HOUSE of Representatives yesterday accused former President Olusegun Obasanjo of introducing corruption to the National Assembly.
Reacting to Obasanjo’s accusation against the lawmakers as constituting cabal that perpetrate corruption, the lower chamber blasted the elder statesman, describing him as a blackmailer and a lifetime opposition leader in the country. The former Nigerian leader had on Wednesday, at the First Akintola Williams Annual Lecture in Lagos, said,among other things, that “the blanket adverse comments or castigation of all democratic administrations from 1999 by the present administration is uncharitable, fussy and uninstructive.
Politics apart, I strongly believe that there is a distinction between the three previous administrations that it would be unfair to lump them all together. “I understand President Buhari’s frustration on the state of the economy inherited by him. It was the same reason and situation that brought about the cry for change; otherwise there would be no need for change if it was all nice and rosy. No administration can or should be comfortable with the excruciating pain of debilitating and crushing economy. Businesses are closing, jobs are being lost and people are suffering,” the former president said. Reacting to Obasanjo’s accusation, chairman of the House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas alleged that Obasanjo bribed the lawmakers during the inauguration in 1999 to vote against the majority candidate of the PDP, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo. Namdas further alleged that while in office, the former president used his position to extort money from businessmen and contractors with his government to build his presidential library. The House spokesman also said the former Nigerian leader remained the grandfather of corruption in Nigeria and lacked the moral authority to discuss corruption as he remained the most corrupt Nigerian on record. “The House of Representatives would ordinarily not join issues with the former president as he has held an office that deserves respect and reverence. However, because of the material misstatement of facts, outright lies and falsehoods, and mischievous innuendo introduced in his statement, we are left with no option but to correct him. “We have repeatedly maintained that there was no ‘padding’ of the 2016 Appropriation Act, which a legitimate document is passed by the National Assembly, authenticated by the clerk to the National Assembly as provided in the Authentication Act and assented to by Mr. President. It is most unfortunate that a former president of Chief Obasanjo’s stature would allow himself to be hoodwinked and procured by a renegade member of the House who embarked on massive propaganda and lies just because he was removed from office. “For the avoidance of doubt, there is no crime that was committed by the National Assembly by exercising its constitutional function of appropriation. If Chief Obasanjo has an issue with the execution of the 2016 Budget or indeed other Appropriation Acts, he should direct his anger elsewhere. “He claimed that the National Assembly Budget is very high, when by all standards the National Assembly is grossly underfunded and is hampered from effectively and legitimately carrying out its constitutionally assigned functions. The National Assembly budget funds a bureaucracy of about 5,000 civil servants. It has some other agencies under its preview such as the National Assembly Service Commission with its own staff of about 500, even the Public Complaints Commission is now a parastatal of the National Assembly,” Namdas revealed. He added that, “National Assembly budget also funds the National Institute for Legislative Studies, which is a legislative think-tank and highly rated academic institution that serves both National and State Houses of Assembly and even international legislators. “All these agencies also have their capital budget, including development of their headquarters, procurement of office equipment, procurement of regular items for running their offices; the National Assembly maintains legislative aides of about 3,000 in number that aid the work of the Assembly; it also conducts regular public hearings involving the media and stakeholders and oversight activities, involving huge sums of money. “The cost implications of running the National Assembly is high because of the nature of our presidential democracy. Then of course, there are 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives that require proper equipment to function effectively. They require adequate travel and transport support to carry out legislative functions. “The National Assembly also has buildings and offices to build and maintain. National Assembly staff and members attend conferences, trainings, seminars to keep abreast of legislative developments worldwide. The activities are very encompassing and expensive. “It is also unbecoming of a former president to quote figures of sums of money that are factually incorrect. No member of the House of Representatives receives N10million every month. The salaries and allowances of members of the House are as determined by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC. “Of course, further sums of money are spent as running costs, that is, the cost of running the office of a member. If a minister, chief executive or director in a ministry travels on official duties, for instance, do you include the cost of his ticket and accommodation as part of his salary or allowances? Does the cost of stationeries and maintenance of equipment like computers used in their offices form part of their salaries and allowances? “These are some of the costs that must be taken care of by the National Assembly and the media calls these costs ‘jumbo pay.’ For goodness sake, the National Assembly is an arm of government, not just an ordinary agency of government,” the House spokesman posited. Namdas further averred that the budgets of many agencies in the executive arm were higher than the recurrent budget of the National Assembly, which is an arm of government, adding that “examples abound, CBN, NNPC, NCC, etc; allowances paid to even junior staff of some of these government agencies cannot be compared to what members of National Assembly enjoy. “Undoubtedly, former President Obasanjo is understandably angry with the National Assembly as an institution, having foiled his ambition for a third-term in office even after trying to corrupt the members with a bribe of at least N50million each. “Lest we forget, the person who introduced corruption to the National Assembly is Chief Olesugn Obasanjo. He birthed the Fourth Republic National Assembly with corrupt practices from day one; indeed the first day of the republic. He bribed PDP, ANPP and AD legislators on their inauguration in 1999 to vote against the majority candidate of the PDP, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo. That was how Senator Evan Enwerem became Senate president. “Have we forgotten the sacks of money displayed on the floor of the House of Representatives being bribe money paid by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to some honourable members to impeach Speaker Ghali N’abba? “Have we forgotten that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo used his position as president to extort money from businessmen and contractors with his government to build his presidential library? “The list of his corrupt acts while in office is endless. Unquestionably, he is the greatest corrupt person ever to hold office in Nigeria. He remains the grandfather of corruption in Nigeria and lacks the moral authority to discuss corruption or indeed abuse of office in Nigeria, as he remains the most corrupt Nigerian on record. “It is unfortunate that he has started his very familiar method of bringing down governments. He did it to Alhaji Shehu Shagari; he did it to Gen. Buhari; he did same to Gen. Babangida; he attempted to bring down Gen. Abacha before he imprisoned him for treason. He made frantic efforts to derail the government of President Yar’Adua when he couldn’t use him. He supported President Goodluck Jonathan but when he refused to take dictation, he turned against him. He supported President Buhari, but since he has sensed that Nigeria is having economic difficulties under him, he has pounced to derail his government,” said the House spokesman. In a related development, an anti-corruption organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has asked the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Water Onnoghen, to appoint an independent counsel to investigate alleged corruption in the spending of $16 billion on power projects between 1999 and 2007 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. SERAP’s request was contained in a letter addressed to the CJN dated November 24 and signed by Mr. Timothy Olawale, the organisation’s senior staff counsel. The letter explained that the request was based on Section 52 of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Act 2000, as well as the letter and spirit of the Act, and the object and purpose of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). SERAP, according to an online report, recalled that a parliamentary hearing by the House of Representatives into the spending of $16 billion on the power project between 1999 and 2007 revealed, through testimonies of witnesses, that the amount budgeted for the power project might have been stolen by some government officials and others and could not be accounted for. It pointed out that the parliamentary hearing, which took place between March 11 and 12 March, 2008, revealed that Mr. Bernerd Mensen, the chief executive officer of German firm, Lameyer, was paid N370 million (out of the total contract sum of N600million) just for a feasibility study on a power station. Mr. Mensen, SERAP recalled, however, confessed that he had never visited the site of the Mambilla Hydro-Electric Power Project in Taraba State. Similarly recalled was the revelation that N200million of the N370million collected was spent to build a bungalow at Gembu, apparently to create the impression that work was in progress, but the project was later abandoned. A witness who testified at the hearing, recollected SERAP, said that the groundbreaking was done at Gembu, about 25kilometres from the Mambilla, and that they never got to the Mambilla. He also disclosed that the sample of oil Lameyer collected for test was dumped at somebody’s compound and the company did nothing to implement the project, which was expected to generate 2,600 megawatts of electricity. The investigative committee, SERAP reminded the CJN, was equally told that the contracts awarded for the Kainji, Egbin, Afam and Ughelli power stations were never executed despite being included by the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, in its report to the hearing on how it spent its budgetary allocations between 1999 and 2007. The hearing also revealed that there were about nine of such contracts with an aggregate value of $142million. “Section 52 of the Corrupt Practices Act requires the Chief Justice of Nigeria to authorise an independent counsel to investigate any allegation of corruption against high-level public officials at the federal or state level-and to report his findings to the National Assembly or appropriate house of assembly,” SERAP stated in the letter,” SERAP said. It expressed the belief that the findings by the parliamentary hearing provide sufficient ground for the CJN’s intervention in the matter. “We therefore urge you to interpret this provision robustly and flexibly in the light of the unique role of the judiciary in the efforts to prevent and combat corruption and its destructive effects on the society. “We believe your urgent intervention will contribute to improving the integrity of government and public confidence and trust in their government. It would also serve as a vehicle to further the public’s perception of fairness and thoroughness, and to avert even the most subtle of influences that may appear in an investigation of highly-placed executive officials,” the organisation said. SERAP advised the CJN to be guided by the overall public interest of the right to uninterrupted power supply and the spirit and letter of the constitution, not by technicalities of ICPC Act. “In particular, Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution dealing with Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, high-level public officials have a clear obligation to eradicate all corrupt practices and abuse of power,” it further stated. The organisation observed observed that inadequate electricity supply had compelled many Nigerians to use contaminated surface water for drinking and robbed them of the ability to boil, purify, disinfect and store water. It further argued that the situation had affected Nigerians’ ability to use irrigation to boost agricultural productivity, thereby limiting food supplies and shrinking employment opportunities. It added that corruption in the energy sector had resulted in epileptic power supply and corresponding deprivation and denial of access to quality healthcare, adequate food, shelter, clothing, water, sanitation, medical care, schooling and access to information.

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