Step aside, Reps tell Speaker
Tension heightened in Abuja on Monday as 50 lawmakers and the leadership of the House of Representatives disagreed on whether or not the embattled Speaker, Mrs. Patricia Etteh, should preside over Tuesday’s (today’s) plenary session.
While the lawmakers, led by Alhaji Farouk Lawan, said Etteh and her deputy, Alhaji Babangida Nguroje, should step aside in view of their alleged roles in the N628m contract scandal, the leadership of the House said the demand was uncalled for.
The 50 legislators, drawn mainly from the Integrity Group and New Agenda Forum, said the two principal officers of the House ought to step aside for a panel to investigate the allegations against them.
They said at a news conference in Abuja, that the contract scandal had placed the House at a crossroads and questioned its integrity.
Lawan, who read a three-page statement by the legislators, applauded President Umaru Yar’Adua’s statement on Sunday that the scandal in the House be investigated and its findings made public.
The statement was their response to the clean bill of health given to the Speaker by the management of the National Assembly.
The National Assembly management, which claimed that due process was followed in the award of the contracts, put the total sum at N579m.
The statement of the 50 lawmakers reads in part, “We are 24 hours away from the first day of sitting after the summer recess (six weeks vacation).
“Let us reiterate that the House cannot conduct any legislative business under a cloud of controversy of this nature and as such, we wish to reiterate the need for the Speaker and her deputy to step aside pending the completion of the investigation by a panel set up by a Speaker pro tempore under the House rule.”
In the statement, the group argued that a precedent was set in the Senate in 2001 in a case that involved a former President of the Senate, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo.
On the Assembly’s management position, the group considered it an ‘afterthought.’
According to the lawmakers, the Assembly management resorted to ‘semantics’ by substituting the word ‘renovation’ with ‘upgrade’.
They also accused the management of reducing the contract sum from N628m to N579m by removing the N49m earlier budgeted for the purchase of two Mercedes Benz cars.
They said the documents, in respect of the cars, were already in the public domain.
Due process, they maintained, was not followed in the contract awards.
The lawmakers added, “This play on words and semantics only exacerbates and further insults the intelligence of Nigerians and those of us who are calling for a probe.
“We are at a loss as to the difference between upgrade and renovation. If indeed what the management is trying to say is that the contract involved much more than renovation and that the ‘upgrade’ meant reconstruction, one wonders why you need to reconstruct particularly the deputy’s house which was brand new.
“Under normal construction contracts, there is a retention clause which calls on the contractor to correct any defect or problem discovered after handover. Was the contractor ever recalled?”
They argued that pasting the tender notices on the notice board of the Assembly ran foul of the Public Procurement Bill and Due Process Bill that should guide a contract of this magnitude.
The lawmakers said that it was in a bid to justify the huge cost of the contract that reception block, a radio room, a power house, lockup garages and security posts were listed as components of the homes of the Speaker and her deputy.
They said the biggest “spin by the management of the National Assembly is its assertion that the renovation was covered in the 2007 Appropriation Act.”
To further counter the Assembly’s argument, the lawmakers raised a poser: “Why then did they have to ask the Federal Capital Development Authority as far back as June to renovate the houses?”
They said whether the contract was N628m or N579m, legal issues and due process remained the question.
“The staggering quantum of money involved was and remains a moral question. Both are at par in terms of seriousness and gravity,” the legislators maintained.
Lawan, who answered questions on the numerical strength of the members of the group opposed to Etteh, enjoined journalists to wait till Tuesday (today).
He described the crisis in the House as a battle between lawmakers who wanted things done correctly, and those on the Speaker’s side.
Lawan said, “We must act in a way that must clear this particular matter. We must redeem the image of the House of Representatives and we must continue to maintain the ethical and moral standards of this House as an institution.”
He also admitted that the Speaker had personally reached out to some members of the House and groups.
Lawan, however, said there was no friction between the members and the House leadership.
“Yes, the Hon. Speaker has been trying to reach out to some members of the House. Some of us were visited by the Speaker and some received all kinds of messages through various emissaries,” he claimed.
Some of those at the news conference were Mr. John Halims, Dr. Ahmed Salik, Mrs. Mercy Isei, Tergu Tsegba, and Chuma Nzeribe.
Others were Habeeb Fashinro, Femi Gbajabiamila, Independence Ogunewe, Lynda Ikpeazu, Ngidda Gella, Patrick Obahiaagbon and Mrs. Binta Garba.
Nzeribe, who chairs the House Committee on Works, was believed to have been in Etteh’s camp, just as Ogunewe.
But in a swift reaction, the leadership of the House said Etteh could not step aside since she had not been found guilty.
Although it admitted at a press conference addressed by Mr. Ita Enang that there was a provision for the Speaker to step aside in the House rule, it said that Etteh was still in charge.
Enang, who is the chairman of the House Committee on Business and Rules, however, said that a Speaker could only step aside after an issue had been raised.
He said, “You don’t ask somebody to step aside if the person has not been found guilty or if an issue has not arisen on the floor. Madam Etteh is still the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”
At the briefing by Enang were the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Eziuche Ubani, and his counterpart in charge of Information, Mr. Dino Melaye.
On Sunday night, the South-South caucus in the House advised the Speaker to step down for proper investigation.
