Speaker, State of Osun House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Najeem Salaam has appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to assent the constitutional amendment that accommodates autonomy of state Houses of Assembly.
Speaking at a closing segment of the Legislative Retreat of Kwara State House of Assembly in Ede, State of Osun, Speaker Salaam stressed that, for the the training and special skill acquisition on legislative matter to attain level of practicality, the autonomy must be obtained.
He said, “if a state parliament is self accounting, the chances are high that checks and balance contemplated by the framers of the constitutional democracy would be attained, but if a parliament would rely on executive for funding, then we should know that independence is redefined.”
Speaker Salaam then expressed his optimism on the preparedness of the state legislatures across the federating units of the country, saying over two third majority of the state assemblies endorsed the autonomy at the last constitutional amendment.
In a related development, Speaker Salaam further pleaded with lawmakers of the state Houses of Assembly to halt the habitual haste of changing leadership of the parliament, saying that roving impeachment of Speakers had made assemblies unstable to the advantage of the executive.
According to him, “Another sore point in the weakness of legislature is incessant changing of leadership and until we halt the trend, the executive would continue to take the advantage of the situation, and we would not blame it for supporting a trend that keeps its interest, because this is politics.”
Speaker Salaam also urged the electorate to be magnanimous to the legislators by re-electing them back for a long time, for the sake of cutting the cost.
Salaam said, “if we have our lawmakers reelected time and time over again, the cost of training new lawmakers would be saved, and the system would be better for it, because of the experience that would have been acquired along the line, but if we keep on changing the lawmakers, then we have to keep on training at expensive rate.”
Speaker, State of Osun House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Najeem Salaam has expressed his support for the ongoing trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, saying it was a clear signal to the leaders and citizens that law has a long arm that could wrestle anyone alleged of corruption irrespective of his or her status in the country.
In a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Goke Butika, Speaker Salaam said politicking and persecution should not be factored in, in the fight against corruption as long as the institutions of law are strengthened to address cases of graft.
He said: “A clear signal has been sent to the nation if the Chairman of the nation’s National Assembly could be docked for alleged corruption charge of previous years, then anyone no matter the status of the person concerned would not find escape route on justice”.
Speaking on the fire incidence that consumed to children, Speaker Salaam said the parliament would urge Governor Rauf Aregbesola to declare state of emergence on fire service of the state.
He expressed his regret on the fire outbreak at the Bovas filling station, where two siblings lost their promising Lives, saying it was a sad story.
Speaker Salaam said the parliament would work assiduously for the overhauling of the fire service in the state in repose of the souls of the two innocent children who lost their lives to the fire incidence.
In another development, Speaker Salaam while felicitating with Muslim faithful in the state admonished the celebrators of eid ld Kabir to tread softly, Particularly the motorists.
The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders says since President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo have declared their assets publicly, it is the turn of the number three citizen in the country, Senate President Bukola Saraki, to follow suit.
The Chairman of CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said this was the only way transparency and true change could be achieved.
Adeniran said this during an interview with our correspondent on Sunday.
The Saraki-led Senate is currently probing the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, while Saraki’s wife is being investigated by the EFCC for alleged financial impropriety.
However, Adeniran said the current anti-corruption drive of the All Progressives Congress-led government would not be complete unless those occupying public offices can prove that they have not illegally enriched themselves.
He said once Saraki declares his assets, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, as well as all principal officers of the National Assembly would also be motivated to do the same.
He said, “Specifically, the principal officers of the National Assembly must declare their assets starting from the Senate President. All ministers and those who will work directly with the President such as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the President’s Chief of Staff must also declare their assets publicly.
“That is how we will know that they have clean hands. Otherwise, they will become conduit pipes through which money will be siphoned from the public purse. Without such declaration, nobody knows how much they might have made after leaving office.”
Adeniran said the wives and children of public office holders must also be subjected to similar scrutiny because they are usually the beneficiaries of ill-gotten wealth.
He added, “It is now the norm that anyone that wants to serve in any position of leadership of the present administration to publicly declare his or her assets because already, we have doubts about how much these individuals have made over the years.
“We want to know how much they are worth and have a benchmark with which we would measure what they would declare at the end of their tenure. Their spouses, children and siblings should also declare their assets since they enjoy whatever must have been received by the public officials.”
Speaker, State of Osun House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Najeem Salaam has tasked the management of all Local Government Council areas in the state to as a matter of duty identify area of economic strength for comparative advantage in a new drive to push the state and councils to self sufficiency.
In a statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker, Mr. Goke Butika, Speaker Salaam said it is high time local governments ended their “lame dock ” attitude to governance, expressing readiness of the state parliament to excuse any council top management that is recalcitrant about the new order.
Speaker Salaam said the parliament would drive the new order though the standing committee of the House on Local Government affairs when inaugurated, asserting that each local government council area is blessed with peculiar agricultural potentials; noting that some councils were capable of driving arable farming that could feed the entire South West, while some have potentialities to generate revenue from cash crops if innovative thinking was applied to governance.
He expressed his frustration about the way and manner local government workers have been reduced to charity takers, for they have no specific duties and result to show for the salaries drawn year in, year out; insisting that the workers were not to be blamed, rather the disingenuous governance unleashed by the council management, who have no special scheme aside from the proceeds of monthly allocations which has shown now to be grossly inadequate to pay workers’ salaries.
Speaker Salaam then charged the Local Government Service Commission and the ministry of local government to, as a matter of urgency institute talk with the management of all councils in the state on how to drive tax, economic potentials and workers’ productivity with a timeline for positive result.
