The presidency has intervevened in the ongoing face-off between the senate and the SGF, Mr. Babachir David Lawal, following the fresh invitation to the SGF to appear on Thursday before the Ad hoc Committee on the Mounting Humanitarian Crises in the North-east.
The Senate committee on Tuesday said it was reopening its investigation into the expenditure and activities of the Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE), which Babachir in his capacity as the SGF oversees.
The probe is aimed at ascertaining how much had been released to PINE, how the funds were utilised from inception to date, and to investigate the diversion of grains and other food items from the Strategic Grain Reserves, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other sources for the internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The committee said it was reopening the probe so as to give Babachir fair hearing after he had failed to appear before the committee last December, leading to his indictment by the Senate and call for his sack and prosecution.
Babachir was indicted by the committee for mismanaging the funds of PINE and awarding a multimillion naira tree-cutting contract to his company, Rholavision Engineering Limited.
However, Babachir wrote to the committee on Wednesday informing it that he would not attend the hearing scheduled for Thursday, as he had gone to court to challenge the invitation.
But before the Senate could meet on Thursday to deliberate on his letter, Babachir sent another letter contradicting his initial letter, claiming he was unable to attend the public hearing due to a pressing government engagement, requesting that a new date be set for him to appear.
The hearing did not hold on Thursday.
It was gathered that Babachir may have been prevailed upon by the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, who brought the second letter early Thursday morning, when the hearing was supposed to hold.
A Senate source said that Babachir’s initial letter, where he claimed to have gone to court was embarrassing to the presidency.
“The president’s letter to the Senate after the SGF’s indictment said he was not given fair hearing, now the Senate said it will conduct the hearing to give him fair hearing, but he heads to court.
“Is that not embarrassing for the president who said his appointee was not given fair hearing?” the source asked.
Signs that a detente may have been reached became more evident on Thursday, when the chairman of the ad hoc committee, Senator Shehu Sani (Kaduna Central), failed to mention the first letter written by Babachir. Instead, he claimed to have only heard about the lawsuit filed by Babachir and Rholavision in the media.
“We are scheduled to hold a public hearing today to give a second opportunity to those persons who were either deliberately or conspicuously absent in the first sitting we had last year.
“Today, the newspapers were awash with reports that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, has taken us to court to restrain our committee from doing its work.
“Well, we are yet to receive any court order in that respect. But what we did receive is a letter from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation of which with your permission I will read,” Sani said.
It read in part: “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 of a pressing engagement of government which clashed with the date and time of the hearing. I kindly request a rescheduling of hearing please.”
Sani added that the interim report submitted by the committee generated a lot of issues, informing the decision to do a much more thorough job this time around before submitting a final report.
“But we cannot do that without giving another opportunity to those who felt they were deliberately not given fair hearing by the tone of the letter that was sent here by the presidency.
“The Senate committee will give a new date for the hearing and we assure this Senate and the people of the North-east that the committee will deworm, disinfect, and fumigate the North-eastern part of Nigeria with the job which we are going to do,” Sani added.
Sani and Enang later jointly briefed newsmen, where they were both evasive about the initial letter.
Sani said it was not only the SGF and Rholavision that are being invited, adding that most of the estimated 20 companies that executed contracts for PINE remained untraceable.
Enang said the executive has great respect for the institution of the Senate and the senators themselves.
“That is why the Secretary to the Government personally wrote and signed, and he is requesting for a rescheduling of the meeting and not saying he will not come.
“He is requesting for a rescheduling and the letter has been delivered to the committee. We have great respect for the institution of the Senate and indeed the National Assembly as the legislature,” Enang said.
Responding to questions on the tension between the executive and Senate, especially in the last two weeks, Enang said the relationship remained cordial.