The caucus, which is led by Mr. Andrew Uchendu, said after its meeting in Abuja that the allegations against Etteh were grave and impinged on the integrity of the House.
The meeting was attended by 26 out of its 55 members.
Meanwhile, some youths under the aegis of Coalition of Youths Against Corruption in Nigeria, on Monday, protested against Etterh’s continued stay as Speaker.
The youths, numbering over 100, stormed the complex of the National Assembly as early as 10am with placards and leaves, calling for the resignation of Etteh and Nguroje.
They sang and danced at the entrance of the complex before they were forced out by a combined team of riot policemen and other security men attached to the Assembly.
Some of the placards read, “Etteh must be jailed,” “Save Nigerians, probe Etteh,” “We are against corruption,” and “No more corruption at high places.”
The National Coordinator of CYACN, Mr. Bello Godspower, who spoke exclusively with our correspondents, said the group was appalled at the magnitude of the allegation and was at the NASS to demonstrate openly on the matter.
He said that attempts by the management of the National Assembly to stop investigation into the matter was seen by the group as a “disservice to the nation.”
Godspower said, “Whatever the National Assembly officials are trying to tell us is not acceptable to us. We are here to show our annoyance. We are here to tell them that this matter would not be covered up in anyway.
“By Mrs. Etteh’s silence, she has already admitted guilt. But, we want an independent probe into the scam. But, before then, she cannot continue to remain as the Speaker of the lower House.”
How renovation was done during my tenure –Nnamani
The immediate past president of the Senate, Chief Ken Nnamani, on Monday explained that renovation, including the furnishing of the official residence of the Senate President was handled by the Federal Capital Development Authority during his tenure.
The Senate, he added, was not involved in the renovation, because the building belonged to the FCDA. He added that there was no budget for the exercise.
Nnamani, who in a telephone interview with our correspondent, stated that the renovation was so spectacular that his successor, David Mark, just moved into the residence without any complaint.
Commenting on the allegation that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia Etteh, spent N628m to renovate her official quarters, the former Senate President said that there were certain basic questions that should first be asked which would bring the truth to light.
He said, “The first (question) is on the issue of ownership of the house. Was it owned by the FCDA or was there a special arrangement between the House of Representatives and the FCDA on the renovation? Who authorised the renovation? Was due process followed and was the renovation in the budget?
”During my tenure, the Senate President’s mansion and Speaker’s mansion were properties of the FCDA and it was responsible for the renovation and the Senate didn‘t participate in the negotiation of the contract for renovation. But then, the entitlement for accommodation was not monetised and because of that, a tenant could not renovate someone‘s house because it didn‘t make you the owner of the house: renovation is the responsibility of the landlord.”
Nnamani said he agreed with President Yar’Adua’s position that the due process should be followed in the probe of the matter.
He added that the lower house should turn the searchlight on itself.
He cautioned the lawmakers not to be carried away by anger or allow temper to becloud the issue at stake, stressing that temper does not resolve issues.
On Etteh’s silence since the controversy came up, Nnamani said it was her “prerogative to speak or not to speak,” adding that she should however be given the chance to defend herself on the allegations against her.
Meanwhile, the Transition Monitoring Group on Monday said the leadership and members of the House of Representatives would have a moral burden on their shoulders if they chose to treat allegations of corruption against the Speaker with levity.
The group stated this in a press statement signed by its national coordinator, Mr. Mabel Ade, on Monday in Abuja.
The group said the allegations should never be swept under the carpet as the usual “PDP Family Affair,” as many Nigerians were watching.
It also condemned the setting up of the Electoral Reform Panel by President Umaru Yar’Adua, saying doing so without the review of the constitution would be an effort in vain.
ANPP To Withdraw Petition Against Yar’Adua
• It’s a game plan – Buhari
All Nigeria Peoples Party, the principal opposition political party in the country, said yesterday that it is considering withdrawing the petition filed against the April 21 election of President Umaru Yar’Adua, citing monitoring criticisms by other petitioners as reason.
The party’s counsel, Chief Chimezie Ikeazor (SAN), gave the indication at the resumed hearing of the petition before the presidential election tribunal in Abuja yesterday.
But counsel to Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), the ANPP presidential flagbearer, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN), in a swift reaction said that Buhari had withdrawn his petition and filed a separate one.
His words: "It is a game plan. We have known it from the beginning that this is how it will end and that is why we did not want to join our petition with theirs. If we had gone under their canopy, this would have been the end of our petition, too."
Explaining why the ANPP is seriously considering withdrawing the petition against President Yar’Adua, Chief Ikeazor (SAN), said: "We have found ourselves in the most embarrassing position, as we are being called all sorts of names by the Action Congress (AC) and even our presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari.
"The documents filed by the duo before this court really go beyond the legal issue but castigated us for joining Yar’Adua’s government of national unity. Based on this development, we are withdrawing the application we filed for the consolidation of all petitions against Yar’Adua.
"We are not immoral people. We believe that what we have done is the right thing, and we should not be persecuted for it. I am going to consult with my client for a withdrawal of the petition in its entirety. And as for me, I am done with this matter."
The presidential election tribunal presided over by Justice James Ogebe, however, directed the counsel to file a formal application to the effect and adjourned sitting till September 11, 2007.
