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$620,000 Bribe Probe …Of Privilege Or Ethics, Piety?

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If the House of Representatives’ ad-hoc Committee originally charged with the responsibility of probing the near-collapse of the country’s capital market, under its erstwhile chairman, Hon. Herman Hembe had conducted its affairs in camera, perhaps, the now suspended Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Ms Arunma Oteh would have kept her plum job to date. And Hembe would not have been off his powerful chair. Only perhaps.

But because every business of the Committee, including the near-damaging verbal jabs at those being probed were  transmitted live on national television, none of the key players was willing to compromise defence of ego and integrity. Also, all the claims and counter-claims of bribes would not have come to the public domain as fast as they did, hence too complex to sweep under the carpet.

Sad as it may seem, from the perspective of casualties of the openness of the Seventh National Assembly, the practice has boosted public confidence in both Chambers of Nigeria’s bicameral legislature. That confidence was expressed in good measure during the work of the ad-hoc Committee of the House, appointed to probe the oil subsidy regime with Hon. Farouk Lawan, as Chairman.

For its transparency, openness and indeed avowed incorrigibility, a huge half of the Nigerian progressive Community moved for the immediate implementation of its report, even before hearing and confirmation by the Committee of the Whole. Infact, various groups, including organised labour threatened to embark on a nation-wide strike if the Lawan-report was swept under the carpet by the Executive arm.

That public confidence remained so even when, during plenary, on Tuesday, April 24, 2012, Hon. Lawan caused to be removed from the list of indicted marketers, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited. That amendment happened on the floor of the House, while the Committee of the Whole was already considering the report of the ad-hoc committee which Lawan himself superintended.

Again, all that was viewed live on national television in line with the Seventh National Assembly’s preference for openness and transparency Were it not so, not many would question the rational for listing and delisting Zenon and tie same to times and places that money changed hands. Were that so, Lawan would still be ad-hoc Committee Chairman on Oil Subsidy probe

Since then, from the graphic details of how Lawan demanded from Chairman of Zenon, Mr Femi Otedola Three Million US-dollars, to delete his company’s name from the blacklist; to how the House ad-hoc committee chairman personally received $500,000  and the Committee Secretary, Mr. Boniface Emenalo receiving another $120,000 making $620,000; how Otedola pre-informed the Security Agencies about the demand and receipt of the bribe and the eventual deleting of Zenon from the blacklist, are all public knowledge.

Also public is the defence by Lawan that the $500,000 he received was to serve as exhibit against Otedola’s Zenon and for which he forwarded the money along with a covering report to the House Committee Chairman on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Hon. Adams Jagaba. Finally, how the same Jagaba denied ever receiving such funds from Lawan and has since failed to honour repeated calls by the Police to help in the investigation, is also public knowledge.

Such is the openness the saga has enjoyed, thanks to the National Assembly, especially, the highly reputable, fearless, incorrigible and patriotic House of Representatives, which leadership has repeatedly assured the Nigerian public that it would not shield any of its own, if found to be culpable in the bribery scandal.

It was in apparent pursuit of the same, that the House suspended Hon. Lawan as ad-hoc Committee chairman and referred the matter to the highly respected Ethics and Privileges Committee, chaired by Hon. Gambo Dan-Musa. And in line with the transparency initiative thus-far demonstrated, the ever House-friendly Nigerian public looked forward to an even more transparent process, if for nothing else, to prove that the honourable House was above corruption and would fight same, ‘… honestly, to the best of my ability, faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law’…as contained in the House members’ Oath of office.

This is why it came to Nigerians as a huge shock that the Ethics and Privileges Committee could attempt to destroy the same plank of trust which has endeared the House to the public, – its openness, in preference for secret hearing which Lawan as probe chairman denied others. The question is, Why So? Why Now?

Clearly, that recourse to secrecy can undermine, if it hasn’t already, public confidence in the Ethics Committee to guarantee justice, as its move amounts to shifting the goal post in the middle of a game. And if the reason for referring the bribery allegation to the House’s Ethics Committee was to accomplish the facts and insulate itself from the scandal, the Dan-Musa’s Committee’s approach has cast more doubts on its ability to achieve that objective.

The issues for determination may be varied and many but vague, is not one of them. What Nigerians eagerly await the committee to determine include: At what time did Lawan realise that Zenon should not have been blacklisted? How did Lawan get to that conclusion that prompted the deleting of the company’s name from the crop of indicted marketers? If the $500,000 Lawan accepted receiving from Otedola was to be used in evidence, why did he not report the matter to the House leadership and indeed the Police? If the money was exhibit of attempted bribery or indeed bribery, why did Lawan remove Zenon’s name from the blacklist? What other portion of the Ad-hoc committee’s report, after Lawan’s correction expressly indicted Zenon? And most importantly, where is the evidence now, since Hon. Jagaba has denied ever receiving $500,000 from Lawan either as exhibit or for safe-keeping?

