Former Commissioner of Economic Planning and Budget, Mr. Olusegun Banjo, and his Energy and Mineral Resources counterpart, Mr. Olawale Oluwo, in the administration of former Lagos State governor Akinwunmi Ambode, have denied reports that they indicted Ambode before an ad-hoc committee of the state House of Assembly.
The Accountant-General of Lagos State, Mrs. Shukrat Umar, has also buttressed the claims of the former commissioners when she appeared before the ad-hoc committee on Wednesday, confirming that the State Executive Council (SEC) approved the budget for the purchase of the 820 vehicles.
The commissioners debunked the reports in separate statements Wednesday night, noting that the reports were a deliberate misrepresentation of what transpired during at the proceedings of the investigative committee probing Ambode’s administration.
The Assembly Speaker, Hon. Mudashiru Obada, had constituted a nine-man ad-hoc committee under the chairmanship of Hon. Fatai Mojeed (Ibeju-Lekki I) to probe the procurement of 820 vehicles by the Ambode administration under the Bus Reform Initiative (BRI).
The Assembly had also claimed that the administration did not seek approval from the lawmakers for the procurement of the vehicles, and directed the committee to invite Banjo and other top functionaries that were involved to state their roles in the purchase.
Reports had claimed that Banjo indicted the former governor, saying Ambode sidelined his ministry in the controversial purchase of 820 mass transit buses and that the way the ministry was structured under Ambode did not allow him to function well.
Banjo, in a statement yesterday, however, denied the reports, noting that he did not say anything before the committee to condemn or indict the Ambode administration under which he served as the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning between February 2018 and May 2019.
He explained that he appeared on October 15 before the committee based on a letter of invitation dated October 11, requesting him “to answer some questions on the purchase of 820 buses as they relate to the function of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget headed by me during the last administration.”
At the proceedings, Banjo said he told the committee that he was appointed in February 2018 when the issue of bus purchases had already been on the ground, pointing out that the bus issues were not contained in the budget he managed, though it could have been in earlier budgets.
The former commissioner said: “I am deeply saddened and disappointed by such sensationalism by hitherto section of the press and by its uninhibited and deplorable abdication of a basic tenet of professional journalism – impartial reportage.
“I wish to state that I am not in a position to know what exactly transpired on the issue of the buses as I was not in government when the issue was tabled and approved by the State Executive Council and neither was I drafted into the bus steering committee on assumption of duty in February 2018.
“My response to questions asked by the committee under oath was intended to explain technical issues pertaining to the operations of the ministry and explain the anomalies they noted and seek explanations to, and nothing said by me there was intended to or said in any manner as to condemn or indict anyone.”
However, Banjo claimed that he brought to the attention of the ad-hoc committee that the operating system of the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning should be reviewed, claiming that he mentioned some weaknesses of the ministry’s operating system in a professional manner.
He said: “It is pertinent to note that these observations had earlier been included in my handing over note to the new administration and as it affects all arms of government and not the executive alone. I was, therefore, contrary to the impression sought to be portrayed by the press, not saying anything new that had not been said before.”
In his own statement, Oluwo acknowledged that he attended the second session of the committee proceedings on October 15 alongside former Commissioner for Agriculture, Hon. Toyin Suara, noting that reports in some sections of the media were not true.
According to him, “Suara and I were called into the conference room at the same time. The lawmakers asked both of us questions in the open. While Suara was asked questions about Lagos Rice Mill Project in Imota, I was asked questions about the LED-UK streetlights installation, a UK Exim Bank funded project.”
The former commissioner said it was strange “to read reports that Suara and Oluwo said many of the projects including Oshodi Transport Interchange and others were never captured in the state budget. This is rather strange.”
“For the avoidance of doubt, I reiterate that I did not and could never have indicted former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. I am a committed democrat, a loyal team player and a strong believer in the principle of collective responsibility,” he said.
He noted that the report was “completely false and indeed a misrepresentation of the proceedings of the ad-hoc committee of the state House of Assembly.”
Also at the proceedings on Wednesday, the Accountant-General told the committee that the purchase of the vehicles followed due process, confirming that the state Treasury Office acted on the approval of the state Executive Council.
She also insisted that the procurement of the vehicles was “in line with approval of the state Executive Council. I would not know whether the Paris Refund Club was discussed at the council meeting or not.”