of it all, the meetings were caught in-between investigation and immediate resignation of the SGF and NIA DG.
“Some of those at the sessions wanted the NIA DG to proceed on pre-retirement leave because of the sensitive nature of the operation of the agency.
“As a matter of fact, the DIG had personally submitted a letter for leave of absence to the President to allow unfettered investigation. Oke said he was more interested in the survival of the intelligence system than his personal survival.”
After weighing the options, the meetings strongly recommended investigation into the alleged infractions against the officers to ascertain what went wrong, unmask other accomplices and learn some lessons for the future.
The source went on: “The Presidency was of the opinion that there might be more to the $43.4million haul. It described the covert operations as suspicious with the immediate administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan rated as complicit.
“The suspension of the officers was designed to allow the conduct of the investigation into the activities of the two officers before a final decision is taken.”
Asked why the President acted decisively on the cases, the source said it was because of the reasons as follows:
need not to compromise of the anti-corruption agenda; public opprobrium on the grass cutting allegation against the SGF and the $43.4million cash haul; perception that the government is weak in taking decisions against its officials; and the need to respect the decision of the Senate on the SGF to pave the way for the ongoing mediation between the Executive and the Legislature
The two officers were caught unawares by the news of their suspension.
Another source said: “As a matter of fact, there was no formal letter of suspension served on the SGF and the DG of NIA before the announcement was made.
“They were both in office when the news was broken to them by their friends and associates. So, they later heard it on radio and television.
“The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo however had audience with the two officers where he explained why they had to go on suspension.”
The highly-placed source believes that the government may not recall the suspended officials. They might either be retired or asked to formally resign from office, he said, pleading not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
He added: “If there is any strong reason to prosecute them, affected officials, the government will do so, depending on the recommendation of the three-man panel headed by the Vice President.
“Already, the Presidency is sourcing for their replacement. Some candidates have been pencilled down. As for NIA, the suspended DG will soon be 60 and his tenure will end in November. Technically, he is expected to proceed on pre-retirement leave from August.”
Amb. Arab Yadam (Plateau State) is said to have taken over as the Acting DG of NIA.
Yadam is said to be the senior Deputy DG among Oke’s two deputies.
Also, it was learnt that Dr. Habibat Lawal (Bauchi State), who is the most senior Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, has stepped in as the Acting SGF.
Meanwhile, there was disquiet in the Presidency last night following the summoning of the wife of the DG of NIA by EFCC.
The anti-graft commission has invited her for interrogation over the $43.4million recovered from Apartment 7B in Osborne Towers. Her company was alleged to have acquired the apartment for the NIA.
But some government officials were said to be opposed to the invitation of Mrs. Oke since a presidential committee was already in place.
“Some government officials felt the presidential committee should complete its assignment before EFCC steps in.
“They said it will be improper and untidy for a presidential panel to be investigating and EFCC is doing the same thing. “This development is causing some disquiet in the Presidency,” another said.