The others for determination should perhaps include: If Lawan’s $500,000 receipt indeed went to Hon. Jagaba, which that Honourable member has since openly and repeatedly denied, where is the $120,000 allegedly received from Otedola by the Committee Secretary? If indeed Otedola was desperate to bribe the Oil Subsidy Committee to be spared possible indictment as Lawan imputed, should Otedola involve the security at the same time?

Perhaps, another important issue for determination is, why did Lawan not push for the exposition of Otedola for offering him bribe from April 21, 2012, when, the first installment was paid, through Tuesday, April 24, 2012 when, the final installment was received by Lawan uptill June 11, 2012 when Otedola made the issue public, after alleged repeated insistence by Lawan that the balance of the Three Million Dollars be paid, or be implicated?

These are serious issues, which handling could make or mar public trust on the House. First,as soon as the scandal broke the House caused to be re-included Zenon Petroleum in the list of indicted marketers, as Lawan had allegedly threatened, from Otedola’s accounts and for which the balance left of Three Million dollars was desperately demanded.

Secondly, the House referred the matter to the House’s Ethics and Privileges Committee, which recently jettisoned the open-hearing module that endeared it to the Nigerian public. And for refusing to testify in secret, Otedola has been roundly vilified by the Chairman of the Committee as disobedient and stupid, while describing Lawan’s testimony as splendid.

These are why Otedola may have reasoned that justice might not be served and insisted instead on taking his case to the court of public opinion. But wait, what does the House stand to lose, if Otedola’s request for public hearing is honoured? Methinks none. It instead would have boosted its toga of impartiality .

That is why, I agree with the House member representing Kaduna on the platform of the PDP, Hon. Simon Yakubu Arabo that the Ethics and Privileges Committee’s handling of the bribery probe has done more harm than good to the image of the House. “The modus operandi that the Ethics Committee has adopted in its assignment is bringing this House to disrepute”, Arabo told the House last Thursday, in Abuja.

Beyond that, all the dramatics thus-far played out seem to point to a laboured attempt by unseen hands to save their own. This is what the House leadership had repeatedly preached against and which if not checked could inadvertently shift public sympathy away from both Lawan and the House, in favour of Otedola.

My Agony is that Lawan, of all people, accepted to testify in camera rather than insist on public hearing to openly prove his innocence, not to mention that he has not made public any extra efforts he has made to contradict Jagaba’s claim that the disputed $500,000 Lawan said he gave to Jagaba, is indeed intact.

That’s where Police must focus on. And avoid all privileges.

 

Soye Wilson Jamabo

Otedola And Lawan

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90% Of Money Laundered Via Real Estate, EFCC Reveals

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says about 90 per cent of money laundering is done through the real estate sector.
The commission’s Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, stated this while featuring on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily, yesterday,
According to him, although the sector is monitored via the special control unit, more needed to be done.
According to Bawa, “One of the problems we have now is the real estate. 90 to 100 per cent of the resources are being laundered through the real estate.”
He said there are so many issues involved, but that they were working with the National Assembly to stop what he called “the gate keepers” as there would be reduction in looting if there is no one to launder the money.
Bawa, the EFCC boss, gave an example of a minister who expressed interest in a $37.5million property a bank manager put up for sale.
He said, “The bank sent a vehicle to her house and in the first instance $20million was evacuated from her house.
“They paid a developer and a lawyer set up a special purpose vehicle, where the title documents were transferred into.
“And he (the lawyer) is posing as the owner of the property. You see the problem. This is just one of many; it is happening daily.”
The EFCC chairman also revealed that he receives death threats often.
Asked to respond to President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent “Corruption is fighting back” expression, Bawa said he was in New York, USA, last week, when someone called to threaten him.
“Last week, I was in New York when a senior citizen received a phone call from somebody that is not even under investigation.
“The young man said, ‘I am going to kill him (Bawa), I am going to kill him’.
“I get death threats. So, it is real. Corruption can fight back,” he said.
On corruption in the civil service, he said there were a lot of gaps, especially in contracts processing, naming “emergency contracts” as one.
Bawa said, “A particular agency is notorious for that. They have turned all their contracts to emergency contracts.”
However, he said, EFCC has strategies in place to check corruptions, one of which is “corruption risk assessments of MDAs”.
According to him, “I have written to the minister and would soon commence the process of corruption risk assessments of all the parastatals and agencies under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to look at their vulnerability to fraud and advise them accordingly.”
Asked if the scope of corruption in the country overwhelms him, Bawa, the EFCC boss said, “Yes, and no.”

