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Angry Senate takes on Obasanjo, Ribadu

Posted by From Alifa Daniel, Asst Politics Editor on 2007/02/26 | Views: 2549 |

Angry Senate takes on Obasanjo, Ribadu

SENATE President Ken Nnamani was betrayed by his voice, which resonated in the Senate chambers. It was clear that he was unhappy.

SENATE President Ken Nnamani was betrayed by his voice, which resonated in the Senate chambers. It was clear that he was unhappy.

After a meeting with President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Senate PDP caucus, based on an understanding, prepared a list of its members who had lost their tickets. The Senators wanted their tickets returned to them.

It selected a principal officer, who offered not to return to the chambers, and sent him to the PDP National Chairman, Ahmadu Ali. At the PDP secretariat, he was kept waiting for hours. When he returned, he lamented what he described as the most humiliating experience of his political career.

Nnamani's voice carried that protest as he delivered one of his quintessential treatises on the state of the nation and its fight against corruption. He settled on the report of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on the state of investigations in the 36 states of the federation.

The Senate President was interested in the allegations against Enugu State governor, Chimaroke Nnamani. Another senator from Enugu, Fidelis Okoro, like the Senate President, was also interested. He was still smarting from the allegation that the governor had ordered the demolition of his house. Senators with grudges to settle with their governors applauded Ribadu's work. However, unfolding events show that the lawmakers may not laugh last after all.

The Senate president had expressed disappointment at alleged selective justice being meted out to politicians seeking election.

Nnamani with his PDP colleagues had failed to impress President Obasanjo to ensure that all those fingered as corrupt by the EFCC were disqualified from the April polls like others that were indicted. The lawmakers also failed to persuade President Obasanjo to return tickets to all those either short-changed after they won the primaries or had been "good boys" but were being dumped.

One case was the Senate Leader, Dalhatu Tafida. With the Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu, he pushed for tenure elongation for Obasanjo.

Nnamani stopped short of accusing President Obasanjo of meddlesomeness in the affairs of the EFCC. He said: "No corrupt politician is more important than the other. For the sake of our democracy and history, it is therefore expedient that I address you on the increased role of the EFCC as the nation prepares for the April polls."

He referred to the controversial EFCC list of persons allegedly indicted of corrupt practices and were perhaps not eligible to hold public offices. He said that there were credible reports that some persons initially on the list were removed while persons who were not on the EFCC list were later added by other authorities.

The Presidency quickly set up an Administrative Panel, which found some persons guilty. Relying on a White Paper from the findings of the Administrative Panel, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) disqualified some candidates from the April polls.

Nnamani said: "Some politicians who are listed by the EFCC as corrupt are questioning the good faith of the agency. It is reported that the EFCC submitted its list of indicted persons to the Presidency for consideration and approval. The involvement of the Presidency has created a moral challenge on the EFCC to justify its independence in indicting some politicians and not others who it had earlier declared to be corrupt.

"The allegation of double standard and political manipulation is, unfortunately, seemly supported by the conspicuous omission on the list of some persons who EFCC and even the Code of Conduct Bureau had earlier charged to court and Tribunal for corrupt practices. Some of these persons have now been given flags as candidates for the April elections.

"There is no doubt that the National Assembly supports the war against corruption, hence we quickly passed the EFCC Act and the ICPC Act. We have always indicated our preparedness to provide every required legislative support to make sure these independent agencies succeed in the mandates we bestowed on them."

He called on his colleagues to take special interest in how the EFCC discharges its mandates. "By the principles of constitutional democracy, such an agency created by an Act of the legislature to undertake specifically defined purposes becomes an independent agency, and not part of the Presidency. The EFCC Act 2004 does not authorise the agency to submit list of indicted persons to the Presidency but only permits it to go to court and prosecute persons alleged to have engaged in economic and financial crimes.

