Posted By: GEORGE Oji
Amidst controversies, the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Petitions last week, commenced the probe of alleged huge fraud, bordering on unremitted recoveries and diversion of recovered assets by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). GEORGE OJI reports.
On the strength of a petition sent to it by one George Uboh, the Chief Executive Officer of Panic Alert Security Systems, a financial recovery and security firm, the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Petition slated last Wednesday, August 26 to commence a public hearing on some allegations leveled against the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Lamorde.
The petition by Uboh was dated July 31, 2015 and submitted to the committee, shortly after the senate proceeded on its annual vacation, which will end on September 29.
The petition chronicled a long list of financial infractions against the Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Larmode.
Specifically, the petitioner accused Lamorde of instances of under-remittances and non-disclosure of proceeds of corruption recovered from criminal suspects, including the former Inspector General of Police Tafa Balogun and former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepriye Alamieyeseigha.
Uboh also alleged that the EFCC had not accounted for “offshore recoveries” and that “over half of the assets seized from suspects are not reflected in EFCC exhibit records”.
The petitioner equally accused Lamorde of conspiring with some EFCC officers and external auditors “to operate and conceal a recovery account in the Central Bank of Nigeria and excluded the balances from your audited financial statements between 2005 and 2011”.
He alleged that, “Lamorde continues to conceal the details of the unsold properties forfeited by both Tafa Balogun and DSP Alamieyeseigha despite receiving rent revenues from some estate agents on the said properties.”
Uboh, asked that Lamorde be prosecuted and proposed 10 counts of fraud in his petition, which was addressed to the Senate President Bukola Saraki, through the Delta State Senator in the National Assembly, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi.
The petitioner in addition alleged that Lamorde in March 2013 diverted the sum of N779m out of the total N3bn forfeited by Balogun to the Federal Government and that the EFCC boss conspired with some officials of the anti-graft agency to under-remit the ex-IG’s forfeited funds of about N5.85bn into the Consolidated Revenue Account by holding back about N2.65bn.
He further alleged that Lamorde conspired with some EFCC officials to remit to Bayelsa State the sum of N3.1bn instead of the total sum of N4.3bn proceeds of corruption recovered from Alamieyeseigha.
The petitioner said that Lamorde, as Director of Operations of the EFCC, conspired with some officers of the commission to manipulate records of assets recovered from Alamieyeseigha, an act which allegedly paved the way for him to trade with about N3.7bn of the recovered funds for almost two years.
“Sir, the aggregate funds diverted by Lamorde/EFCC stated below in the attached criminal charges is over N1tn. However, because over 95 per cent of overseas seizures are diverted, there is an urgent need to investigate and recover those funds as well,” Uboh’s petition read in part.
Part of the proposed charges prepared by Uboh in an earlier court case but also attached to the petition read, “That you Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, as the executive chairman of EFCC in March 2013, in the bid to conceal a fraud of N779,155,004:62, being the diverted amount from the forfeited funds by Tafa Balogun, falsified documents in response to the request made on you by duly constituted authorities, wherein you fraudulently stated the total of 13 bank balances as N2,258,100,576:98 instead of N3,037,255,521:60
“That you Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, as the Director of operations, conspired with some officers in the EFCC to manipulate the forfeitures and recoveries from DSP Alamieyesiegha, which events took place between 2006 and 2007, as if it took place in July 2008, with a view to shifting responsibilities to the regime or tenure of Mrs. Farida Waziri. By this act, you traded with recoveries amounting to over N3.7bn for almost two years before formerly documenting the transaction.”
The petitioner assured the Senate that he would produce “overwhelming evidence,” to back his claims against Lamorde, when hearing on the issue commences.
On the basis of the petition, the committee, which is chaired by Senator Samuel Anyanwu (Imo East) sent out two separate letters to Uboh and Larmode, inviting them to appear before his committee last Wednesday, where it was hoped that the petitioner would substantiate his allegations while Larmode would have the opportunity to either agree or refute the claims.
However, on Monday, August 24, two days before the public hearing, four principal officers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators, including, Senators Godswill Akpabio (Minority Leader), Emmanuel Bwacha (Deputy Minority Leader), Philip Aduda (Minority Whip) and Biodun Olujimi (Deputy Minority Whip) issued a statement, dissociating the entire PDP senators from the proposed public hearing.
Their position was that the proposed probe did not have the blessing of the entire senate.
The next day, Tuesday, August 25, chairman of the committee, Senator Anyanwu, who incidentally is also a PDP senator said his committee would not be deterred from the public hearing on the basis of the opposition by the PDP senators.
