John Yakubu Yusuf
It was another busy week in the lower chamber of the National Assembly. There was outrage over a court judgement in which one Mr John Yakubu Yusuf was sentenced to two years imprisonment with an option of N750,000 fine. This was after he had pleaded guilty to stealing over N38 billion when he superintended over the Police Pensions Fund. Yusuf had confessed to the crime of stealing the said sum and converting same to personal use but, he literally escaped going to jail after he negotiated his way out through the plea bargain window.
The House, on Wednesday asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) and the Attorney General of the Federation to urgently appeal the “lenient” sentence handed out by Justice Mohammed Talba of the Abuja High Court
The lawmakers also resolved to set machinery in motion to review the provisions of the Penal and Criminal Codes to provide stricter punishment for criminal breach of trust among public servants and political office holders in Nigeria.
Apparently the ten lawmakers who sponsored a motion on the matter wanted to impress it on the minds of the public that they were the good guys and the judge, the bad guy. They also wanted to further pass the buck by blaming the law upon which the judgement was given. However, they were soon reminded that neither the law nor the judge was to blame but the law givers sitting in the parliament.
The proponents of the motion argued that the sort of judgement handed out by Justice Talba could only serve as an incentive for public officers entrusted with the management of public funds to engage in more acts of corruption.
Really? So what would they say about the law which was the foundation of the judgement?
Some argued that the law did not envisage that a fraud of this magnitude would arise. So how sharp was the vision of those who made the laws if they did not see beyond two years and N250,000?
Could it be a case of making laws and creating escape routes just in case the law catches up with us? How blind and fierce was Justice in this case if the trial judge having heard the enormity of the fraud still exercised discretion in favour of the least punishment? All said and done, it has become obvious that it is the human element behind the laws that are to blame for the failure of anti-graft war in Nigeria.
As usual, the House rolled out plans for more investigations into various issues in the public domain.
One of them was the alleged squandering of $67 Billion of Nigeria’s Foreign Reserve and Excess Crude Account. The lawmakers were reacting to an allegation raised by the former Vice President of the World Bank and former Minister of Education, Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili, during a recent convocation lecture she delivered at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Ezekwesili alleged that the Yar’Adua/ Jonathan regime mismanaged $45 billion in Foreign Reserves and $22 billion in Excess Crude Account inherited from former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 2007. Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku and the Special Adviser to the President on Public Communications, Dr. Doyin Okupe, have debunked the allegations and challenged Ezekwesili to prove them. These government mouth pieces have even levelled counter-allegations against her.
The House has therefore mandated its Committees on Finance and Appropriation to investigate these allegations and submit a report in six weeks. An allegation about the “disappearance” of public funds under the watch of any government must not be swept under the carpet, but whether the lawmakers would be able to get to the bottom of it is the million dollar puzzle. This promises to be one of those probes, full of drama but not particularly rich in substance. It could be entertaining but might lead to nowhere.
It is like some not too friendly neighbours seeking to mediate in a family quarrel and gleefully looking forward to hearing what the wife has to say about the husband in a feat of anger.
The contentious issue of the Bakassi Peninsula re-echoed in the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly during the week with the lawmakers urging the Federal Government to initiate the process of conducting a referrendum for Nigerians on the disputed territory. Since Nigeria failed to seek a review of the October 2002 judgement of the International Court of Justice which ceded the territory to Cameroon, one would have thought that the case was closed for ever.
But the House said that the people of Bakassi deserved to be given a platform to exercise their right to self determination, an inalienable right provided in Article 1 of the 1966 International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
It was argued that it would be wrong to throw the matter into the dustbin of history because several referenda have been held across the globe at different times for the purpose of protecting the Fundamental Human Rights of the peoples.
A referendum was held from January 9-15, 2011 in Southern Sudan where the Republic of Southern Sudan opted out of the then Sudan. There were also similar exercises in Egypt and Switzerland last year to resolve issues affecting different nationalities in those countries.
Article (15)(2) of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1984 states that ‘no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of nationality or denied the right to change his nationality.’
As a corollary, Article 3 of the Green Tree Agreement recognises the right of the Bakassi people when it said that Cameroon after the transfer of authority to it by Nigeria shall guarantee Nigerian nationals living in Bakassi Peninsula the exercise of their Fundamental Rights and Freedom as enshrined in the International Human Rights Law and other relevant provisions of International Law.
The concern of the lawmakers was that in spite of these provisions, the Bakassi people have suffered incessant and blatant violations, frequent extra-judicial killings and incaceration in the hand of the Cameroonian authorities and therefore deserved the assistance of the National Assembly in their pursuit of self determination and a better future in their homeland.
Last but not the least, the much awaited report of the Peoples Public Sessions on the review of the 1999 Constitution could not be presented to the public.
The programme ran into some troubled waters amidst speculations that the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) was uncomfortable with the report and had infiltrated the ranks of the lawmakers to scuttle it.
There were also speculations of infighting within the House Adhoc Committee on Constitution Review.
However, the official reason given for the postponement of the release of the report was that some lawmakers were yet to see it and ascertain if it tallied with the position of their constituencies.
The report contains the collated results of the special public hearings conducted by the House of Representatives last year across the 360 federal constituencies of the country.
The exercise was a pseudo-referendum geared towards getting the views of the people at the grassroots on aspects of the 1999 Constitution proposed for amendment by the National Assembly.
The “arrested” report contains the voting pattern as well as the verdict of Nigerians on the autonomy for local government councils, independence of the state legislature, desirability of the state electoral commissions and a host of other issues on the constitution review template. Whatever may be the obstacle, may the genuine wishes and aspirations of the Nigerian people prevail at the end of the day.
