Senators are restless again, divided by the probe of of an alleged diversion of recovered N1 trillion loot by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde.
The Senate Committee on Ethics, Priviledges and Public Petitions launched the investigation yesterday when it took evidence from George Uboh, the petitioner, who is said to be on trial for alleged fraud.
Committee Chairman Samuel Anyanwu walked out the EFCC’s Legal Director, Mr. Chile Okoroma and Mr. Osuakwu Ogbochukwu, Lamorde’s counsel.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senate Caucus had dissociated itself from the probe, saying it was not aware of any petitiion against the EFCC.
It insisted that due process was not followed.
The statement by the PDP caucus was signed by Minority Leader Senator Godswill Akpabio, Senator Abiodun Olujimi, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha and Senator Philip Aduda.
Watchers of the development in the Senate are wondering why the ‘probe’ of the EFCC chairman is coming at a time the wife of Senate President Bukola Saraki is undergoing interrogation before the anti-graft agency.
Supporters of the Senate President have described the invitation and interrogation of Mrs. Toyin Saraki as politically motivated.
There has been no love lost between Saraki and the party leadership, following the controversial way Saraki became Senate President.
He also shunned the request of his party – The All Progressives Congress (APC) – to name principal officers.
Yesterday members of the Unity Forum faulted the Lamorde probe.
The Forum said Lamorde’s invitation was illegal and a breach of the Senate Standing Rules.
It said that there was no record indicating that Uboh’s petition was presented to the Senate in plenary.
It asked the Senate leadership to halt the probe.
In a statement signed by Senator Ahmed Lawan; Senator George Akume; Senator Abu Ibrahim; and Senator Barnabas Gemade, the group said:
“The Senate Unity Forum hereby declares that the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions probe of the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde is illegal and a breach of the Senate Standing Rules.
“In standard parliamentary practice, a petition is routed through either a Senator or a member of the House of Representatives. Upon receipt of such petition, the representative will inform the presiding officer of the chamber and, thereafter, present the petition in plenary.
“Upon presentation in plenary, the presiding officer will invite the Senator/Representative to lay the same petition on the Table in the chamber, which automatically becomes a public document.
“Thereafter, the presiding officer will refer the petition to the appropriate committee for consideration upon which it would be returned to the Senate in plenary.
“In this regard, nothing of the sort happened. Senate proceeded on recess on August 13 and it is not on record that the petition of Mr. George Uboh, accusing Lamorde of diverting over N1 trillion recovered from some corrupt Nigerians, including the former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, and the former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun was presented to Senate in plenary.”
The Senate Unity Forum urged the Senate leadership to halt the probe of the EFCC.
The statement added: “The Senate Unity Forum do support the position earlier adopted by some of our colleagues that the Lamorde probe should be halted as it did not follow due parliamentary process.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Rule (1-3 of the Senate Standing Orders specifically spells out how petitions are handled in the parliament.
Rule 41 (1-3) states: (1) A petition may only be presented to the Senate by a Senator, who shall affix his name at the beginning thereof.
(2) A Senator presenting a petition shall confine himself to a brief statement of the parties from whom it came, the number of signatures attached to it and the material allegations contained in it and to reading the prayers of such petitions.
(3) All petitions shall be ordered, without question being put, to lie upon the Table. Such petitions shall be referred to the Public Petitions Committee…
“It is after these steps have been taken that the presiding officer would refer the petition to the afore-mentioned committee.
“It should be noted that, in this case, none of the laid-down procedure was followed before Senate Unity Forum read in the newspapers that the Senator Samuel Anywanu-led Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee would, on Wednesday, August 26, today commence a probe the EFCC Chairman.
“We stand against this probe. It is illegal and unconstitutional because it did not follow our rules.”
The EFCC said it had no confidence in the committee of the Senate, saying it lacked objectivity and that it was not likely to get a fair hearing, after a delegation sent to observe the proceedings was walked out by the members of the Committee on the pretext that the Commission had earlier written that it would not be present at the hearing.
Ugbo was mid-way through his presentation to the Committee when the EFCC delegation led by its Director, Legal and Prosecution, Chile Okoroma, arrived. Okoroma immediately sought to know whether it was the normal procedure for the senate to conduct its hearing with only one of the parties present.
Dino Melaye, chair of the Senate Committee on Information, who chose to respond on behalf of the Committee, said it was at liberty to adopt any format it deemed fit. They claimed that the Commission was not expected at the hearing, having written to be excused. They proceeded to read the letter from the EFCC, where the Commission asked for another date to be present at the hearing but omitted the portion where the EFCC disclosed that the petitioner is an accused under prosecution by the Commission, on fraud charges.
Okoroma insisted that it amounted to lack of fair hearing for the proceedings to continue in the absence of the EFCC. Besides, he observe that the documents presented to the Committee by the petitioner were not made available to the Commission. To this extent, he wondered how the Commission was supposed to respond to them.
Okoroma further noted that the narration by Uboh only contained reference to the EFCC and not Lamorde even though the hearing was advertised as a probe of Lamorde.
The charade in the Senate is considered a direct threat to the anti-corruption agenda of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. “The so called hearing is a Bukola Saraki /James Ibori agenda to once again destabilise the EFCC. They are trying to take their pound of flesh of the Commission for having the courage to investigate them. The duo orchestrated the removal of pioneer chairman of the EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu and they believe they can do same to Lamorde”, a source at the senate said, asking not to be identified.
“This is not surprising as the Chairman of the Ethics Committee; Peter Nwaoboshi is an Ibori sidekick who served as commissioner to the convicted former governor of Delta State. Though a first term senator, he has already earned a reputation as a rabid Saraki acolyte. Nwaoboshi and Melaye were part of the bodyguards of law makers that escorted Toyin Saraki, wife of the senate president, Bukola Saraki, to the EFCC, where she was recently quizzed for corruption offences.
“In their design to distract the leadership of the EFCC under Lamorde, they found a worthy ally in a suspected fraudster, Uboh who is standing trial before Justice J, Aladetoyinbo of the FCT High Court on three counts of fraud (FRN v George Uboh CR/12/09). He is alleged to have converted properties belonging to the Police Equipment Fund.”