Fielding questions from newsmen at the National Assembly, Anyanwu said, “The PDP leadership in the Senate namely the Minority leader, Godwill Akpabio, Deputy Minority Leader, Philip Aduda , Minority Whip, Emmanuel Bwacha and Deputy Minority Whip, Abiodun Olujimi, confused my committee’s invitation to Lamorde to a failed one, earlier moved on the floor of the senate in form of an amendment to a prayer in a motion.”
Anyanwu said Lamorde’s scheduled appearance before his committee along with the man alleging him to be involved in N1trillion scam, is a fall out of a petition to that effect, which falls within the ambit of the functions of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition.
According to the lawmaker, “As the Chairman Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, I am answerable to the Senate in the first instance. Two, this Committee attends to every petitions that come from the public and the invitation to the EFCC boss is one of those petitions and the petitioner is going to appear before the Committee.”
Continuing he said, “If you look at the press statement by the Senate Minority Leader and by extension, PDP leader, Senator Akpabio, it was a misinformation.
“This is so because he is wrongly linking Lamorde and others invitation to what happened on the floor of the senate weeks ago when an attempted amendment of a prayer in motion where the CBN Governor was to be invited with the EFCC boss regarding money laundering and all that , but rejected. So, their statement was clearly based on misinformation.”
Anyanwu emphatically stated that his committee would go ahead with the probe, stressing that, “this is a standing committee of the Senate. It is not only EFCC boss that was invited. There are other petitions which we have invited the petitioners and those petitioned against.”
Also on the same Tuesday, Chairman of the senate ad hoc committee on media and publicity, Senator Deno Melaye issued a statement on the same subject matter, to the effect that the senate was united on the proposed public hearing.
Melaye said: “The attention of the Senate Adhoc Committee on Media and Publicity has been drawn to media reports to the extent that the Senate is allegedly divided over the invitation of the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Lamorde, by the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions.
“This Office wish to state categorically that the allegation is false and that it could only have emanated from the imagination of those who do not want the 8th Senate to succeed.
“The Committee also wish to state that the Senate will not be blackmailed into abandoning its constitutional mandate which includes but not limited to investigating any issue brought before it,” he stated.
He stated further that for the avoidance of doubt, Order 103 of the Senate Standing Orders specifically states that “In the exercise of the powers conferred on the National Assembly by Section 88 and 89 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Senate shall have power to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into any matter.”
He added: “We wish to equally state that attempts to undermine the Senate’s summon on the basis that the petition in question was sent through a senator rather to the Senate is rather begging the question as petitions to the Senate can either be sent to the Senate President directly or through individual Senators for onward presentation to the Senate.
“In this instance, the petitioner, George Uboh, sent his petition through the Senator representing his district, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (Delta North) who in turn delivered it to the Office of the Senate President.
“Moreover, there can be no controversy as to how a communication from members of the public through their representatives should be tendered before the Senate because Order 25(c) of the Senate Standing Orders makes it abundantly clear that “he (Senate President) shall receive all communications addressed to the Senate.”
“Needless to say that it is a normal parliamentary practice the world over for the Senate President after receiving a communication to forward it to the relevant committee for necessary legislative work, whether the Senate is in session or not.”
No doubt, the public hearing went ahead last Wednesday as proposed.
The issue of whether or not to allow the representatives of Lamorde led by the Commission’s Director of Legal Affairs, Chile Okoroma be part of Uboh’s presentation nearly marred the event.
But the Chairman of the committee, together with members of the committee were able to handle the issue well such that the hearing proceeded after an initial altercation.
Once he and his team were initially asked to leave the hearing room, Okoroma protested the decision and described the method being adopted by the committee to conduct the public hearing as unjust and contrary to the law, saying, “It is very wrong for a petitioner to be heard publicly in the absence of the person the petition is against”.
Following Okoroma’s remarks, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim ( APC Kwara South) became very enraged and insisted that the EFCC officials must be walked out from the session, since according to him, “they were not even expected to be in attendance , let alone, administered oath, for the purposes of commenting at the session.”
Addressing Anyanwu, the lawmaker said, “Mr. Chairman, in line with our tradition and relevant rules governing this type of session, since Okoroma and the other EFCC officials here , are not known to have been here in the first place, but decided to be here and even went ahead to start commenting without being administered oath for that purpose, I move that the Chairman walk them out of the session”
Acting on the submissions of Ibrahim, the Chairman asked the three EFCC officials and other lawyers who accompanied them to immediately leave the venue of the hearing session.
This was not until Anyanwu had assured the EFCC representatives that a date would be communicated to them by the committee on when they would appear before the committee to defend the allegations against the commission and the Chairman.
Before they walked out of the session, Okoroma still insisted that the method being adopted by the committee in hearing the petitioner, was illegal and unjustifiable.