Buhari and the AC had opposed the ANPP’s application for the consolidation of all petitions against Yar’Adua. They had in their separate submissions argued that ANPP has no moral justification to file and sustain a petition against a government it is participating in.
"Consolidating of ANPP’s petition with others will create a wrong impression of the approval of the situation in which the party is petitioning against a government of which it is a member. This is very embarrassing, lacking in principle and legally contradictory," Chief Ahamba said in the motion.
The Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke-led National Working Committee (NWC) of ANPP had negotiated and accepted two ministerial slots and four special adviser and special assistant positions from the Yar’Adua government as a prerequisite for joining its Government of National Unity.
Electoral Reform: INEC Can Be Independent – Uwais
• Set to conduct public hearing
The chairman of the 22-man Electoral Reform Panel and former chief justice of the federation, Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, has said that it is possible to have an independent electoral commission for the country, if only the will is there.
Speaking on an NTA network programme monitored in Abuja yesterday, Uwais said an independent electoral commission can only be possible if the judiciary itself is independent.
According to him, "You can have a truly independent national electoral commission if only the judiciary is allowed to be independent of the executive."
He said many things went wrong in the last April general elections starting from the voting process, but that his committee is ready and willing to identify the lapses, so as to correct the mistakes.
"Many things are wrong with the electoral process, starting from voting. We were made to vote in the open," he added
Justice Uwais revealed that the committee will conduct a public hearing on the last elections so as to receive and rely on the memoranda to be presented. The task of the committee is tasking, and that its success will depend largely on the resources and time made available to it, he said.
"We are equal to the challenge," he added.
Uwais, however, did not specify when the public hearing will commence and its mode of operation.
It could be recalled that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua last week inaugurated the panel, headed by Uwais, to suggest ways to reform the controversial electoral process.
THE GUARDIAN EDITORIAL
Reforming the electoral process
PRESIDENT Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has inaugurated a 22-person panel to activate the process for electoral reforms in Nigeria. He wants a review of the entire electoral process and recommendations for Nigerians to achieve an electoral structure with the "highest internationally acceptable quality and standard".
The panel has a full year to render its report. We consider the tenure of the panel rather too long. The timing of its introduction is also inauspicious. Election petition tribunals are still sitting, the obvious fear is that the work of the electoral panel may indirectly be prejudicial to the outcomes of the tribunals, the details of which could have provided useful material for consideration by the panel.
The good news, however, is that the panel is made up of eminent Nigerians led by a former Chief Justice of the Federation. Its members are drawn from various backgrounds - law, civil society, labour, academia, the Police, the army, religious groups, electoral chiefs and the media.
It could be said that by getting to this induction stage for the electoral reform panelists, it does appear this President sets so much store by his inauguration day address where he publicly conceded that the April elections of which he is a major beneficiary were flawed. Not only did he depart from the trend of announcement by his own party activists then, now it is also notable that he is living up to his campaign pledge early enough in the day.
Perhaps in the belief that the inclusion of card-carrying politicians may contaminate the rest of the panel, no card-carrying politician was nominated to take part in the assignment. The panel and other Nigerians may miss the partisan politicians' field experience. Interestingly, though, there is the view that the politicians were kept out of the panel because they are the cause of our very difficult experience with electioneering over the years. We agree that this is true.
The Nigeria Police and security services are somewhat represented on the panel. There can be no doubt that the security agencies were also part of the problem with the country's electoral process. The Nigerian people will expect from the panel a dispassionate review of the country's electoral process and a honest definition of the truth about our experiment with democracy.
One question that should be addressed quickly is this: Where does the legitimacy of the Yar'Adua administration rest that confers on it the rectitude to oversee electoral reforms? In addition, can President Yar'Adua mount a moral high horse on the issue of electoral reform? Without much ado, we hold that the administration is only a convenient arrangement by Nigerian power brokers, within the political parties and outside of it. The administration is, let it be restated, waiting on the plethora of electoral tribunal judges to pass judgments that may go either way in furthering the Yar'Adua administration or call for fresh elections. To that extent, the creation of an electoral reform panel by an administration that has serious questions to answer about the process that brought it to power is to say the least, contemptuous.
But Nigeria must not have a vacuum - that will be dangerous for the polity. So, we affirm that we live with the initiative to begin the conversations on electoral reform in the firm belief that the aspirations are worthy and of enormous importance, and that the panelists will act in utmost good faith.
Virtually every Nigerian of voting age holds very fresh, but unsavoury, memories of the April 2007 general elections. Widespread disenfranchising of Nigerians took place in broad day light and in so many constituencies that the results put out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were simply unacceptable or plain, fraudulent. In a sense, the electoral reform is a direct response to the disaster of the 2007 elections, which in itself, was a geometric and diabolic escalation of electoral frauds in Nigeria.
We call on the panel to tackle her mandate with vigour and eschew the temptation to turn sanctimonious and talk down on the people as participants in the process or conveniently forget that the Nigerian people are the victims of electoral mismanagement. This panel must listen to Nigerians in order to reformulate the strategies and tactics that will stave off the abuse of the electoral process.
