William Shakespear’s philosophical assertion that there is no art by which one could foretell the mind’s construction from the face, was aptly exemplified and replicated in Nigeria recently when the Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Mr. Kombowei Benson admitted that the N78 million the Assembly collected from the state treasury for the 43rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting held in South Africa was actually not used for the purpose.
Mr. Benson who had already refunded N19.5 million out of the N78 million confirmed that Anti-Fraud Unit of the Nigeria Police and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) operatives were on his neck following scandals rocking the Assembly over the ill-fated South African trip which funds were released by the state governor, Mr. Seriake Dickson.
Speaking through his aide, Mr. Piriye Jonathan during a two-day capacity training for Journalists in Yenagoa, the Speaker confirmed that security operatives grilled legislators over the scandal, but accepted that part of the money was refunded on August 3, 2012 more than one month after the said programme.
Security agents had acted on a petition by a Yenagoa-based civil society group, Transparency and Good Governance Coalition to the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar alleging that the Speaker and 23 other lawmakers frittered N78 million of public funds in the pretence that they attended the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting in South Africa held between June 29 to July 8, 2012.
Governor Dickson who approved the lawmakers request on June 28 on the condition that the money must be used for the conference was however astonished when the said funds were actually used for other purposes rather than the said South African trip, a development which occasioned the petition by the civil society group.
Reportedly, the EFCC invited the Speaker and his colleagues for interrogation for conspiracy, abuse of office and diversion of public funds pursuant to section 38 sub 1 and 2 of the EFCC’s Act 2003, which led to the refund.
Sadly, looting of public funds or diversion of tax-payers money is not peculiar to Bayelsa State Assembly. Public officers elected or appointed and entrusted with public money tend to abuse the confidence reposed on them, despite President Goodluck Jonathan’s anti-graft crusade to ensure transparency and accountability in governance in the past few years.
In fact, the refund of N19.5 million out of N78 million released by the Bayelsa state government by the legislators has eminently confirmed the point that the lawmakers actually perpetrated unlawful act which is condemnable in all ramifications.
This is why The Tide thinks that the matter should not be treated with kid gloves. The EFCC and other security agencies must swoop on all the parties involved in the scandal and ensure that the right thing was done. They must be made to face the law as a deterrent to others who might want to siphon public funds using various devices or guises to do so.
We recall reports, not too long ago, of how some members of the National Assembly collected public money for a scheduled foreign trip but failed to do so and did not make any refund. This must not continue. Apparently, the trend appears to be the most common means legislators and other public officers in the country use to defraud the country and deprive the citizens from democracy dividends.
We therefore charge security operatives to ensure that the affected lawmakers in Bayelsa State must face the full wrath of the law by making full payment of the money they collected and not at their convenience or through installmental payments.
In advanced democracies, such highly placed officials would toe the path of honour and resign from office on account of their lack of the moral authority and character to make laws for the people.
The Tide insists that the Bayelsa lawmakers case should not just be about the Speaker, but all the beneficiaries of the misapplied funds should, and must face the music in accordance with the anti-graft war of the Jonathan administration.