• Urge EFCC, AGF to appeal verdict on pension fraud
• CNPP gives govt ultimatum over Ezekwesili
AN investigation that may reveal if the administration of the late President Musa Yar’Adua and that of his successor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, actually splurged $67 billion is set to be carried out by the House of Representatives.
The probe is coming on the heels of an allegation by former Vice President of the World Bank, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, that the two administrations mismanaged $45 billion in Nigeria’s foreign reserve as well as another $22 billion excess crude fund left by the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Also, apparently reacting to public criticisms of the judgment by the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Abuja, in the case of Mr. John Yakubu Yusufu and others undergoing trial for over N38 billion Police Pension Fund fraud, the House of Representatives has urged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) to immediately appeal the decision.
Besides, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) Wednesday handed the Federal Government a seven-day ultimatum to either organise a public debate between the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku or any other official and Ezekwesili as demanded by her or issue a public apology to her in acceptance of her allegation.
Ezekwesili made the allegation during her convocation lecture of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The former Minister of Solid Minerals and later Education lamented the “squandering of the significant sum of $45 billion in foreign reserve account and another $22 billion in Excess Crude Account being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the Obasanjo administration handed over to the successor government in 2007.”
She stated: “Six years after the administration I served handed over such humongous national wealth to another one, most Nigerians but especially the poor, continue to suffer the effects of failing public health and education systems as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions.”
She then queried: “One cannot but ask what exactly does government symbolise with this level of brazen misappropriation of public resources? Where did all that money go? Where is the accountability for the use of both these resources and the additional several hundred dollars realised from oil sale by the two administrations that have governed our nation in the last five years? How were these resources applied or more appropriately misapplied? Tragic choices.”
In adopting a motion sponsored by Umar Bature (PDP, Sokoto), the House directed its Committees in charge of Finance and Appropriation to jointly investigate the allegation.
Defending his motion, Bature said the House needed to conduct the investigation because of the background of Ezekwesili as Special Adviser to the President on Public Procurement as well as Minister of Education.
The Presidency has, however, dismissed the allegation as false. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, said that as at May 2007, a total of $43,130,301,995.21 was left behind in the Foreign Exchange Reserve (FER) account by former President Obasanjo.
According to Okupe, between June 2007 and December 2008, the FER stood at $53,000,355,063.51, and in 2009, the account came down to $42,382,493,319.69 due to the global economic meltdown. In 2010, the account was $32,339,252,389.10 after the commitment of the Federal Government to the Independent Power Project (IPP) and the Niger Delta crisis, which caused a drop in oil export.
In 2011, the figure was N32, 639,777,078.09 while in 2012 the FER rose to $43,830,418,364.91 as at December and then rose again to $45.3 billion as at January 22, 2013.
Okupe added: “I regret to say that Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili should show dignity and character by letting the Nigerian people, whom she sought out to fool, to know the source of her figures otherwise, she should be honourable enough to retract her statement and apologise to the government and people of Nigeria.”
The House said the monumental fraud in the Police Pension Fund had resulted in untold hardship for police pensioners who had had their pensions unpaid for many months.
Adopting a motion on the urgent need to revisit the case brought by the House Minority Whip, Samson Osagie and nine others, the House also called on the National Assembly to set a machinery in motion to review the provisions of the penal and criminal codes to provide stricter punishment in such cases.
“The EFCC and AGF should, as a matter of urgency, appeal the judgment of Justice Abubakar Talba of the FCT High Court in the case of the State Vs Mr. John Yusufu and others, with a view to seeking stricter punishment for the offence under Section 309 of the Penal Code Act Cap 532 Laws of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, 2007,” it said.
Leading debate on the motion, Osagie had faulted the decision of the FCT High Court and urged the parliament to intervene, adding that pension was a matter that ought to be treated with utmost respect.
“As the people’s representatives, we cannot keep quiet over the matter. This is not good for our criminal justice system, especially as it borders on the fight against corruption.