“Our councils must be productive, the workers must be shoulder high in new engagement, not a sleeping mode that currently operates, each council should drive internally generated revenue big enough to offset their workers’ pay without being draconian in the method, but the new order must flow from the top management or else, any “lame-duck” management would be shipped out”, Salaam quipped.
With Senate on annual recess, and to resume on September 29, one would have thought that the recent standoff in the chambre would be put behind the senators in the interest of peace and the country.
Following the passing of vote of confidence by 81 senators on Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, after a motion by Senator Samuel Anyanwu, PDP, Imo State, many had thought that peace had finally returned to the red chamber. Meanwhile, each passing day, intrigues play out among the lawmakers with new wounds inflicted.
Prior to June 9 when the former Kwara State governor and Chairman, Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology in the 7th Senate, Saraki was elected Senate President, two lobby groups emerged in the chambre, Senators of Like Minds, made up of lawmakers loyal to Saraki and the other, Senators Unity Forum, comprising of loyalists of the contender for the Senate president who lost in the contest, Senator Ahmed Lawan, APC, Yobe.
The groups engaged in accusations and counter accusations as the race for the position of the Senate presidency went on. It was like the 8th Senate will never stabilise as there were forces from outside parliament trying to influence who became the principal officers of the Senate. Lawan was officially the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the contest for the Senate presidency.
With the election of Saraki, the Senators Unity Forum has, since then, never seen anything good in the person and actions of the Senate President.
The anti – Saraki group, only last week, in collaboration with some senators hitherto in the Senate President’s camp took their fight to the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions.
The new move by the anti- Saraki group reared its head when the Committee, headed by Anyanwu, invited the Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, to appear before it following a petition against him by George Uboh, a security expert and Chief Executive Officer of Panic Alert Security Systems.
Uboh had, in his petition, dated July 31, 2015, accused Lamorde of under-remittance and non-disclosure of proceeds of corruption recovered from some convicted former public officials, including a former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun, and former Bayelsa State Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
The petitioner assured the Senate that he would produce “overwhelming evidence” to back his claims against the EFCC boss, alleging that the anti-graft body had not accounted for “offshore recoveries” and that “over half of the assets seized from suspects are not reflected in EFCC exhibit records”.
His complaint to the Senate prompted the probe and Lamorde was invited to appear before the Senate Committee at Meeting Room 120 of the New Senate Building, National Assembly Complex, Abuja, by 10 am on Wednesday, August 26, 2015 over the allegations. The key leg of the allegations is that the EFCC fraudulently diverted over N1 trillion proceeds of corruption recovered by the anti-graft agency, just as the Committee insisted that there was no going back on the invitation as it would act within the ambit of the Constitution.
The invitation extended to Lamorde inevitably divided the Senate.
The leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the chambre immediately kicked against the probe.
The PDP senators, in a statement by the Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio; his deputy, Emmanuel Bwacha; Minority Whip, Philip Aduda; and deputy, Biodun Olujimi, who rejected the probe, said , “It has come to the notice of the PDP leadership in the Senate that the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions would begin a public hearing on Wednesday, August 26, 2015 and the committee has invited the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to appear before it.
“The PDP leadership in the Senate is not against any committee of the Senate performing its oversight duties and/or functions but we feel that this is not the appropriate time to embark on the most important assignment, particularly since the same action was mooted and had failed at previous plenary session.
“We therefore urge the committee to suspend its public hearing on this particular matter until further notice.
“The PDP Senate leadership reassures the Nigerian public of its support for the war against corruption by the Federal Government of Nigeria but hastens to add that such fight against corruption should be total and not selective.
“Nigerians need peace at this period of economic challenges precipitated by the falling of oil prices and actions that will overheat the polity and generate unnecessary friction between the executive and the legislature should be avoided.”
Reacting to the position of the PDP leaders in the upper chambre, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Anyanwu, also a PDP lawmaker, who noted that the Committee and the Senate acted in line with the Standing Rules as amended, however, said that Akpabio and his colleagues, in their statement, misinformed Nigerians.
Anyanwu said, “As the Chairman Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, I am answerable to the Senate in the first instance. Two, this Committee attends to every petitions that come from the public. And the invitation to the EFCC boss is one of those petitions and the petitioner is going to appear before the Committee. And if you look at the press statement by the Minority Leader of the party, Senator Akpabio, it was a misinformation. There was an amendment of a motion on the floor of the Senate where the CBN Governor was to be invited with the EFCC boss regarding money laundering and all that. But we stood it down. So, there was a misinformation. So, he thought that it was the same issue. But this is a petition against the person of the EFCC boss.”
On whether the Committee would go ahead with the probe, he said, “Of course, this is a Standing committee of the Senate. It is not only EFCC boss that was invited. There are other petitions which we have invited the petitioners and those that were petitioned against. We have FIRS; the Comptroller General of Customs is also coming tomorrow. So, I don’t know why this should be an issue. We are guided by the Senate Standing Rule and the 1999 Constitution to invite anybody when the matter arises.”
On how he would react to a statement by EFCC spokesperson who said the Senate did not follow due process in inviting the EFCC Chairman, the Senate Committee Chairman said, “No, that is not correct. There are ways petitions can come to the Senate. A petitioner can write straight to the Senate President and the President would minute to the appropriate Committee that is involved.”
