NOTE: The views expressed are my personal opinion.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday, April 19, ordered the suspension of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal and the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke. He also constituted an Administrative Committee to investigate their actions under the chairmanship of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, SAN. The other two members of the Committee are Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, (SAN) and the National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno. Lawal was alleged to have through the Presidential Initiative on the North East awarded contracts to companies in which he had interest, while Ayo Oke’s troubles are linked to his claims the NIA owns the monies recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission during a sting operation in a residential apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos last weekend.
However, despite the fact that Nigerians greeted the suspension of these highly placed officials questions have been asked why the Federal Government constituted a Committee rather than referring the matter to the EFCC or ICPC or whichever law enforcement agency it deemed appropriate. This question also surfaced during an interview I had with Channels Television. The answer to this questions is the essence of this essay.
In administrative law, it is a correct procedure for an Administrative Committee to be set up when evidence of criminality or allegation of criminality against a public servant is not very clear or blurred or when infraction of Public Service Rules are made against a public servant.
The erring public servant (no matter how grave the allegation against him) is entitled to be given a fair hearing if the commission of a crime is inferred in the allegation against him. The Administrative Committee is usually a fact finding Committee. It is not a Court of Law in any stretch of imagination, and has no jurisdiction to hear a criminal allegation against anybody alleged to have infracted the law. It has no jurisdiction to investigate corruption or crime. It jurisdiction is restricted to establish whether or not the erring public servant has committed administrative infraction or contravene the Public Service Rules.
The main duties of such a Committee is to review the allegation and making findings of fact. If in the course of it investigation, it found any evidence of criminality against the erring public servant, it would recommend to the appointing authority to refer the matter to appropriate law enforcement agency. On the other hand, if the Committee found that the erring public servant breached any provision in the Public Service Rules, the Committee will recommend that such a public servant should be published administratively. The punishment can be a reprimand, dismissal or retirement.
In this instance, there is no allegation of crime against Ayo Oke, even though he allegedly failed to divulge to the President the money seized in the apartment which he claimed was given to the National Intelligence Agency two years for a covert operation. The Administrative Committee will determine whether or not he committed by a crime by his failure to divulge or that he breached the Public Services Rules by his failure to divulge.
Also, the allegation against Babachir David Lawal is still blurred. Did he breach Financial Regulations or Public Service Rules or the Code of Conduct or financial laws when he allegedly awarded contract to his own companies? It is these grey areas the Administrative Committee will clear and advise the President to enable him take an informed and balanced decision, which is the hallmark of President Muhammadu Buhari – due process and fair hearing.
We may recall President Muhammadu Buhari had also constituted a Presidential Committee to probe contracts awarded by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) from 2011 to 2015 whose recommendations led to the EFCC investigating and charging to court, the former National Security Adviser Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and others found culpable. The present situation is a re-enactment of earlier committees by the present administration in situations like this.