“It is repugnant and unacceptable to good conscience. Stiffer punishment should be meted out else others will toe the same line. It is not good for our democracy.
“This sort of judgment of a court can only serve as an incentive for public officers entrusted with management of public fund to commit more acts of corruption as the judgment in this case did not meet the justice of the matter, given the huge amount of fraud committed by Mr. John Yusufu in the Police Pension Fund.
“This judgment has been widely criticised by both lawyers and civil society groups. It has been a slap on the wrist as the sentence ought to be stricter to deter other public officers from meddling with public funds,” the lawmaker said.
The majority of other members, including Emmanuel Jime, Femi Gbajabiamila and Jerry Manwe, also spoke on the motion.
However, members, including Ali Madaki, Khamil Akinlabi and Dan Abia, cautioned the parliament against dabbling in a matter that, according to them, was clearly outside the purview of the chamber.
In their separate submissions, the lawmakers argued that the decision of the high court was within the ambit of the extant laws of the country.
When the Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal put the question on the motion, the resolution was overwhelmingly adopted in a voice vote.
The House also has mandated its Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to investigate the alleged inhuman activities of the companies commissioned by the FCT Administration to enforce motor parking regulations and parking fees collection in Abuja .
The companies commissioned by the Bala Mohammed-led FCT administration for this purpose in the Federal City include Integrated Parking Services Ltd and Platinum Parking Management Services Ltd.
But adopting a motion introduced by Odebunmi Olusegun Dokun on the matter yesterday, the House expressed worry over the inability of motorists to identify the particular company or agent overseeing a particular area because different companies seem to be at war over who is in charge.
The parliament noted that Abuja as the capital city of Nigeria should be managed in such a way that it would become a source of pride for every Nigerian.
The CNPP’s ultimatum was sequel to the challenge to public debate thrown by Ezekwesili in connection with her allegation of monumental corruption.
The CNPP noted that it was alarmed that instead of responding to the grave allegation made by the former minister, the Presidency tepidly avoided the public debate challenge.
In a statement issued yesterday in Abuja, the CNPP National Publicity Secretary, Osita Okechukwu, described as unjustifiable, the Federal Government’s reactions to Ezekwesili’s allegation and challenge as a deliberately calculated albeit unsuccessful effort to bring the Jonathan administration to disrepute
He noted that for the avoidance of doubt, many public commentators and anti-corruption crusaders, as well as the CNPP had severally bemoaned the pervasive corruption in the land, which included the culture of impunity which had existed in the country in the last 13 years.
The CNPP said that this debate was absolutely necessary and a matter of urgent national importance based on the fact that Ezekwesili was not only a former vice president of the World Bank, but she also served as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and once headed the Bureau of Public Procurement in the country.
The CNPP also noted that the fact that Maku had also levelled allegations of monumental corruption against the former minister had added more urgency to the debate.
“It is our view that a public debate challenge of this nature must not be overlooked by the Federal Government, especially bearing in mind that even the ex-president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo under which Mrs. Ezekwesili served, had serially labelled the President Goodluck Jonathan regime as incurably corrupt. We are deeply concerned that the splash of mud on the image of the country can only be wiped out if the government musters the political will to convoke the public debate as requested.
“To do otherwise will further tarnish the image of the country and discourage direct foreign investment, which we badly need. For us, corruption is a major contentious issue and there is no better time than this for the Jonathan administration to use the public debate to erase the epitaph of engraving its name in the hall of infamy as the most corrupt regime in the annals of the country.
“Now that the opportunity has offered itself for the government to cleanse itself or allow the good people of Nigeria to go home with the impression that the regime is absolutely corrupt, it will be regrettable if the government denies us, indeed itself this golden opportunity
“Also, there is no better platform for Mrs. Ezekwesili to disclose her source and substantiate her grave allegations than the debate.
“In sum, we challenge President Jonathan to convoke this debate within seven days or we stand on Mrs. Ezekwesili’s allegation to prosecute the government for unbridled and wanton looting of the national treasury,” CNPP charged.
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