Also speaking on the development, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, PDP, Delta North, through whom the Uboh’s petition was submitted to the Senate, who noted that procedures were followed, explained that the petitioner, from Ika South, his senatorial district, sent the petition in accordance with the rules, just as he said that the Senate Rule empowers the Senate President to send such a petition through plenary or during recess. He added that in line with the rules guiding the Senate, Saraki forwarded the petition to the Committee like other public petitions.
Nwaoboshi, who described the attention the invitation was getting as unnecessary against the backdrop that the Committee had over twenty petitions with plans to invite persons and organisations connected with them, stressed that there has never be a time a public petition was debated on the floor of the Senate as such petitions were always sent to the relevant Committee, adding, “ the Procedure is correct, rightly done, why the hue and cry, Lamorde should appear before the Committee and if what is there is nonsense, he can come and defend the issues raised. EFCC Act is an act created by the National Assembly, we can amend or repeal it, Lamorde has been inviting others, he should also honour the National Assembly.
Also speaking to Sunday Vanguard, Senator Matthew Uroghide, PDP, Edo South, who noted that the Committee was not probing Lamorde, but acting as an arbiter following complaints and petitions from Nigerians, said that he was not facing any interrogation, but for the EFCC boss to come up and defend the allegations raised in the petition by a Nigerian who has the right to do that. Uroghide added: “Why must we probe Lamorde, we are only inviting him, we cannot sack him, we just want to hear his side of the story regarding the petition against him, we are not probing him, we are not interrogating him, the invitation was based on complaints, let us get it right.”
Senator Ighoyota Amori, PDP, Delta Central, while equally speaking on the issue, corroborated Nwaoboshi. Amori stated: “The Senate acted in line with the Constitution and the Standing Orders 2014, and the issue has no relationship with the invitation of Toyin Saraki, wife of Senate President, Saraki. They are unrelated. The Senate acted within its constitutional function. It has nothing to do with Saraki’s wife invitation (an exercise that was politically motivated). I belong to the PDP Caucus in the Senate and our position is that since that invitation failed to sail through on the floor earlier, the Committee should apply caution and suspend the invitation for now.”
Another lawmaker, Senator Ibrahim Rafiu, APC, Kwara South, said, “That insinuation of a vendetta is laughable. Is it a senator that wrote the petition? Or are you expecting the Senate not to investigate such serious allegations? Every Nigerian has theright to write to the Senate and all issues will be taken very serious without bias by this 8th Senate. We have keyed in totally to the anti-corruption fight as being led by President Muhammadu Buhari. The parties involved just needed to prove their facts and the Senate will make appropriate recommendations to be executed or not to be executed”.
Breach of rule
Even with the statement from the PDP leaders in the Senate that Lamorde ought not to have been summoned, the Anyanwu-led Committee went ahead and that led to the appearance of Uboh on Wednesday to defend his petition.
Lamorde was however absent as he was said to have sought for time to enable him prepare his defence on the allegations raised.
As the Committee went into business, there was a dramatic twist as the lawmakers under the Senators Unity Forum of the ruling APC, kicked against the probe of Lamorde, describing the process as illegal and a breach of the Senate Standing Orders.
In a statement by Senators George Akume, Abu Ibrahim, Barnabas Gemade and Ahmad Lawan, they said in a standard parliamentary practice, a petition is routed through either a senator or a member of the House of Representatives and, when received, the representatives would inform the presiding officer of the chamber and, thereafter, present the petition in the plenary.
The statement read: “Upon presentation in plenary, the presiding officer will invite the senator/House of Representatives to lay the petition on the table in the chamber, which automatically becomes public document. Thereafter, the presiding officer will refer the petition to appropriate committee for consideration upon which it would be returned to the Senate plenary.
“In this regard, nothing of the sort happened. Senate proceeded on recess on August 13 and it is not on record that the petition of Mr. George Uboh, accusing Lamorde of diverting over N1 trillion recovered from some corrupt Nigerians, including former governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamieyeseigha, the former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun was presented to Senate in plenary.
“The Senate Unity Forum does support the position earlier adopted by some of our colleagues that the Lamorde probe should be halted as it did not follow due parliamentary process. For the avoidance of doubt, Rule 41(1-3 of the Senate Standing Orders specifically spell out how petitions are handled in the parliament.
“Rule 41(1-3) states:(1) A petition may only be presented to the Senate by a Senator, who shall affix his name at the beginning thereof.
“(2) A senator presenting a petition shall confine himself to a brief statement of the parties from whom it came, the number of signatures attached to it and material allegations contained in it and to reading the prayers of such petitions.
“(3) All petition shall be ordered, without question being put, to lie upon the Table. Such petition shall be referred to the Public Petitions Committee.
“It is after these steps have been taken that the presiding officer would refer the petition to the afore-mentioned Committee.
“It should be noted that, in this case, none of the laid-down procedures was followed before the Senate Unity Forum read in the newspapers that the Senator Samuel Anyanwu -led Ethics privileges and Public Petitions Committee would on Wednesday, August 26, commence probe of EFCC chairman. We stand against this probe. It is illegal and unconstitutional because it did not follow our rules.”
Echoes of trillions
At the probe hall, it was alleged that Lamorde failed to remit N2.051 trillion to the Federation Account apart from diverting more than one trillion naira recovered by the anti-graft agency.
Defending his petition against the EFCC and Lamorde. Uboh asked the Senate to get Lamorde arrested for failing to remit the money which the EFCC recovered between 2004 and 2013, just as also asked the Senate to compel Access Bank to bring complete and unadulterated statements of the EFCC from 2004 till date as well as force Aminu Ibrahim and Co (auditors) to shed light on the discrepancies.