First, in the light of previous and the current painful performance by the leading lights of the Electoral Commission, we need to be creative in the recruitment and appointment of senior and junior electoral officers. The current holders of the offices have failed to convey for a fact that this particular Commission is an impartial arbiter. More shamefully, the crass abuse of the sensibilities of both Nigerians and her friends as well as the conduct and utterances of electoral chiefs in the past months give concern about INEC's accountability on one hand, and the integrity of the recruitment process for key responsibility areas therein.
We challenge this electoral reform panel to create a ventilated template that will receive and sieve applicants for the Electoral Commission and ensure a public vetting of all, who, either voluntarily put themselves up for the assignments or are nominated by the Executive branch or, for that matter, any group of Nigerians. The first rule would be, never again should Nigerians allow the Executive, all by itself, to enthrone a candidate as chairman or member of the electoral commission at any level of governance.
Let it be reiterated that independence and autonomy, in word and deeds, of the Electoral Commissions at both the State and Federal levels is the sine qua non for the chance to deepen democracy in this country. Our attempts in the last many years have ran aground between the antics of despotic leadership and the naivet? of the Nigerian people entrusting their fate without a means of recourse to institutions. And to the chagrin of everyone, election year after another, the votes of Nigerians hardly were counted in declaring winners or losers of electoral contests. The work of this panel should focus therefore not just on INEC alone, but the general environment of politics in Nigeria, including the political system and the need to enforce sanctions to discourage brigandage during elections.
The laundry list for this panel should also include all the questions and issues in respect of: the place of Independent candidates, Enfranchising Nigerians in the Diaspora, the paramount need to conclude electoral tribunal contentions before any candidate is sworn into any office, the place of the Executive in control of coercive forces and their deployment rules at election times, the funding of election campaigns through state treasuries, ceilings on and public declarations of campaign fund contributions, the issue of proportional representation, the mode and timing of elections and so on.
Let this panel work hard to complete its assignment without fear or favour. We believe that it does not need all of one year for this. But the task of reforming the electoral process is not that of the panel alone. We earnestly look forward to both legislative and constitutional changes that will make the votes of Nigerians count, and the political will to avoid the same old Nigerian way of doing things. That is all the test democracy prescribes.
N300bn PEF Scam: Martins Denies AllegationBy Yemi Akinsuyi, 09.04.2007
Co-ordinator, Police Equi-pment Foundation (PEF), Chief Kenny Martins, has denied the allegation published in a newspaper over the weekend that the organisation raised N300 billion and mismanaged it in the last two years.
Addressing a press conference in his office in Abuja, Martins described the allegation as the handiwork of cheap blackmailers who wanted to give the organisation bad name for selfish reasons.
“Since the beginning of this organisation we have generated less than N10 billion of which we have spent four billion naira for the purchase of 800 vehicles, N1.2 billion earmarked fro housing project, N1 billion for procurement of helicopter for the police and N1 billion for body armoury. This organisation is owing now and they have not been able to finance their project for lack of fund. Where did we get the N300 billion they are accusing us of mismanaging. It beats my imagination that people can make
baseless allegation against people for no just cause,” he said.
Martins said the organisation has not received money from any international donour, governor, oil companies, and others as alleged.
He stated that they have been able to achieve some measure of success through the assistance and collaboration of some commercial banks in Nigeria that partner with them in financing some of these projects based on memorandum of understanding (MOU) that they would offset the loan in instalments.
“For one and half years, we have been battling with some cabals who have no other job than blackmailing because they have means of doing this and they see it as a means of livelihood. Their decision to rubbish the image of this organisation is because of our refusal accede to their selfish request of giving them the sum of N200 million,” he said.
He said before the publication, a well-knonw lawyer had come to his office to negotiate for settlement for
a case that was already in court against his client.
The PEF boss stressed that the lawyer’s was dragged to court for his unrelenting efforts in blackmailing the management of Police Equipment Foundation and he lost the case in court and the court refused to grant his lawyer an interlocutory injunction. Martins alleged that the lawyer and his collaborators, as well as a crime journalist demanded the sum of N200 million as “settlement” from the management which they refused to oblige.
He stated further that before now, the lawyer had written petitions against the organisation to the President, Sultan of Sokoto, Federal Executive members, and Inspector General of Police, alleging corrupt practises against the management of the organisation.
“We will not bow to the lawyer’s blackmail. If he is a professional blackmailer, he should not tamper with Police Foundation because we have nothing to hide. Everything we have done here is above the
board. We have done our internal auditing and circulated to those who should know about it, our Board of Trustee members. We do not have any skeleton in our cupboard and we never have any because our major concern is to improve the security of lives and properties in Nigeria,” Martins said.
As House of Representatives Resumes Today... Etteh: The Daggers Are DrawnFrom Stanley Nkwazema and Chuks Okocha in Abuja, 09.04.2007
Ahead of today’s stormy session of the House of Representatives as it reconvenes from its recess, it was a battle of wits last night in Abuja between the lawmakers rooting for House Speaker, Mrs. Patricia Olub-unmi Etteh, and those angling for her removal over the controversial N529 million renovation contract.
The House, speaking through Chairman Rules and Business Committee Hon. Ita Enang and his Media and Publicity Committee counterpart, Eziuche Ubani, said Etteh could not be stampeded out of office as Speaker until a thorough investigation of the allegations of wrongdoing in the renovation contract was done.