An obviously irked Okoroma maintained that, “This committee is a committee of the Senate, known as one of the lawmaking institutions in the country but what we are seeing today, is law breaking because it is wrong for a petitioner to be heard in the public in the absence of the person, the entire petition is against.”
At the public hearing, Uboh regaled the lawmakers with details of un-remitted recoveries by the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) totally N2.051 trillion.
The petitioner stated during his presentations that out of the N2.051 trillion, Lamorde is to account for the sum of about N1trillion, which he has failed to provide explanations to its where about.
Uboh explained that the alleged un-remitted refunds comprised seized properties, assets and funds of individuals under investigation by the commission.
Explaining how the sum came about, Uboh stated that by the commission’s own account, “In December 02, 2011, via a letter EFCC sent to the Chairman, House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, EFCC stated that the aggregate recoveries from 2004 to 2011 (8 financial years) was N1,326,754,554,482:80. EFCC did not mention where the N1.3 Trillion recovered was remitted to,” stressing that, “EFCC’s claim that it did not recover up to a Trillion is complete false.”
The petitioner subsequently gave the breakdown of the un-remitted recoveries as follows; 2004 (N7,070,693,130:00), 2005 (N965,651,737,039:00), 2006 (N6,622,261,783:79), 2007 (N7,700,150,381:20), 2008 (N18,141,628,546:98), (2009—N130,885,187,726:83), 2010 (N52,877,464,867:00) and 2011 (N137,805,431,008:08).
He disclosed further that in the commission’s summary of monetary recoveries covering the period 2003 to 2013, i.e. 11 financial years, EFCC put the aggregate recoveries for the eleven financial years at N497,385,427,485:63, but did not mention where the N497.3 Billion recovered was remitted to.
Uboh who stated that the documents submitted were prepared under the chairmanship of Lamorde went further to disclose that the total recoveries to be remitted as confirmed by EFCC are 1.995 Trillion plus N48.9 Billion, plus N7.3 Billion, plus N.4 Billion, which will equals N 2.051 Trillion.
Rhetorically, the petitioner asked, “After recovering over N2 trillion, how did the funds melt away.”
On the allegation that Lamorde indulged in doctoring of bank accounts and diversion of seized funds, Uboh alleged that, “Two access bank recovery account statements tendered herein show Opening balances of zero Naira as at July 1, 2004, but no transaction occurred until June/July 2008 respectively. These transactions are expunged. Where are the funds deposited between July 2004 and June/July, 2008?”
According to him, “EFCC diverted and concealed N779 Million Naira of recoveries from Tafa Balogun in its record (aggregate should be N3,037,255,521.60, not N2,258,100,516.98).
“Instead of transferring N3.3 billion from Spring bank to its Access bank recovery account, EFCC transferred only N2.2 billion and concealed it by understating the summation of the balances in the various accounts hence the access bank statement had N2.2 Billion Naira after the concealment.”
In his concluding remarks, the petitioner urged the committee to urge the Federal Government to compel EFCC to remit 2.051 Trillion to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Upon interrogation by the senators, the petitioner explained how he had approached the Bayelsa State Government with details of the unremitted recoveries from the former Governor Chief Diepriye Alamieyeseigha by the EFCC.
According to him, he was able to elicit the commitment of Governor Dickson to press for the refund of the said unremitted funds by the EFCC.
However, when EFCC reneged on the refund, Uboh proceeded to the court to compel the commission to comply with the request.
The petitioner said he was amazed when the same governor Dickson who gave him the mandate to recover the fund turned back to deny that he never gave such an instruction, even going to the extent of writing him (petitioner) a letter to stop the court action.
Meanwhile, members of the Senate Unity Forum, the group that supported the election of Senator Ahmed Lawan as the Senate President, same Wednesday, opposed the public hearing, claiming that the event was unconstitutional and illegal because it did not follow the laid down procedures of the senate.
The group in a statement jointly signed by Senators George Akume, Ahmed Lawan, Abu Ibrahim and Barnabas Gemade said the probe did not follow the senate rule as contained in rule 41(1-3) of the Senate Standing Orders, which specifically states how petitions are handled by the parliament.
According to the group, “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.”
Concluding, the group said, “We stand against this probe. It is illegal and unconstitutional because it did not follow our rules.”
This development no doubt has exposed the disunity and lack of cohesion in the senate, as well as the directionless of the leadership of the senate.
With this development, National Assembly watchers are wondering what would be the next action by the senate concerning the probe. Would the probe be discontinued in view of the obvious unconstitutional approach adopted by the committee, or would it be continued despite the shortcomings?
One thing is certain, the leadership of the senate needs to step-in immediately on the matter to provide a way forward and perhaps right the wrongs that have already been committed. This is because as the sage goes, two wrongs cannot make a right.
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