The stand-off between the Senate and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF), Babachir Lawal, resurfaced yesterday as the SGF failed to appear before the Committee on Federal Character to defend the 2017 budget proposal from his office.
At a time, heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) make it a priority to appear before relevant committees to defend the budgets of their agencies, Lawal opted to send the Permanent Secretary, General Services in the Office of the SGF, Mohammed Bukar, to do the defence on behalf of the office.
But irked by the development, the committee chaired by Senator Tijjani Kaura disallowed the permanent secretary from making any submission before it, insisting that Lawal must appear before it to do the defence or forget it.
It was however, learnt yesterday that some minutes before 10a.m. when the defence was scheduled to take off, the permanent secretary on behalf of the the SGF informed the committee that he (SGF) would not be available for the exercise. Bukar was said to have told the committee that the SGF was away, attending the funeral of a relative outside Abuja.
While turning away the permanent secretary from representing the SGF, the committee asked the SGF to communicate a new date when he will personally appear before for the defence. The committee later briefed the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, about the development.
One of the senators who chose to be anonymous, expressed the displeasure of the committee over the SGF's action.
"Much as we try to protect him as a brother, there are limits to what he should do. What he ought to do is seek the understanding of the committee to reschedule which is a normal thing. As far as the committee is concerned, courtesy demands from him to call the chairman. He didn't appear; he didn't show concern. Since he's not here and not ready, he should make contact with the committee to reschedule.
"Why he's not here is not cogent. He said he went to condole with relatives over the loss of a loved one, but here, we have a colleague, a senator for that matter, who is also supposed to attend the funeral of a loved one, but stayed back to attend the budget defence. As far as we are concerned, the excuse he gave – going to bury a loved one is not a good one at all," he said.
However, it was learnt that following the action of the committee, the SGF wrote a letter to the committee late yesterday that he would appear before it on Monday.
The Senate had on December 14, 2016, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sack and prosecute Lawal over alleged mismanagement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) funds following the presentation of an interim report of its Ad hoc Committee on North-East Humanitarian Crisis which indicted him. But Buhari in a letter addressed to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, a forth night ago, faulted the report, saying it was hasty because it was interim.