The First Ladies Mission Building 4bn Budget
The 1970 spirit of petrol-dollars appears to be haunting the nation again. The age of petrol-dollars was the moment of oil boom in Nigeria when Nigeria made big bucks from crude oil. In an attempt to describe the constant flow of money in the 70’s, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) reportedly said, “Money is not our problem, but how to spend it.”
However, last week in the Senate, even though Nigeria is not known to be witnessing another era of oil boom, perception that Nigerian leadership still lacks insight on how money should be spent came to the fore. The issue under consideration at the plenary was 2013 Appropriation Bill for Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which was presented by Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba. While opening debate on the bill, the Senate Leader had implored his colleagues to support the N253 Appropriation Bill for FCT in the 2013 fiscal year. The budget contained N155 billion for capital expenditure, N49 billion as overhead cost and N48 billion as personnel cost. Giving a breakdown of the budget, Ndoma-Egba listed N4 billion appropriation for the construction of First Ladies Mission Building in Abuja, N7.5 billion for the building of Abuja city gates as well as N150 million for the renovation of Vice President Namadi Sambo’s Guest House in Asokoro, Abuja.
These triple sub heads instantly generated anger among the senators who described them as misplaced, unnecessary and unacceptable. For senators who opposed the allocations, appropriating such a whopping sum for the Office of First Lady that is not recognised by the constitution was an aberration and another show of wasteful spending. They argued that such should be thrown out.
FCT Public Hearing
Still on FCT, the joint committees of the Senate and House of Representatives on FCT held a public hearing on Monday, January 28 and Tuesday January 29 with the aim of securing the contributions of stakeholders on the Bill for an Act to Establish a Board of Internal Revenue Service and Property Tax for the Federal Capital Territory. Chairman, Senate Committee on FCT, Senator Smart Adeyemi, described the bill as necessary in view of his perception that despite its over 36 years of existence, the FCT is still crawling having been unable to get its priority right and fly with the vision to make the FCT as not only Nigeria’s centre of unity but also a place of Nigeria’s pride.
Adeyemi believes that establishing the board will fill the vacuum often created by irregular release of funds for infrastructural development in the capital city. He was supported by the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, who emphasised the need for FCT to have tax structures that are similar to the ones existing in the 36 states of the federation. He also said the FCT Property Tax Bill, when it becomes law, would facilitate the expansion of FCT revenue base and also create new sources of funds for the territory. But Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), which has been the sole body collecting revenues in the FCT, opposed the bill because it will ultimately strip it of its responsibilities in FCT. The last has not been heard of the bill though.
Between Senators Adokwe and Adetumbi
Events in the Senate last week have shown that there are yet many rivers to cross in the ongoing constitution amendment process. The Senate Committee on Constitution Review headed by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu during that week in a media session to deliberate on ongoing efforts to amend the 1999 Constitution, while deliberating on the report, two senators - Suleiman Adokwe (Nasarawa South) and Olubunmi Adetumbi (Ekiti North)- openly disagreed on the twin issues of local government autonomy and state creation. The Ekweremadu Committee had listed the two issues as part of issues being proposed for amendment. No fewer than 56 requests have been sent to the National Assembly on state creation.
While Adokwe believes that for effective service delivery at the grassroots, there is the need for delegation of authority, which he said local government autonomy could guarantee, Adetunmbi disagrees, saying there is no federal system in the world where local government exists as a third tier of government.
According to Adokwe, when local governments obtain autonomy, they will be empowered to handle minor issues such communal clashes and all forms of conflicts at the local level while state governments will cease to devote much of their time to mundane issues, which he said ordinarily local councils could handle if only they possess required autonomy to run their affairs.
But Adetumbi said granting autonomy to local councils would amount to stripping state governments of their inalienable rights. Both senators also disagreed on state create creation. While Adokwe said state creation would break the perceived jinx that civil rule cannot create states and as well as address the plights of the minority, Adetumbi opposed it, saying Nigeria with 36 states now is worse than Nigeria with 12 states.
No Respite Yet for Dana
Less than a month after Dana Airline resumed operations following the suspension of its activities in June 2012, there is yet no respite for the embattled airline. For the second time, the Senate demanded for the revocation of the airline’s licence and the sack and prosecution of the Director-General of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren and NCAA Inspector, Mr. Suleiman Akwuh, saying their alleged negligence led to the crash of Dana aircraft, MD 83, on June 3, 2012.
The demand followed the presentation of the report of the joint committees on aviation of both the Senate and House of Representatives on the floor of the Senate. The lawmakers also demanded the immediate prosecution of Dana Air for avoidable destruction of innocent lives in the tragedy.
The committee listed its findings to include non-compliance of NCAA with the procedure for issuance of air operations’ certificate (AOC) to Dana as stipulated in NCAA 2009 Aviation Regulations; incompetence of Akwuh, the engineer who cleared Dana MD 83 for the flight on that fateful day. Akwuh didn’t possess the licence to inspect the model of the crashed aircraft, the committee said. It also said the tenure of Demuren expired three months before the crash.
The committee also reported an alleged diversion of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) N35.5 billion intervention fund obtained by the Chairman of Air Nigeria, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, to real estate development, among others.
While adopting recommendations of the committee, the senators resolved that management and operations of NCAA should remain autonomous while the CBN should recover N35.5 billion aviation intervention fund diverted to other uses by Jimoh Ibrahim and disbursed by United Bank for Africa (UBA).