STUDY IN CHINA

Thursday, August 27, 2015

APC, PDP senators team up against Saraki, say EFCC probe breaches Senate rules

A group of senators of the All Progressives Congress, under the aegis of Unity Forum, have risen against the decision of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to investigate the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Lamorde, over alleged diversion of N1 trillion recovered by the commission.

The APC senators echoed the position of the Peoples Democratic Party caucus in the Senate, which dissociated its members from the probe on Monday, calling on the committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to shelve the investigation.

But in a statement jointly signed by Senators Ahmed Lawan, George Akume, Abu Ibrahim and Barnabas Gemade, the APC senators said on Wednesday that for a petition to be discussed in the Senate or House of Representatives, it must be channelled through a member of the House of Representatives or a senator.

“In standard parliamentary practice, a petition is routed through either a senator or 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 the plenary.

“Thereafter the presiding officer will refer the matter to the appropriate committee upon which it will be returned to the Senate in plenary,” said the senators.

Quoting Rule 41 (1-3) of the Senate Standing Order, the senators explained how petitions are handled in parliament, saying “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.

“All petitions shall be, without question being put, ordered to lie upon the table. Such petitions shall be referred to the Public Petitions Committee.”

The APC senators further stated that none of the foregoing rules was followed in handling the petition against the EFCC, and that they only read in the newspapers that the Senator Samuel Anywanu-led Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions would commence a probe of the EFCC chairman.

At the commencement of the probe on Wednesday, a representative of the EFCC, a witness told PREMIUM TIMES, said the commission had no confidence in the Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee of the Senate, saying the committee lacked objectivity and that it was unlikely that it would get a fair hearing.

The commission said 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.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the petitioner, George Ugbo, was midway into his presentation when EFCC’s Director of Legal and Prosecution, Chile Okoroma, arrived, raising objection that it was not in the tradition of the senate to conduct hearing with only one party present.

Responding on behalf of the committee, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Information, Dino Melaye, reportedly said the committee was at liberty to adopt any procedure it considers suitable, claiming that the EFCC was not expected at the hearing, having written to be excused.

The Senate committee however 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 commission disclosed that the petitioner is an accused under prosecution by the commission on fraud charges.

Mr. Okoroma insisted that it amounted to lack of fair hearing for the proceedings to continue in the absence of the EFCC, while also observing that the documents presented to the committee by the petitioner were not made available to the commission.

In the light of the foregoing, the EFCC representative noted that the narration by Mr. Uboh only contained reference to the EFCC and not Mr. Lamorde even though the hearing was advertised as a probe of Mr. Lamorde.

PREMIUM TIMES however learnt that Mr. Uboh, who allegedly converted properties belonging to the Police Equipment Fund, is standing trial before Justice J, Aladetoyinbo of the FCT High Court on three counts of fraud (FRN v George Uboh CR/12/09).

The senate investigation, following a petition, has fuelled speculations that the lawmakers might be seeking ways of getting back at the anti-graft agency.

Coming in the wake of the commission’s probe of Toyin Saraki, the wife of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, over allegations of fraud committed when her husband was governor of Kwara State, the anti-graft agency has questioned the motive and procedure of the planned Senate probe.

But in a statement Tuesday, the Senate president, Bukola Saraki, denied ulterior motive behind the senate’s decision to invite the chairman of EFCC, saying the anti-graft commission is not the only government agency facing a Senate probe.

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