But members of the Integrity Group spearheaded by Hon. Farouk Lawan from Kano State, however, renewed the call for the Speaker to step aside over the allegation.
There were speculations that the group was working on getting the Speaker to step aside using a simple majority vote rather than opting for
outright impeachment which requires two-third majority.
In the Order paper for today’s proceedings issued by the National Assembly, however, the controversial renovation contract was not listed as an item for discussion.
A copy of the paper made available to THISDAY last night only contained the official remarks from the Speaker on the House’s resumption and presentation of four Executive Bills and motions.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), however, said yesterday that due process should be followed in handling the alleged contract scam against the House Speaker.
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had during a media chat on the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) on Sunday called for proper investigation and Etteh given fair hearing before anybody could pass judgement on the controversial contract.
Etteh has come under attack for approving the N529 contract for the renovation of her official residence and that of her deputy,
Briefing the media last night, Enang and Ubani said Etteh had to be found guilty by a competent committee first before she could be asked to step aside as Speaker.
“You don’t ask somebody to step aside when the issue has not been raised on the floor of the House. She is still the Speaker of the House of Representatives until proved otherwise. According to the standing Order of the House, there is a provision for stepping aside and we have to follow it,” they said.
But the Integrity group, the umbrella body of the House members calling for the removal of Etteh and her deputy, Babangida Nguroje, over the renovation contract insisted that though the Speaker and her deputy were covered by a presumption of innocence under the constitution, they needed to step aside to give room for an unfettered investigation of the allegation.
Hon. Farouk Lawan, the arrowhead of the group, who led other members of the group which included Halims
Agoda and Mercy Almona Isei to a news briefing last night said, “the House cannot conduct any meaningful and legitimate business under a cloud of controversy of this nature and as such, we wish to reiterate the need for the Speaker and her deputy to step aside pending the completion of the investigation by a panel set up by Speaker pro tempore under the House Rules.”
Lawan said a precedent had already been set in the case of late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo who in 2001 stepped aside as Senate President in order for the contract allegation against him to be probed.
“We believe this to be the right approach as the Speaker under the rules of natural justice cannot be a judge in her own case. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to have been done,” he said.
The group was scheduled to regroup last night at Protea Hotels Apo Abuja to map out the final strategies on how to get Etteh to step aside.
Lawan said though the National Assembly
management had finally released a defence of the contract through a document dated September 2, 2007, “the management has elected to describe the contract in question as an upgrade and not a renovation. This play on words and semantics only exacerbates and further insults the intelligence of Nigerians and those of us who are calling for a probe.”
In the executive bills listed in the order paper, the House is expected to discuss the N76 Billion Supplementary Appropriation Bill 2007 at its first reading.
There is also the Competition Anti Trust Bill 2007 being presented by Honourable CID Maduabum, the Energy Commission of Nigeria, an amendment bill, which Honourable Fancy Arole from Lagos State will present.
The last on the list is the Federal Character Commission Amendment bill being handled by Hon. Bassey Etim.
On the House’s resumption, Ubani said, “We must thank God that there has been no casualty, we are resuming and
almost everybody has returned to Abuja waiting for today’s business.
“The Speaker is expected to speak tomorrow (today), the National Assembly has spoken, there is a lot of business to be done. Something has happened but we have to figure out how we can move the country forward,” he said.
But THISDAY’s investigations revealed that the plan to move against Etteh has been sealed.
Hon. Patrick Obahiagbon representing Oredo Federal Constituency of Edo state has been penciled down to lead the debate on the need for the Speaker to step aside.
Agoda who was at the House Hearing Room 1, where the Integrity Group spoke with newsmen, with 50 other antagonists of Etteh confirmed that Obahiagbon was chosen for the job for strategic reasons.
On whether attempts have been made to resolve the issue without recourse to any investigation, Lawan said the Speaker had made attempts to reach the group.
“We were visited by all sorts of emissaries
from Etteh. It is not an individual matter. But no amount of blackmail and intimidation can stop us. We are at crossroads in the House.
“Allegations have been raised and we must have to conduct an independent investigation not because of Etteh but because of the integrity of the House.”
Lawan told THISDAY that there was a need for a thorough investigation into the allegation.
“Let me tell you that from the Clerk to the least person who was part of the deal will not be spared during the course of our investigation. We will get the entire details and apportion blames wherever.
“That due process was followed at every stage as claimed by the management is precisely why we are calling for an investigation. “We as legislators do not consider the mere pasting of tender notices on the notice board of the National Assembly as meeting due process and public procurement rules and standards, particularly for a contract of such
Also yesterday the Chairman of Women Affairs Committee of the House, Hon. Beni Lar, reiterated the confidence of the female caucus in Etteh’s leadership.
Lar who last night led some non-governmental organization to the House said, “it is in the best interest of our nascent democracy to avoid raising unnecessary media attention aimed at distracting our Speaker as she performs a role which is crucial to the stability of our fragile nation, Nigeria.”
PDP Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Bayo Alao, told newsmen in Abuja that the allegation against Etteh remained a rumour.
“The whole thing is still a rumour but as far as we are concerned, there must be fair hearing.