The petitioner alleged that Lamorde’s younger brother, Usman Lamorde, was given choice assets especially in Abuja.
He said Bayelsa State Government was his client as he was hired to recover the unpaid money to the state by the EFCC, presenting a mandate letter from the state government dated November 19, 2013. He alleged that Lamorde used his paraphernalia of office to intimidate the Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson, who later withdrew the letter and disassociated himself from him (Uboh) despite an earlier agreement between both parties, adding that the governor personally went to court to withdraw the case that he (Uboh) had against the EFCC without his consent.
Uboh told the Committee that he should be arrested if his petition and presentation were fake, stressing that, if genuine, Lamorde should be arrested.
There was, however, a mild drama when the Committee walked out the representatives of the EFCC boss.
While the petitioner was being cross-examined, Chile Okoroma, Director of EFCC Legal Department, who led the anti-graft agency team to the hearing, interjected that he had a presentation to make as he expressed surprise at the documents that had been tendered by Uboh, adding that the EFCC did not get the copies containing those facts.
He, thereafter, asked to be briefed on the workings of the Committee, explaining that it was wrong for the petition to be heard when the accused was not present.
Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West), a member of the Committee, explained that it was their prerogative to decide the direction of the hearing.
But Okoroma insisted on speaking even after explanations by the senators. Consequently, the Committee Chairman, Anyanwu, announced that Okoroma and others on the EFCC team should leave the hall against the backdrop that, having written to be given enough time, they ought not to have come.
Anyanwu had earlier read a letter where the EFCC boss pleaded for enough time to respond to the issues raised in the petition. The Committee Chairman then directed that the hearing room be cleared of all EFCC representatives before the Committee could continue.
Speaking to journalists after he was walked out, a member of the team, Osuagwu Ugochukwu, who noted that the EFCC boss asked him to represent him at the hearing, expressed his fears, saying he was disappointed at the Senate Committee.
He said: “They invited Lamorde to come here today and in the letter they wrote to him, they never stated that their coming here would be for the petitioner to be heard alone.
“There was no procedure attached to the invitation letter that this is how this panel will run its sitting. So, to our greatest surprise, in spite of the fact that we even wrote a letter that because of the tight schedule of the commission. This is because we needed some of the members of the legal team to come along with us to the hearing. We wrote them a letter and there was no response and if there was no response, it’s assumed that the letter is ignored. So, Lamorde insisted that I must be here for him. But I came here to see a different procedure, where a petitioner is allowed to give evidence when the respondent is not in the venue of the sitting.
“One senator, I don’t know his name, said they might bring the petitioner if there’s any need to face the respondent. Of course, they will hear from us, but what we are saying is that it is wrong, in standard practice, rules of natural justice, even the Constitution, that the respondent or accused should be confronted without the petitioner.”
On whether he has confidence in the Committee, Ugochukwu said: “I have confidence in Nigeria. You can see it yourself. Well, as far as I am concerned, we are disappointed but if the Committee feels that they can do the right thing and correct the wrongs, fine for them. But as you can see now, I am highly disappointed.”
Also speaking to journalists shortly after the Committee walked them out, the Director, Legal, EFCC, Okoroma, said: “ As you must have read out, requesting for this and for us to come and make our presentation, we didn’t get a reply from the Committee and the Committee is going on in our absence despite our protest that we are not even given the opportunity. These are distinguished senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I wanted to be enlightened on the propriety of conducting proceedings in our absence when allegations were made in the absence of the other party. The Constitution is our grundnorm and they are here talking about the Constitution, that is the point we want to make.
Toyin Saraki saga
Speaking further, the petitioner, Uboh, who swore to an oath holding a Bible, in his presentation and a document he later made available to journalists, said that his petition had nothing to do with the interrogation of Toyin Saraki, wife of Senate President Bukola Saraki as the case has been on since 2013. He said: “EFCC confirmed that several cheques and drafts valued at N1,577,815,942 and $1.3m seized and forfeited by DSP Alamieyeseigha were deposited in the Commission’s recovery account.
“An agent appointed to manage and dispose six real estate properties forfeited by Alamieyeseigha confirmed that N1.9bn was remitted to EFCC between 2008 and 2009 as proceeds from the sales and interests from the properties.
“The agent confirmed remitting N60bn vide Intercontinental Bank draft in 2008 as balance of rent while N3.7 was confirmed by the EFCC as the amount received from Alamieyeseigha seized assets.”
According to the petitioner, the EFCC traded with N3.7 from March 2009 to February 2010 with 12 per cent per annum, alleging that Lamorde failed to remit the interest of N1.1bn to government, the sum which contains the N467.7m interest gotten from the actual N3.7bn that was used to trade with. He added: “EFCC continued to trade with the balance of N1.1bn from January 2010 to October 2013 with the interest rate of 12 per cent per annum. This money yielded N474.2m which should have accrued to Bayelsa State Government but EFCC is not only keeping it back but still trading with it.”
Uboh, who also alleged that Lamorde failed to account for 95 per cent of offshore assets and funds, said, “EFCC declared a fraction of what was seized from DSP.”
The naira recovery, he alleged, was different from offshore recoveries, adding, “in a December 02, 2011 letter, EFCC sent to the Chairman, House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, EFCC stated that the aggregate recoveries from 2004 to 2011 was N1.3 trillion. EFCC did not mention where the N1.3 trillion recovered was remitted to.”
