The Corruption And Commotion In House Of Reps

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Eleven members of the group detached themselves from the rest and called themselves “the progressives” on a mission to salvage the House from the corruption, which it claimed has eaten deep into its fabric.

The Federal House of Representatives which sits demurely on the National Assembly Complex along with the nation’s upper legislative chamber – the Senate – at the Three Arms zone of the Federal capital territory (FCT) Abuja, means many things to many people. Ordinarily, the House should mean just one thing to the Nigerian people – the chamber that chunks out good laws for the effective administration of the country. But as it has turned out to be, this primary and constitutional role of the House is not the only thing that Nigerians identify the House with. Corruption, rancour, acrimony and commotion are other things the House is now known for. 

When the ordinary Nigerian who of course, has a grasp of what goes on in the House thinks of the House, these vices, cankerworms, anti-democratic omen or ethos are what easily come to mind. Too bad, one would say!

Aside the questionable sum approved for the renovation of the Speaker’s official residence in 2007 by the moribund leadership of the House under former Speaker, Rt. Hon. (Mrs.) Patricia Ette which drew the ire of Hon. Farouk Lawan-led Integrity Group and eventually consumed Ette’s reign over the House. The corruption and allegation that rocked the boat of the House, even the more is the controversial purchase of cars for the 360 members of the House “for committee work” by the Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole leadership, which the leadership puts at N2.3 billion in 2008.  

This claim by the leadership quickly arouse suspicion and skepticism in the minds of some members of the House who called to question the leadership’s claim. The issue then shifted to public domain, and trust the Nigerian public, they washed down the “Honourable” members of the House,describing them with incongruous names as they discussed the issue at the market place, beer parlours, hair dressing and barbing saloons, offices, schools, homes, news stands and on the streets. Even analytical and legal minds got involved in the ragging controversy surrounding the spending of a whooping N2.3 billion for cars!

One of such is Human Rights lawyer, Festus Keyamo  who dragged the leadership and indeed, the entire House to court over the issue and anti-graft body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] was also petitioned. The Nigerian public, as represented by Barr. Keyamo also took their disenchantment and disagreement with the car deal to the House,as Keyamo appeared before the House Committee investigating the scam to query the said expenditure, at the instance of the committee.

Even Labour Party National Chairman, Dan Anyawu went a step further to enlighten Nigerians on how PAN Nigeria Limited – owners of Peugeot cars – that supplied the cars to the House does its transactions. According to him, “it is a well known practice of PAN world-wide that if you buy between 10 – 12 cars, they give you one ‘Jara’ (free) and also give you discount on each of the cars bought. This truism that concern Nigerians and  Nigerian leaders which the Labour Party Leader brought to the open was rather concealed by the House Leadership. All Nigerians were told was that the cars costs N2.3 billion. Period!

The implication of Mr. Anyanwu’s incontrovertible revelation – which has not being contested or faulted till date is that: if for every ten cars the House bought, PAN gave them one free, then for the 360 cars the company supplied, some 30 cars were Jara” (free gifts!). When you add the total sum of the 30 cars to the discount PAN statutorily gave on each of the remaining cars, the ones  the House actually paid for, it amounts to over N400 million. Thus, the nation was short-changed by over N400 million in that particular deal undertaken by the Bankole leadership of the House of Representatives.  

Keyamo said this much in his battle with the House over the issue, asking them to account for the N400 million. That is the task now before the EFCC. Though  the anti-graft body has not make public its report, it is alleged at the House of Representatives by those opposed to what is generally seen as “a shady deal” that the N400 million is traceable to Deputy Speaker Usman Nafada’s account who in anycase, the TIDE on Sunday learnt, signed the vouchers for the transaction on behalf of the leadership, under the nose of Speaker Bankole!. 

While uneasy calm reigns over the House between 2008 and June 2010 as far as the issue was convened, as all and sundry await the outcome of EFCC’s investigation into the scam, it was clear to keen watchers of the House politics appropriation and disbursements that it was only a matter of time that another earthquake of gross financial misconduct will be levelled against the leadership and the House appearing in the news for yet another bad reason! 

