OLUGBENGA SALAMI, in this report examines the contending issues raised by individuals and groups within the Senate on the ongoing investigation of alleged N1trillion diverted by the EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde from the Commission
When the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions invited the chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde for questioning following a petition by a concerned Nigerian, Dr. George Uboh over an alleged N1trillion scam in the Commission, many Nigerians did not know it is going to be a dramatic probe as it is presently being witnessed.
Though many Nigerians had expected the kind of unfolding drama due to the unsettled dust raised by the leadership crisis in the upper Senate, but nobody expected that it would be from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP principal officers led by the Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio and the Majority Leader, Senator Ali Ndume.
The position of Senate Unity Forum, SUF, which comprises a group of senators loyal to Senator Ahmed Lawan, APC’s preferred choice for the senate president, on the probe, though with clear explanation, is understood by many, especially political watchers.
It all started when Uboh, the Chief Executive Officer of Panic Alert Security Systems, a security firm, in his petition dated July 31, 2015, accused Lamorde of some specific instances of under-remittance and non-disclosure of proceeds of corruption recovered from criminal suspects, including the former governor of Bayelsa, Diepreye Alamieyesigha and former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun.
Uboh assured the senate that he would produce “overwhelming evidence” to back his claims against Lamorde. He also alleged that the EFCC had not accounted for “offshore recoveries” and that “over half of the assets seized from suspects are not reflected in EFCC’s exhibit records”.
The fraud allegedly perpetrated by Larmode was said to have dated back to his days as the Director of Operations of the EFCC between 2003 and 2007, as well as an acting chairman of the Commission between June 2007 and May 2008, when the then chairman of the anti-graft agency, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, was away for a course at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, Kuru, Jos.
However, when the committee summoned the petitioner and the EFCC boss to appear before it, the first opposition came from the four principal officers of PDP in the senate. The officers, namely Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio; Deputy Minority Leader, Phillip Aduda; Minority Whip, Emmanuel Bwacha and Deputy Minority Whip, Abiodun Olujimi, in a joint statement admonished the senate and in particular, the committee to suspend the public hearing for now.
Their argument: “This is not the appropriate time for such a sensitive assignment, more so, when a similar move to that effect on the floor of the senate recently failed”. But in a quick reaction to the PDP senate leadership position on the probe, chairman of the committee, Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East), said it was based on misinformation. He told newsmen in Abuja that the officers confused his committee’s invitation to Lamorde to a failed one earlier moved on the floor of the senate in form of an amendment to a prayer in a motion.
According to Anyanwu, Lamorde’s invitation is a fall out of a petition, which falls within the ambit of the functions of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions. “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 petition that comes 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”, he said.
In its argument, SUF said that the ongoing probe of Lamorde by the Senate is illegal and breach of the Senate’s Standing Rules. The group, which opposed to the emergence of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki as the senate president, said in a statement that the probe did not follow due process.
“In a standard parliamentary practice, a petition is routed through either a senator or a member of the House of Representatives. Upon receipt of such petition, the representatives will inform the presiding officer of the chamber and, thereafter, present the petition in the plenary”, it stated.
The statement, signed by Senators Ahmed Lawman, George Akume, Abu Ibrahim and Barnabas Gemade reads further, “Upon presentation in plenary, the presiding officer will invite the Senator/House of Representatives. To lay same 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.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Rule 41(1-3 of the Senate Standing Orders specifically spells 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”, it stressed.
The statement also stated, “(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.”
It added, “(3) All petitions shall be ordered, without question being put, to lie upon the table. Such petition shall be referred to the Public Petition Committee. It is after these steps have been taken that presiding officer would refer the petition to the afore-mentioned Committee.
“It should be noted that in this case, none of the laid-down procedure was followed before ‘Senate Unity Forum’ read in the newspapers that the Senator Samuel Anywanu-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”, the anti-Saraki senators maintained.
Sharing the same position with the SUF members, Senate Majority Leader, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South), admitted procedural lapses in Lamorde’s probe.
Ndume, while fielding questions from journalists over the probe, said: “I think there were some procedural lapses there, but I don’t want to believe it was deliberate because there is no way you can cut corners or use the institution of the senate to settle personal scores, it doesn’t work that way.
“After all, whatever decision you take has to be considered on the floor of the Senate and it has to be passed. So even if it is a committee recommendation, after the committee works, the report has to be presented in plenary and a simple majority will have to agree with its content before the report becomes acceptable”, he stressed.
Anyanwu, however, explained that the move against Lamorde by the committee was not vindictive in any way as being perceived in some quarters. “There are many ways the senate can operate, at the plenary, committee and the constituency. We are on vacation. A committee like Ethics and Privileges, we have a lot of petitions and now that we are on recess, each member agrees to spend his or her time to work. And we have to turn in the report of these petitions at the floor of the Senate for the consideration of the entire senate.
“We have so many petitions, up to 10 petitions. This is the summary of petitions received so far. That of 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.
“Two, 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”, Anyanwu explained.
He, however, said that the divergent positions of the lawmakers over the probe have not in any way created a divided Senate. This was corroborated by the chairman, Senate’s Ad hoc Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Dino Melaye, who described as baseless and unfounded allegations that the invitation of Lamorde, by the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions was masterminded by Saraki.
Melaye explained in a statement that Order 103 of the Senate Standing Orders specifically states that “In the exercise of the powers conferred on the National Assembly by Section 88 and 89 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Senate shall have power to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into any matter.”
Major drama, however, played out last week’s Wednesday as officials of the EFCC were walked out of the public hearing session of the committee on the scam leveled against Lamorde, who the petitioner alleged gave some of the choice properties seized from former Bayelsa State Governor, DSP Alamieyesigha and others to Usman Lamorde, his younger brother.
The EFCC officials led by Chile Okoroma, the Head of Legal Services walked into trouble at the hearing by seeking for permission to make contribution despite earlier request made by the Commission for extension of date of appearance before the committee.
The disclosure of their identity did not go down well with the chairman and other members of the committee, especially when Okoroma went ahead to make his comment without permission by describing the method being adopted by the committee to conduct the public hearing as unjust and contrary to the law.
He said, “it is very wrong for a petitioner to be heard publicly in the absence of the person the petition is against”.
At that stage, a member of the committee, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim (APC, Kwara South) requested for the walking out of the EFCC officials from the session, since they were not even expected to be in attendance, let alone, administered oath, for the purposes of commenting at the session. Senator Ibrahim’s motion on this was spontaneously acted upon by the chairman, who asked the three EFCC officials and other lawyers who accompanied them to immediately leave the venue of the hearing session.
Meanwhile, at the hearing session, the petitioner made series of submissions backed with facts and figures, indicating that the anti-graft body, must have defrauded the country to the tune of N2.051trillion from seized properties and funds of individuals under investigation by the Commission.
The petitioner, while comparing the first two submissions emanating from EFCC, said the Commission doctored its records to conceal diversions. He therefore urged the senate to compel Access Bank to bring complete and unadulterated statements of the Commission from 2004 till date.
Similarly, he said auditors of EFCC, Aminu Ibrahim and co, should also be compelled to appear before the committee to shed light on the discrepancies in the Commission’s accounts.
He went further by alleging that in defrauding the nation of seized funds from corrupt Nigerians under investigation, EFCC under Lamorde also indulges in doctoring of bank accounts and diversion of already seized loots.
After his submissions, the committee chairman, Sam Anyanwu, said the allegations were very weighty and the committee would look into them very seriously but added that they are on a facts-finding mission and not out to run down anybody or agency.