Uboh zeroed in on what the EFCC recovered explaining that former EFCC chair, Farida Waziri told the then President, Goodluck Jonathan that naira recovery was N1.9 trillion while offshore recoveries stood at $316.1m, €32.1m and £1.2m respectively, adding that Lamorde should have remitted N2.051 trillion to government.
“EFCC diverted and concealed N779 million of recoveries from Tafa Balogun in its record (aggregate should be N3.037bn and not N2.258bn). Instead of transferring N3.3bn from Spring Bank to its Access Bank recovery account, EFCC transferred only N2.2bn and concealed it by understating the summation of the balances in the various accounts hence the Access bank statement had N2.2bn after concealment”, he alleged.
“EFCC would be compelled to pay Bayelsa the remittable amount due now with interest and the Commission should be compelled to declare all offshore assets and funds seized from DSP and others.
“EFCC should be compelled to remit N2.051 trillion to the Federal Government while Access Bank should be forced to bring complete and unadulterated statements from 2004 till date.
“Aminu Ibrahim and co, auditors of the EFCC, should be compelled to come and shed light on the discrepancies.”
According to him, on Naira recoveries alone, “In a December 02, 2011 letter EFCC sent to the Chairman, House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, EFCC stated that the aggregate recoveries from 2004 to 2011 (eight financial years) was N1,326,754,554,482:80. EFCC did not mention where the N1.3 trillion recovered was remitted to. EFCC’s claim that it did not recover up to a trillion is completely false”.
With the reopening of old wounds by the senators on the action of the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to summon Lamorde, how far will the 8th Senate go in remaining united especially against the backdrop that some senators on the platform of the PDP who made Saraki’s election as Senate President possible are joining forces with the opposition Unity Forum to unsettle the chambre.
How far can the Senate go with the wounds and the continued war of acrimony when it was yet to constitute the 57 Standing Committees? It is hoped that the senators would get it right and settle down for serious legislative business in the interest of the common who look up to them to act in a manner that will improve their well-being.
A group of senators of the All Progressives Congress, under the aegis of Unity Forum, have risen against the decision of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to investigate the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Lamorde, over alleged diversion of N1 trillion recovered by the commission.
The APC senators echoed the position of the Peoples Democratic Party caucus in the Senate, which dissociated its members from the probe on Monday, calling on the committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to shelve the investigation.
But in a statement jointly signed by Senators Ahmed Lawan, George Akume, Abu Ibrahim and Barnabas Gemade, the APC senators said on Wednesday that for a petition to be discussed in the Senate or House of Representatives, it must be channelled through a member of the House of Representatives or a senator.
“In standard parliamentary practice, a petition is routed through either a senator or member of the House of Representatives. Upon receipt of such petition, the representative will inform the presiding officer of the chamber and, thereafter, present the petition in the plenary.
“Thereafter the presiding officer will refer the matter to the appropriate committee upon which it will be returned to the Senate in plenary,” said the senators.
Quoting Rule 41 (1-3) of the Senate Standing Order, the senators explained how petitions are handled in parliament, saying “a senator presenting a petition shall confine himself to a brief statement of the parties from whom it came, the number of signatures attached to it and the material allegations contained in it and to reading the prayers of such petitions.
“All petitions shall be, without question being put, ordered to lie upon the table. Such petitions shall be referred to the Public Petitions Committee.”
The APC senators further stated that none of the foregoing rules was followed in handling the petition against the EFCC, and that they only read in the newspapers that the Senator Samuel Anywanu-led Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions would commence a probe of the EFCC chairman.
At the commencement of the probe on Wednesday, a representative of the EFCC, a witness told PREMIUM TIMES, said the commission had no confidence in the Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee of the Senate, saying the committee lacked objectivity and that it was unlikely that it would get a fair hearing.
The commission said a delegation sent to observe the proceedings was walked out by the members of the committee on the pretext that the commission had earlier written that it would not be present at the hearing.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the petitioner, George Ugbo, was midway into his presentation when EFCC’s Director of Legal and Prosecution, Chile Okoroma, arrived, raising objection that it was not in the tradition of the senate to conduct hearing with only one party present.
Responding on behalf of the committee, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Information, Dino Melaye, reportedly said the committee was at liberty to adopt any procedure it considers suitable, claiming that the EFCC was not expected at the hearing, having written to be excused.
The Senate committee however proceeded to read the letter from the EFCC, where the commission asked for another date to be present at the hearing but omitted the portion where the commission disclosed that the petitioner is an accused under prosecution by the commission on fraud charges.
Mr. Okoroma insisted that it amounted to lack of fair hearing for the proceedings to continue in the absence of the EFCC, while also observing that the documents presented to the committee by the petitioner were not made available to the commission.
In the light of the foregoing, the EFCC representative noted that the narration by Mr. Uboh only contained reference to the EFCC and not Mr. Lamorde even though the hearing was advertised as a probe of Mr. Lamorde.
PREMIUM TIMES however learnt that Mr. Uboh, who allegedly converted properties belonging to the Police Equipment Fund, is standing trial before Justice J, Aladetoyinbo of the FCT High Court on three counts of fraud (FRN v George Uboh CR/12/09).
The senate investigation, following a petition, has fuelled speculations that the lawmakers might be seeking ways of getting back at the anti-graft agency.
Coming in the wake of the commission’s probe of Toyin Saraki, the wife of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, over allegations of fraud committed when her husband was governor of Kwara State, the anti-graft agency has questioned the motive and procedure of the planned Senate probe.