“We as a party cannot take any position now because the issues being raised are allegations. We will stay and watch for the members to come back from their recess to discuss the issue,” Alao said.
Also, the National Assembly
Security officials yesterday met at the Hearing Room 1 of the House of Representatives to on how to ensure effective security as the national Assembly reconvenes from the summer recess,
The meeting, which included the Police, Federal Road Safety Commission officials, the Sergeant -At- Arms and the State Security Service met for several hours to rehearse on how to ward off miscreants the resumption.
THISDAY also confirmed that the over 300 police men at the assembly complex and those attached to the legislative quarters at Apo Village were given clothing materials to make their new uniforms by the officers.
However, the security officials at the First Gate prevented placard-carrying youths from getting past the gate of the assembly yesterday.
The youths who came in ten buses wanted to get to the White House which houses the two chambers of the National Assembly but were sent back by the mobile police men at the First Gate.
Forum for Democratic Ethos and Norms, an umbrella body of former presiding officers of state Houses of Assembly said yesterday that “there are veritable processes recommended for the resolution of areas of disag reement in the House of Representatives.
“This could come in form of matter of urgent public importance or a motion on the floor of the House rather than taking it through the media to the public domain as the very first approach.
The system the group said “is in itself a breach of parliamentary ethics and privileges of the House and is capable of engendering a rush to judgement on the part of the public without having the opportunity to consider all sides of the issues.”
The forum, in a statement signed by Friday Itulah, George Daika, Stanley Ohajuruka, Peter Linus Umoh and Bassey Ewa however resolved that the House should institute an investigative committee in line with the guiding rules to look into all the issues
concerning the controversial contract award.
“In the interim, all parties involved should sheath their swords and wait for the outcome of the investigative committees for the sake of our nascent democracy, as it will not be in the interest of Nigerians for the National Assembly to be in crisis.’’
...Speaker Moves to Reshuffle C’ttee ChairmenBy Philip Ogunmade, 09.04.2007
The embattled Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, last night offered the olive branch to those opposed to her as she resolved to take another look at the composition of chairmanship of the 66 standing committees of the House.
House sources told THISDAY that Etteh was set to reshuffle the committee chairmanship.
Under the new deal, some committee chairmanship given to the South-west will go to other zones.
The committee chairmanship is alleged to be lopsided in favour of the South-west and is said to be the main issue in contention and not the controversial N529 renovation contract over which Etteh is being hounded.
Some House members believed to be close to the Speaker became aggrieved because they were not allocated chairmanship of committees they desired.
THISDAY learnt that under the new plan, the committees on Niger Delta and Appropriation given to lawmakers from the
South-west will change hands. A legislator from the South-south may emerge the chairman of the Niger Delta Committee while Appropriation Committee may also go to another lawmaker from another zone apart from South-west to chair.
Etteh was said to have given the plum committees to legislators from the South-west in order to seal any plan by such members to angle for the Speakership zoned to the zone by the Peoples Demo-cratic Party (PDP).
But as the crisis broke out in the House, some of the legislators from the zone were said to be positioning themselves for the plum office, a development that left Etteh flustered.
There were allegations that there was an unseen hand in the compilation of the House committees which Etteh announced early last moth before proceeding to the United States.
Most of the lawmakers that are up in arms against Etteh like Hon. Farouk Lawan, Halims Agoda, Mercy Alumona-Isei are known allies of the Speaker.
all been elected into the House since 1999. Lawan was the one who nominated Etteh for the Speakership in June this year.
The Etteh Contract Scandal09.03.2007
It is not for nothing that there is often a degree of distrust between political leaders and the led, especially when the conduct of political leaders violates public propriety at the expense of the people. That is why there is a general feeling that many who seek political office are driven more by the lure of the perks and privileges of office than the desire to serve the society.
The recent hoopla over the N628million-contract scandal involving the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs Patricia Olubunmi Etteh can safely be located in this realm. The sum, according to her accusers, is meant for the renovation of her official residence and that of her deputy, Alhaji Babaginda Nguroje. Her supporters, however, argue that the sum involved is not more than N280 million.
Whatever the amount, it remains an assault to the sensibilities of most Nigerians who find it difficult to reconcile the sum involved and the
purpose it was meant for. In a country where the level of poverty and lack are remarkably high, spending the whopping sum of N628 million to renovate an apartment vacated less than three months ago, smacks of insensitivity to public plight. It is an indiscreet way to utilize public funds.
It is inexplicable that the sum N628 million will be expended in renovating an apartment, when building such an apartment, even in Abuja, should, most likely, cost less.
There was also the contention that the award of the contract did not follow Due Process, given that there was no open tender before the contract was awarded. Was the contract surreptitiously awarded to predetermined contractors?
Even if all the processes were duly followed, the impropriety of the action will still stick out like a sore thumb. In other words even if Etteh satisfied all legal and procedural requirements, fiscal prudence demands her disapproval of the mind-boggling
expenditure for mere renovation. Public service also entails the willingness to make sacrifice while serving. Spending so much of public fund to renovate an elected officer's abode runs counter to this principle.
Indeed, what is in a renovation to cost so much as alleged? A breakdown of the items indicates that there will be installation of security gadgets among many other such curious items. Were there no such gadgets during the tenure of Alhaji Bello Masari? Or did Masari's exit from the residence invalidate the security equipment?