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We’ve Spent N9bn To Upgrade RSUTH, Wike Confirms

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, says his administration has spent N9billion in upgrading structures and installation of new equipment at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH).
He said the fact that 40 per cent of the 2021 budget of the state is dedicated to provision of quality healthcare delivery was a further demonstration of the priority placed on the sector.
Wike made the explanation at the foundation laying ceremony for the construction of a Renal Centre at RSUTH, last Friday.
The governor said he made promise to Rivers people that the best would be provided to them in all sectors of the society within his capability because of the mandate they gave to him.
“As we came on here, I just looked around and I see the changes in this teaching hospital. I can say that we have put not less than N9billion in this teaching hospital.
“If you look at the budget, the health sector alone, what it’s taking from the Rivers State Government is not less than 40 percent of the 2021 budget.”
Speaking further, Wike said the state government cannot afford to implement free medical service programme in the present economic circumstance.
While dismissing the request for a subvention for RSUTH, Wike, however, commended the chief medical director and his team for their commitment to turnaround the fortunes of RSUTH.
“I have never seen anywhere that health services can be totally free. They’re telling me that people who come here can’t pay. I have never declared that this state is going to take over the health fees of anybody.”
Also speaking, the former Minister of Transport, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, who performed the flag-off, noted that Wike’s achievements in the health sector in particular, surpass what former governors of the state had done.
Sekibo said that the governor has given equal attention to every section of the health sector by providing complete health infrastructure that was positioning the state as a medical tourism destination in Nigeria.
Earlier, the Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Prof Princewill Chike, lauded Governor Nyesom Wike for his interest in the health of Rivers people.
He noted that the renal centre, when completed, would become another landmark development project in the health sector that would handle and manage all kidney-related ailments.
In his remarks, the Chief Medical Director of the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Friday Aaron, commended Wike for approving the renal centre.
Aaron explained that chronic kidney disease was a major burden globally with estimated 14 million cases in Nigeria.
According to him, over 240,000 of these cases require renal replacement therapy in the form of dialysis and renal transplant.
The CMD said the building that would house the centre was expected to be completed in six months and consists of two floors.
The ground floor, according to him, would house the haemodialysis unit with eight haemodialysis machines.
He further explained that the first floor of the centre would house the surgical component where most of the sophisticated equipment for kidney transplant would be installed.
Aaron said Wike has released the funds required to build, equip the centre as well as for the training of personnel locally and internationally.

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Power Generation Falls 23% To 3,172MW

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Power supply in Nigeria has failed to improve on last week’s performance, as it fell by 22.9 per cent from peak generation of 4,115Megawatts on Saturday to 3,172.20MW as at 5pm, yesterday, latest data from the System Operator has shown.
According to the data, most power plants were operating far below capacity due to gas shortage with Olorunsogo Power Plant 335MW capacity; and Sapele Power Plant, 450MW capacity; completely out.
Egbin was generating at 746MW; Omoku 37.20; Omotosho (NIPP) at 105MW; while Afam was generating at 80MW.
The data showed that on the average power generation in the past seven days were 4,120.9MW on Sunday, June 6; 4,249.4 on Monday, June 7; 4,000.9MW on Tuesday, June 8; 3,720.7 on Wednesday, June 9; 3,517 on Thursday, June 10; 3,765MW on Friday, June 11; and 4,115MW on Saturday, June 12.
The International Oil Companies (IOCs), had last warned that despite Nigeria’s huge gas reserves a lot needs to be done to attract investment to the sector to develop gas reserves to boost power generation in the country.
Speaking at the just concluded Nigeria International Petroleum Summit, the Chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria/MD SPDC, Osagie Okunbor, said with 203trillion Cubic Feet of gas reserves, what was needed in the country is to deliver projects that would produce the gas.
“The challenge is not just growing the reserves but in producing these reserves for the benefits of our country. Essentially growing the reserves and delivering on the production is a function of two or three elements.
“I like to see infrastructure that is required for the development of these resources at two levels. Soft infrastructure is often the one that is more important than and that is the one that is actually drives most of what you see at site.”
“Soft infrastructure refers to the enabling environment and nothing pleases me as much seeing both the Senate President and the speaker of the house give very firm commitments about trying to pass the PIB this month.
“That is probably the big one of the enabling environment to provide the kind of stability we also need all sorts of other issues we need to that we have discussed severally in terms of sanctity of contract, stable policies and collaboration and I think we are well on our way there”, he added.

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