But in a statement Tuesday, the Senate president, Bukola Saraki, denied ulterior motive behind the senate’s decision to invite the chairman of EFCC, saying the anti-graft commission is not the only government agency facing a Senate probe.
Members of the National Assembly on Wednesday said they welcomed the decision of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to review downward the salaries and allowances of members of the National Assembly.
The House of Representatives said a pay cut would be a “relief” to lawmakers in many respects, including restoring the dignity of the legislature in the country.
It noted that it was “disgusting” to hear Nigerians call their legislators “looters” and “thieves” on account of the salaries and allowances worked out for them by an agency of the government empowered by law to do so.
The Chairman of RMAFC, Mr. Elias Mbam, had on Tuesday disclosed that a new pay package, reflecting cuts in the remuneration of public service officers would be released in September.
Mbam specifically mentioned the National Assembly as an arm of the public service that would be affected in the planned pay cut.
Mbam, who spoke with State House correspondents in Abuja soon after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, said, “Presently, we are reviewing the subsisting remuneration package and it is going to reflect the socio-economic realities of today.
“We expect that before the end of next month, it will be ready.
“But, it will go through a process; it is not something that you will just say ‘yes or no.’
“It will go through a process and it should be obvious to you the economic realities of the day and it is going to reflect that.”
Answering a specific question on whether he thought senators and members of the House of Representatives would welcome the pay cut, he stated, “They (senators and Representatives) do not have a choice.
“We are guided by the 1999 Constitution and we are going to be guided by such laws that are provided for in the Constitution. They swore to obey the laws of the country.”
The House, which reacted through its Chairman, Ad hoc Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Sani Zoro, claimed that members would be relieved if the new pay package came into effect.
Zoro observed that since 1999, Nigerians viewed legislators as people who did not deserve their pay or even “erroneously” believed that they fixed salaries for themselves.
“So, for us, it will be a relief if the pay is reduced. We will now have our integrity intact.
“We will feel confident to be called honourable, instead of feeling horrible as some people wish to address legislators,” he said.
Zoro also told The PUNCH that the pay cut would reduce the financial pressure lawmakers faced from their constituents and the general public, who held the “wrong impression” that they were very rich.
“This is good for us on another ground. There are those who see us as looters and thieves.
“This is a message to them to let us be; since we will no longer be paid the money they feel we do not deserve.
“Our burden will now become less and we are very pleased with this development,” Zoro added.
Zoro also told The PUNCH that it was a “cheering” decision by RMAFC, coming after the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, had set up a committee to assess the “needs” of the 8th House.
He explained that the committee, made up of civil society organisations and professionals in many fields, would cost the financial requirements for running the legislature.
At the moment, each member takes a monthly salary of around N900,000, excluding a quarterly allowance (running cost) of about N27.9m.
Senators take a slightly higher salary and quarterly allocation.
Lawmakers are currently observing a six-week annual recess to last till September 29.
Also, the Senate spokesperson, Dino Melaye, explained that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, first initiated moves to review downward, the total package accruable to legislators in the upper chamber immediately after the inauguration of the 8th Senate.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Sen. Samuel Anyanwu said on Tuesday that his committee would go ahead with the proposed probe of the EFCC Chairman, Mr Ibrahim Lamorde.
Anyanwu said this when he spoke with news men in Abuja.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Senate Minority Leader , Sen. Godswill Akpabio, has in a signed statement, dissociated himself from the planned probe.
Akpabio said that the Senate had already stood it down at plenary.
Anyanwu, however , said that Akpabio was misinformed in his stance.
He said that the senate only rejected a prayer to invite the CBN Governor and EFCC Chairman over a motion bordering on Naira depreciation.
Anyanwu said that Akpabio had called him to express regret over the misinformation contained in the press statement, adding that there were no more misunderstandings.
“Of course, this is a standing committee of the Senate.
“It is not only EFCC boss that was invited. There are other petitions which we have invited the petitioners and those that were petitioned against.
“We have the FIRS and Comptroller General of Customs that are also coming tomorrow. So, I don’t know why this should be an issue.
“We are guided by the Senate Standing Rule and the 1999 Constitution to invite anybody when the need arises.
“If you look at the press statement by the Minority Leader of the party, Sen. Akpabio, it was a misinformation.
“There was an amendment of a motion at the floor of the Senate where the CBN Governor was to be invited with the EFCC boss regarding naira depreciation and all that.
“But we stood it down. So, there was a misinformation. So, he thought that it was the same issue. But this is a petition against the person of the EFCC boss,” he said.
Reacting to comments credited to the spokesperson of the EFCC, Mr Wilson Uwujaren, that the senate did not follow due process, Anyanwu said that the due process on petitions was followed.
He denied allegations that that the senate was seemingly on a vendetta mission against Lamorde following the anti-graft agency’s invitation of the wife of the President of the Senate, Mrs Toyin Saraki.
He said that the senate was on recess but some key committees would still have to meet during the recess so as to have reports to present on the floor upon the resumption of the senate.
“We have so many petitions, up to 10 petitions. The EFCC is one of them and FIRS and so many of them.
“There is no situation that because we are on recess we cannot sit.
“The issue of invitation of Senate President’s wife has nothing to do with our job. It is not on that basis (motion) that we are inviting the EFCC boss.
“This committee is a fact-finding committee. Our job is: every petition that comes to this committee must be treated.
“If somebody brings a petition against the EFCC boss, the person is a Nigerian so he has the right and as long as he will come before the committee to substantiate the petition, we must take it serious.
“If we don’t take it up, people will say probably we have been settled, that is why we didn’t bring up the matter.