"As long as the war against corruption is perceived to be waged against some corrupt politicians and not all corrupt politicians, Nigerians will continue to doubt the good faith of the EFCC. It will be very damaging to the credibility of the EFCC if it allows itself to be controlled by any other authority in prosecuting the war against corruption. The law subjects it only to the judicial review of courts, not the prescriptions of any other branch of government."

The Senate President observed that it was expedient on the National Assembly to strengthen the independence of the EFCC by removing any opportunity for political office-holders to compromise its independence. He however noted that Section 3 (2) of the EFCC Act weakens the EFCC's independence by permitting the President to remove any member of the commission for good or no reason.

The section states: "A member of the Commission may at any time be removed by the President for inability to discharge the functions of his office (where arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or for misconduct or if the President is satisfied that it is not in the interest of the Commission or the interest of the public that the member should continue in office."

He added: "The provision completely destroys the independence of the EFCC by not providing security of tenure for members of the Commission. The most urgent task in order to secure the independence of the EFCC and avoid the violation of the right of equal protection under the law is to amend Section 3(2) of the Act and any other necessary provision so that members of the EFCC can discharge their duties without fear or favour, affection or ill-will."

Nnamani told his colleagues that it was its responsibility to review the circumstances of the recent list of indicted persons by the EFCC to ensure that the power exercised by the EFCC was not compromised contrary to the provisions of the EFCC Act. The House in unison agreed for a Committee to have another look at the EFCC law.

According to Nnamani, "we need to inquire why some persons who EFCC charged to court for corrupt practices were not listed as disqualified from elective office while persons not yet charged to court are now faced with disqualification."

He continued: "It is a violation of the Constitution to penalise some citizens and let others off the hook when they are all equally indicted. It is my sincere wish that this Senate would devote time to review the 'politics' of the EFCC list and independence of the anti-graft agency to protect our integrity as a legislative House."

After the speech, the House instituted a seven-man committee to investigate the alleged doctoring of the EFCC report. Former Senate Minority leader, Lawali Shuaibu, is the chairman of the committee, which will also look at the clauses in the Act that made the EFCC subject to manipulation and control by the executive arm of government.

Senator Idris Kuta poked fun at his colleagues in reminding them that the House was one of the first beneficiaries of the EFCC whip when Senator Adolphus Wabara was sacked.

The Lawali committee will submit its report on Thursday. In a unanimous motion, Tafida requested that the issue raised by Nnamani be immediately discussed by the Senate because it was a matter of serious national importance.

Senator Olurunnimbe Mamora said it was unfortunate, adding: "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely is becoming a reality in Nigeria.:

Senator Victor Oyofo urged the Senate to "take a scissors and cut out everything that would present an obstacle on the way of the independence of the EFCC and the entire anti-corruption crusade."

Senator Lawali Shuaibu, who was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes when the EFCC Act was enacted in 2003 and amended in 2003, asked his colleagues to ensure that Section (3)(2) of the EFCC Act was removed to reposition the commission.

Senator Uche Chukwumerije was of the view that the alleged doctoring of the EFCC list was a clear indication that the foundation for rigging in the April polls had already been laid.

But Senator Farouk Bunza-Bello urged his colleagues to seize the opportunity to also amend some sections of the Electoral Act, which he noted could pose danger to the success of the elections.

Senator Omar Hambagda asked the Senate to pass a vote of no confidence on the Administrative Panel of Enquiry and the list that led to the setting up of the panel.

Aware that the Senate was concerned about the EFCC law because its members lost their ticket, Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) explained that the Senate was worried that the next Senate would be deficient because inexperienced lawmakers will win the elections.

He said: "The fact that a majority of senators lost re-election tickets means that the next crop of senators would be less experienced. We felt that we should be concerned that our democracy should be growing in experience. What we are going to have in 2007 will be less experienced.

"We met with the President on the fate of our members who participated in the December primaries and won. The party's guidelines indicated that they should do A, B and Z and after doing that they were declared winners but the powers that be have been replacing them, so we want to know."

How sincere the Senate is in this battle will unfold in the coming days.

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