The Chairman of the House of Representatives committee on Public Petitions, Hon. Nkem Abonta Uzoma, like many other lawmakers, is not a media friendly politician. He treats journalists with disdain. A colleague who recounted his ordeal with Abonta last week said, “He doesn’t like to talk to journalists; he once asked me to meet him in his office to clarify some issues following a telephone conversation, only for him to leave me at the reception of his office after waiting for a few hours. His secretary then advised me to leave, as it was obvious the man wasn’t willing to receive me”.
The story is believable, as I have personally experienced a similar situation with the lawmaker representing Donga/Ussa/Takum/Special Area Federal Constituency of Taraba State, Hon. Rimande Shawulu and recently with the member representing Ahiazu Mbaise/Ezinihitte federal constituency, Hon. Igbokwe Raphael Nnanna.
Also, Abonta’s deliberate and direct verbal attack on journalists last Tuesday during the hearing of the petition by former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, confirmed the testimony about him. Irrespective of this, I felt terrible to read some misrepresentations about his committee by highly placed Nigerians who should know the workings of the parliament and owe it a duty to set the record Straight.
I make bold to clear the air on his pronouncement regarding the bank accounts belonging to Patience Jonathan and present a true reflection of what transpired at the committee’s meeting. First and foremost, the committee did not order, or direct any bank to unfreeze accounts that were frozen by the courts. It is wicked and irresponsible for anyone who does not understand details of what transpired at the committee to jump into the fray.
Many Nigerian leaders are not patient enough to understand and digest simple information, yet they want to appear relevant by making comments built on their ignorance. I repeat this without being equivocal, Abonta did not directly or indirectly order the banks to unfreeze bank accounts frozen by court order or even a simple directive from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
In any case, the committee has not concluded its investigation and the report is not ready yet. As the Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, rightly observed, the recommendation of the committee will be laid before the House, deliberated upon and put to vote, before it becomes a resolution of the House.
The committee does not have the power to direct implementation of its recommendations, until it is approved by the whole House. Therefore, it is wrong to claim that the House have resolved the matter in favour of Patience Jonathan. For avoidance of doubt, the committee urged banks that may have frozen Dame Patience Jonathan’s accounts without any court order or a communication to that effect from the EFCC to unfreeze such accounts.
While it is true that the committee frowned at the continued freezing of a particular account domiciled with Union Bank for over one year without a court order, following a directive from the EFCC, Abonta did not direct the bank to unfreeze the account.
Officials of Union Bank led by its lawyer, Kenneth Otowo, had informed the committee that Mrs Jonathan’s account was placed under a ‘precautionary restriction’ following a directive by the EFCC March 21, 2016. But Abonta observed that the bank could only take such decision for over one year, if EFCC proved that it has obtained a court order to that effect.
Representative of Diamond Bank Unoma Ndulue, helped the committee, when she said two out of the three accounts are fully operative without restriction, since there was no court order or EFCC directive, while the third account was closed not restricted.
When counsel to Mrs Jonathan, Ayodeji Adedipe, alleged that EFCC had obtained a temporary order to freeze some accounts belonging to her client and slept on the order for a long time, Abonta insisted that the anti-graft commission must send a representative to respond to the allegations by the 4th October, failure of which he threatened to issue a warrant of arrest on the acting chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu.
Argument also ensued when the petitioner insisted that certain accounts were restricted and the banks denied same. Abonta who is also a lawyer carefully selected his words. He directed parties to reconcile the accounts one after the other so as to identify accounts frozen with court orders or directive of the EFCC and revert to the committee!.
At this point he said accounts that were not frozen by any court order or directive by the EFCC should not be restricted. If this statement is then misconstrued to mean that accounts frozen by a competent court should be released, it is rather unfortunate.
Those peddling falsehood about the committee’s actions are either ill-informed or doing it out of deliberate mischief. I owe no duty to Abonta, even if he was a friendly lawmaker, but I owe the Federal Republic of Nigeria and all its institutions a duty to protect it when it is being unduly attacked.
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