- Speaker, câ€™ttee insist they werenâ€™t given opportunity for fair hearing
James Emejo in Abuja
The acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, thursday said the agency actually investigated and recommended the suspension of six senior staff of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
This is as the Governing Council of the relief agency, chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo also defended its decision to heed the EFCCâ€™s position by suspending the staff.
Osinbajo, who was previously summoned by the House of Representatives Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness over the issue was said to have mandated members of the Governing Council of NEMA to appear on his behalf and account for its stewardship.
However, Magu, who appeared before the committee at the resumed investigative hearing on allegations of breach of public trust in NEMA, said the commission acted on a December 2017 petition and recommended that the staff indicted during its preliminary investigations be placed on suspension.
He said their continued stay in office could jeopardise investigation which is still ongoing.
However, Deputy Chairman of the committee, Hon. Ali Isa (APC, Gombe) said investigations had revealed that due process was not followed in the suspension of affected staff, mainly because there was no evidence that they were invited to appear before any disciplinary panel or the board before being asked to stop work.
The committee also asked probing questions on whether the EFCC has concluded its probe and if the suspended staff appeared before the council to defend the allegations levelled against them as well as if they had been charged to any court of law and convicted to warrant the decision taken by the board.
The lawmakers further stated that though they so not question the EFCCâ€™s powers to investigate, the suspended personnel deserved fair hearing.
â€œWeâ€™ve not been confronted with any proof of fair hearing,â€ said Hon. Gabriel Onyewife, a member of the committee. He said no final judgment had been passed on the staff as investigation is in progress, adding they shouldnâ€™t have been suspended in that manner.
In the same vein, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara who joined the hearing mid-way said it was wrong to suspend someone without opportunity for fair hearing.
Represented by the Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema, the speaker said, â€œWhoever suspends somebody without fair hearing one day youâ€™ll also be suspended without fair hearing.â€
He noted that the Maihaja was also under investigation currently, and had not been relieved of his duties.
He said: â€œYou too are under investigation and why have you not been suspended.â€
Lawmakers said they believed the suspended staff should have remained in office while the EFCC probe progresses.
But the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita, who was represented by the ministryâ€™s Permanent Secretary, Mr. Mustapha Suleiman, was called upon to spell out the procedures for suspending a civil servant.
She told the committee that the board of NEMA might have such powers under its establishment Act to suspend staff without recourse to Head of Service especially when it has to do with criminal rather than administrative proceedings.
The Director General of NEMA, Mr. Mustapha Maihaja, who is also the secretary of the board had provided the committee with minutes of the board meeting leading to the suspension as demanded by the committee, and insisted the council acted in accordance to public service rules, adding that â€œit is too early to say they were not given fair hearingâ€ before being suspended.
He refused suggestion by the committee that fair hearing may not have been given to the personnel by reason that they were not invited so as to be heard.
Also, a member of the governing board, Mr. Olusegun Adekunle, while defending its decision on the suspension said itâ€™s important to make a clear distinction between an administrative and criminal investigation, adding that allowing the suspended staff to remain in their offices could jeopardise investigation.