Babachir Lawal once asked who the presidency is. He just got an answer.
President Muhammadu Buhari had pulled the rug from under the feet of one of the most powerful and untouchable individuals in the presidency.
It was a script straight out of The Apprentice, except that Lawal wasn't told to his face that he had just been temporarily fired.
Lawal was making his exit from his office desk alongside Ayodele Oke, the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the presidency announced.
While Lawal was suspended after the Senate implicated him of awarding a contract (worth over N200M) to clear invasive grass species in a war ravaged northeast region, to a company he owns, Oke was suspended for that infamous $50M found in an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos.
Lawal shunned summons from the Senate adhoc committee probing the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE) and scoffed at everyone who asked how he managed funds meant for displaced victims fleeing the Boko Haram insurgency.
Lawal was locked in a meeting with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the Villa when the president’s spokesperson, Femi Adesina, announced his suspension through Facebook and Twitter.
It was a confused Lawal who emerged from a meeting with Osinbajo to confront a posse of journalists at the Villa lobby. He was still smug at this point. No one from the presidency had told him he had just lost his job.
“Your suspension has been announced, Sir. How will you react to the development?”
Up until that moment, Lawal never thought anyone, not least the president, could have him suspended. So, his answer arrived as a retort.
“Who announced my suspension?”
“The presidency”, the reporters informed.
What followed became one of the most deployed lines in Nigeria’s political lexicon from April through May.
“Who is the presidency?”, Lawal asked haughtily and rhetorically. He was sore displeased and irritated.
It was a loaded question because up until the afternoon of April 19, Babachir David Lawal, 63, from Adamawa State, could be forgiven for thinking that he was indeed the presidency.
He was that powerful.
Alongside Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, Lawal was one member of the so called ‘cabal’ in Buhari’s government. There were unconfirmed reports that he received gratification or bribes from members of the public before penciling them for appointments in the federal civil service and ministries.
You had to contend with Lawal’s outsized persona and physique if you wanted anything from Buhari’s government.
Soon after Lawal and Oke were suspended, Buhari set up a committee led by Osinbajo to have them probed.
The committee was given 14 days to submit its report.
However, Buhari’s medical vacation abroad meant that the report of the committee wasn’t physically submitted to the president until August 23, 2017.
A presidency source told Pulse at the time that the Osinbajo committee recommended the outright firing of the duo and prosecution of one of the indicted.
On August 4, 2017, a reliable source in the presidency told Pulse that Osinbajo—who was at the time Acting President—couldn’t take action on the report because he was a member of the committee that drew up the recommendations in the report.
On October 30, 2017, six months after Lawal and Oke were suspended, the president announced their outright sack through Adesina.
According to Adesina; "President Muhammadu Buhari has studied the report of the panel headed by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, which investigated allegations against the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir David Lawal, and the Director General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke.
"The President accepted the recommendation of the panel to terminate the appointment of Mr Lawal, and has appointed Mr Boss Mustapha as the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The appointment takes immediate effect.
"President Buhari also approved the recommendation to terminate the appointment of Ambassador Oke, and has further approved the setting up of a three-member panel to, among other things, look into the operational, technical and administrative structure of the Agency and make appropriate recommendations."
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It may have taken all of six months to teach Lawal who the presidency really is, but as he now disappears into a midnight coloured with ignominy and shame, he probably would have learnt that the presidency goes beyond one “very powerful” individual.