In a country where millions of people are yet homeless, or live in sub-human habitats, the obscene luxury of spending N628 million, or even a third of that amount to renovate a single individual's home is out of sync with social reality we daily face as a people.
In times past, the National Assembly had been enmeshed in similar crises as a result of contract award which led to leadership changes. It is
against this backdrop that we believe that the federal lawmakers should limit themselves strictly to the business of legislation and leave the award and execution of contracts to the executive arm of government, the organ constitutionally empowered and better equipped to do so. To do otherwise violates the spirit and letter of the constitution.
On its part, the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), may have inadvertently encouraged what has now become a scandal when it claimed that it had no resources to renovate the official quarter of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Did the FCDA not know that after May 29, 2007, the official quarters of elected public officers will need to be renovated? Why were the funds for renovation not budgeted for or provided ahead of time?
We therefore call on the members of House of Representatives to dispassionately examine the entire contract saga in order to unearth all the
breaches. It will amount to gross disservice to the nation if any political party or body under the guise of intervening cause the matter to be swept under the carpet. This will not only compromise the anti-corruption crusade of the Yar'Adua administration but also create the impression that some people are sacred and untouchable.
Fawehinmi heads to Appeal Court over Obasanjo's library
By Ibe Uwaleke,
Snr. Judicial Correspondent
LAGOS lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) has headed to the Court of Appeal, Abuja to challenge the legality of former President Olusegun Obasanjo's N7 billion library project.
Fawehinmi had filed an action at the Federal High Court, Abuja after the library project was launched in Abeokuta, Ogun State on May 14, 2005. But the court dismissed the suit, which it declared lacked competence.
Dissatisfied by the verdict, Fawehinmi has gone to the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division to file an application for departure from the rules of court to compile and file his 450- page record of appeal.
He is praying the appellate court to compel Obasanjo to surrender and forfeit to the country through the court, the presidential library, which he alleged was acquired through corruption and abuse of power. According to Fawehinmi, the library project was executed in flagrant violation of section 15(5) of the 1999 Constitution and the Code of Conduct for public officers.
The appellant is asking for an order granting a departure from the rules of the court by allowing him to compile the record of appeal in the case.
In a six-paragraph affidavit sworn to by one Clement Onwuenwunor, a lawyer in Fawehinmi's chambers, he averred that the appeal is against the judgment delivered by the Federal High Court, Abuja.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the appeal.
Presidential Election: Tribunal Dismisses Ojukwu/Nwankwo Petition
The presidential election petition tribunal yesterday dismiss the petition of the presidential candidate of the All progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Emeka Odumegwu and that of the peoples mandate party (PMP), Arthur Nwankwo challenging the election of President Umar Musa Yar'Adua over the April 21, 2007 poll.
Tribunal chairman Justice James Ogebe ruling on preliminary objection brought by Yar'Adua dismiss the two petitions on the grounds that they were incompetent and did not comply with the provisions of the electoral Act, 2006.
In a unanimous decision read by Justice Ogebe, the Tribunal ruled that Ojukwu in his petition failed to provide the tribunal with necessary facts to substantiate his claims that elections took place in only two percent of the five states he cited in his petition.
Ogebe ruled that Ojukwu cited only five states of Imo, Enugu, Abia, Anambra and Ebonyi out of the 36 states of the federation.
In his words, "five states cannot be used as a yardstick to prove that there was no elections in 98 per cent of the federation, the petition failed to make mention of any state of the federation or the 774 local government councils including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)."
Furthermore, he said the petition, as presently constituted is challenging the election in the five states mentioned, it is therefore incompetent and is therefore struck out.
On Nwankwo, the tribunal held that the petitioner failed to mention any of the 36 states of the federation, the federal Capital Territory and the 774 local government areas in the country, where the alleged irregularities occurred during the election.
"No state of the federation was pinpointed as evidence with clear facts adduced to back the claim."
Kabiru Turaki (SAN), counsel to President Yar'Adua had urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition on the grounds that petition lacked merit and that the tribunal lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
The presidential candidate of APGA and PMP had goner to the tribunal seeking for the nullification of the presidential election of April 21, 2007 where Yar'Adua was declared winner.
Igbo leaders at U.S. congress, review scorecard
From Gordi Udeajah,
Detroit Michigan, USA
EMINENT Igbo, who converged in Detroit, Michigan in the United States (USA) for the 13th World Igbo Congress (WIC), have resolved to mobilise resources for the development of the region.
Three governors, who attended the forum, assured that they would leave their states better than they met them.
The leaders also agreed to, among others, work for the immediate reconciliation of Ohanaeze Ndigbo factions and the release of the detained leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafran (MASSOB), Chief Ralph Uwazuruike.
The pledge for good governance came from Abia State Governor, Theodore Orji, Ikedia Ohakim of Imo State and his Anambra State counterpart, Peter Obi.
In their separate addresses, the governors urged Igbo not to abandon themselves in the face of their marginalisation in Nigeria.
Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State sent a representative. Orji assured Ndigbo that the new governors in the South-East have no other ambition than good governance, adding that no single political party has majority control of the states in the new dispensation unlike in the immediate past where the (PDP) held sway. "No political party can dictate our direction, God destined it to be so, we discuss freely, we do not have vaulting ambitions other than to govern, we are new governors devoid of ambition other than rendering service to our people."
