Plight of a Fraudulent Nation

The recent scam and financial scandal rocking the National Assembly involving the embattled House Committee Chairman on Capital Markets Hon. Herman Hembe and the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission has once again brought Nigeria into global focus as nation of fraud, writes Ohia Israel

From the reign of Evan Ewerem to David Mark and from Ghali Na’Abba to Aminu Tambuwal leadership of the National Assembly has had to come to grips with a catalogue and cycle of scandals and scams

Issue of scandals in the National Assembly is no more a new thing to the parliament as it all started with the election of Senate President in 1999 when Senator Chuba Okadigbo openly told the nation that he lost his bid for Senate Presidency due to money in Ghana-Must-Go which was used by the presidency to influence the Senators who voted during the election in the Senate. In his words: “It was a very busy night at the Nicon Hilton Hotel, where the senators lodged. Throughout the previous night I saw many ‘Ghana Must Go’ bags loaded with money. It was the money that was used to rob me of the Senate presidency.”

However, in 2009 when the heat fell on Ewerem and he was removed Okadigbo subsequently became the Senate President, his leadership as the President of the Senate was, his leadership was indeed rocked by bribe money. It is of note that in less than two years in office the Senate was entangled in N75 million Sallah rams scandal and contracts that was awarded through preventative approvals; however he lost his seat as the Senate President.

Yet in another scam that rocked the Senate was when a former FCT Minister Mallam Nasir El-Rufai did accused the then Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu of asking for a N50 million bribe in order to facilitate his screening at the Senate, though Ibrahim Mantu’s efforts to clear his name never yields much goals. Even as same Mantu was said to have been involved in a scandal of converting his personal residence to official residence while at the same time collecting about N54 million as rent.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjs in a nationwide broadcast told the nation how Senators and Members of the House of Representatives had been in the habit of accepting money as bribes from Ministers to pass their budgets.   He also told the nation in that broadcast that the lawmakers demanded and received N55 million to pass or increase the proposals in the 2004 appropriation. Obasanjo’s words: “It is with a heavy heart that I have to address the nation today. As you know, the issue of transparency, accountability, and eradication of corruption assumed a central place in the policies and programmes of this administration from its inception.

“The fight against corruption is meant to be observed within the three arms of government – the executive, judiciary, and legislature – because corruption will not disappear in our national life if the measures adopted in the fight are designed for the executive arm or within the judiciary alone while the legislative arm wallows in corruption. The following facts have now been established in the investigation report: That the Minister of Education invited his acting Permanent Secretary and some directors to collect money from votes under their control to bribe some members of the National Assembly so that they can ensure that their budgets will not be reduced; in fact, in order that the budget for the ministry submitted by the Executive may be increased; that those directors produced from the votes under their control N35 million while an additional loan of N20 million was taken from the National Universities Commission (NUC) to pay a total bribe of N55 million, which was collected by the Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, Senator John Azuta Mbata, Chairman, Senate Appropriation Committee; Senator Ibrahim Abdulazeez, Chairman, Senate Committee on Education; Senator (Dr.) Chris Adighije, Senator Badamasi Maccido, Senator Emmanuel Okpede, and a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. ( Dr.) Shehu Matazu who is chairman of the House Committee on Education.”

“But what has happened must make us all to be extra cautious in the realization that when some members of the National Assembly are inviting people to question them on what they have done or are doing, or to discuss or defend their budgets or investigate what may not be their business, no one should fall for the antics of using that guise to engage in acts of bribery and corruption,” Obasanjo had disclosed.

It will also be recalled that Wabara resigned in the heat of the scandal and Osuji lost his position as a minister while other lawmakers involved were arraigned and the case is still pending in court.

While this scandal was settling down, then the third term scandal in which each lawmaker was allegedly promised N100 million to ensure the extension of the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo erupted as the third term was shot down due to insistence of the former Senate President, Ken Nnamani on a live coverage of the second reading of the bill that was to amend the constitution to allow for the insertion of the third term.

Issues of bribery scandals became unstoppable from the tail end of Obasanjo’s administration. The Committee on Health of both chambers of the National Assembly were alleged to have received N10 million each from the unspent funds of the Ministry of Health which was used to organize a retreat in Ghana, a scenario which the Senate Committee Chairman on Health Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, had a frenzied time trying to clear and defend her name. It will be recalled that Iyabo was also implicated in the shoddy execution of N27 billion contract awarded to VAMED –Engineering to refurbish teaching hospitals in the country and as a result of this when the situation becomes heightened, she has to exactly derelict her seat in the upper chamber to escape the arrest of the EFCC. The former ministers of Health, Adenike Grange and Gabriel Aduku along with the chairman, senate committee on Health, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello were arrested along with others by the EFCC and charged to court for embezzling unspent budget.