And true to their expectation, eleven members of the group detached themselves from the rest and called themselves “The Progressives” on a mission to salvage the House from the corruption, which it claimed has eaten deep into its fabric. Led by the vociferous and loquacious Kogi state- born former students union activist whom the TIDE on Sunday learnt, rode on the back of General Buba Marwa (rtd), PDP Chieftain/ Ex-presidential aspirant, and Nigeria’s ambassador to South Africa, to the House –

 the Progressives took the nation by storm (last month) when they brushed aside the standing rules of the House and gave the Bankole leadership a 7- day ultimatum during which Bankole should quit the coveted office of Speaker.  

The Progressives threatened to handover incriminating documents to EFCC if Bankole fails to quit. They alleged the following: That the House of Representatives is involved in a  N9 billion contract scam; that there is corruption regarding the spending of about N9 billion by the leadership of the House between 2009 and 2010 on cars and miscellaneous items. The Dino Maleye-led group also wondered what Bankole would be doing with three bullet-proof cars in his fleet! and called for a probe of the House budget between 2008 and 2010.  The 7-day ultimatum expired, Bankole remained unruffled, remained on his seat as Speaker although THE TIDE on Sunday learnt that he made entreaties to Melaye and his group while the ultimatum lasted, a move that was rebuffed by the progressives; prompting the leadership to dare “The Progressives” to go ahead to petition the EFCC and forward what ever incriminating document in their possession to the anti-corruption body. The House spokesman, Hon. Eyiboh (Chairman, Committee on media and public affairs) who spoke for the leadership said Melaye who addressed the press, should stop making noise on the issue and proceed with the documents to EFCC.  

It was apparent at that stage that the leadership mistook Melaye’s threat for a convivial affair – the rantings of ants, the voice of rabble- rousers,  inorder words that the progressives could not muster the courage to make good their threat, because after all, the leadership holds the sledge hammar over all members and could bring it down on any dissenting member or dissident group within the House. Whether this perception of the House Leadership is right or wrong, the progressives proceeded to the Wuse 2 office of the EFCC in Abuja with its petition and the documents attached, after the expiration of its ultimatum, and proceeded to announce to the whole world that it has made good its threat!

The House was on a two- week recess, at the tail-end of its recess, when the progressives invited EFCC into the matter. It was to reconvene on Tuesday, June 22 between Friday 18 and Monday 21, it was evidently jittery and ruffled as it made spirited effort to arrange clandestine meetings with its loyalists in the House. The /Tide On Sunday can attest to the fact that such meetings took place in the House throughout that weekend, with the last one on Monday noticing   unusual vehicular movement at the precincts of the House, with the occupants of the cars – members the House later converging for the last nocturnal meeting on the issue.  

Staff need not being told what their unusual presence Monday (June 21) evening at the House is all about, (they hold their plenary only on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday per week) because the progressives recourse to EFCC for ‘justice’ which was already in the media was already generating heated discussions throughout the length and breath of the National Assembly, and indeed beyond!

The leadership and their loyalists’ meeting was to perfect strategy on how best to nail Dino Melaye and his co-progressives; whom they view as ‘rebels’. The meeting resolved to sentence the ‘rebels’ to the biblical Island of Patmos – a place of Isolation – for what they view as gross violation of the House Rules. Their contention, The Tide On Sunday learnt, was simply that no matter how nauseating the House is, no matter the repugnant smell that emits from any of their actions it should not be taken to public domain, it should be dealt with internally. But analysts keep asking, in whose interest are such rules? Are such rules designed in the overall interest of the whole nation or to protect the few in the House? Rules that say; don’t take corruption charges or allegations outside the House but let the same House accused of corruption sit over such allegation and adjudicate in their own matter, are such rules in public interest? Questions and Questions! Questions yawning for veracious answers!