“It is only a mere allegation. We cannot convict anybody, we are not a law court,” he said.
Other senators who spoke to newsmen also said that the invitation of the EFCC helmsman had nothing to do with the commission’s invitation of Mrs Saraki.
Sen. Rafiu Ibrahim (APC Kwara South), described the allegation of vendetta as `laughable’ and wondered if the petition was written by a senator.
“Every Nigerian has the right to write to the Senate and all issues will be taken very seriously without bias by this 8th Senate.
“We have keyed in totally to the anti-corruption fight as being led by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“The parties involve just need to proof their facts and the Senate will make appropriate recommendations to be executed by the Executive,” he said. (NAN)
Following President Muhammadu Buhari’s order directing the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to address public outcry over huge salaries and allowances of members of the National Assembly, the chairman of the commission, Elias Mbam, said on Tuesday that Senators and members of the House of Representatives will earn less than N1 million by the end of next month.
Speaking at the State House after Mr. Mbam made presentation on the activities and challenges of the commission, President Buhari chided the RMAFC for approving excessive remunerations for some political office holders, and urged the commission to seek a proper interpretation of its powers and address the public outcry against the unreasonably high payments.
President Buhari also warned that severe sanctions will be visited on any individual or organisation that violates the directive on the payment of all national revenue into the Federation Account.
President Buhari spoke a week after PREMIUM TIMES published details of the federal lawmakers’ salaries and allowances, a publication that sparked widespread public anger against the lawmakers, with many calling a drastic cut.
But in his response to reporters’ questions after meeting the president, the RMAFC boss said the commission had been working on the review of the salaries and allowances of the political office holders at National Assembly, the State Assemblies and Local Governments, adding that the review also covers the Judiciary.
Mr. Mbam said the review, which according to him is still going through a process and expected to be ready by next month, is expected to reflect the economic realities of the day occasioned by the drop in oil prices.
“We are currently reviewing the subsisting remuneration packages and it is going to reflect the socio-economic realities of today. We expect that before the end of next month, it will be ready. But it will go through a process, it is not something that you will just say yes or no,” he said.
According to Mr. Mbam, “no member of the National Assembly should earn up to N1million per month” and that the Senators and Members of the House of Representatives have no option but to abide by the commission’s new wage formula.
“They do not have a choice. We are guided by the constitution and we are going to be guided by such laws that are provided for in the constitution and the oath they swore to obey,” he said.
According to him, President Buhari advised that they use all legitimate means to ensure that all public office holders’ emoluments comply with those approved by the commission and “ensure that leakages are blocked.”
As part of the challenges faced by the commission, Mr. Mbam said the commission was not properly funded as it should be one of the agencies of government that should have financial autonomy.
“The best way to do that is to include it as one of the agencies that will benefit from first line charge,” he said.
The second challenge, he said is lack of power of enforcement. He therefore demanded a review of the Act establishing the commission so that it can have power of enforcement and sanctions on any of the defaulting MDAs.
Mr. Mbam said the review of of salaries and allowances had been on since last year, noting that it had become imperative to conclude it following the drop in oil prices and the financial constraint which had degenerated to states been unable to pay salaries of staff.
“These are some of the issues that made the review necessary. It did not start with this administration, we started the review as far back as last year. It is not because of the present administration that we commenced it,” he said.
The RMAFC is saddled with the responsibility of determining the remuneration for political office holders, both elected and appointed, from the national level to the local government level.
The pay packages of public office holders, particularly the salaries and allowances of the National Assembly members, have been an issue of serious concern among Nigerians.
Since 2010, the N150 billion annual allocations to the National Assembly in the budget, which includes the salaries and allowances as well as other perks, have remained a closely guarded secret, as their details have always been hidden from the public.
PREMIUM TIMES had on August 18 published a report indicating that the 360 members of the House of Representatives gulp N6.58 billion from the nation’s treasury in annual salaries and allowances, while the 109 Senators cost the nation N2.14 billion in similar emoluments.
Cumulatively, the country shells out a hefty N8.72 billion every year in salaries and allowances to lawmakers in the two chambers of the National Assembly.
However, the amount the Senators and Members of the House of Representatives remit as tax appears insignificant as their income tax is calculated as a function of their basic salaries alone.
Yet the allowances, which are non-taxed are about 870 percent (Senators) and 820 percent (Reps) of their basic salaries.
PREMIUM TIMES analyses of the lawmakers’ pay did however not include the illegal but hefty quarterly allowances lawmakers pay themselves – they call it office running cost.
Chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, Mr. Elias Mbam, disclosed yesterday that the Commission had started the process of trimming down the pay packages of the President, Senators, members of the House of Representatives, governors and all the elected public officials to reflect current economic realities.
Speaking with journalists after meeting President Muhammadu Buhari, the RMAFC Chairman said that no federal lawmaker received N1 million monthly as salary, adding that their salaries would be pruned down to reflect the current economy status.
Asked whether the parliamentarians would give a nod to the idea, the Chairman said it was a constitutional mandate, which no one should argue about.
He said: “We are here to brief the President on the activities of the commission, the challenges and the way forward.
“The President advised us to ensure that we use all legitimate means to ensure all public office holders take home remuneration as determined by the commission and also block all leakages.
“We have done a lot in informing the public on the true position of the remuneration packages. It is on our website; it is clearly written there and we have published these remuneration packages in many national dailies several times.
“We have also had interactions with the press at different fora.
“What we read on the pages of newspapers is not known to the commission because there is no member of the National Assembly, based on what we determined, who earns up to N1 million per month.