He said that any true Igboman will shudder at the position of the race in Nigeria. Orji added that he does not believe that there was anything past Igbo heroes did that their successors cannot do, pointing out that all that was required was the re-awakening of the giants within in the present generation.
He appealed to Igbo in the Diaspora to think-home and contribute their quota to the region's development. He said: "Why don't you assist us by identifying areas your expertise can be of use to us as a state and your people in general while we on our part will gladly provide you with the enabling environment to deliver."
The governor said that he had directed that modalities be worked out for the setting up of an Igbo In Diaspora Liaison Office that will fast track contact with those that will wish to return home.
According to him, it was no longer enough to criticise the situation at home when one had not made any attempt to assist while government is incapable of providing everything to the people.
In his address, tagged: "Ima Onwe-(The Way To The Future") Ohakim listed six things that must be embarked upon to re-package Igbo as an acceptable brand within and outside Nigeria. These are as internal rehabilitation of displaced Igbo, security within the Nigerian state, economic partnership of Igbo states for massive job creation, systematic rejection of men of less integrity at the polls, re-orientation and citizenship education and cultural revival.
On his vision for his state, Ohakim told the participants that he would knit together the components of the states, promote unity and work with experts to induce capital formation, disseminate the creative genius of the people to transform Imo into a greater oriental power.
Obi's address focused on business and investment opportunities that abound in the region.
He said that he had nothing personal against both Dr Chris Ngige and Andy Uba, former governors of the state, who were removed from office by the courts for him to serve his full mandate. He said that contrary to impressions in some quarters, he never sued Ngige or Uba but the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for declaring false election results in the case of Ngige and conducting an election when it was not due for Uba. He said the duo had come to understand and appreciate that he (Obi) did the right thing.
But President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, decried the poor attendance of the convention. He urged the organisers to take the matter serious or stop inviting people to the convention.
WIC Chairman, Chibuzor Onwuchekwe renewed the convention's call for the release of Uwazurike, saying "Igbo in the Diaspora will never sleep until he is freed.
In his four-page address, Onwuchekwe decried the time as trying one for Ndigbo such that it requires reviewing the conference agenda. "In the view of the WIC, our people have been manoeurved out of key positions in the Nigerian polity and if we do not find practical solutions to reverse this ugly trend now, we may even find ourselves in worse position than we are today, eight years from now."
WIC, he said, traces the genesis of the Igbo problem in the past administration in Nigeria to elected officials at both the federal and state levels.
He said such people more or less represented themselves as individuals and not Ndigbo people, stressing that "Igbo can no longer stand and watch our kinsmen ride on the back and collective goodwill in pursuit of personal gains and agenda, collective Igbo interests must not be substituted for individualism.
He said the convention would consider for adoption the selection of a coordinator for Ohanaeze, who should be an attorney, based in Nigeria and familiar with Igbo issues, politics, and leadership
- a direct link between Ohanaeze and WIC, empanelling a committee to take stock on the Igbo situation in Nigeria and devise means to reposition Ndigbo in the polity.
- rejection of factions in Ohanaeze which a mechanism put in place during the convention to harmonise Ohanaeze into one leadership not later than 90 days after the meeting.
The keynote speaker, Zik Chuka Obi, who described the theme of the convention "Ka anyi Dozie Ala Igbo (Introspective development of Igboland) as apt, pointed out that the revival of the political and economic sectors of the race, should be a challenge to all Igbo and sought to know if the will-power to do so by both WIC and Ohanaeze was in place.
To this, he expressed reservation, hinging it on past resolutions taken at WIC that were never enforced.
He asked: "How effective have WIC and Ohanaeze been piloting the Igbo affairs that the race suddenly now becomes Nigeria's largest minority tribe. Igbo in public positions must be made to account for what they did for the region. Why should federal roads in Igboland be in their poorest state when an Igbo son was the chairman of the Federal Road Emergency Management Agency (FERMA), or when another Igbo son was said to be the closest aide to the immediate past president? Why did contracts for Federal roads repair in the zone be abandoned like the approved second Niger Bridge and census figures for the zone released last? We must demand answers these from our sons."
Obi also charged WIC and Ohanaeze in conjunction with the state governors, to do something to improve the sorry plight of former Biafran war veterans at Oji River, seek amendment to the 1999 Constitution to enable more states, local councils be created and revenue allocation based on equality of states and not on the number of councils.
Energy crisis: FG, General Electric meet
As part of his plans to address the country’s power crisis, President Umaru Yar’Adua on Monday met with a team from the General Electric Corporation of the United States.
The GE team was led by its President and Chief Executive Officer for the Middle-East and Africa, Mr. Nabil Hababyeb.
At the meeting, Yar’Adua said that urgent development of Nigeria’s power and transport infrastructure was ‘very critical and central’ to his administration’s plans for rapid economic development.
He said the Federal Government was interested in productive partnership with willing investors, especially in the power sector.
Yar’Adua told the delegation that the government would welcome fresh, innovative and workable inputs to its emerging roadmap for establishing efficient power and transport sectors.
He said the sect
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