Another scam which also rocked the National Assembly was the issue of Sekibo George a Senator from Rivers, who raised a point of order on the floor of the senate drawing the notice of his colleagues to a publication that some senators travelled to Ghana on the ticket of some oil companies to frustrate the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, it was to open another Pandora box and the countenance of some senators in the chamber was understandable.

George Sekibo referred to Emmanuel Egbogah who was the Special Adviser to the President on Petroleum, who reportedly alleged that the oil companies which are operating in the country have compromised members of the National Assembly and union labour leaders to scuttle the Petroleum Bill.

In his publication, Egbogah had  alleged that the “oil companies are carrying campaigns, taking the senators to Ghana to feed them, going to the labour people to bribe them and saying that this reform is going to kill you and all that nonsense.”

More damaging was that the allegation  was coming on the heels of another scam which involved some members of the National Assembly, especially chairmen of the committees on Power of both the Senate and House of Representatives, Nicholas Ugbane and Ndudi Elumelu, respectively who were arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) for their involvement in the award of N5.2 billion rural electrification project.

Salisu Buhari who was the Speaker in 1999 was booted out due to certificate forgery. Besides, in 2003 it was the turn of the first female speaker Patricia Olubumi Ette as she was accused of inflating the renovation of her official residence to the tune of N628milliion. Though Obasanjo was involved in the scenario to save Etteh’s job, she was forced to resign as the Speaker after she was found guilty in the scandal.

After this another scandal was on, this time it was the probe which was instituted by the House of Representatives into the power project from 1999 till date and Ndudi Elumelu, chairman of the committee on Power took up the gauntlet. However, halfway into the investigation that was being beamed live on television, an allegation arose that the committee collected a bribe of N100 million to be able to whittle down its report.

Moreover even as attention was on the power probe, allegations and accusations that the Speaker, Dimeji Bankole had inflated the cost of cars purchased for the 88 standing committees of the House turned out to become endemic. However, legal practitioner Festus Keyamo had then petitioned the House and also alleged that the price of those cars were inflated by about N500 million to actually inflate it to the tune of N2.4 billion. Though before the public outcry, the Chairman of the anti-graft agency, Mrs. Farida Waziri, claimed that she had concluded the investigation into the scam and submitted the report to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua but only waiting for President Jonathan to settle before re-opening the case. The President was, however, quick to dismiss the claim, promising not to interfere in the affairs of the commission.

The case of Bankole involving in scandals never ended there as, another scandalous allegation of misappropriating N9 billion out of N11 billion capital votes of the House in the 2008 – 2009 budget was also against the Bankole leadership while it also went into the, the May 11 revelation on the floor of the House that Bankole took a N10 billion bank loan to finance the activities of the House without the knowledge of his colleagues. The loan was reportedly taken in three instalments of N6.1b, N2.5b and N1.5b in May 2010. Due to the alleged debt, the banks refused to pay the 2011 second quarter salaries, allowances and emoluments of the legislators when due. His colleagues also noted fraud in the purchase of cars for principal officers and members of the House and hike in prices of television sets, photocopiers, computers, etc. for members.

What is more disturbing on the series and range of scandals and sleaze in the National Assembly is that Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) empower the National Assembly to carry out probe on these bodies which includes ministries, departments, agencies, and other bodies, public and private, that utilize money appropriated by it.

But as it is today, Nigerians have now seen that power have been misapplied by the parliament in search of showmanship and to witch-hunt or extort money or settle personal scores with their victims, as various probes, such as power probe, NNPC probe, GSM call-drops probe and FCT probe have shown. This indeed had made Nigerians to see probes as journeys which are embarked by the National Assembly without reaching its destination as a result of its inconclusiveness or non-implementation of the outcomes. For instance, the probe of the Telecommunications sector was nearly stalled when the lawmakers were accused of receiving N4.4 million in recharge cards from a telecom company to mellow the temperament of the committee members to get favourable treatment, as against the overall interests of the public, which accused telecom providers of high charges.

Today the bottom-line is that in twelve years of its existence as a parliament the National Assembly, has been battling stigma which has been a recurring decimal that has stuck, even as much as the leadership tried, the disgrace gets murkier with every passing year.

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