With the strategy for the suspension of the progressives perfected, the deed was done the next day – Tuesday, June 22. But it was not smooth sailing for the otherwise Pro-Bankole group. Let’s  summarize the blow-to-blow account of what transpired.

Scene 1:   With the House seated and prayer offered under the leadership of Speaker Bankole, a motion for the suspension of members of the Progressive;s group was moved by Chile Igbauwa (PDP, Benue) under ‘Matter of privilege’ which  urged the House to invoke order 5(1), sub rules 2 and 3. As the motion was being moved, Melaye (who was at the sitting with about eight members of his group) interjected and said, “No to our suspension”! and commotion descended on the whole House and wrapped the House like a spirogyra or octopus.  

The House was divided against it self; the commotion splits the House into three groups: Pro-Bankole group; the progressivess; and the group that simply sat on the fence, merely watching as events unfold. The ensuing commotion and melee which lasted for some 30 minutes degenerated as Solomon Awhwinawhi (PDP, Delta), a member of the progressives moved toward the mace. He was prevented from seizing the mace by his colleagues and the Sergeant–at-Arm, Col. Emeka Okere (rtd.). As members engaged one another in shouting match, the Sergeant-at-Arm with his men mounted an impregnable fence around the Speaker who later attempted leaving the plenary but was prevailed upon to tarry awhile.  

The intense rowdiness degenerated into fisticuffs – exchange of blow, inflicting of injuries and use of teargas, whistle, etc. Ishaku Bawa chairman, Outreach constituency committee pitched himself against Dino Melaye, Austine Nwachukwu, Doris Uboh and Bitnus Kaze. Sadly too, Hon. Chinyere Igwe ( Port Harcourt constituency II) who had no direct involvement with the case, other than being a strong Bankole ally rushed the only female member of the progressives, Hon. Doris Uboh, slapped and hit her down. She fell to the floor! His involvement in the fight in a most violent manner, uncharacteristic of a Honourable member eventually led to the broken of his right hand and bone, which made him to be flown abroad for treatment. (HeoiHouse is yet to return to the country). 

With the help of the Sergeant at-Arm, all the affected members especially the progressives whose clothes were torn in the face – off- were physically dragged out of the chamber. Yes, clothes of Dino Melaye, Doris Uboh, Bitrus Kaze, Austin Nwachukwu – all members of the progressives pushing for the probe of House budgets since, 2008, were torn! And their bodies exposed to gleeful cameras!  

Following the forceful ejection of key members of the progressives, the House resumed sitting at 11.45am and the Speaker, Bankole apologized to Nigerians for what many view as a ‘show of shame’ in an otherwise Honourable House. Honourable members, I sincerely apologise to Nigerians for this rowdiness, Hon. Chile Igbauwa, kindly conclude your motion for record purpose”, he said.  

And Igbauwa said, “By the provisions of section 24 of the House, “Any person who publishes any statement, whether in writing or otherwise, which falsely or scandalously defames a legislative house or any committee thereof is guilty of an offence”. The motion, seconded by Hon. Garba Matazu was (adopted and) referred to the Ethics and Privileges committee.  

In a swift reaction later, the progressives’ leader told newsmen “what I can tell you is that my suspension will be quashed, as I have not done anything against the rule of the House and the constitution of the country”. 

Aside the EFCC that is investigating the Scandal, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), acting on a petition by a rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has also commenced investigation into it.  

With Dino Melaye insisting that  the event of June 22 “is another tyranny in the House which we shall resist (in our mission to) clean the House of corruption” and the House insisting that the progressives remain suspended for the remaining  legislative year (June 2010 – June 2011), certainly the last is yet to be heard on this issue from a House that has so meticulously and ignominiously presented itself to Nigerians as House of Corruption and Commotion!

Indeed, the report of the EFCC and ICPC on what is generally perceived as “show of shame” in the nation’s legislature will determine how Nigerians, and indeed the world, perceive the House that has shot itself in the leg many times, in the weeks ahead!

 

Justus Awaji, Abuja