“Presently, we are reviewing the subsisting remuneration packages and it is going to reflect the socio-economic realities of today. We expect that before the end of next month, it will be ready.
“When I talk of packages, the responsibility of the commission is to determine the remuneration for political office holders, both elected and appointed, from the national level to the local government level.
“Of course, National Assembly members are elected. It will include them, it will include the judiciary, it will include the state legislature, executive and of course, the local government will be included.
“Recently, the oil price dropped. Many government agencies, the states and local governments have not been able to pay their salaries. These are some of the issues that made it necessarily to review it. It did not start with this administration; we started the review as far back as last year. It is not because of the present administration that we commenced it.
“They do not have a choice. We are guided by the constitution and we are going to be guided by such laws that are provided for in the constitution and the oath they swore to obey the laws of the country.”
Mbam, who recounted the challenges of the Commission to include insufficient funding, urged the authorities to amend the Act setting it up to grant its financial independence.
Asked when the new revenue sharing formula would be ready, the chairman said it was beyond his power to comment on.
He said: “One of the challenges is that the commission is not properly funded and we are saying that we expect that the commission should be one of the agencies of government that should have financial autonomy.
“The best way to do that is to include it as one of the agencies that will benefit from first line charge.
“The second is to give the commission the power of enforcement. They should review the Act establishing the commission so that it can have power of enforcement and sanctions on any of the defaulting MDAs.”
A fresh crisis has hit the Senate over a petition against the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, alleging diversion of N1trillion by the agency.
The petition is being promoted by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, believed to be an ally of the Senate President.
But the PDP Caucus, to which Nwaoboshi belongs, yesterday opposed the probe of the allegation.
The caucus made its position known in a statement signed by the Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, Sen. Phillip Aduda (FCT), Sen. Emmanuel Bwacha (Taraba) and Senator Abiodun Olujimi (Ekiti).
The statement said: “It has come to the notice of the PDP leadership in the Senate that the Senate Committee on Public Petitions would begin a public hearing on Wednesday, 26th of August 2015 and the Committee has invited the Chairman of EFCC to appear before it.
“The PDP leadership in the Senate is not against any committee of the Senate performing its oversight duties and or functions but we feel that this is not the appropriate time to embark on this most important assignment, particularly since this same action was mooted and has failed at previous plenary session.
“We therefore urge the committee to suspend its public hearing on this particular matter until further notice.
“The PDP Senate leadership reassures the Nigerian public of its support for the war against corruption by the Federal Government of Nigeria but hastens to add that such fight against corruption should be total and not selective.
“Nigerians need peace at this period of economic challenges precipitated by the falling oil prices and actions that will overheat the polity and generate unnecessary friction between the Executive and the Legislature should be guided.”
The intending probe of Lamorde caused a split among senators.
A Senator said: “The so-called petition came through an ambush procedure because it did not follow due process.
“If there is any petition, it ought to be sent to the President of the Senate and not an individual senator.
“We are suspecting that some people are trying to use the Senate to settle scores. This is not the type of process we voted for on June 9.”
Another senator said: “It is an abuse of the Senate rules after the same plot had failed at a previous plenary of the Senate. Certainly, some fifth columnists are at work.”
The EFCC yesterday described the allegations against Lamorde as “infantile” and “fabricated”.
It said the EFCC since its inception had not earned up to N1trillion.
A statement by the commission’s Head, Media and Publicity, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said: “The attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has been drawn to a report captioned, Alleged N1tn diversion: Senate to probe Lamorde’s alleged diversion of N1tn, which appeared in a newspaper of Monday August 24, 2015 containing salacious claims of corruption against the person of the chairman of the Commission, Ibrahim Lamorde.
“The EFCC should ordinarily not dignify the publication with a response as the motives of the promoters and their media allies are to impugn the integrity of the EFCC boss with fabricated stories of corruption.
“However the Commission is constrained to respond, to expose the motive behind the sinister plot.
“In the first instance, claims of a N1trillion corruption in the EFCC is infantile and assaults the sensibilities of all reasonable stakeholders in the anti- corruption fight.
“Even if the EFCC had not returned a kobo of recovered assets in its 12 years existence in addition to the yearly appropriated funds from the federation account, it will be nowhere near a trillion naira.
“This clearly exposes the mission of the so called petitioner as nothing more than mischief, designed to smear Lamorde.
”More sinister is the discovery that the so-called petition did not follow the procedure for consideration by the Senate. It was sent, not to the Senate but to a member, Senate Peter Nwaoboshi, a first term senator from Delta North.
“Under the Senate rules, petitions meant for consideration by the red chamber are sent to the Senate, not to a member of the Senate.
“Also, petitions meant for the Senate are tabled at the plenary, before they are referred to the relevant committees for further consideration. In this instance, the Senate has been on recess and there is no evidence that the so called petition was considered at plenary and referred to any committee.
“The EFCC as an agency that is founded on transparency is not afraid of any ‘probe’ or request for information regarding its activities by individuals, groups or organs of government; so far as such requests followed due process of law.
“The EFCC under Lamorde did not need the prompting of anyone, when it commissioned a reputable international audit firm, KPMG, to carry out comprehensive audit of exhibits and forfeited assets of the Commission from 2003 to date.
“The report of the audit will be made public once it is ready. Were the Commission to be jittery about its records, it would not have embarked on such audit.
“The EFCC however warns that those who peddle false information with the intent to mislead should be reminded that there is a subsisting law on false information and the consequence for violation is grave.